Gone Fishing

Gone Fishing

In studying and reflecting on life, my life specifically, I realized I was staying extremely busy and not really getting anything done. I was meeting with people, celebrating Masses, attending to prayer, teaching, sanctifying and governing as one does. But there were still piles of other things left to do. And no matter what book or skillset from “Get Things Done” or “The Art of Tidying Up” happened to be in vogue – nothing was really working.

So I spent more time with the Book of Proverbs in the mornings. I got rid of cable TV. I cut back on facebook and twitter due to privacy concerns and the rising lack of charity in online discourse and realized the internet is actually pretty boring. Living a very public life, one needs privacy in this day and age.

So as to blogging – what does a priest blog about? I’ve asked and received much advice about what a priest could blog about, what a priest should blog about.

But when push comes to shove I don’t know that’s it’s worth the effort. And here’s why:

  • confidentiality – most of what we do during the day is highly confidential. I hear a lot of criticism over priests posting pictures of dinner, or workouts, etc. But the fact is, 80% of what we do during the day we simply can’t talk about online, in public, sometimes with anyone at all. So that leaves pictures of food, workouts, etc.
  • controversy – the Church is a mess these days. Everyone disagrees with almost anything and everything. Everyone wants their own way. Everyone knows what should be done and how to do it. Everyone lets every priest know whether they agree or disagree. I can shrug of withering texts, emails and comments – but at some point who wants to deal with it? The Church is the Church and we’re either for it or against it; if we’re not “progressive” then there are things we have to do and ways to do them. Period. it’s not clericalism. We can have committees and inclusiveness all day long but in the end, the Eucharist is the Eucharist and the Sacraments are the Sacraments and the teachings of Jesus Christ are the same yesterday today and forever. There are better ways to spend one’s time than engaging in dismaying discussions that are tests of modernism, traditionalism, theological bent, philosophical leaning, etc. And we can talk about contraception, abortion, sexuality, addiction until we’re blue in the face and people will still say that we should talk about those things sometime because they never hear it from the pulpit. (Not that we have a pulpit.)
  • time – our time is like no other in the addictive nature of almost everything which enters into our day. Dings of texts, emails, phone calls; a demand for 24/7 availability; drop everything you’re doing and quickly get back with me on this. All of these things involve necessary elements of work, but it can’t all get done while maintaining the level of prayer, thought and planning that are truly necessary for the work of a pastor.
  • With those things in mind, I started going fishing.
  • And we’re delegating. There’s an art to delegating, because others have great skills and find great joy in doing most of the things that I can’t stand doing.
  • And we’re reorganizing the staff.
  • And we’re reworking the pastoral council and the finance council.
  • Because our Parish is truly wonderful, a microcosm of the universal Church where the Lord allows for great prayer, discussion, service and insight. The Parish has grown beyond its capacity at present, and we’re undertaking most of these things because of the expansion that’s happening organically around us.

I also realized – quite a while ago – I don’t have the hours in the day necessary to really devote to blogging. Successful bloggers spend time learning, studying, implementing and writing, typing away and spending hours composing posts. I can spend a bit of time here and there, and may as well have fun since the sites all paid up. But – that’s about it. I’m working on some other writing projects.

My sacred purpose on earth isn’t tied to blogging, and I have things to do to serve God and others properly.

Don’t we all?

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Addicts and Addiction

A Butterfly

As everything becomes addictive, addiction itself is being redefined. It’s now referred to mostly as substance use disorder, and a lot of research is going into varying methods of treatment.

After a lot of review and experience, my preferred approach is done through the Freedom Model. Evidence-based, research-based, it focusses on changing one’s behaviors and simply planning a better way of living. Simple though not necessarily easy, the St. Jude retreats which employ the freedom model enjoy an independently verified 62.5% success rate over the last 28 years.

For whatever reason, I am always befriending addicts and recovering addicts. It’s no doubt because addiction exists in my family history and I’m used to being around them. It’s also no doubt because I can be addicted to almost anything and have learned that I have to develop habits that lean away from abuse of anything which is a cause for addiction. It’s also just true that the people that I befriend are simply peopel that I like and enjoy being around.

