You Did It For Me

It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.

Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading,  Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  …  ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?

Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”

So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.

Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”

God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.

On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).

In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.

So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:

May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.

May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.

Book Break: Three Quick Reviews

I am doing something I’ve never done before: I’m sharing three spiritual-book mini-reviews at once, and two are for books I haven’t finished (and may never finish). The books are:

All three are recommended reading, so why not finish them? Read on!

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Wholly Self-Centered

Blogger’s Note: It’s been awhile. We’ve had an eventful holiday season—I’ll catch you up soon! In the meantime, here’s a short reflection from this weekend.

I have long experience at being self-centered. Those who know me know that I am both self-critical and self-righteous, quick-tempered, easily disillusioned, and a bit of a navel-gazer. I fight against these tendencies, fail frequently, and because I know too well my own selfish tendencies, I see (or imagine) my failings in those I love.

I’m a peach; just ask my family.

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All Is Gift

ChestertonThanks

I wanted to tell you yesterday all the things I’m grateful for this year. I rose at 4 a.m. to stretch, pray, and write—but the Bearded Wonder (my eldest son Brendan) is home from college and rose at 4:30. We sat in flickering candlelight and visited for a couple hours, until Jodi got up to start the turkey. Then I left her and her boy alone and greeted the dawn with Bruno. Our walk was unusually peaceful: silent except for the whine of the distant freeway; we saw a total of four cars, a jogger, and a neighbor with the same idea: walking his dog in the quiet of the new day.

The rest of the household was stirring when we returned home, and the rest of the morning was spent going to Mass (the Feast before the feast) and preparing for dinner. We cooked, we ate, we watched the Lions get trounced by the Vikings. (Sorry, fellow Lions fans: to me, the game didn’t feel close.) My folks were supposed to be here, but Mom got sick and they returned home—we arranged for a friend to bring them Thanksgiving dinner, and enjoyed a beautiful, grateful phone call with them in the early afternoon.  We laughed and listened to music; we napped, walked Bruno again, and ate pie.

And yet, when evening fell, I felt unsettled. The one thing I hadn’t done was write. So while the family played games in the dining room, I attempted to journal. Instead I listened to Jodi and the kids joking, arguing, and laughing together. After a while, Brendan stepped away from the games and took up the mandolin, picking and strumming snippets of songs we knew. I closed my journal and vowed to write this morning.

* * * * *

Today Brendan turns twenty. I rose again at four, acutely aware that I have now been a father for two decades—nearly half my life to date!—and unsure about what that means for me. I went downstairs to let Bruno out; stepped into the cold, black morning, and breathed in the clean air. I need to write, I thought.

About what? About all of this.

I brought Bruno back in and shuffled into the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror to see myself. At 4 a.m., I look lived in: a little worn and disheveled, sagging here and there, but comfortable and still functional. I leaned in closer to peer into my own eyes—windows to the soul, they say—and in an instant, they filled with unexpected tears.

Gifts. All of it—my bride in our bed, our beautiful offspring, the pup downstairs. Our aging suburban split-level. The still unfinished tree house out back. All gifts.

I am working harder these days for less money, and yet I feel better—freer—than I have in years. Gift. We have friends who never get sick of our company, family who love us, and a great God in Heaven who keeps the very rhythm of our hearts in time with His own. All gifts.

The tears brimmed but didn’t fall; my chest swelled but didn’t burst. Sure signs that I have not yet fully grasped the magnitude of my situation: the all-powerful and ever-present Creator of the universe is making room enough in me so He can dwell there. The One who is Love is carving a God-size hole in me, chipping away, flake by flake, at my stony heart.

* * * * *

With all the many gifts I enjoy in this life, perhaps the thing I am most grateful for this year is perspective. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Look around you. Have you seen this place?

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? — Job 38:4-7

We are so very blessed and have done nothing to deserve it. Sure, we’re good people, as far as that goes. But lots of good people suffer, and a fair number of not-so-good people seem to thrive. I cannot earn these blessings or somehow make them happen—I cannot avoid illness, accident, or tragedy—any more than I can make Brendan’s beard grow. I can only look on with wonder and thanksgiving, and join my song to Mary’s: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name!

 

He Thinks, Therefore I Am

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16

Yesterday morning I read St. Matthew’s account of the baptism of the Lord. Two things struck me. The first was that, in the Ignatius (Revised Standard Version) Bible I was reading, the translation is somewhat different from the New American version we hear at Mass (linked to above). The New American translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.” The Revised Standard translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.”

The difference is small, but struck me as important, because alighting suggests the Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus and remained with Him. This is reinforced by the first line of the next chapter, which begins just one verse later: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

See that? The Spirit is still with Him, leading Him.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us, either. We talk sometimes about the indelible mark left on our souls by certain of the sacraments, which might leave us with the mistaken notion that God makes an impression on us but doesn’t stick around. But clearly the Spirit did not leave Jesus—in fact, in paragraph 695 of the Catechism, we learn that the Holy Spirit represents the very anointing that signifies Jesus as the Christ, or messiah: the anointed one of God. And He is covered completely by this anointing, as close as oil on skin: “The humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 695). Continue reading