The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Unsought Thoughts

Yesterday and today I have two rare days off. My calendar is completely empty. There is nothing that demands my presence -- no meetings, no parish demands, no social events, no projects that can't wait, even the items on Dear Diane's honey-do list can be deferred until tomorrow. It's a wonderful feeling, and one I had hoped to experience more frequently during this so-called retirement of mine.

Of course I bring it all on myself because I seem incapable of saying "No" when asked to do something. I'm not bragging and trying to paint myself in some saintly light, because, believe me, this inability is far more fault than virtue. If I allotted my time and effort more carefully I would do a much better job on the truly important tasks, and would also have more time to devote to the personal relationships that matter, especially my relationship with my spouse of 48 years. And so I have vowed to set some limits in the hope that good things will result. We'll see.

My clear calendar has also given me some time to think. The busyness of my life has made thinking an increasingly rare luxury, and so usually I just plod along doing things and thinking only about practical matters, about the hows of those things I must do. Now, I'm no great thinker, and certainly no philosopher, but the journey of life demands thought or it will ultimately be a journey to nowhere.

Josef Pieper
Indeed this little thought calls to mind that wonderful book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by a true philosopher, Josef Pieper (1904-1997). In it Pieper instructs us on the critical role leisure plays in the very act of being human. Too many of us today seem to think that just because we're busy, we're also being creative and productive. And yet, so much of what we do, the daily busyness of our lives, is just about making a living. Or it's directed toward ideological ends such as materialism. This modern obsession with keeping busy prevents us from focusing on that which is truly and eternally important. To do this we need leisure. If you disagree, read Pieper's book and then rethink your life and the busyness that fills so much of it.

Another thought that struck me this morning originated from an interview I watched on some local TV station late last night. The person being interviewed, a writer and self-proclaimed atheist, stated that he was turned off by all religions because most believers seemed to ignore what their religions taught. I'll paraphrase his comment: Their actions show me they really don't believe what they preach, so why should I? Anyhow, most religious people seem very grim. He especially noted Christians as the most hypocritical. The interviewer nodded knowingly and moved on to another topic.

I found myself agreeing with the atheist's premise, at least as it relates to Christianity, but coming to exactly the opposite conclusion. The fact that most Christians are abject failures when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus Christ -- i.e., we are all sinners -- actually confirms rather than denies that which we profess to believe. If we were perfect we wouldn't need a Savior. If our first parents hadn't fallen in Eden we wouldn't have to cope with original sin or need to be redeemed by God Himself. It's the very fact of our sinfulness and our continued struggle to live the Gospel that convinces me of the truth of Christianity. 

Pope Francis Sharing the Good News
As for all those grim Christians out there, I'll concede the atheist's point. Often enough, as I stand at the ambo and proclaim the Gospel at Mass, I can't help but notice that most of the faces in the congregation don't look very happy. Sometimes I want to scream, "Hey, Christians! This is the Good News you're hearing, not the bad news. You've been redeemed by Jesus Christ. God loves you as no one else has or ever will. Put a smile on your face and show God how thankful you are."

Other unbidden thoughts popped into my aging brain when I assisted at the funeral of a friend's mother on Saturday. Her name was Ruth Stafford and she died just six days after her 100th birthday! Fr. John, the homilist, mentioned how much she had witnessed during a long life that began in 1916. Yes, although the world has changed much since then, human nature has remained the same. But in addition to Ruth's birthday, we mark some interesting anniversaries in 2016 and 2017.
Flanders Field

Next year, for example, is the 100th anniversary of our nation's entry into the World War I, a war which began in August 1914 and brought devastation to Europe for four deadly years. Ironically, this "war to end all wars" did exactly the opposite. Not only did it set the stage for the even greater devastation of World War II, but it also brought us the horrors of Hitler's Nazism and Stalin's Communism, deadly ideologies that were forced onto the people of dozens of nations.
The Blessed Mother Appears at Fatima

In the midst of that war, during the spring and summer of 1916, near Fatima in Portugal, three young children were visited by an angelic being. His mission was to prepare them for something far greater the following year. And on May 13, 1917 the children saw a woman, "brighter than the sun," who told them to pray the Rosary daily. This, she promised, would bring peace to the world and an end to the war. The apparitions of Mary, which continued monthly for six months, have been repeatedly confirmed by the Church as supernatural in origin. Along with a series of predictions and warnings, the Blessed Mother told the world that the only effective antidote to sin is prayer and repentance.

Satan, of course, takes no days off and one can only assume that, even as he relished the desolation of World War I, he perceived the message of Fatima as a threat. Yes, indeed, Satan was very busy back in 1916.

On October 16 of this year Planned Parenthood celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. Margaret Sanger, who founded this organization devoted to death, opened its first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY in 1916. Sanger, who believed that certain people should not procreate, focused her attention on those races she believed to be unfit for life. Most Americans, and certainly most minorities, don't realize this, but Planned Parenthood really hasn't changed. The vast majority of its clinics are located in the nation's inner cities where they can more easily "serve" minority clients. Under the Obama administration, Planned Parenthood has received over $1.5 billion of federal funds in just the past three years and performed over one million abortions during this same period. This will only increase if Hillary Clinton is elected.

It is no coincidence that God sent the Blessed Mother to remind the world that sin has its consequences. Will the world listen?

A Younger Professor Ratzinger
All these thoughts about the past caused me to think about the future and what it holds for the world and for the Church. This brought to mind something Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote back in 1969, long before he was pope, or even a bishop. It's a quote from a book entitled, Faith and the Future. The book's five chapters were actually first delivered as radio addresses during 1969 and 1970. In the last chapter, Fr. Ratzinger, then a 42-year-old theolgian, offers his vision of what the Church will be like as it encounters the changing world in the years to come. The quote is quite long, but well worth reading.

"What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death...

"From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge -- a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly, she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess. the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

"The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution -- when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain -- to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."
And so my generation has its work cut out for it: to prepare our children and our grandchildren for what is to come. The Church will face some serious hard times, but it will remain the only beacon of hope in a hostile world. I suppose the question for all of us is, are we ready to do what God expects of us? But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? [Lk 18:8]

Enough thinking. As I typed the above words, my PC crashed and confronted me with that deadly blue screen. I have tried every remedy I can think of, along with all those recommended by HP and Microsoft, but the problem persists.The desktop PC has therefore been removed from the desk and been replaced by my handy laptop. We'll see what data has disappeared, but I trust my precautions have prevented serious loss.

God's peace.

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