Thursday, June 4, 2020

A COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS........


......FOR ALL THOSE WHO ARE NOT ABLE TO  HAVE A PROPER GRADUATION


BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY
December 21, 2016
Commencement Address
‘A Hopeless Case?”
Rev. J. Ronald Knott


I was completely shocked and honored when I got the call that I was going to be awarded an honorary doctorate by this University. After seventeen years of relishing being a campus minister here, I had retired from Bellarmine University back in the spring, retired from St. Meinrad Seminary the year before that, retired from the Archdiocese of Louisville a little before that and I have been collecting Social Security for about a year before that. After all that retiring and collecting, I thought I was finished. I thought that all I had left to do was to find a place to die – hopefully in a socially acceptable situation! 

I am not the type to get awards like this. Oh, I have won a couple of awards in the last few years, but not enough to invest in a trophy case just yet. I am not a million-dollar donor. I am not a successful businessman or well-known politician. I didn’t graduate in the top of my class and I didn’t invent anything. There are no buildings or streets named after me. I was the MC at a Crater Lake National Park beauty pageant once, but I have never won one personally. Even Don Knotts had an “s” at the end of his name and I don’t. I am not a Monsignor like Father Horrigan who started this place. I am simply a priest from a humble background who has ended up amazed to be where he is today - all because of God’s amazing grace, my own unrelenting determination, the help of a whole lot of good people and a dab of luck. 

If I were to list my greatest accomplishment, it would not be any of the things listed in my introduction, it would be overcoming crippling bashfulness to become an international speaker, in eight countries on well over one hundred occasions! From stages like this, I have looked into the eyes of more Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and priests than is healthy for one person! Yes, I have stood and talked in front of all those clerics, without batting an eye, usually a week at a time, and lived to talk about it! I have preached in front of thousands and thousands of Catholics, people from other faiths and people of no faith at all. From the feedback, the thing I am consistently known for is my simple, direct and straightforward speaking style. I may not be the best speaker in the world, but I do know how to do “short and sweet,” so here goes! 

All of you can listen in, and hopefully get something out of this, but tonight I want to speak directly to you graduates who struggled to get here today. Yes, I admire the winners of awards and scholarships and I congratulate them, but those of you who really struggled are my kind of people and I want to share a bit of what I have learned, especially with you! Yes, I do hope it will also be helpful to everyone here, in one way or another. 

I grew up in a Walton’s Mountain kind of town down in Meade County. I am John Boy, the first in my family to graduate from college. I was told almost every day as a child that I would never amount to a hill of beans. When I flunked the altar boy test in the second grade, sweet Sister Mary Ancilla told me that I was a good kid, but predicted that I would, in her words, “never be any good around the altar.” When I wanted to come up here to Louisville, out of the eighth grade, to the now-closed St. Thomas Seminary on Old Brownsboro Road, my pastor reluctantly filled out the papers, but predicted that I would not last till Christmas! After limping through my first year of seminary, the head priest called me into his office to tell me that he was sending me home, calling me, to my face, a “hopeless case.” I had to beg for another opportunity. (To get through the seminary, you need to get good at groveling! My groveling career was launched that very day!) His last words to me were to call me “a ball and chain around his leg for six years!”

Even when I completed four years of high school seminary, four years of college seminary and four years of graduate school seminary, on the day of my ordination, a woman cornered me at the reception and asked how long I had gone to school. When I answered “twenty, counting grade school,” she stepped back, gasped, and said, “My God, you could have been something!” Graduates, I feel like I have been swimming against the stream all my life! 

Friends, here is my point! In the words of W. C Fields, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to!” As a graduate of the “School of Hard Knocks,” from which I have three earned Doctorates, I have learned that if you want to get on in life, you have to do two things. First, you need to shut out those negative discounting voices of the people around you. Second, and even harder, you need to shut out that negative discounting voice in your own head. Henry Ford said, “Those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t are both right.” Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us!” 