Things that Happen in Substance Use Disorder

I’m not a scientist and don’t claim to be. But in my experience, main things that come to be is that a person starts to lead two (or more) very different lives. There is the public life and the public persona, and there is an often hard-core secretive life going on which is kept from view of just about everyone – loved ones, colleagues, friends. As things develop and the secretive life becomes more pronounced, distrust develops. People know that something doesn’t add up. Signs of substance abuse will appear, and the distrust grows. Then the user experiences confusion and shame and is unable to relate to those who care the most, who are often appalled at behaviors they don’t understand and more than likely have never considered doing on their own. Drama ensues.

So the substance abuser starts befriending and relying on others like him or herself, and the bar gradually grows lower as lifestyle and health degenerate. Soon, our friend, colleague, family member, whoever, is hanging with a completely different crowd that polite society will find disturbing. (This does beg the question of who wants to be involved in polite society. Many start turning to substances as distractions from what they perceive to be “polite society”, instead of learning how to cope and function in their own strength and power wherever they may choose to do so.)

The label of “addict” further complicates things. Many will disagree here but I’m not out to have a battle of words over research being done. Considering that their loved one needs to “hit rock bottom”, many will push and push and push until they actually do hit rock bottom and are completely destroyed or suicidal.

Other ways to Go About Things

First, it’s always best to get to know every side of any individual that we care about, work with, or consider a friend. The deep dark secretive side needs friendship and understanding just as much as the social side because one caught in substance abuse, considering themselves locked in for life – which they’re not – become dis-integrated. Befriending a whole person allows for them to start reconciling various aspects of their life into a cohesive and well-integrated personality. Professional help is always recommended, but we can each do our part.

If a man or woman is made in the image and likeness of God, why would you take away their power by telling them that they have no power over their habits? It’s ultimately very simply about changing one’s habits and working on the integration of the personality, so that who one is in one situation is consistent with who one actually is in all (or most) situations. I mean, we all have somethings we keep to ourselves. And we certainly act differently according to the situations in which we find ourselves.

The 12 Steps

The twelve step model is great and wonderful. However it doesn’t have a huge success rate in treatment, and many people aren’t wont to partake in it.

At their core, the 12 steps actually very Catholic. Don’t be surprised. The 12 Steps acknowledge a problem, give it to God and the rest is really a spiritual program. Reliance upon the Lord, taking stock through an examination of life and conscience, Confession, satisfaction, amendment of life, and passing along the good news.

The Freedom Model

From the program book of the St. Jude model:

“Here’s the bottom line: for every successful person who stays stuck in the recovery culture, there are at least three more people who struggle with equal or worse substance use habits, who successfully overcome them and move on with their lives without any treatment whatsoever. And they do this not as fragile “recovering addicts” in need of constant support, but rather as individuals living a lifestyle whose futures are not defined by their past problems.

In Closing

Currently, there is certainly no one size fits all equation for dealing with substance abuse disorders. However, attaching a label to someone for life is detrimental, and goes against the research being done in the most successful quarters of the treatment industry. As you can tell, I’m a fan of the Freedom Model and their St. Jude Retreats. I’m also supportive of everyone who simply kicks their habits on their own, replacing the negative habits with the good. We all have to do that in life anyway.

Learn, love, pray.

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Spirituality in the Age of “The Internet”

The Clear Path

Pass not beyond the ancient bounds which thy fathers have set. Hast thou seen a man swift in his work? he shall stand before kings, and shall not be before those that are obscure.

Proverbs 22:28

Cal Newport, in his book “Deep Work”, outlines some of the major issues in the global struggle for focus; busyness as a proxy for productivity, elevation of “the internet” as a mandatory good, social media presence ad nauseum. The list goes on but writing as an academic he demonstrates the need for skilled workers in every area of life, especially in the world which he inhabits, in the field of knowledge.

The same is obviously occurring in the life of religious and the life of the faithful. Not to say that everyone is whiling away the hours on social media and texts. But at every level of life distractions are growing to the point that digiphrenia is a recognized state of being, though yet to be formally recognized by the medical community.

Digiphrenia is the altered state of mind, constant in many, between who they are and who they are with, and their digital presence. Simple examples would include, constantly texting in the middle of conversations, meetings, prayer, Mass, lunch; checking facebook or twitter, etc, while driving, or socializing with others; you get the idea.

