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The purpose of life … is to be helpful, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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A satisfying life does not require you paint on a large canvas.  A small canvas will do.

I tell you a story.  In my early years I was raised in my grandparents home with my mother (their oldest child and only girl).   My mother helped her mother raise four boys – her brothers: Ernie, Ray, Don and Bob.  They were my Uncles.  I was the peanut among them.  I looked up to them – as I grew they became my friends.  I had an especially close relationship with Don and Ray and their wives.

When my wife suffered from cancer, they watched over me.  When she died, they watched over me.  When my mother died, they watched over me and stood vigil with my young son who missed his Granny greatly.  Both Don and Ray lived the right way – tended to their wives and children, lived honorably, helped others, loved and laughed heartily.

Years after my wife’s death, Ray’s wife contracted a rare illness, one that was most likely to take her life.  I was Ray’s confidant.  He was bewildered by what he faced.  I told him she needed the best Doctor who knew the most about this illness and that I would find that person and I did.  My Aunt Tippy got the best care possible.

I stood with Ray when she passed, and with Don when his lovely wife Ginny passed.  Both good men showed their courage and their loss.  My heroes were wounded as I had been.

Years latter, both Don and Ray developed illness that would take their life.  Each talked often to me during their illness – wonderful conversations, honest, touching, urgent but assuring – privileged.  I spent hours on the phone with Don the day before he died – precious time – beautiful, irreplaceable – unforgettable time.

In my travails and hardships and modest successes I became their “go to guy.”  My losses and struggles and experiences were their fortress in times of strife.  A small boy had become a trusted source, their counsel, guide, confessor.  I was honored by men I looked up to and loved … I can hardly think about it without getting emotional.

When Ray neared death he told me this, “Bobby, I never considered you my nephew – I thought of you as my youngest brother.”  Few things have honored me so.

You do not need a large canvas, a small one will do.  Take your licks in this world – everyone faces difficulty.  Forget fame or fortune – focus on growing in understanding, wisdom, common sense, faith – be helpful – make a difference where and when it matters most to others.  Life is good.

May you be blessed to experience what I have related here.  You have a reason for being.

Shalom.

 

 

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… the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing?  For this man is preforming many signs.  If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.”

Jn 11:47

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Power is intoxicating and easily so.  Herein, we see the chief priests and Pharisees gathering after Jesus calls Lazarus back to life.  Their thoughts?  How can we preserve our status?  

Is this not the way of the “powerful” and the privileged?  Is this not a truth that conveys over all time?  Those at “the top” of the ladder want to remain at the top of the ladder.

Such a disposition turns one’s back on God.  ‘Tis the way of political people, the self-important, far too often.

Oddly, the strongest among us are not those at “the top,” but those who are humble and guided by faith, knowing full well there is a God and they are not God.  In their mortal existence the strongest are immortal by choice, by faith, by belief.

It is an old story – one we prefer to neglect.  Offered a Messiah, we guard our vaunted place in the pecking order.  This is tedious to those who know and believe.  Tedious indeed!  Why concede the tedious ones a grant of authority?  Would you not prefer those who welcome the Messiah be those who lead?  Are they not the wiser?  Braver?

Where are you on such things?

Shalom.

 

… we seek nothing but the particular place willed for us by God …

Then we discover what the spiritual life really is … It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing, that He is the Center to which all things tend, and to Whom all our actions are directed.  That our life and strength proceed from Him, that both in life and death we depend entirely on Him, that the whole course of our life is foreknown by Him and falls into the plan of His wise and merciful Providence; that it is absurd to live without Him, for ourselves, by ourselves … and in the end the only thing that matters is His glory.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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In the Mass readings today we hear God lamenting that His children have moved away from Him and we hear Jesus advise us to move away from those who do not receive or listen to his words.

Our dilemma is that we live in an age where many of the most public and most vocal have moved away from God and do not listen to the words of His Son.  Likewise the culture in its digital discourse and mass communication is crowded with those who operate largely by themselves – without reference to God.  Indeed, that is the bulk of present day discourse and we are obviously affected negatively by this.

What is one to do in such circumstances?

Yes, we are assured in the Old Testament reading of today (from Hosanna) that God will act mercifully as to those who rebel.  And, we know that Jesus in today’s Gospel (from Matthew) would have us separate from those who do not receive his words or listen to him.  So we have a plan: be merciful, yet separate from those who reject the Savior’s words.

