Tuesday, February 27, 2024

SO LOOKING FORWARD TO SPRING

 


I don't know about you, but I am tired of winter! The older I get, the more I tire of winter! No wonder so many old people move to Florida. The only thing bad about moving to Florida is that they miss the intensity of the anticipation of spring. 

This year, I am feeling an anticipation that I haven't felt for a long time - maybe a time when I didn't travel much and lived in a house. Back them I had flower pots on the front porch and back deck, bananas trees close to the fence and flowering trees near the back door.   

Back when I was traveling a lot, I never had live plants in my house because I did not want to bother people to come over and water them when I was gone. I settled for fake flowers and plastic plants. For the last couple of years, since retiring, I did buy three ferns for the deck. I realize now that that was a lazy half-way effort - maybe because I had given away my large empty flower pots.  

This year I am finding myself making plans now for a renewed spring season around here! Even though I live in a condo where the grass is mowed for us, I am thinking about getting some more big pots for the deck and planting some real plants - definitely flowers and maybe even a few herbs. Even though I have given up cigars, I think I might enjoy sitting out more in the evenings this year if I had some real plants to admire and water! 

I will turn 80 this spring. This year, because of a new year's resolution to pay more attention to my health, I have also promised myself that I would get out and walk liked I used to! I have a nice sidewalk on Eastern Parkway right in front of my house that goes for blocks and blocks both way! I also have St. Michael's and St. Louis's Cemeteries a short walk from my door. Both are beautiful and interesting places to walk. I used to enjoy walking there just a few years back.  With new ear buds and free music on my I-Phone, it makes all the sights and sounds even more enjoyable over the sound of traffic. This spring it is good time to begin all that walking again! 

Since I have been told by several close friends that I need to work less and enjoy life more, I have decided to cook more often for friends. Cooking is something I enjoy doing! I plan on visiting more of my family members down in Meade County, especially the homes of some nieces and nephews that I have never been in!  

I have written and talked a lot about the necessity of re-inventing oneself. Hopefully, this is the spring I will take my own advice and re-invent myself by doing less and resist the temptation to take on another huge building project. I need to understand that re-inventing oneself at my age could include giving up the drive to "save the world" and start "savoring the world!" I need to admit that what worked so well in the past may not work so well going forward. I need to admit that I have proven myself, but now it's time to approve of myself! Re-inventing myself this time includes making plans to give this new insight a try!   
 

 



Sunday, February 25, 2024

PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

 

Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high

mountain apart by themselves.

Mark 9:2

What a difference twenty years make! Depressed by the sexual abuse scandal that erupted in our country and feeling unsupported in my work as a Vocation Director, about this time of the year back in 2004, I found myself at an all-time low. You can't imagine what it was like to be a Vocation Director during the height of a clergy sexual abuse scandal! News about the scandal was so bad that I asked for some time off to get way and to regain my balance. I needed to pull myself together and get some clarity about what to do next. I spent the whole month of February that year, alone, in a small cottage, on a deserted beach, in northern Florida. I probably spoke to one person that whole month. I probably ran into less than five people on that cold and windy beach during my extended time away. I loved it and I would love to do it again someday – the next time without a scandal!

I came home with the clarity I was looking for. I went from having one of the worst years of my life, to one of the best years of my life. Even though things had gotten worse before they got better, I came home able to handle the constant drip of bad news much better. It even prepared me to handle the next round of bad news when I retired six years ago. I even went from that bad news to six very good years before the next round of bad news. I guess, in time, you can get used to the "bottom falling out" every few years if you take the time to go off for a while to reflect and pray for God's guidance as you wait for another "golden age" to manifest itself. 

Three weeks ago, we read about Jesus getting up early, before dawn, and going off to a quiet place to reflect on his life and to ask for direction for the day ahead. That was followed by many trips to quiet places during his ministry - to seek clarity from God about what he was supposed to do next. Last week, we followed him into the desert for that forty-day retreat he made before he started his ministry.  

Today, we fast-forward to the end of Jesus’ life to the time before his final entry into Jerusalem for his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Today we remember him taking his closest companions on a mountaintop retreat to prepare them for what was about to happen when they got to Jerusalem.  At this point in his ministry, Jesus could read the handwriting on the wall and it spelled “suffering” in big letters. This time he went to the mountain to get final clarity on whether embracing the impending suffering was really the right thing to do. The question to which Jesus wanted an answer, was not “what do I want to do” or “what do people want me to do,” but “what does God want me to do?”

Just as a desert is a good place for introspection, a mountain is a good place for perspective. In a desert, there is nothing to distract you. You are forced to look within. On a mountain, you can see in all directions at once. On a mountain where one can see in all directions, Jesus got a glimpse of the past, the present, the future and how they all fit together heading into his last days. On a mountain, Jesus was able to see the connections between where he came from, where he was presently and where he was going. 