Spirituality and our relationship with the Lord has to have a deep meaning, and has to be a deep experience in our lives. The gravity of it has to weigh us down to earth, firmly rooting us so that we may then take flight in the beauties of life which the Lord unfolds before us in so many varied and constant ways.

In the Church, the varied states of being are witnessed by cell phones at Masses, constant distractions during prayer, and priests who are the new – and unwitting – middle managers of a global institution. As middle managers, priests are weighed down with administrative tasks, the false need to be present 365-24/7, the endless string of chatter from above to which one is expected to respond, and in general the many necessary time-sucking tasks of management which, while necessary, also prevent for great levels of deep thinking.

Deep thinking is that level of work which will take hours of uninterrupted time. Does that sound like something which should be necessary to the knowledge of Sacred Scripture? To the knowledge of God?

Beyond deep thinking one has deep prayer, which is at that level that requires of us time for reflection and contemplation upon the great spiritual truths presented to us in the Faith. The priest-as-middle-manager is no longer a viable model.

A larger issue is focus. As a world we are unfocused at the moment, and invested in passing things. Only the deep thinkers, the deep knowledge of skilled trades and artists, and deep prayers will discover that which is to remain.

More on this to come. It’s a – deep topic.

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St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph and the Angel

And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.

Matthew 1:24

St. Joseph is a man of mystery in the Scriptures. We don’t read much about him, and he doesn’t say anything.

“In Matthew, Joseph obeys the direction of an angel to marry Mary. Following the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph is told by an angel in a dream to take the family to Egypt to escape the massacre of the children of Bethlehem planned by Herod, the ruler of the Roman province of Judea. Once Herod has died, an angel tells Joseph to return, but to avoid Herod’s son he takes his wife and the child to Nazareth in Galilee and settles there. Thus in Matthew, the infant Jesus, like Moses, is in peril from a cruel king, like Moses he has a (fore)father named Joseph who goes down to Egypt, like the Old Testament Joseph this Joseph has a father named Jacob, and both Josephs receive important dreams foretelling their future.” That is from Wikipedia, which can be a great source of preliminary information.

Quiet though he may be – he is a man of action! He rises from his sleep and does the bidding of the Lord!

Would that we all do the same, for such excellence the idea displays.

St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for us; that we may rise from our sleep and do the bidding of the Lord.   

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St. Patrick’s “Confessio”

St. Patrick

St. Patrick’s Day, filled with green beer and assorted trivialities as it is, doesn’t go a long way in helping us know the mind of the Saint. But his Confessio does. Written at some point in his life for his detractors (if one can imagine a Priest having detractors) it tells the story of his life, with an eye towards his release from the slavery of sin and ignorance and being brought into the light of Jesus Christ.

Here are the first four brilliant paragraphs, with some pertinent parts highlighted.

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved[. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.

It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.

That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.

This is because there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching. And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him. He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ. This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity of the sacred name.

https://www.confessio.ie/etexts/confessio_english#

Go, read the rest!

It’s licensed under a Creative Common’s License and readily avilable on ther webs.

No One Knows my Name

Absalom in the Tree

As for Absalom, they threw his body into a deep pit, there in the forest, and piled a great heap of stones over him. Meanwhile, the men of Israel fled away to their tents. (The monument which stands in the King’s Vale is one which Absalom erected for himself in his own life-time, thinking thus to perpetuate his name, since he had no son to follow him. And as he gave this monument his own name, it has been called Absalom’s Mark ever since.)

2 Kings 18:17-18

Continuing on this little excursion into the life and times of the tragic Absalom, we see that his name means “father of peace”, or “peaceful”. In his quest for a legacy, he became a shyster who caused a civil war about as casually as anyone ever might. He never had a claim to be the father of peace.

In our world of celebrity culture, where we admire the rich and beautiful and often consider them as more wise, more in touch with reality, more alive than anyone else – we’re wont to follow the the smooth and charming as easily as the people of his day followed Absalom. Then we more often than not realize the leaders we follow are shallow, agenda driven and vainglorious as was Absalom.

So the challenge is – all the more – to be the spiritual influence which the Lord wants you to be. One doesn’t need celebrity to be a fully developed person, one only needs the Lord God almighty, putting into practice what we learn.