The 12 years it took for me to get to priesthood was a piece of cake compared to the 47 years of staying in the priesthood! In almost every assignment I have had as a priest, I have been told by those who were there before me “not to expect any results” because “nothing can be done” because of “this or that” reason. I deliberately chose not to believe any of them and I have seen both small and large miracles in most of those places, not because I am some kind of miracle worker, but simply because I refused to believe their negative predictions, as well as those my own mind tried to invent. I have learned that people declare certain situations, other people and themselves “hopeless” because it is easier that way. If you declare situations, other people or yourself “hopeless,” you don’t have to do anything! Nobody expects you to do anything about “hopelessness!” Here is another quote from George Bernard Shaw that has guided me over the years. “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.”

One of the most useful things I learned from my tough childhood is that “there has never been a rescue party out looking for me” so I have needed to practice self-rescue. To do that I have learned to be imaginative and creative and look for alternatives, rather than look for someone to blame or someone to fix it for me. Another of my very favorite quotes, one I used regularly in Bellarmine Baccalaureate homilies, is also by George Bernard Shaw. “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” 

All you, “barely made its,” listen up! One of my very favorite things to do is to walk down the hall way at my old seminary, where they hang the class pictures. I like to stop at the year 1970, the year I graduated and was finally ordained a priest. Some of the biggest brains and jocks, the ones that most of us could never measure up to, the ones everybody “made over,” bombed out a long time ago and some of us ugly ducklings, in a classic “tortoise and hare” scenario, are now swimming with swans! Maybe you have the heard the joke about what they call the person who graduated at the bottom of the class in medical school? They call him or her “Doctor!” As Yogo Berra said, “|It ain’t over till it’s over!” So I say to you, it ain’t over till it’s over, so be forces of nature, not feverish selfish little clods of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to make you happy! Claim you power! Take the road less traveled! Believe in yourself! Dare to dream! Work hard! Be determined! Remain focused! If you do that, then good luck will find you. 

Remember! “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to!” “Those who believe they can, and those who believe they can’t, are both right! Maybe someday in the distant future, Bellarmine University will give another really nice award like this to yet another former “hopeless case” who “could have been something.” Maybe that “someone” will be you!

To close, let me quote a few lines from the song “Defying Gravity” from the musical WICKED. 

I'm through accepting limits
'Cause someone says they're so.
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I'll never know.

To those who ground me,
Take a message back from me!

Tell them how I am defying gravity -
I'm flying high, defying gravity.

And soon I'll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz -
No wizard that there is, or was,
Is ever gonna bring me down!

Remember graduates, they don’t call this a “commencement” for nothing! 













































Tuesday, June 2, 2020

BEING MORE INTENTIONAL ABOUT VERY ORDINARY THINGS - SIX

This is the sixth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that most people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  


#6
"WISHFUL THINKING"

Wishful thinking is a belief that something specific that you want to be true is true regardless of proven facts. Optimism, on the other hand, is positive thinking based in reality, that something good will happen even if that good is not exactly the good you had envisioned.  

During this pandemic, trying to kill more time than usual, I have ended up watching too much television. I believe that I am an optimistic person, but two shows in particular, have opened my eyes to how deeply some people can fall into "wishful thinking" and stay there when every red flag in the world has been waving in their faces for years. "90 Day Fiance" and "Catfish: The TV Show" are two specific, but very popular, examples. Both reveal the stubborn gullibility, and eventual heartbreak,  of some naive people who become victims of  online dating and relationship scammers. Even after years of being lied to and being let down, years of sending money, the obvious truth escapes them as they cling to the myth supported by their need for something to be true that isn't really true. It is both amazing and sad to watch. The popularity of those shows, along with other voyeuristic day time TV shows like "Maury Povich" and "Jerry Springer," must all come from the same place that old sin of "morose delectation" comes from - taking delight in others people's failures, sins and disasters!  There is something about us that simply cannot resist slowing down to look at the car wreck on the side of the road - the bigger the disaster, the more compelling the need to look. 

