Friday, July 11, 2014

Does everything happen for a reason?

"Everything happens for a reason."

I have heard this many times. Often, someone will say this when trying to understand some difficulty, hardship, or grievance. Sometimes a well-meaning person may even say this to another in attempt to console the other who is experiencing such.

I say well-meaning because I'm sure this is said with sincerity and empathy, although it is also said because as humans, and especially Christians, we sometimes struggle to find meaning and purpose in life itself, but this is especially the case in moments of crisis, tragedy, and loss.

The truth though is that this is a common misunderstanding of what Saint Paul writes in Romans 8:28:

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

If you examine the two thoughts here, you will clearly see the difference.

"Everything happens for a reason" proposes that all good and bad befall a person according to God's Will, that every single circumstance or situation is somehow brought on or caused by God.

"And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints" is quite different however.

First of all, "to them that love God" is obviously not directed to all since it should go without saying that not all love God. There's something even a bit deeper here, but for the sake of simplicity this will suffice.

Then "all things work together unto good", while seeming to suggest a "happy reason" for a sad circumstance, it is actually another example of the difference between happiness and joy. It is impossible to be happy all of the time, especially in difficult times, but we can always find joy.

Joy is being able to look beyond the sorrow and suffering to a hope and trust which is placed in God, based upon His promise. It is the ability to see this life for what it is, temporary, while having the assurance of God's desire ("according to his purpose") for our eternal salvation ("to such as... are called to be saints").

"Everything happens for a reason" proposes that all existence is being controlled and arranged by God exactly as He plans it, and we are all puppets on a string, carrying on throughout our lives consigned to acting without choice.

This eliminates God's gift of free will for us, and it is a heresy.

Free will, a gift from God. God desires that we choose to love Him above all things. He desires that we turn our eyes to Him, to seek His Will in all things.

This freedom is also what makes us responsible. That responsibility is to ourselves, to God, and to others. This three-fold responsibility is also why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important, but I digress. When one acts according to his own desires rather than the desire of God, those actions (sins) also affect others.

Sin. If you are looking for someone or something to blame for the aforementioned misfortunes, sin is your target, not God.

While repentance and forgiveness may remove sin, the effects of the sin remain. In my Faith Formation classes, I use the example of one child having a bad day, and as a result, being mean to another child. As a result, that child may be mean to another, and so on.

Another example is that of an adult, who poorly chooses to become intoxicated and drive a vehicle, is the cause of an accident, killing someone else.

Sure, the sin can be forgiven, but the damage is done, and the effects of the sin remain. One need only think of the grief the loss of the accident victim will have on an untold number of persons and the multifaceted impact the loss of the individual will have on many lives, to begin to understand the compounded impact of the effects of sin throughout human history.

"And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints" proposes that God loves us enough that He never tires of adjusting our path to re-conform to His purpose.

This does not mean that it will be easy for us, nor does it mean that we will avoid suffering or that everything that happens to us will be "fair." It does not mean that we will understand everything that happens to us either. Sometimes it will be a Mystery.

We can know and understand some things about a Mystery, but not all.

It is in these times though that I think about the greatest Mystery of all, and it does bring comfort to me; comfort, awe, and Hope.

The greatest Mystery to me is that God chose to become one of us and die the horrific death that He did on the Cross for the forgiveness of sin. Why? Why did He choose to do it in that way? Couldn't He just "snap His fingers" and fix everything? Couldn't He just do a do-over?

It's a Mystery.

For the past several weeks, I and my family have experienced our share of difficulties. I do not find comfort in "Everything happens for a reason", but I do find comfort in

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Learning to Pray (Moving past goo goo, ga ga)

In "Learning to Pray (An Introduction)" we began to look at prayer at a very basic level, from the perspective of an infant who is learning to communicate with his or her parents through non-verbal means and defined Christian prayer as relationship with Christ.

In the pursuit of education, one's ability to understand and expound that which is learned is made possible by a gradual development of the curriculum. As this development continues, the learner is best served by occasional reviews which reinforce what has been learned and further enables the learner to continually progress in his or her studies.

The same is true with the formation of faith and prayer. This is not to suggest that the approach to these should be undertaken in a merely academic manner. Again, prayer is relationship with Christ. We are not just seeking to know about Him, but rather to KNOW Him.

And yet, when one sets out to know someone, if that person is really important to him or her, does he or she not seek to learn all that is possible about that person? If you have ever been in a relationship with someone, and that relationship was very important to you, then you understand.

So it is with our relationship with Christ and our understanding of prayer as we continue.

While the infant and parents begin to love each other through non-verbal means of communication, the development of that relationship is enhanced as the infant learns to speak.

At first it begins with "Goo goo, ga ga." Both the infant and the parents have no idea what those sounds are, but those sounds serve to reinforce the love that has already been substantiated in the relationship.