But how is this to be done?

Merton offers a way: seeking time in silence and the company of God in that silence.  For in that silence the primacy of God is known and experienced and we are in the form that we are designed to know and in which we will find peace when all about are in discord and distress.

Yes, our confidence is in God and our task is to stand apart form those who reject God outright, and in their rejection of the Son, reject the Father.  Our remedy for this is silence – a singular silence where God is heard – much as the Son shows us in his regular retreats to the quiet of the desert.

In silence we can find stability, meaning and fulfillment.

Shalom.      

 

The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced both donors without love and recipients without gratitude.

Antonin Scalia

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These words are from an address given by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1996.

Among his observations are these:

  • “a Christian should not support a government that suppresses faith or one that sanctions the taking of innocent life”
  • he knows of “no country in which the churches have grown fuller as the government has moved leftward”
  • the most religious nation in the West (the U.S.) is a capitalist society that is “least diluted by socialism”  (Emphasis added.)
  • since FDR’s New Deal, the U.S. has taken on the increasing role of a welfare state (i.e., taking tax proceeds of all and dispensing them to select individuals and groups that are deemed “needy” – and building political constituents in the process)
  • “Christ’s view was that you should give your goods to the poor, not that you should force someone else to give his (to others)”  (Emphasis added.)
  • “to the extent that the states takes upon itself one of the corporal works of mercy that would have been undertaken privately, it deprives individuals of an opportunity for sanctification and deprives the body of Christ of the occasion for interchange of love among its members”
  • the welfare-state does not contain or convey the Christian virtue of altruism
  • “governmentalization of charity effects … the donor but also the recipient … What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement … the teaching of welfare socialism is that the world owes everyone a living.”

What Scalia lays out is the decline of the role of faith in secular culture – and with it the loss of moral conduct long displayed by acts of religiously inspired service.

Likewise socialism fundamentally changes the way humans experience themselves, others and the nature of fellowship and community – indeed it blunts the power of love and hope … it deprives us of faith and sanctification.

Make no mistake, religion and God have been shunned in the post-New Deal environment – and, frankly, when moral conduct is not fostered through a population who has an active faith – hostility and faithless division takes its place.  There we become a troubled and self-destructive culture with less opportunity to make of us brothers and sisters to one another.

Converting to socialism and BIG government is, quite simply, destructive.

Shalom.

the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taster receptors.  Secular Western moralities are like cuisines that try to activate just one or two of these receptors – either concerns about harm and suffering, or concerns about fairness and injustice.  But people have so many powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.  (Emphasis added.)

Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., in The Righteous Mind

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Well if you want to understand the basic rift between the Left and others (moderates, Conservatives, and “neutralists”)?  Haidt gives you that understanding.

The Left is secularized – removed from faith, anchored in material existence, the narrows of intellect and ideology devoid of psychological or spiritual depth and the understanding and experience that each provides.

In matters public and political they are so narrowly focused, they neglect or dismiss our natural desire for liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity (as Haidt notes).

You see, esteemed Social Psychologist Haidt is telling us that as a matter of innate design the human person thirsts for morality that attends to more than fairness and equality.  Mind you, this thirst is an involuntary desire.  Hence, we are “hardwired” for a morality that extends beyond the shallows of the Left.

The distinction that Haidt describes explains why the Left is intolerant and must force their views on others much as totalitarians do.

Ironically, on an even playing field (i.e., one not corrupted to protect their views) the Left is destined to fail because the public’s natural moral appetite is larger than what they offer.  Humans are more complex than the Left reckons.  No, we are not all like them or their ideology.

Think about the many positions the Left advances or defends and you realize that their positions are at odds with the innate moral desires of the human person at-large.

Once that thinking is done, you can see how the Left forestalls the full development of the human person.  Indeed, they create unnecessary conflict (and division) by attempting to impose exceedingly narrow views on others that are, as a consequence, antagonistic to our broader moral needs.

Haidt, applied to our present situation, leads to greater understanding of the unhealthy antagonism that the Left generates.

You would be wise to get to know Haidt and his excellent scholarly work.

Shalom.

 

July 6th, 2018 – Hope it is a good one for you!

