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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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… 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.

All sins are attempts to fill voids.

Simone Weil

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Life isn’t hard if you just listen to people who are smart and leave us some valuable guideposts.  Of course as people – we tend to charge ahead hitting objects head-first without a helmet.

And, then – there are things that find us – hardships, inconveniences, bad deeds and thoughtless things done by others others.  These produce the occasion to sin – to react harshly and “get even.”  But the greatest frontier as to sin – is us, each of us.

We are sinners.  Every one of us.  (That’s why God and mercy are so necessary to our existence, our over-arching story.)

Think about this: when you sin, ask yourself what void has this sinful act uncovered in me? 

Many of the sins we see are “deficits” we experience related to the want of intimacy, or power, or status, or identity, or a place in the group or the world.  Once you discover this, sin can be defused – and then, all the more, when you realize God is vital to your full grow and development – your contentment, peace and relationship with others comes into full form.

The more sin is defuse – the more others become your brothers and sisters.  That joy awaits you.  God speed.

Shalom.

 

Prayer is lifting up our minds and hearts to God.

The St. John’s Daily Prayer Book

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What might comprise a daily prayer?

  • Expressing our love of God
  • Thanking God for our blessings
  • Seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins
  • Asking that His Grace shine on us, our loved ones and others

One may pray silently.  That is called mental prayer.  Or one can give voice to prayer.  Prayer invokes both heart and mind in each of us.

Starting a day with simple prayer is a wonderful habit and the very best way to begin a new day.

In quiet times I may well simply sit and thank God for all He has done for me, profess my love of Him, and ask for His forgiveness.

Yes, each of us must be forgiven.  We are sinners to whom God generously provides His mercy.  Indeed if you read the prayers of the Doctors of the Church like St. Thomas Aquinas you will see his initial recognition that he knows himself a sinner who receives God’s attention and mercy through no merits of his own earthly deeds.

It is so helpful to give yourself time to pray.

Shalom.

March 19th, The Feast of St. Joseph

My Mother’s Birthday

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Blessed is the one whose will is the law of the Lord.

Antiphon – The Psalter, Vigil of the Office of the Saints,

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My mother was born on March 19th, the Day of the feast of St. Joseph – the Christ child’s Guardian.

There are no coincidences.  

As it is said: St. Joseph was like the tree planted near running waters which brought forth its fruit in due season, so it can be said of my Mother.

So many times I have said to others about my Mother, “She saved my life.”

Selfless, strong, loving, determined, thoughtful, sacrificial, savvy, tough – with a tender interior, a compassionate heart and eye for justice with a most merciful touch … and an inexhaustible love of children.

She taught by example.  Never placed herself first – preferred to serve rather than be served.

If there are two earthly things that I might say made the greatest difference in my life they are these: one, I had my Mother as my Shepherd and guide, and two, life brought us hardships, losses, challenges and misfortunes that strengthened us, grew us, increased our faith and made us One.

My Mother passed away 21 years ago, but the truth is she has never left me or my Son (her Grandson) – now a successful adult, father and husband.

Now she sits aloft to see her lineage extended to Grandson Jack (3), and Granddaughter Fiona (1).  Yes … fruit in due season …

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Love you always.  No one lived better than you.

We send our love to you … and think about you often.  You were one of a kind.  Unforgettable!

Shalom.

   

Love the truth and let nothing but the truth issue from your mouth, in order that the spirit which God has settled in this flesh of yours may be found truthful in the sight of men … Liars ignore the Lord and defraud him since they do not return the Spirit received from him, namely a Spirit in which there is no lie.

The Shepherd of Hermas

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The Truth starts with one’s self.  The question is simple: do you acknowledge the truth about yourself?  Are you truthful about your life?  Do you see yourself truthfully?  Do you see your parents in the light of total honesty?  Do you do the same when it comes to your children?

The truth calls for brutal honesty.  In this is the seed of contentment and the fruit of humility and mercy – the baseline of sanity and stability.

Know who you are and proceed shortfalls and all for then what needs repair will be repaired.  No truth – no comfort.

Look at your society – especially those who dispatch news and points of view about our public existence – the world near and far.  Are they truthful?  Once you find they are not – turn away, dismiss those who fail to speak truthfully.  Those who lack truth – defraud self, others and God.  They sow discontent, confusion, division and disorder.

Today we live in a state where truth is lacking – in equal measure to the rejection of God.

Beware of those with double standards – they crucify the truth and mercy, too.  And beware of the propagandists who deal only in what is not true.  Remember also how “quaint” were the Clinton-years and ways were lying was “spinning” and hence “clever” and “acceptable.”  Shame on those who made peace with lies!

Look about – many in public discourse do not attend to the truth – they often say what they desire you to think so you might yield to their point of view – no matter how destructive.  “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”  Yes, we are lied too by those in “high places.”  Shame on them.  Lie to me once – you are dead to me forever.

Those who deceive show their illness – it is the sickness of godlessness.  This lesson – older than dirt.

Love the truth of the matter.  In that way, life is easier – less confused, far better for its purity and satisfaction.  To live in truth is to live in God.

Shalom.

There is for all of mankind but one felicity – a gracious God.

Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews 

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Well, there you go.  Written in 75 A.D.  If only we had the wisdom of Flavius Josephus!  But alas it is absent.

Nowhere in public discourse is there much thought of God, of life in the Spirit, of our historical record or wisdom of the many centuries.

No, in its place – talking heads, the chattering class of ill bred, poorly schooled, ideologues incapable of holding two contradicting ideas in their head at the same time.  And yet the most astonishing thing is this: their words pass as worthy of our attention. Who is the greater fool there?

RETREAT while you can.  Take safety in wisdom and reality.

Imagine a God of felicity – a gracious and loving God.  Such a novel thought today in this deflated culture flooded with harmful utterances and ideas.

In contrast, I can offer this.  I have never doubted that there is a God and that this God had an interest in me and all others.  That is not to say that I acted without sin, nor that I did not attempt a life of self-reliance, a life in which I acted as if it all depended on me, my efforts.  Yes, we are foolish for a time until we prove ourselves less than we think we are.

There is nothing, by the way, like tragedy and injustice, chaos whose actions abound to your loss and pain to bring you to God … and, in due time, to Flavius Josephus and his insight.

In retrospect, I can now express daily sincere gratitude for the grace to have always known there is a loving and merciful God – and that God, not man, reigns over mortal and eternal life.

After years of life, I know the valuable gift of humility, in knowing that I am His subject … and you are too.  Likewise, I know in that reality, that relationship – the priceless value of intimacy … God’s love of me, of us and our divine opportunity to love others as God loves each of us.

Imagine if we knew what Flavius Josephus knew, we would not live in fear and think in that fear of the world as governed by race, or gender, or class, or force, or power, or money, or intellect, or sex, or status, or nonsensical ideologies.

No, on the contrary – tension and anxiety would dissipate; we would know certainty, live in confidence and gratitude, know peace and fellowship.

Best of all – if we were as Flavius Josephus – there would be no place for those who spread words of hate, who divide and speak so carelessly, so ignorantly.

That, Dear Friends, is a step toward Eden and you have been given the opportunity to step toward that Paradise.  Alas, seize it … or suffer more, and continue to hurt yourself and others until you die and face this question: Why did you not take the path I gave you?

God help us all.

Shalom.

God, let the words of Flavius Josephus rest in our heart and animate our every thought and action in the confidence of your gracious and loving dominion.

We have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it normalizes by mass media and rendered unproblematic.

Bell Hook, in Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

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I have been alarmed recently by the loose talk about racial conflict.  Some talk of the need for violent racial conflict aimed at “white oppression.”

Words can inflame.  Their use requires care.

The above words are ideological.  Their base: racism, feminism and socialism.

Ideology is a no guide to good.  It narrows the sight and hardens the heart.  Where ideology appears, faith better serves.  You see if peace is to prevail, God is required.  Our best actions do not separate by gender, race, antagonistic political fiction.

I know of no problem that can be solved without kind, honest, conversation.  I know of no peace that is made without care, no embrace that binds without humility and love.

People do bad things.  All people.  This is the human dilemma since the beginning of time.  It is embodied in the story of Adam and Eve – the Fall from Grace, Original Sin.

Our only path to love and fellowship is through growing our relationship with good, becoming wiser, more humble, thoughtful friends and neighbors.  Peace can never be insured through divisive ideology.  Ideology is the language of the lesser heart, its pitch is calibrated to hatred.  Yet, relationship with God dissolves anger, raises us up by bringing us to our knees.

There is an inmost center in us all where truth abides in fullness.

Robert Browning, in Paracelus

Shalom.

Lord, give us the strength of faith to know the truth about ourselves so we might live in peace as one.

Touch comes before sight, before speech.  It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.

Margaret Atwood, in The Blind Assassin

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The political language today is disturbing, harsh – mean, hateful many times.  Those who speak seem unaware that words can injure, maim – diminish, divide, isolate, crush another’s spirit.  Public discourse alike is often banal – gibberish even.

This his makes me wonder what life might be like if we could only touch.

I recall touching my wife’s feet just before she died.  I knew instantly that this touch was the most loving thing I had even done.  I thought about Christ washing the feet of his Disciples.  Touch is love … or can be – love without words.

The eyes can speak as touch can.  Yes, the eyes are full of language.  They speak best when they express love, admiration, joy, acceptance, kindness and mercy.  The eyes show the heart and show its content.

I wish today that we did not speak as we do.  Today speech so often injures.  I, too, must remember this.

Imagine if we suspended language once a week for a day.  A verbal fast would bring peace in its silence, and thought reflected upon – tamed.  How we need this. A moratorium on the spoken word – peace at last for us one day a week.

I have come now to avoid listening to words willy-nilly, to “news” and commentary, to political people.  I prefer silence.  Life today is better with fewer words.

Recently a Dear Friend said to me: you write so well even when you are sad.  If this is so is it not the case that life does not end when breathing stops – and language is best when it is divine and from the loving heart, when it has “that kind touch” that never fades.

Shalom.

Discussion – The conversation after the Las Vegas shootings turns to preventing such acts.  Sounds fine.  But is that possible when a country supports and defends abortion?  Do we have the moral content to reduce such violence?  Character matters more than words.  Be careful to whom you listen.  

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