(1) Jesus saw his connection to his past. Israel’s two great heroes appeared to him and talked with him: Moses and Elijah. They told Jesus that indeed he was the one they had dreamed of centuries ago  and had foretold would someday come to save the world. They told Jesus that he was indeed on the right path and that he should indeed proceed onward. If their word was not enough, from a cloud God repeats the words that he had spoken to Jesus at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

(2) Jesus saw his connection to his future. The words used in the gospel today to describe Jesus’ clothes becoming “white as light” are the same words used of his clothes at the resurrection. His “white as light” clothing, gave him a glimpse of the glory to come. It helped him get a sneak preview of his victory on the other side of the suffering he was about to endure.

(3) Jesus saw his connection to his present, where he was on his final journey. He tells his disciples, flattened with fear, that there was nothing to be afraid of, even though they had to go down from the mountain and go through the suffering ahead of them. Their tremendous mountaintop experience was meant to help them go through what was about to happen. In fact, this is where we get the expression “peak experience.” I am sure many of you are familiar with the expression “peak experience.”  A “peak experience” is one of those intense spiritual experiences that people, like good old St. Peter, try to hold onto or repeat again and again, but simply cannot because they are unrepeatable.  They are simply “glimpses of glory” and “sneak previews” of heaven itself. They are not meant to be permanent. “Peak experiences” are meant to be memorable experiences that help us get through hard times.

Going off to the desert, going off to the mountains, going off to the beach, going off to the woods or simply going off to a quiet room to listen to yourself think, to listen to your heart of hearts, to listen to God, is an absolute necessity for those who would follow Jesus. The place is not important, but the listening is! If you listen with your heart, you will get the clarity you need, no matter what questions you need to answer or what problems you need to face.   

No wonder so many in our culture seems to be so confused! Our world is so crammed with noise that we cannot hear ourselves think. Surely, you have realized that there is no such thing any more as a quiet dinner in a nice restaurant. In the summer, cars with their windows rolled down and monster speakers blaring, cruise our streets day and night. There are few places left where you can escape constant noise. 

No wonder our culture seems so confused! Our ears are being blasted with constant noise from cell phones, earphones and an over-saturation of electronic stimulation. No wonder our culture seems so confused! We consult our horoscopes and seek out expensive advice gurus, but we don’t take the time to just be quiet and to listen to ourselves. We are driven to fill the quiet, to kill the quiet and to run from the quiet, as if the quiet were our worst enemy. The truth of the matter is that it is in the quiet that we can get our bearings, clarity is given to us and a sense of who we are and where we are going is shown to us.

My friends, the message today is simple: make friends with the quiet. In silence, everything falls into perspective, the path becomes clear and where we need to go becomes obvious. To stay on the right path, we have to go to the quiet often, regularly and routinely, just as Jesus had to do!

That can happen when you are all alone in a deer stand in the woods, on a walk by yourself in the park, on a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in an empty church or just driving down the road by yourself with the radio off! Lent is a time to simply shut up and listen! Doing that has always worked for me in times of confusion and doubt and it will work for you - if you give it a chance! I learned a long time ago that, when people come to me when they are confused about what to do next, all I have to do is get them to talk. I don't have to give them an answer. Most of the time, they already know the answer. They have just never been quiet enough to hear it!

Most of the time, the solution to many of our problems are found in simply listening to that small whispering voice within our hearts. It is there that we hear what God wants us to do! We probably already know the answer we are looking for, but we just haven't been able to hear it above all the static and noise outside of us!  

Friends, instead of all that “giving up candy bars for Lent” stuff, it would probably do us more good just to take a few minutes every day to withdraw to a quiet place. That’s what Jesus would do! I think we would be surprised by what we would learn if you'd just shut up for a while, cut out all the external static and just be quiet and listen to ourselves think! Reflect for a moment on where you came from, where you are now and where you are headed! It will be helpful to put things in perspective! 

With what’s left of Lent, I challenge you to find some time and find your place of peace and quiet. I think you will learn that that’s where you can hear clearly what you already know down deep!

 

 

 

 


Thursday, February 22, 2024

LIVING BY CHOICE, NOT BY CHANCE

 

I  grew up hearing many versions of "life is something that happens to you and all you can do is to make the most of it." I rejected that so called "wisdom" a long time ago when I realized that it was a perfect set-up for becoming a victim and for blaming others and the circumstances around you for the life you experience and don't like.  Until I become totally powerless because of old age or disease, I plan to do all in my power to build the life I want. Today, I want to share some of the wisdom I have picked up from others, much smarter than I am, who have inspired me in the hopes it may inspire you as well.  












Tuesday, February 20, 2024

REMEMBERING MY YEARS AT BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY



All during December of last year, when I was heavily involved in cleaning out the surplus that had built up in my condo since I moved in back in 2005, I came across this copy of a framed poster that now hangs in the Campus Ministry Office of Bellarmine University here in Louisville. 

When I retired from there in 2016, I was the longest serving priest campus minister in it's history. I served most of those years with Ms. Melanie Prejean Sullivan. Our ministry was inter-faith because the student body was inter-faith. 