The concept of “willful blindness” comes from the law and originates from legislation passed in the 19th century — it’s the somewhat counter-intuitive idea that you’re responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.” What’s most uneasy-making about the concept is the implication that it doesn’t matter whether the avoidance of truth is conscious. This basic mechanism of keeping ourselves in the dark plays out in just about every aspect of life, but there are things we can do — as individuals, organizations, and nations — to lift our blinders before we walk into perilous situations that later produce the inevitable exclamation, "How could I have been so blind?"

Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything. The cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Many of the people on "90 Day Fiance" prove it each and every week! They see only what promotes their "wishful thinking" until the disaster is so obvious they cannot escape.


We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. The very fact that willful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neurons, and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it. Like King Lear, we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: what could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?

People who tell us what we want to hear are not necessarily our friends! People who tell us what we do not want to hear are not necessarily our enemies! Prophets are not, as many assume, people who predict the future. They are most often the people who make us look at what's right in front of us! They rub our noses in the truth. That's why they are often killed - not for their lies, but for their honesty. A true friend is one who risks telling us the truth and forcing us to open our eyes to see what we don't want to see. There is none so blind as one who simply refuses to see! 

In the end, all of us in some area of our lives refuse to love the truth, but instead try to make true what we love.  We are all capable of wishful thinking. What can save us from us are the honest people we invite into our lives - the people who can rub our noses in reality and slap us awake before it is too late! 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

FIRED UP FOR SERVICE



Jesus said to them,

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Then he breathed on them 

and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20



I began my path to priesthood 62 years ago: 12 years as a seminarian and 50 years as a priest. In fact, I celebrated my first Mass on a Pentecost Sunday in 1970 - 50 years ago! During the last 62 years, I have watched the stumbling of a once arrogant church. Like an aging old movie star in denial, she seems to find herself embarrassed on a daily basis these last few years. But, do you know what? I love her more now than I did way back then. Like an alcoholic approaching recovery, she is going through that inevitable break down that leads to a breakthrough. It’s messy, but it’s real. I don’t despise her because of her sins, I love her for her courage to keep going, in spite of her sins. I stand by her. She can count me in during these critical days of recovery.


When I say “church,” I am not talking about the Pope and the Bishops. I mean us! We are the church and I believe that we are going to get well. I see signs of hope and encouragement, even in the rubble. I see and hear more people looking for God today, than I ever have!  The problem is, there are more looking for quality spiritual food than there are places that can deliver it. People are grazing across parish boundaries, denominational lines and traditional sources, looking for something spiritually satisfying. I see and hear people sick to death of second-rate preaching and obsession with religious organizational trivialities. I see and hear people looking for God in growing numbers. This gives me great hope.

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 

Where is God?   For a few years, the early church stood around watching the heavens, anticipating the return of Jesus, as he had promised. Expecting it any day, they were content to sit and wait.  This feast marks the beginning of the realization that the return could be a long way off and the realization that they had to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They transferred their gaze from the heavens to the world around them. Once they received the power of the Holy Spirit, they were ready to carry on the work of Jesus to the ends of the earth until that time when he would return.

Where is God?  People may be looking for God in great numbers, but unfortunately the pickings are thin. Some people are looking backwards and romanticizing the past. They believe that God was alive in the “good old days” and if we could only return to those “good old days” then we would all find God again. Thy are playing vicious politics in every denomination from Southern Baptists to Roman Catholics. There are others who look for God in the extraordinary. Since they cannot find God in ordinary life, they run from one reported apparition and miracle rumor to another. Others find God only in the future. They turn to passages in the Bible and claim to be able to decode secret messages and obscure prophecies and interpret natural disasters as signs that the end of the world is immanent.  Rather than trying to clean up the world that God has given us, they yearn for its destruction by an angry God.