Ironically, Absalom is remembered very well despite the fact that he considered he would be forgotten as he had no sons to carry his name. Absalom’s three sons ( 2 Samuel 14:27 ; comp  18:18 ) had all died before him, so that he left only his daughter Tamar. She became the grandmother of Abijah, who would be a King of Judah.

But he’s remembered as an example of pridefulness. The tomb which is said to be “Absalom’s Mark“, doesn’t even carry his remains. The inscriptions actually refer to Zechariah and Simeon, recalled fondly from the Gospel of Luke.

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A Brief Synopsis of the fall of Absalom

Third son of King David, born in Hebron in the early years of that king’s reign. His mother, Maachah, was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (II Sam. iii. 3; II Sam. xiii. 37; I Chron. iii. 2).
Absalom appears as the avenger of his sister Tamar, who had been entrapped, outraged, and shamefully cast aside by her half-brother Amnon, David’s eldest son. Having heard of the crime, the king was greatly irritated, but he had not the courage to punish Amnon, on account of his love for his first-born. The victim sought refuge in the house of Absalom, who advised her to bear the insult in silence. Absalom himself did not at first resent it otherwise than by systematically ignoring Amnon (II Sam. xiii. 1-22), but on the occasion of a banquet two years later, at which all David’s sons were present, Absalom’s servants, at the command of their master, fell upon Amnon and slew him (II Sam. xiii. 23-33). The other sons of David hurried back to Jerusalem, where a rumor had already spread that Absalom had killed all his brothers; and the king deeply mourned over the death of Amnon. As for Absalom, he fled to Talmai, his grandfather, in Geshur, and remained there three years (II Sam. xiii. 33-38).
But soon David longed to see Absalom, and Joab, David’s nephew, moved by sympathy for the murderer, availed himself of this opportunity to persuade the king to recall Absalom. David consented, and Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem, where he was restored to his house and family, but was granted no privileges of rank at court. Through the influence of Joab a reconciliation between father and son was brought about (II Sam. xiv. 1-24). At this time Absalom is represented as a handsome and full-grown man. His beauty, in combination with an amiable disposition, rendered him popular among the people, and he took advantage of this popularity to strengthen his own position and to arouse dissatisfaction with David (ibid. 25-35). Absalom asked his father’s leave to go to Hebron, and he used the opportunity to encourage a rebellion against David (II Sam. xv. 1-9). Ahithophel, David’s counselor, joined Absalom, while Joab remained faithful to David. The rebellion assumed such large proportions as to oblige David to leave Jerusalem and seek refuge beyond the Jordan. Absalom entered Jerusalem, and, on the advice of Ahithophel, appropriated the harem of David as a symbol of having entered upon royal control (II Sam. xv. 10-xvi. 23).

Ahithophel proposed to pursue David with 12,000 picked soldiers and to bring back to Absalom all the people that had fled with David. This plan was frustrated by Hushai, who counseled that all Israel be gathered from Dan to Beer-sheba, unto Absalom, and that the latter should then go to battle in his own person (II Sam. xvii. 7-13). It is very likely that, during this interval, Absalom was anointed king (II Sam. xix. 11). But the delay gave David time to reach the Jordan unmolested and also to strengthen his army. While the king himself remained in Mahanaim he sent forth his warriors divided into three columns (II Sam. xviii. 1-4). The encounter took place in the forest of Ephraim. Absalom was defeated, and while he was fleeing through the forest his long hair was caught in the branches of a tree. One of Joab’s men found him suspended from the tree and reported the factto Joab, who thrust three darts through the heart of the rebellious prince. The death of Absalom put an end to the rebellion. According to II Sam. xviii. 33, xix. 1-5, David’s mourning was greater for Absalom than for Amnon. See Absalom’s Tomb.

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/637-absalom

Absalom, O Absalom

Absalom and Tamar

And the king covered his head, and cried with a loud voice: O my son Absalom, O Absalom my son, O my son.