This poster was hung in my honor in the newly dedicated Campus Ministry Ministry Office August 10, 2016.  As I look back almost eight years later, finding it stored away in a closet, I was reminded once again what an honor it was to preach there most Sunday nights, preach most Baccalaureate Masses and pray at most graduations and many special services throughout those many years. To have some of my words memorialized in the Campus Ministry Office like that was certainly icing on the cake! I am so grateful for that experience.    



Sunday, February 18, 2024

RESISTING TEMPTATION CLARIFIES OUR MINDS AND HEARTS

 

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert where he remained for forty days being tempted by Satan. Afterwards, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news from God, saying “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in his good news!”

Mark 1:12-15 

We are reading from the gospel of Mark this year – the earliest and shortest of all four gospels. It is characteristic of Mark to get right to the point and not waste words on details. We see that in today’s gospel. He does not tell us what the temptations were that Jesus faced over his forty-day retreat in the desert. We have to read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke for those! The same Spirit that had just descended on Jesus so dramatically at his Baptism, we are now told drove Jesus out into the wilderness for a time of testing.

I’ll get into the temptations that Jesus faced shortly, but first I want to talk a little about why a time of testing was so important for Jesus - and for all of us for that matter! If you think about it, temptations are not sent to us to make us fall, but to strengthen our minds, hearts and souls! They are sent not for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge stronger than we were before!

Take the case of a young football player who has been doing well in a second level league and showing real signs of promise. What will the coach do? He will certainly not send him down to a third level league where he will sail through games and never break a sweat.  No, he will send him out to play for a first level team where he will be tested as never before and have a chance to prove himself. That is what temptations are meant to do – to toughen us up so we can emerge stronger for the fight. As an added touch, Mark says Jesus was surrounded both by wild beasts and angels during his time of testing. This is a way to say that his temptation battle was fierce, but he had God’s help as a defense!

Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the desert to sort things out, to separate the wheat from the chaff and to “discern” what direction God had for his upcoming ministry as well as to strengthen his resolve to follow God’s will going forward. The word “discern” means to “cut apart.” Considering his options, Jesus had to “cut apart” what was God’s will and what wasn’t!

So, what were his options going into ministry? Mark doesn’t tell us, but when we go to Matthew and Luke, we know that his adversary presented three attractive options: magic solutions, dramatic stunts and alignment with political power. Jesus rejected them all and came out of his discernment saying the solution is metanoia – an internal change of the way we see and the way we look at things! Too bad the translation uses the word “repent.” It really means a “radical change of perspective.”

For the “magic solution,” Satan suggested that Jesus could turn rocks into bread. That would have attracted a ton of followers because that part of the world was full of rocks and drastic shortages of bread! As tempting as that was, Jesus rejected it. He knew that we didn’t need “rocks turned into bread magically.” He knew there was enough bread in the world already. What was needed was a radical change in the way we share the bread we already have!

For the “dramatic stunts solution,” Satan suggested that Jesus might jump from a tall building and be rescued by angels before he hit the ground. That certainly would have attracted a ton of followers because people have always liked to see something out-of-the-ordinary, things strange and exotic. As tempting as that sounded, Jesus rejected it. He knew that with the right eye sight, they could already see that wonders were happening all around them every day!

For the “alignment with political power solution,” Satan suggested that Jesus either try to become a king or align himself to political power to accomplish his mission by making people be good! As tempting as that sounded, Jesus rejected it. He knew that people  had to be inspired to do the right thing, not forced to do the right thing – conversion,  not coercion, was Jesus’ suggested solution!  

Sadly, all three of these temptations are alive and well today in our churches and among spiritual seekers of many stripes. We want “the magic,” “the miracles” and “the mighty” to fix things for us, rather than using the power we already have within ourselves by changing the how we see and what we choose!   

The temptation that saddens me most is the third temptation – the temptation to “align oneself to political power” as a way to fix us rather than inspire people to go through personal conversions.  No where is this more obvious to me is the spiritual leadership failure of some of our American bishops. Unable to influence people to choose truth and goodness, they have aligned themselves with political power to make people be good whether they want to or not by enacting more laws enforcing conservative Catholic and right-wing Christian moral teachings. I might agree with most of their moral stands but I totally reject their methods for gaining acceptance of those stands. Jesus rejected potestas (the power of force) and promoted auctoritas (the power of persuasion). In the process, sadly, many of our church leaders are now losing what little moral authority they once had for short-term gains. It's frustrating to watch! 


Temptations have two things in common. They will either make you a stronger person if resisted or they will be your downfall if given into! Every temptation requires “discernment,” the ability to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the ability to separate what is truly good from what simply looks good at the moment! It is impossible to escape the assault of temptation, but we have to be very careful about falling for offers that only look good! Two old sayings come to mind! “All that glitters is not gold!” “There is always free cheese in a mousetrap!"