This feast does not deny that God has acted in the past and that he will act in the future, but it reminds us, in capitol letters, that God is acting, through us, right now.  The angels in the gospel for the Feast of the Ascension tell our earliest brothers and sisters in the church to quit looking up, to quit looking back for God, but to look around them and see God acting in the present. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” “They received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.”

My friends, the reason people today are looking for God is they are not finding him in the people who are supposed to be his ambassadors – us!  That’s why they are out looking in new and exotic places. It reminds me of that old bumper sticker from the 60s. “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Instead of focusing our attention on being the best ambassadors of Christ, we are arguing over church structures and pious practices and looking for perfect church leaders. The purpose of today’s feast is that we have power to do good because we have the Holy Spirit.  Then when people see our goodness, they could experience the goodness of God flowing through us. In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught us to let our lights shine, so that people can see our goodness and seeing our goodness, they will give glory to God. 

The message today? Quit looking for God only in the past and the future! Find out what God is doing in our world today. Get to work. Unleash the power that the Holy Spirit has given you. Let God reveal himself through you. Together, we are Christ’s Body in the world, commissioned to carry out his work, right here and right now!    

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”



    





Saturday, May 30, 2020

ANOTHER OF OUR HERO PRIESTS




FATHER JOSEPH VERBIS LAFLEUR





The Diocese of Lafayette (Louisiana) recently opened the cause for canonization for three Louisiana Catholics, including Lieutenant Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur — a World War II military chaplain, prisoner of war and a Knight of Columbus.

Father Lafleur, a member of Council 2281 in Abbeville, La., joins other Knights who are either canonized or on the path to sainthood. He was in the Pacific Theater of the war and received the Distinguished Service Medal, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service during the Japanese attack on Clark Field in the Philippines and in the prisoner of war camps.

When offered a chance to escape during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Father Lafleur asked if the rest of the men of the 19th Bombardment Group would be leaving too. The answer was no. Father Lafleur firmly replied, “Then I shall stay here. My place is with the men.”

He was a man committed to his duty as a chaplain. As he said in a letter to his sister, “These fellows here are swell, the best soldiers in the world, and I want to try to be one of the best Chaplains. I want to do my duty as one sees fit to do it.”

In the end, Father Lafleur died helping his fellow POWs evacuate a Japanese prison boat when it was sinking after being struck by a torpedo.

‘WITHOUT REGARD TO HIS PERSONAL SAFETY’

Joseph Verbis Lafleur, was ordained a priest on April 2, 1938 at 26 years old and celebrated his first Solemn Mass a few days later.

In April 1941 he answered the call to join the military as a chaplain. While stationed in Albuquerque, N.M., Father Lafleur’s commander noticed his “exceptional” performance at his duties. The young military chaplain next posting was to Clark Field, a U.S. Army airfield in the Philippines.

Eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes bombed Clark Field, destroying almost every American plane parked wingtip to wingtip on the strip. Ninety-three men were killed and another 143 wounded from the attack.

But as Japanese bombers attacked Clark Field, Father Lafleur ministered to the wounded and dying American soldiers giving absolution and spiritual comfort. He was exposed the entire time, dodging bullets and shrapnel, moving from bomb shelter to bomb shelter checking on the men’s safety and helping doctors administer medical care.

Colonel E.L. Eubank of the Army Air Force witnessed Father LaFleur’s actions and recommended him to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor. He marveled at the chaplain’s courage in his citation stating that Father Lafleur acted “without regard to his personal safety.”

In another incident, as the 19th Bombardment Group was attacked by Japanese planes while evacuating to another island by ship, Father Lafleur crawled through a hail of bullets to rescue a wounded officer on deck. He was the last man on the boat after he assisted evacuating the other soldiers.

Father Lafleur and the rest of the 19th Bombardment Group were captured after American-Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese following the Fall of Bataan. The military chaplain spent the rest of his life as a POW.