2 Kings 19:4

King David had nineteen sons and one daughter by his legitimate wives, and their family life was not without its fair share of drama and intrigue. It’s difficult to really name all of his sons to everyone’s recognition as they’re different in various sources. But here they are:

  • Amnon – Achinoam the Jezrahelite
  • Daniel – Abigail of Carmel
  • Absalom – Maacha
  • Adonias – Aggith 
  • Saphatias – Abital
  • Jethraham – Michal 
  • Simmaa/Shimea – “Treasure” – [probably] Bathsheba
  • Sobab/Shobab – “Returned, turned back, a spark” – Bathsheba
  • Nathan – “he gave” – Bathsheba
  • Solomon –“peace” – Bathsheba
  • Jebaar/Ibhar – “chosen”
  • Elisama/Elishua
  • Elipheleth
  • Noge/Nogah
  • Nepheg
  • Japhia
  • Elisama/Elishama
  • Eliada
  • Elipheleth

He had others by his concubines.

The most famous of these sons are no doubt Absalom and Solomon. Solomon is famous because he became the king after David. And Absalom is famous because of his ghastly death at the hands of Joab, after mysteriously usurping his father’s throne.

In the Scriptures there’s no real reason given for Absalom’s actions. There’s none of the “he was given over to evil”, or “the Lord allowed an evil mood to come over him” type of things. The Scriptures do want us to know though, that he was without a doubt the best looking man in all of the land.

Absalom grew up in the household of the king and wanted for nothing, really. He was popular. Everyone loved him, including King David. He experienced a personal tragedy after his older brother Amnon – the firstborn son of the king – fell in love with his sister Tamar. Tamar, like Absalom, was gifted with a rare beauty.

Amnon, after pining away mercilessly then consulting with the local evil overlord, schemed to have Tamar visit him at home, then made his demand for sexual relations with her. She refused his advances honorably. Then he raped her and put her out of his house, now disgusted by her presence.

Absalom took her in, and was no doubt surprised when King David did not punish Amnon. Instead, after two years Absalom had Amnon killed on his own, seeking justice and vengeance for his sister.

Here is where Absalom differs from his father David.

King David almost never veers from his reliance on the Lord, in good times and in bad. His famous indiscretion with Bathsheba and the sending off of her husband to a planned death is an obvious exception. But he is always allowing the Lord to guide him. Absalom here takes vengeance into his own hands. And no doubt from there his heart is simply further hardened.

David doesn’t punish Absalom for this murder, except for not allowing him into Jerusalem. But after several years he is convinced to allow Absalom to move back to Jerusalem, and Absalom takes up a place at the gates of the city, greeting everyone coming and going.

Absalom is extraordinarily good looking. He has a huge head of beautiful hair that grows so abundantly the Bible even says “This Absalom was a man of good presence and famed for his beauty, none like him in all Israel; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head was no blemish to be found; and when he cut his hair, as each year he must for the heavy burden it was, the locks that were cut weighed two hundred sicles by common weight.” Two hundred sickles is about six pounds.

His good looks and charm won many people over to him – but it’s all a part of his nefarious scheme to take the throne from his father.

The plan works for a time and Absalom is “king” of the land. However, in pursuit of David who has fled into exile, a massive battle is planned and David wins, as he always does in battles. He once again does not want to punish Absalom. He is always merciful to his children.

But Absalom is murdered after his abundant hair, a symbol of his pride, becomes entangled in a low lying oak tree, where he hangs futilely awaiting a rescue that will never arrive. Joab, who had his own beef Absalom, strikes him through the heart with three darts and has his head cut off. This doesn’t go over well with King David, who mourns the loss of his son greatly.

In the meantime one of the great wise men of Israel, Ahitophel, had taken sides with Absalom over David. Being one of the most sage in the land, one is given to wonder why he would be won over by mere beauty and charm. When Absalom is routed and suffers misfortune, Ahitophel goes home, puts his affair in order, and hangs himself.

David, upon learning of Absalom’s death, utters those famous lines “Absalom, O Absalom, my son O my son.”

What Can We Learn from This Sordid Drama?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Many see in the betrayal of David by Ahitopel an image of Judas Iscariot and the betrayal of Jesus. Ahitopel commits the first recorded suicide in biblical history; Judas betrays Jesus and then commits suicide himself. Ahipotel was considered extremely wise, and yet he was taken in as a fool. Stay on guard and never rest on your laurels when it comes to wisdom.

There’s also no reference – ever – of Absalom speaking with the Lord God almighty, relying on him, or otherwise invoking the Divine Presence. King David does this constantly (except of course as noted above when he falls in lust with Bathseba.) Absalom relies on his smooth talking, good looks and charm to manipulate people into doing what he wants them to do. It’s the classic reliance on self rather than upon God. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, and Absalom is making vengeance his own – which backfires. He conspires against Amnon after Amnon rapes his sister Tamar. And he conspires against David after David doesn’t punish Amnon. Maybe leaving things in the hands of the Lord and trying a different route would have been a better bet.

