Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life or Death

Today I attended a funeral.  An old friend of mine lost her husband to colon cancer.  He was 52.  During the homily at the funeral mass the priest talked about how her husband found it so hard to beat the cancer but that several days before he died he had a sense of calm and peacefulness.

Why do people die "before their time"?  If we, as people of faith, know they are going on to a place where every tear will be wiped away and there is no more suffering, why do we grieve them so much? Shouldn't we be happy for them?  Why should someone fight an inevitable terminal illness and work so hard to stay alive even if life for them is so painful?

I thought a lot about these questions today.  I definitely understand why we grieve.  It is frightening and difficult to accept that someone we love so much, someone who is our life partner, someone with whom we are so intimately entwined is gone.  Even people of great faith feel a deep sense of loss and pain.  But what about the person who is dying?

God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts
so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

As I pondered it, the answer came roaring at me like a flood.  Life is a unique and special gift from God.  It's a one shot thing.  We only get one chance.  Even people who don't know God have an instinct to preserve their lives.  I think it's because everyone understands life has purpose and worth.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1721 says it best:  "God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise."  We inherently know we are here for a specific reason, even though we might not be so sure about what that reason is.  I believe that's why we fight so ferociously to stay alive, even when the end is so close and we are suffering.  The mind and the body want to live.  We want that chance to know, to love and to serve.

I'm sure for many people death can be very scary, especially if you are not sure what comes next.  I don't claim to have any special insight into that and the unknown scares me too.  However, in the core of my being, the same core that will struggle to stay alive for as long as possible, I know one thing:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.  Job 19:25-26.

I am so blest to know that.  It makes me want to know, to love and to serve that same redeemer.  However, when it is finally time to go on, those of us who remain need to say with gladness and joy:

May the angels lead you into paradise;
Upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you
 and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May the ranks of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, once a poor man,
may you have eternal rest

Rest in peace, Mike.


Thursday, March 13, 2014


It's been a week now since Lent began and it's been quite a week.  I gave up three things for Lent:
(1) refined sugar;
(2) use of my cell phone for anything other than telephone calls or text messages (no apps, FB, Twitter, etc.); and
(3) use of my car sound system (radio).

I really thought sacrificing refined sugar was going to be hard and I am reminded of Christ's suffering every night when I really want something sweet.  However, I was not prepared for the real mortification - going without my car radio.

I drive 60 miles a day during my work commute.  I'm not used to sitting in silence.  It feels weird.  When I get into the car, I immediately feel like something is missing.  It's just automatic - I want to hear noise.  The silence is deafening and it's hard to be a captive to the silence.

I am making good use of my time.  I'm praying.  Lots of rosaries and Divine Mercy chaplets.  They have been great, but I am still looking for more.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this issue:
"Contemplative prayer is silence, the 'symbol of the world to come' or 'silent love.'  Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love.  In this silence, unbearable to the 'outer' man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus." CCC 2717
Sometimes it feels like He's not speaking to me, but I know that can't be true.  I think I'm so used to noise, I don't know how to listen.  I'm working on it.  It is a sacrifice for me to go without audio stimulation, but I'm hoping through this sacrifice to get a better sense of what it feels like to be quiet and wait for God to speak.  

"My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation" Psalm 62:1


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Giving It Up

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  Watch this video to get Ash Wednesday and Lent in just 2 minutes:

I can get a little peevish about Ash Wednesday - from an attendance standpoint it's the next best thing to Christmas or Easter.  Uggghhh!  But enough with my peevishness.  I need to give it up for Lent.  

Ahh, the Catholic practice of "giving up" something for Lent.  Candy, soda, TV, internet - yep, done those.  What's the point?  Wouldn't it be better to do something positive like reading the Bible every day during Lent or spending more time in prayer?  Actually, it's not an either/or question, but a both/and answer.  Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, abstinence and almsgiving.  We should pray AND fast AND abstain AND give alms.  There is a real reason for "giving up" something.  Jesus did it for 40 days in the desert. Matthew 4:2.  Fasting is very Biblical, as is abstinence, especially in the flesh.  Romans 8:13.  That's why the Church asks Catholics to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent and also to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  We're not looking for a diet here (although that might be nice), but the whole point is to "die to self".  

By choosing to give up something you really like (candy, TV, internet), you can suffer a small mortification and join in Christ's sufferings (even if it is just a little).  Giving up something I love can hurt.  In my case I'm giving up refined sugar for Lent.  Trust me, this is going to hurt.  It's not a requirement to give something up (except for abstaining from meat on Fridays), but if I'm trying to feel a little pain to be closer to Jesus in the desert it certainly helps.

The almsgiving can be tough too.  When we were kids we always had little cardboard boxes in the shape of "rice bowls."  We put our coins in there for the poor children in Africa.  Although that does sound hokey, our teachers were trying to teach us the practice of almsgiving.  I think even more than prayer, fasting and abstinence, a special emphasis on almsgiving can be difficult.  I'm going to have to think about that one.

I'm praying about keeping these spiritual exercises during Lent - it's hard when the Easter candy shows up in the stores - which is like, now.  The great thing about doing these little mortifications is that Easter becomes a real celebration of the "joy in the morning" after the desert of Lent. 

And that, my friends, makes it sweeter than Peeps (sorry, I couldn't help that one!).

Have a prayerful and sacrificial Lent.