Gradually, the child forms the ability to enunciate a word or two.

How special must it be for that child as he or she realizes that its parents understand him or her! Likewise, the proud and loving parents embrace the child's limited ability to verbally communicate.

Stay with me on this baby thing, there is a purpose here.

How does the child learn to speak? The parents have spent a considerable amount of time speaking to him or her, especially focusing on those important words, "Mommy" and "Daddy."

“This is how you are to pray: Our Father..." - Matthew 6: 9

What joy the parents experience with the simple yet beautiful music of their child's voice speaking their name! What joy the child experiences when he or she realizes, "Mommy and Daddy understand me!"

The child's ability to speak these simple words does not signal his or her readiness to present a thesis, nor do the parents expect such. They are pleased and satisfied with the sound of their names for now.

When the Christian seeks to learn how to pray, where does he or she turn if not to Christ Himself?

"Lord, teach us to pray..." - Luke 11:1

Jesus knew the joy that both the Father and we would experience with these first words:

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." - Luke 11:2

We all face troubles, some pain, loss, or other suffering. These are moments when it's hard to know how to pray. In our suffering we may feel like little helpless children, struggling to form the right words.

Jesus understands this as well. Suffering on the cross, in calling to God the Father, Jesus uses the word, "Abba." As I have written about before, this is the word that little children used for their fathers; "Daddy!"

Assignment for the day: Say those first words of the Our Father, but use the word "Daddy."  "Daddy, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." Reflect on that and the joy that it gives to God to hear your voice speaking to Him, blessing His Name. I bet you say it more than once.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Learning to Pray (An Introduction)

"For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy." - Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

"What is absolutely essential to the Christian life?"

I suspect most Christians, should they ponder this question for even a brief moment, would conclude that prayer is essential to the Christian life.

I bet there have been many times you've heard (or said) "I would really like to have a better prayer life." For the Christian, what is really being said is "I seek to have a better relationship with Christ."

I propose that regardless of the state of our own personal prayer life, there is always room to grow and improve. For if Christian prayer is relationship with Christ, does the true Christian not seek to constantly and continually grow and improve that relationship?

While we may seek a better prayer life, we may often find ourselves to be inadequate or "dry". We might set out with some plan that soon thereafter falls by the wayside. Why is that?

Perhaps it is our misunderstanding of Christian prayer at the very basic and fundamental level. Do you think that prayer is all about words?

Does a baby understand it is loved by its parents? How is that? Do you think it is because the baby understands its parents when they tell him or her "I love you"? Of course not! The baby understands that the parent loves him or her because of the parent's actions!

Ah, the baby's ability to understand that it is loved begins with the actions of the parent. As the baby learns and grows, the relationship between baby and parents grow too. The baby learns to express it's love for his or her parents in ways that they most certainly understand. This is true long before the baby is able to express such affection through verbal communication.

Think of yourself as that baby and God as the parent. We know how to do this! It is at the core of our being, and that should be a comfort to anyone who thinks, "I don't know how to pray."

Kendra and I recently went on a Marriage Encounter weekend. On the second evening of the weekend while Kendra and I were reflecting on the day, we discussed one of the presenting couples. "Have you noticed how Judy looks at Ron?" I asked. "How couldn't I?" Kendra responded.

We went on to discuss some of the little ways that each member of the presenting couples had displayed love and affection for each other. These were all non-verbal means. They were each able to visibly express their love for each other to one another and to us without saying a word.

If our prayer is relationship with Christ, then we are able to understand His love through non-verbal means. We are able to express our love to Him through non-verbal means. Others are able to visibly recognize our relationship with Christ through such means, and this all works toward some benefit in the salvific plan of God.

Assignment for the day: Think of someone special in your life today. That person is a gift from God to you; a non-verbal means of His communication to you. Think about that gift today - and smile.

There, you did it! What a nice little prayer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dallas Pro-Life Boot Camp

Youth For Life Pro-Life Boot Camp is one of the best opportunities for young people to become involved in the work of the pro-life movement.
Boot Camp is for students entering high school, who are ages 14-17.
Activities include praying at Dallas and Fort Worth area abortion centers, talks from experts on pro-life issues, skits, pro-life testimonials, Mass and the Sacraments and volunteer projects.
Abortion Around the World
                * 
The Real War on Women
Session 1: June 27 - 29
Session 2: July 25 - 29
University of Dallas, Irving

For more information on Youth For Life Boot Camp, contact Youth For Life Director Jacquelyn Smith at 972-416-9591 orjsmith@prolifedallas.org.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Baby Changes Everything, Demands Sacrifice

There's a story in the Bible meant to illustrate the wisdom of Solomon. The first time I heard the story I was a very young boy, and I suspect most people with even a juvenile knowledge of the Bible are familiar with it as well.