‘IF THERE EVER WAS A SAINT, FATHER LAFLEUR WAS ONE’

Father Lafleur bounced from prison camp to prison camp until arriving at the Davao Penal Colony in October 1942. He kept his duties as a spiritual leader of Americans POWs, personally constructing a chapel out of bamboo and wood named The Chapel of St. Peter in Chains.

He celebrated daily Mass each morning before the men headed out for work. One soldier noted that Father Lafleur conserved wine by using a medicine dropper. Another soldier said the chaplain’s actions was the greatest factor in keeping up the spirits of the prisoners.

Father Lafleur not only worked beside the POWs in the rice fields outside the camp, but he snuck into the compound hospital to tend to sick prisoners. He shared his food with the sick and wounded, vowing not to eat anything that did not come to everyone else, and even traded his watch and eyeglasses to Filipino natives for food and medicine. But he refused medicine for himself, even during bouts with malaria, saying someone else needed it more.

He never missed Mass. And it made an impact: nearly 200 American prisoners converted to Catholicism because of Father Lafleur’s dedication to the men.

Bill Lowe was one of those men who converted. His interest in Catholicism began after Father Lafleur helped evacuate others into lifeboats before the American-Filipino surrender. He saw in the military chaplain “something that I wished I had” adding that “his demeanor was so convincing that this led me to pursue to become a Catholic.”

“If there ever was a saint, Father Lafleur was one,” Lowe said in a letter dated May 2, 2006.

HE STOOD THERE MAKING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

Father Lafleur’s sense of duty led him to volunteer to take the place of man bound to work on a Japanese airstrip in Lasang, even though he was physically weakened due to lack of food.

Before he left for Lasang in March 1944, Father Lafleur wrote on the label of a can of milk a final message to his family, which read in part, “I do not have to go, but if I didn’t and something would happen, I would never go back to the States as I could never face any of you again. I would feel as though I had not done my duty.”

While at Lasang, Father Lafleur continued to inspire the prisoners with his acts of courage. In one instance, Japanese guards with fixed bayonets surrounded POWs and Father Lafleur during his daily rosary service. A guard kept the bayonet at the military chaplain’s stomach. Father Lafleur didn’t move. Instead, he stood there making the Sign of the Cross. Eventually, tensions subsided and the guards left.

His time at Lasang didn’t last long, as the Japanese decided to move the prisoners to mainland Japan due to the advance of American forces. Father Lafleur and hundreds of POWs were loaded into a ship —the Shinyo Maru. — which had no white flag to denote it was carrying prisoners.

With no markings denoting the ship was carrying prisoners, it became a target for Allied forces. On September 7, 1944, the Shinyo Maru was torpedoed by the USS Paddle. During the attack, Father Lafleur was leading prisoners in the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer as they were trapped in the ship’s hold. Suddenly, the hatch was opened. Father Lafleur began evacuating the prisoners as the Japanese threw grenades into the hold. Other prisoners were shot on deck as they tried to dive into the water. Only 82 prisoners out of hundreds survived.

Father Lafleur was not one of them. He was last seen standing near the ladder trying to help others escape.

As he wrote in his final message, “If I am not [here], I will be with you anyway and I will have a reserve seat up in Heaven. I am sure Our Lord will let me roll back just one little cloud so I can look down. And from up there I will have a more beautiful view and a more perfect understanding of what is going on.”

Thursday, May 28, 2020

BEING MORE INTENTIONAL ABOUT VERY ORDINARY THINGS - FIVE

This is the fifth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  
#5
"PAYING ATTENTION" 
The most desired gift of love is not diamonds or roses or chocolate. It's focused attention.
Rick Warren

I find it amazing how many times we look at things, but never really see what we are looking it. Take a US dollar bill, for instance. Most of us have looked at them thousands and thousands of times in our lifetimes. However, if you ask most people how many colors of ink are used on the back of a one-dollar bill, they can't tell you. Many guess that there are three, maybe two, but in reality there is only one color of ink on the back of a US one-dollar bill - green. That's why they are sometimes called "greenbacks." 