There’s no eucatastrophe here, (eucatastrophe being a sudden turn of events for the better.) Sometimes tragedies just happen.

David the Merciful

Through it all, King David is a picture of justice and mercy. David sinned in a major way. So when others did he was understanding, and his love for them won over his desire for punishment. Maybe he should have considered harsher punishment and Absalom would have been a bit more hesitant to usurp the throne?

As David is merciful toward his family, so our Heavenly Father is merciful toward us. And then we, as Absalom, are quite capable of going astray, relying on self and the gifts God has given us to manipulate our lives into a goodness.

Evil always starts seeming simple, easy and beautiful. Absalom, with his good looks and winning ways, seemed like the sure and certain bet instead of the old king up in the palace, even though that old king had been proven by the Lord many times over. And even though that old king had taken a small nation on the verge of ruin and turned it into a major powerhouse in the ancient world. And for Absalom, it seemed simple to win everyone over and take the place of his father in their hearts. The Lord had given him good looks, why not use them?

So when things present themselves to us in life, the good the bad and the ugly, we have to remember the call of the Lord upon our lives. What is our own purpose and work? What are the gifts he has given which we could coast upon and take the easy way to a position of our own choosing, versus the gifts we have that He would like for us to use for a greater good of service to Him and to our neighbor?

Poor Absalom. He had it all. And he threw it all away.

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The Freedom for Excellence

the old kitchen

Honor the Lord with thy substance, and give him of the first of all thy fruits: And thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine.

Proverbs 3:9

One of the terms bandied about in Moral Theology these days, or at least last decade – things change every few years or so in our constant immutable teachings – is the “freedom for excellence”. A reason it’s bandied about is that St. Thomas Aquinas thought often of it and wrote about it. And a reason St. Thomas Aquinas thought often of it and wrote about it is because it’s to be found in Sacred Scripture.

And a reason it may not be bandied about this decade is that many priests in the current vogue simply can’t stand St. Thomas Aquinas. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can’t in the timeframe we’re talking about here.

Essentially, and to oversimplify things, we’re given free will by our creator. We can ultimately do whatever we want to do. The freedom for excellence means that we can use our free will to choose actions which lead to happiness, and those actions and that happiness is revealed by the Lord. As we read also in Proverbs chapter 3: “Forget not then, my son, the teaching I give thee; lock these words of mine close in thy bosom;2 long years they shall bring thee of life well spent, and therewith prosperity.

“Honor the Lord with thy substance”. If anything calls us towards excellence in the physical world surely this biblical phrase from the wisdom literature does. And our faith is very much about not just the spiritual, emotional, intellectual aspects of life. We are incarnational beings and the physical is very important; the body, our surroundings, our homes, our clothes, our autos, our foods – all of the substance which the Lord provides should be managed in ways which honor the Lord.

Honoring the Lord with all our substance invites us to clean up, to clean out, to polish, to shine; to exercise regularly, keep our affairs in order. All of the substance of the physical world which is poured out for our good and over which we have dominion needs to be managed beautifully for the glory and honor of God.

A decade ago when I was visiting France one of the first things I noticed, while boarding the plane, is that the French dress well, and see importance in their physical well being and in their surroundings. Gentlemen in suits, young women in heels; decoratively disposing of waste from the meals – I’m chalking it up to the fact that France is the eldest daughter of the Church and at its heart has a very Catholic culture. But there’s excellence in well being which is very evident. (It’s also evident in many areas in Europe and in the world. Many peoples habitually and culturally keep their surroundings immaculate, most notable Judeo Christian cultures.)

In the USA we have a very different concept of our physical surroundings and have become inherently lazy as a people. With the advances of secularism and the advances of progressive ideologies that advise us to have others do for us what we could be doing for ourselves; the advent of free stuff and “all the things” readily at our disposal, we’re less wont to spend time cleaning, polishing, trimming, organizing. We dress in old jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts for all occasions except weddings and funerals. Churches on Sunday afternoons offer a sea of trash for someone else to pick up. Litter all over abounds via the slothful or ignorant

It’s a cultural change, and reflects the fact that our culture is less informed by Jesus Christ than it is by personal whim, and an individuality that prizes itself on conformity. Culture is formed by cult – which means that culture is formed by what we worship, either the gods we hold on high or The God who is on high.

