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Saturday, March 31, 2007
Have you ever felt lonely? I’d wager that every one of us can say "yes" to that question. Think for a moment, what was it that caused you to feel lonely? Sickness has the power to do that, so does loss and misunderstanding and isolation and rejection and a thousand other things that can touch our very souls and make us feel the pangs of a lonely heart. Herman Hess, the German novelist has said: "Life is solitude. No one knows anyone else. Everyone is alone." Surely a strange thing to say about our world today where networking and communication are so important. But it’s true; in our world of ultimate communication many of us feel lonely. Many of us have lots of contacts, but no real relationships; we are lonely in the midst of a crowd. Thomas Merton, in one of his diaries, says that he realized, "that is when I am with people that I am lonely and when I am alone I am no longer lonely because then I have God and converse with him (without words) without distraction or interference."
It does seem to be a reversal of the way we ordinarily think for Merton to say that it is when he is with people that he feels lonely, but no longer feels lonely when he is alone. And yet there is, I believe, more than a grain of truth in this seemingly paradoxical statement.
There is a remarkable similarity between Merton’s thought and Christ’s. If you page through the gospels, you will find many instances of Jesus’ need for solitude; a need that he had no hesitations about expressing. Jesus was constantly surrounded by people who wanted him to touch them and heal them. But when you read between the lines of the gospels, you suddenly realize, that Jesus must have felt most lonely in the midst of crowds and that he assuaged this loneliness by retreating into solitude; it was in solitude that he cou1d best communicate with his Father. In solitude Jesus experienced the company of his Father and his loneliness melted away. Jesus certainly approached everyone with great openness, but there was always some part of himself that he didn't allow others to see, that he kept to himself. Jesus had many friends - Lazarus, Mary and Martha, his Apostles - but deep within his soul loneliness lived in the soil of misunderstanding.
When you read the gospels you realize that Jesus was different from other people. In one sense he doesn't seem to have been able to explain himself to his disciples; the gospels are replete with occasions which left them confused and Jesus, misunderstood. Take for example the time Jesus came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration only to find his disciples arguing with the crowd; the disciples were unable to cure a boy possessed by a demon. When Jesus was apprised of the situation by the boy's father and told that his disciples could not cast out the devil from the boy, Jesus replied: "You faithless generation. How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? How much longer must I be among you?" How much longer, indeed? You can hear the longing, the almost desperate longing in Jesus' words, the longing to be home with his Father. Can you also hear the loneliness?
Jesus went his way of suffering alone; the way of suffering is always a very lonely way. Those of us who suffer know how lonely life can be.
The Gospel of John penetrates to the depths of Jesus’ loneliness like none of the other gospels do. And John also makes clear that Jesus is able to accept and endure his loneliness simply because he knows that he is one with his Father in heaven. He referred to this when he said to his apostles that the time will come when they will be scattered, each going his own way leaving Jesus alone. Yet Jesus added that he was really not alone because his Father was with him.
Jesus offers us himself to transform our loneliness into oneness with him. This should always be comforting to us when loneliness engulfs us. Loneliness can always be for us a deep experience of God’s presence, indeed, a blessed and blissful experience of being one with Christ. Loneliness can indeed be painful; it can strike at our hearts and shatter them. But it can also be the place where the lonely Christ who will support us through all the stages of our loneliness, is present. Jesus knows how lonely life can be, not in some abstract way but in the very real way he lived it and the way we live it too. And that is why we, out of the depths of our own loneliness, can turn to the lonely Christ to find something which we can live for and which is big enough to die for. Christ did, so can we.
By Rev. Richard Scheiner C.P.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I opened my old Bible the other day and found something that brought a tear to my eye and a lesson to my heart...
One day, many years ago, when I picked my first-grade son up from school he presented me with a gift of a little pansy. This tiny - already limp flower in his small hand, and his smiling face as he gave it to me - is an image I'll remember all my life. "I got this for you Mommy" he said with such joy.
Pansies do not exactly make good cut flowers - they hardly survive two days - and this one survived even less. Some how, in the squirming and settling down in the car, without noticing, he sat on it. When we got home and he got out of the car and saw the now totally dead, flattened flower, his little heart broke and he started sobbing. I tried to console him by explaining that I could save the flower, not in a vase, but by pressing it in a book. He was not all that convinced but he watched as I gently spread the limp little petals across a page in my Bible, then closed it firmly. I promised him that in a few days the pansy would be preserved. And so it was. Instead of lasting just a couple of days, the pansy ended up in a little frame in the living room where it remained for many years.
He is grown and married now - but I still have the pansy. His little gift that seemed so ruined, became instead a permanent and treasured keepsake of his innocent loving childhood. He did not give me what he wanted to give, but what he did give was so much more than he could have imagined.
And I ask myself, why do I think I must do great things for God our Father? (Even if I ever could do what I think is "great", what is great compared to what God deserves?) Why do I have such a hard time believing our saints who tell us that it is not the greatness of the deed but the love with which is it done that matters? Why can I not believe that my imperfect, tarnished or even crushed gift, given with love, has real value to our loving Father and in His hands can become something wonderful. The next time my careful plans, the offering I worked on so hard, my good intentions which end in failure - make me feel that I have nothing to offer God, I promise to remember my joy in the crushed flower from my child, and hope with good cause that my "failures" can still be turned into a gift pleasing to my Father.
Friday, March 16, 2007
"Fear is useless, what you need is trust."(Mark 5:36).
The Christian message tells us to trust Jesus more, and be not afraid. It is so easy to get caught in fear. The Lord instructs us to be more trusting of His love.
This doesn't mean that we will be entirely free of worry. There is real, objective danger out there. Fear was a constant companion of the saints, but they did not give in to it.
Even Jesus was terrified at times. His agony in the garden reminds us of His vulnerability. However, Jesus, and the all the saints prayed to the Father for peace, joy and strength.
Dorothy Day, who is now being considered for canonization, tells of a time when she and a friend were coming from Mass. Suddenly objects came whizzing past their ears. At first Dorothy thought they were snowballs, but when another one flew past, her friend Judith Gregory cried out, "That was meant for us."
They were throwing hard-boiled eggs. Afraid to turn back, for fear they would be hit in the face; they walked faster. When she arrived home, Dorothy wrote in her diary, "I should have been delighted, as Charles de Foucauld was when he was pelted in the streets of Nazareth, but my feeling was one of fear. I'm glad because it helps me to understand the fear that is eating at the hearts of the people in the world today. No one is safe. We are no longer protected by the oceans separating us from the rest of the world."
The important thing is that Dorothy prayed to be delivered from her fear, just as Jesus did that fateful night in the garden. She prayed specifically for the love that casts out fear. Here again are her words, "I pray to grow in the love of God and man, and to live by this charity... we must love our enemy... not because we fear him, but because God loves him."
People accused Dorothy of being crazy because of her faithfulness to the Gospel. Her logic was strange to them, but it was always obedient to the words of Jesus. When she felt fear she immediately turned to the Lord, and prayed for protection. Then she prayed for the grace to love her assailants. She lacked feelings of love for them, but she prayed for the grace to love them anyway. Her loyalty was to the Lord, not to her feelings. When He asks us to love our enemies, he means it literally, knowing that we cannot do it without supernatural help.
It takes great mental discipline to obey Jesus. Pray for the grace and the will power to manage your fears successfully. Even though the Scriptures tell us that love casts out fear, we don't know how to do it very well. But love and joy are two sides of the same coin. Joy can cast out fear as well. That's why joyful thoughts help to dispel fear. The experience of God's love can be found in a joyful spirit.
God bless you.
by Father John Catoir