However, to summarize, 2 women approach King Solomon seeking his judgement in their case. The women each had given birth to sons, but one of the boys suffocated in the night as the mother lay on top of him.

Both women claimed the child to be hers. One claimed there was a dubious switch, and the other denied it.

Solomon orders the child be brought to him and cut in two halves with a sword, a half of the child to go to each woman.

At this, one of the women begins to plead with Solomon, saying “Please, my lord, give her the living baby—do not kill it!” even as the other women said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours. Cut it in two!”

Solomon, seeing that the woman who plead for the infant's life was the true mother, awards him to her, and becomes "renown" for his wisdom in the matter.

I always liked the story, but while reading this morning I noticed the footnotes:

* [3:26–27] The true mother reveals herself by an uncommon and tender word for the child, “baby.” With this, and the woman’s willingness to give up her child, Solomon realizes that she is the true mother, and quotes her words exactly in rendering his judgment. 1
I never really gave that any thought or even noticed it before, but it brought a smile to my face that one word, "baby", changed everything.

Oh, and that's not all either. I also love that it is stated "and the woman’s willingness to give up her child" that shows Solomon "that she is the true mother."

The true mother, ready to sacrifice all, including her connection to the baby, so that he might be spared and live. Beautiful.
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1 - NAB (USCCB) http://www.usccb.org/bible/1kings/3

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My date with some Baptists in the boat of Jesus

A few months ago I was invited to speak to a group of men at their monthly prayer breakfast and did so this past weekend. The breakfast was at LakeWay Baptist Church in The Colony, about 8 miles away. 

There are some pretty significant theological differences between Baptists and Catholics so I wasn't sure if that would somehow be a hindrance to my presentation, but I was determined to be who I am and to let the Holy Spirit do the real work. 

Oh, their pastor was there too. He didn't run me off or rebuke me or anything so I guess the Holy Spirit being in charge worked. ;-)

Seriously, it was a great experience for me, and I believe the men enjoyed our time together as well.

I was asked to talk about my experience through Hurricane Katrina, and more specifically, how my faith sustained me and my family through that trying time. I did talk about those experiences, but also about the other storms, the various unnamed storms of life that are every bit as turbulent, dangerous, and even deadly.

When I was preparing, I set out to make some brief "bullet point" notes or outline to follow, but that's never really been my style. In fact, I always work backwards. I write out what I want to say, and then make the outline afterwards. But this time, I just left my presentation completely written out; all ten pages.

When I practiced, I found myself looking at the pages often, and that worried me. There's probably nothing worse than having a presenter read from notes. I think I was worried about what I might forget to say or that I would leave out something that was important.

In the end, as I said, I just asked the Holy Spirit to do the work, and all went great. My notes were there as a security blanket (I guess I will always have control issues) but since the presentation was very personal, I used them probably even less than if I had used an outline instead.

As we prayed afterwards, nearly all of the men picked up on the "storm" theme, affirming to me that all of us are facing some storm or another throughout our lives. More affirming though was that it was evident that the true message was delivered and received appropriately.

That is that we are in the boat of Jesus. It's His boat, not ours. When we forget that we are in the boat of Jesus, when we take our eyes off of Him and focus on the storm - how powerful it is instead of how powerful God is, and what it might do to us, how it might hurt us, what it might take away from us - we are in danger of drowning; in every way a man can drown.

As it turns out, there were a few things that I didn't say, some things I thought were significant, but in the end I guess they really were not.

But here's the point I actually set out to make with this post: I was moved by what I witnessed as the Holy Spirit working in these men's lives. It seemed to be reciprocal. Because we all opened our hearts to God and allowed Him to be in control during that time, not focusing on what separates us but on what unites us, we were able to allow Him to accomplish some new work in all of our lives.

My date with those Baptist Christian men in the boat of Jesus was a very uplifting experience.

Father, that we may all be One. +++

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blind

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, so that he saw the angel of the LORD standing on the road with sword drawn; and he knelt and bowed down to the ground. - Numbers 22: 31

This verse is from the Scripture passage which is the inspiration for the name of this blog.

Balaam was obviously blind to the presence of the angel of the Lord. He was only focused on the donkey. More accurately, he was focused on the donkey not doing what he wanted her to do. He was thinking about himself and what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go.

Scripture tells us that God communicated with Balaam before this donkey business, and that Balaam had obeyed God in the past. But now he was doing his own thing. Blind.

It turns out that Balaam is no hero. He instructs Balak how to get the Israelites to curse themselves through vice. Balaam is offered as an example of a false prophet in 2nd Peter and Jude, and even gets a mention (negatively) in Revelation.

It's not only vice and avarice that are "stumbling blocks" and contributing to our blindness.

Regardless of the state of our relationship with God, when we begin focusing on ourselves and see the circumstances in our lives only as they affect us, we become blind to what is important. Even worse, we become blind to what God might be trying to work in and through us.