Thoughts for the day; cultural change towards the worship and lived expectations of a life given over to the worship, praise and adoration of, and in service to, the one true God.

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A Word from King David

King David - Roselli

“If you have come to me in friendship to help me, my heart will be knit to you; but if to betray me to me adversaries although there is no wrong in my hands, then may the God of our fathers see and rebuke you.” King David – 1 Chron 12:17

King David was beloved by the Lord and always sought to do His holy will. An outcast in his own family – he was thought as nothing and out tending sheep when the prophet Samuel came over to anoint the future king of Israel. “What on earth are you talking about”? must have been thinking David’s father Jesse – Samuel passed up the strong and mighty sons he had raised up for the Lord, and was asking after the one sent out to tend sheep. That kid who played the harp. A musician! Not a warrior for the Lord.

But David it was.

And note what happened to the King, Saul. Saul had gradually given himself over to evil, and had lost favor with the Lord God. The Lord says of Saul “I have cast him off; he is to be king of Israel no longer.” The Lord’s spirit left King Saul, and an evil mood came upon him. Later, it would only be when David played his harp for Saul that the evil mood would leave him.

Saul remained the King of Israel though because he had been anointed as such in the name of the Lord. Even David dared not kill the Lord’s anointed when presented with the opportunity.

All things came to pass, Saul was killed in battle along with his sons and his head carried away by the Philistines – his body and the bodies of his sons were saved by the valiant men of Israel and given a proper burial. Then David became King and everyone pledged their fidelity to him – he grew in grace and favor and became the greatest King of Israel.

As the solders of Gad presented themselves to him, King David spoke the quote up top. He knew that the Lord’s anointing was upon him, and he walked in certainty that he was free from wrongdoing.

As Monsignor Knox translates it:

“If you come as friends, to aid me, knit be my heart with yours; if you are abetting my enemies, by laying a trap for an innocent man, then may the Lord God of our fathers look down and judge between us.

18 With that, inspired to utterance, Amasai answered him, that was one of the thirty chiefs: Thine, David, we are; with thee, son of Jesse, our lot is cast. Peace be to thee, peace to all who take part with thee; thou hast thy God with thee, taking thy part. So David welcomed them, and made them captains in his army.”

Sometimes people will come against us despite the good that we do for them. In many instances we’ve been given an anointing by the Lord to do certain things, to fulfill a certain role in the Kingdom in our time here on Earth. The attitude of David is the attitude we all need when we are doing right, and living an upright life.

Surely – we know – none of us is perfect. Moving beyond that to doing our best, and knowing that we’re trying to do our best, we can move in the freedom given us as adopted sons and daughters of the Lord in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What is the Lord calling us to do? Who is for us? Who is against us?

Life is never going to be easy. But the Lord has created you in His image and likeness – male and female – and your purpose will not be confounded or confused by those who act against you. And they will act against you. So many lack charity these days, or don’t take the time for a deeper consideration of their actions. There’s a lady on Twitter right now who’s about to get very upset with me for questioning the evidence in Cardinal Pell’s trial. But it’s ok to ask questions, even while insisting that any and all sexual abuse by clergy is to be held accountable in the sight of men and in the sight of God.

When people come against you – especially those who are in your care, who are entrusted to you, who you love – give them to the Lord and let the Lord do with them as He will. There’s no need for added drama, as our holy and almighty God is extremely dramatic as it is. you may have already noticed that He often waits until things are of Biblical proportions to act.

“Lord I trust in your plan for my life. I trust in your anointing upon me. I give you these who come against me as I act in the duties which you have laid before me, and I leave these children of yours to your holy will. I trust in your providence, your love and your guidance.”

Keeping things simple always helps. Live for the Lord. Repent of your sins. Do your best. Trust in Him and act upon His guidance.

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PS – In the First Book of Kings, or the First Book of Samuel depending on which Bible you’re using, Chapter 16, verses 6-11, we read:

“1 But now the Lord said to Samuel, What, still lamenting over Saul? I have cast him off; he is to be king of Israel no longer. Come, put oil in that phial of thine, and go on an errand for me to Jesse of Bethlehem; in one of his sons I have looked myself out a king.