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If you want something too much it’s likely to be a disappointment.  The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk – and feisty gentlemen.

Larry McMurtry, in Lonesome Dove

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Re-reading a favorite book or watching a movie you have already seen can restore a perspective you once possessed and need to acquire again.  Yes, the pace of present day secular culture occupies us so thoroughly that we can easily lose our orientation, perspective, way of being when we are at our most relaxed best.

The above words are those of Gus McCrae, a crusty old witty and practical ex-Texas Ranger with a philosopher’s disposition and a desert dry sense of humor.

Old Gus proceeded through life with joy.  He never missed the fun, nor fooled himself as to the world he lived in, the nature of people in it, or himself.  He was hassle-free.  I do not mean problem-free – for the world is the world even for honest and balanced characters in Western novels.

Seeing Gus’s humor and wisdom, sense of justice and courage, fidelity to friends and principles reminds me of how not like Gus so many people are now.  The contrast is striking.  Gus stood tall – saw what was before him and never shunned the call to honor.

Unlike many with public voice today, Gus was not a complainer – not a whiner, and in contrast to the multitude of Left and liberal voices we hear – he was not sour, frantic, perpetually irritated, obnoxious, and demanding.

Gus had fun with life – the Left and the liberals do not.  The Left today is disgruntled or angry about anything and everything that is not what they want, do, think, believe, expect, or demand.

Mind you, Gus’s life on the Western frontier in the late 19th century was hard and unpredictable.  But Old Gus took all the hurdles, bumps, twists and turns with same panache that Sinatra sang – smoothly and self-assuredly while resigned to the magistry and mystery of it all.

How we’d help ourselves to be like Gus: funny, witty, courageous, sober, loyal, grateful, clever, loving, generous, and wise.

Right now, those most vocal among us are anxious or offended, or hostile, or loud and unhappy – unpleasant and constantly frantic.  No Gus for them.  Unlike Gus – they take nothing in stride.

Life in the West in the late 19th century, or life today in cyber-secularism?  Where’s my horse and gun?

Shalom.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves, and then he said to them, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it into a den of thieves.”

Mt 21: 12-13

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We often overlook the ways Jesus tells us about ourselves as human beings.  Here we see Jesus act in an angry manner.  In the very next passages from the Gospel of Mark he condemns the barren fig tree.  Both of these actions come after his celebrated entry into Jerusalem where the crowds welcomed him waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road he traveled.

What can be said of these situations as they are juxtaposed?  They seem at odds.  But they do tell us something very instructive about our human existence.

It can be reasonably said that Jesus, having experienced the popular political response from those who reflected their orientation to the importance of earthly, imperial status and power, is moved to cleanse the Temple of those who subvert and discredit the reality and superiority of a spiritual “kingdom” which exceeds man and mortal being.  

Yes, Jesus is showing us that secular orientation to power cannot be our preference or default stetting.  Rather he shows us that the Father has created us for much more – that is: what is eternal and peace-giving (no matter the conflict, age, governing system, or suffering that might appear).

In these sequential events he shows us that man is (and always has been) made to react  forcefully when evil appears and alters the Truth of our existence.  He is, in these acts, showing us who we are.  He shows us the impulse that is an archetypal reality – a characteristic of the human being.  As a corollary one might say that those who avoid conflict at all costs are far from the fullness of their being and faith.  We are made as we are made.

It is so important to look at these episodes sequentially and in-depth – and ask: What is Jesus showing me about being human and being faithful?

Shalom.

More Ignorance in “High” Places – Yesterday, a U.S. Senator (Democrat and lawyer) released a press release “informing” us that some of the the signers of the Declaration of Independence were “immigrants.”  Good gracious.  When we declared our independence we were a colony of England – hence the Signers were English subjects.

A college education and legal training just aren’t what they used to be – nor is the U.S. Senate apparently.

Independence Day, July 4, 2018

We live in a unique Nation whose Constitution unites freedom of religion with freedom of speech.  Faith and Liberty united in one Nation.  Unique.  We had best preserve this and refute those who would destroy what we have.  God Bless America.

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Only those men are never separated from the Lord who never question His right to separate Himself from them.  They never lose Him because they always realize they never deserve to find Him, and in spite of their unworthiness they have already found Him.

Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island

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God cannot be domesticated.  God is Pure Spirit.  And, the Spirit goes where the Spirit wishes.  In this your spirit must be as clean and free as His in order to follow Him.

Our Constitution underscores this reality.  Yes, our Constitution is not just a legal or political document – it is a Spiritual document.  

In the coming days President Trump is going to nominate a person to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is quite possible the President may nominate Federal Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Judge Barrett is a Catholic, a married mother of seven children, and former Professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

If she is advanced as the nominee, we will face a significant test.  The test?  Will Judge Barrett’s religion be targeted as “objectionable.”  If we hear this, we will see that those who voice this objection are undermining the very central message of the U.S. Constitution: that we are a Nation of religious freedom that is to be protected – indeed, to be honored and revered.  Our Founders knew faith led a just and free people.

Keep in mind that we are not human being seeking spiritual experience, but spiritual beings who seek human experience.  This is precisely what our Founding Fathers knew and intended to reinforce in drafting the Constitution.  In the next few weeks we shall see if we are still governed by this understanding – its wisdom.

Happy Independence Day!

Shalom.

 

His presence is affirmed and adored by the absence of everything else.  He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, although we do not see Him.

Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island

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There are times for each of us that we feel absolutely alone.  Sometimes this feeling lasts for a long period of time.  We may have lost someone we loved, or have grown old and know that our grown children now are absorbed by their family’s needs and their work.

Maybe we have endured illness alone, or are retired and feel adrift.  Perhaps we have lost a friendship or been excluded by others.  In these times we feel lost and abandoned – very alone and lonely.

Yet, in these times that we are alone, we are alone with God.  In this state we may have been cleansed of things that we sought as if they were the Divine, the source of our meaning and purpose.  Things, no matter how good they are, are NOT God.

Yes, in those lonely moments we are with God and God is with us.  These stark moments are precisely the time that you can come to realize that all the things you loved and became accustomed to – kept you from an intimate, eternal relationship with God, your Father and Creator.  These lonely times are really a time of turning, of discovery – a time to draw closer to God, to come to know God as the center of your life, the source of your being.

In what seems like loss is, properly considered, gain of the one thing – that which endures, stabilizes, gives meaning and purpose, restores contentment and offers joy.  So often the things we have depended upon come to show us that they are not God, not what is most satisfying and most important to our happiness and existence.

Fear not, God is near – God is always near.

Shalom. 

God, Who is everywhere never leaves us.

Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island

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It seems to us from time to time that God is not present to us.  But this would appear to negate what Merton says above.

What might one say?  Merton says this: sometimes God seems present to us and sometimes He seems absent from us.  This is normal.  Merton tells us this: God may be more present to us when he appears absent than when He appears present.

Strange, you might think.  And you might ask: How can this be?  More present when we think He is absent?

To figure this out Merton points out that there are two kinds of “absent.”  One is a condemnation – God is absent from us “because we put some other god in His place and refuse to be known by Him.”

In the second form of “absent” we are not condemned but sanctified!  In that experience of His absence He “empties the soul of every image that might become an idol and of every concern that might stand between our face and His Face.”

Condemned is what our culture has done presently – how we live at-large in a secularized culture that intentionally excludes God and foolishly elevates the human person – their physical and intellectual desires above God.  All of the homicides, violence, broken relationships, addictions, predatory behavior, conflicts, divisions, abortions, child abuse and neglect, abhorrent inter-personal behavior and actions intended to destabilize the country are acts of condemnation on our part.

The sense that God is absent to us in the whole is an accurate indication of our present day experience.  We have met the enemy and he is us.

Sanctification is something else again.  Here God acts positively and protectively to insure that we do not personally (one by one) acquire the means to divide ourselves from God.

In sanctification God loves us so that He leads us to a place where we realize that the things we have cherished are NOT God and as such can never satisfy or fulfill us in and by themselves.  You see when find that we have begun to place even the best things we do or encounter above God, God reminds us that even the good we do cannot satisfy as God can for the good we do does not love us the way the God who is Love does.

When the day grows quiet and you are alone, ask yourself if you have placed things above God – even the good things you do.  If that might be so, ask God to bring you back to Him.

As for the serious disarray we have in our culture and country, it is way past time to seek that God might bring us back to Him.

Shalom.

 

 

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