Attention is the key to so many things related to our lives. We have to pay attention to walk across the street. We know our relationships are more satisfying if we actually pay attention to one another. Driving a car requires a lot of attention. Our business affairs require our attention. All of this seems somehow self evident.

Attention is noticing and being with something without trying to change it. It means to be able to look at it "as it is," not as we imagine it "should be." Attention takes the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, to watch as things change by themselves without our trying to ‘fix" anything. Attention is patient and attention is kind. No rush. No burden. No criticism.

Healing an injury requires the practice of paying attention, of being with something fully, of focusing upon it over and over again without pushing it away or trying to change it. It is in paying attention that we will discover the tiny threads of healing and transformation that are developing moment to moment. Losing weight requires attention to the food we eat and the exercise we get. It is attention, not judgement, that will help our brains rewire.

Paying attention is ultimately an act of loving kindness towards ourselves. If we love a child, we pay attention to her/him. We watch this child thrive as we give her/him our attention. We know this works. In this way we are not different from the child. We too will thrive with attention and as adults, we have the capacity to give that attention to ourselves. Is that not what we mean when we say to someone when we leave them, "take care of yourself?" 

During this time of pandemic, when my world seems to have shrunken a bit, I am trying to pay more attention to things right in front of me, things I have sometimes in the past failed to notice - failed to pay attention to. 

Out of fear that I would get fat and lazy, without even being aware of it, I have been paying close attention to what I am eating. I have for all practical purposes, cut out bread, sugar and other carbohydrates. When I want to watch TV, I give myself permission only if I am on the treadmill while I am watching it! So far, I have maintained the weight I lost, I sleep better and I think my immune system has been strengthened. 

I haven't been able to travel, go to restaurants, see people at church and visit people at the coffee shop. To replace all that visual and interactive stimulation, I have started to do things that help me pay closer attention to the small, ordinary things. I have gotten up early several times just to fix a good cup of coffee, go out on the deck and feel the cool air, see the opening buds, watch the gentle rain fall on the pond, hear the birds chirp and the trees bend in the breeze. I don't really care what the weather is like because there is something new to notice whatever it is! I read once that "there is not such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." I have come to believe that "bad weather" is in the eye of the beholder. 

I haven't been able to be around a lot of people for the last eight weeks but I have tried to pay more attention to what people are saying when I do talk to them. Instead of preparing what I will say when they finish talking, I try to encourage them to talk more while I pay more attention to what they say - to the person behind the talker. 

I don't get out a lot, but when I do I try to really "see" those who are performing vital services. First I try to realize that many of them cannot afford to be safe "in place" like me! I greet them more. I compliment them more. I even tip them more. Giving attention to the men and women who do menial tasks for us is the least we can do! 

Even though I had to cancel trip number 13 to the islands, I have not quit my ministry with them and among them. In fact, I have become even more aware that, even though there are needs here in this country, their needs are even more acute. Charity may "begin" at home, but it doesn't have to "stay" at home! 

To live well, to live on purpose rather than being passive and letting anything and everything happen, requires disciplined attention. 

To live well is a lot like driving a car – you have to be able to see what is going on behind you, in front of you and all around you, but all at once. You have to learn from your past, plan for your future and be alert to what is happening in your life right now. 

Jesus reminds us in the gospel to be “watchful” and “alert,” warning us that “we don’t know when the Lord will come.” It says that he “may come suddenly and find us sleeping,” so we need to “watch,” “wake up” and “pay attention.” 

Living well, alert and watchful, is hard work. Our lazy side must be stood up to, over and over again. Our lazy side tells us that we have plenty of time, that we can get around to it someday and that we can cut corners for a little while longer. Our lazy side is our sinful side. The best definition of “sin” I ever heard was that it is at its root giving in to laziness. When we “sin,” we choose the “easy way” rather than the “right way.” Laziness is the opposite of “staying awake and staying alert.” 