2 How can I undertake such a journey, asked Samuel, without Saul coming to hear of it, and killing me? Take a young bull with thee, the Lord answered, and make it known, I have come to offer the Lord sacrifice.

3 To this sacrifice Jesse must be bidden; then I will reveal my will to thee, and thou shalt anoint the man I direct thee to anoint.

4 Thereupon Samuel did as the Lord bade him; and when he reached Bethlehem, the elders of the city greeted him in alarm, asking whether his coming boded well for them.

5 Yes, he told them, I have come to offer the Lord sacrifice. Rid yourselves of defilement, and join with me in offering it. And with that he hallowed Jesse and his sons, and bade them come to the sacrifice with the rest.

6 As soon as they entered the house, his eye fell on Eliab, and he said, Here stands the Lord’s choice, in the Lord’s presence!

7 But the Lord warned Samuel, Have no eyes for noble mien or tall stature; I have passed this one by. Not where man’s glance falls, falls the Lord’s choice; men see but outward appearances, he reads the heart.

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and brought him into Samuel’s presence; but, No, said he, this is not the Lord’s choice;

9 then Samma, but he said, No, not this one either.

10 Seven sons of his did Jesse thus present before Samuel, but none of these, he was told, had the Lord chosen.

11 Then Samuel asked Jesse whether these were all, and he answered, One still remains, the youngest, herding the sheep. Send for him, answered Samuel; we must not sit down till he comes.

12 And Jesse sent and fetched him, red-cheeked, fair of face, pleasant of mien. And now the Lord said, Up, anoint him; this is my choice.

13 Whereupon Samuel took out the phial of oil and anointed him then and there in his brethren’s presence; and on him, on David, the spirit of the Lord came down, ever after that day. As for Samuel, he rose up and went home to Ramatha.

14 Meanwhile the Lord’s spirit passed away from Saul; instead, at the Lord’s bidding, an evil mood came upon him that gave him no rest.

On Charity

A Southern Garden

In considering some of the trials which the Church has been undergoing these years, I do believe that the ultimate test which the Lord has in mind for us is in our present time is that of Charity.  If we didn’t have Faith we wouldn’t be sitting here;  if we didn’t have Hope we’d probably not be here either. 

Charity, as Fr. John Hardon, S.J., writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is the “infused supernatural virtue by which a person loves God above all things for his [God’s] own sake, and loves others for God’s sake.”  That it’s a supernatural virtue means that it is given to us by the Lord;  it’s an infused virtue – we usually think of tea when we think of an infusion these days.  Anyone can experience charity, or love as it’s very well known, on a natural level.  But being baptized into Christ Jesus allows us a share in the divine charity;  “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom we have received.” (Rom 5:5)

In recent decades each generation has been taught something different about the Faith. We see this in the Priesthood, and have even had to attend workshops devoted to helping understand the phenomenon. Because people are taught different things, each expects different things.  We see this here in those who want Holy Communion under both species, and those who do not.  We see it between those who receive Communion in the hand, those who kneel, those who receive on the tongue, those who stand. Who’s right and who’s wrong, and whose fault is it the Faith is so divided?  Without charity towards one another, we are nothing. 

We also see the horrifying abuse scandals that have been revealed, and have to wonder not only how that came to be, but how the culture which aided it was allowed to flourish for several decades. The faith of many has been shaken, and we have to be charitable in our understanding as people struggle through the dark valleys of faith.  

Many have endured terrible sufferings through loss of loved ones, family issues, dealing with illness, work stresses, or often simply by juggling family, work and prayer while striving to live a Catholic life and be transformed in Jesus Christ.  Everyone is in a different place.  

But the Lord is in charge and the victory is His. There’s no victory without trial, and our trails are always before us when we live lives of faith.  Charity is what helps us to understand one another, to grow in wisdom of our situations, and to give ourselves over completely to the Lord God almighty.  Without charity, without love, we are nothing.  

It’s always a good virtue to keep at the forefront of our minds, so that we might use our free will to allow charity to grow in our hearts, to put it into practice, and to recognize it in others.  

Prayers for a blessed week.