If you look at it closely, all sin is about laziness. Theft has laziness at its root. It is easier to take what belongs to others than it is to work for what is your own. Theft is a lazy shortcut to getting what we want. Gossip has laziness at its root. It is easier to cut others down to our size than it is to build ourselves up. Gossip is a lazy shortcut to feeling good about ourselves. Pornography has laziness at its root. It is easier to relate to an anonymous printed or projected image than it is to build intimacy with real people. Pornography is a lazy shortcut to feelings of intimacy. Excessive eating and drinking has laziness at its root. It is easier to do the things that feel good to our bodies than it is to do things that are truly good for our bodies. Excessive eating and drinking is a substitute for facing unpleasant feelings. Taking recreational drugs has laziness at its root. It is easier to take a pill or snort a substance that gives us an artificial high than it is to work for the high of a deeply spiritual life in relationship with God and others. “Following the crowd” has laziness at its root. It is easier to gain acceptance by “doing what everybody else is doing” than it is to “do the right thing” and risk rejection. Yes, all “sin” is about choosing the “lazy way,” about choosing the “easy way” over the “right way.” 

St. John Paul II gave us some great advice for daily living when he put it this way: "Remember the past with gratitude! Live in the present with enthusiasm! Look to the future with confidence!"

Would that you would meet us doing right
and being mindful of your ways.
Isaiah 63:7-9; 64:3-4


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

BEING MORE INTENTIONAL ABOUT VERY ORDINARY THINGS - FOUR



This is the fourth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  


#4 
 "EXPLORING YOUR SECRETS"


Here is a scary exercise that some of you might consider. I have done it and believe me it is scary! What is it? Take a pen and pencil and make of list of your most personal secrets - the kind of person that you know you really are, the things that you have done or still do that you are ashamed of or the things for which you would rather die before having them exposed to the light of day. Do it without self-judgment and self-condemnation. We all have scars, sins, wrongdoings, mistakes, blunders, missed opportunities, bad decisions and improper choices in our histories. Remember, there's only one group of people who do not have personal "secrets," and they are all dead.

Of course, I recommend that you destroy your list as soon as you are finished, lest it fall into the wrong hands. It is meant for your eyes only so that you can have more insight into yourself. Socrates said, "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom!" Shakespeare said, "This above all - to thine own self be true." Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." 

Believing that you have made mistakes is one thing. Believing you are a mistake is another. Examination of conscience and confession of sins, a basic tradition in the Christian faith, has so often been misunderstood and even ridiculed by our culture. We hear people cynically refer to “Catholic guilt.” What they are talking about is “shame,” not “guilt.”  “Guilt” says “I have made a mistake.” “Shame” says “I am a mistake.”  If the Church helps us feel “shame” because of who we are, that is bad! If the Church helps us feel “guilt” because of the evil we do, that is good!  
  
In Scripture, as soon as we were created, we are told that God looked at us and declared us "good," "very good!" That came before the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. God never meant Adam and Eve be ashamed of themselves but to simply recognize the wrong they had done - basically to themselves! 

In Scripture, it is clear that we were created "in the image and likeness of God" and therefore should never be ashamed of who we are, but own up to the bad we do to ourselves and others. In Scripture, it seems that God is more concerned about our learning from our sins than keeping count of them! He seems to want us to admit our mistakes, not just so that we will feel bad about making them, but so that we can make progress in overcoming them. Devoid of introspection, ignorant people keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, either because they want to deny them or seek to blame others for them, instead of owning them. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know that progress in overcoming them accelerates when they do. 

There is a world of difference in believing you are a good person, capable of sometimes doing bad things and believing you are a bad person, capable of sometimes doing good things. 

As you review your secrets, please, please, please remember the difference between shame and guilt!  Shame is about who you are! Guilt is about what you have done! 

In the end, our biggest sin, no doubt, is to get to that place where we start calling good evil and evil good.