Tuesday, January 25, 2022

TRUE FREEDOM: DECIDING TO EMBRACE INCONVENIENT TRUTHS


THE PATH TO HEALING OUR COUNTRY AND OUR CHURCH 

More and more people believe the lie that the path to healing our country is through electing a "superman" or "superwoman" who can "fix it all" for us. This is so deadly dangerous because it opens us up to following more and more narcissistic, self-focused and manipulative cult leaders and trusting them to "tell us what the truth is" and to "do our thinking for us!" 

More and more people in our Church seem to believe one of two lies.  (a) They believe the lie that the path to our healing is returning in fear to some irretrievable past where God can be controlled and preserved in a glass museum case and not be out there uncontrollably roaming the streets of today's world. (b) They believe the lie that because others have failed to live up to the Church's ideals and disciplines, they are thereby relieved of any personal responsibility to live up to them as well.   

NOW HEAR THIS!







Sunday, January 23, 2022

"TRADITION" MEANS "TO HAND ON"


GIVEN AT ST. MARY MAGDALEN AND ST. THERESA IN MEADE COUNTY
Sunday, January 23, 2022


"Tradition is about protecting the fire, not preserving the ashes."
Pope John XXIII

There is still a whole lot of good things going on in our world, our country, our churches and our families, but I am scared to death of a "disease" that in invading our world, our country, our churches and our families! No, it’s not COVID. It is much more deadly! It has left the big cities and is now affecting small rural communities like this one! It’s a personality disorder, a condition or an attitude called “narcissism!” “Narcissism” is a word we all need to become familiar with because it is infecting even more people than COVID and the only cure for it are in the words of Saint Paul in our second reading today.

“Narcissism” is the term used to describe excessive vanity and self-centeredness. The condition is named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus, a handsome young hunter, who became overly infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He did not realize at first that it was his own reflection, but when he did, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with no one but himself.

Narcissistic personalities are characterized by unwarranted feelings of self-importance. All they are interested in is: me! me! me! My needs! My wants! My freedom! My rights! My time! My opinions! Narcissists expect to be recognized as superior and special, without necessarily being able to show any superior accomplishments. They exhibit a sense of entitlement, demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behaviors and display a strong need for admiration. Narcissists believe in their inflated self-importance and leads them to a hatred and disgust for those they feel are inferior. Narcissistic children like to bully other young children.

Some believe that our culture’s present narcissism epidemic, the fixation on indulging and exalting oneself, can be traced to the heyday of the self-esteem movement that baby boomer parents, teachers and media gurus promoted several years ago. Children were incessantly told things like: “Love yourself first” and “Believe that you are the best.” Rather than stoking healthy self-confidence, as was their intent, such messages may be responsible for a decline in the work ethic and a growth in feelings of entitlement and inflated egos. Cell phone “selfies” are one of the most obvious trademarks of a new selfish generation.

When narcissistic people talk about church attendance, they usually say things like “I don’t go because I don’t get anything out of it!” “I, I, I, me, me me!” When they say things like that, they put themselves in the center of the picture. It’s all about me! Church attendance is really about giving, not getting. We don’t go to Church to “get.” (1) We go to give - to give God worship and praise! (2) We go to learn - to learn how to give to and serve others, not just to “get” something for ourselves.

When narcissistic people talk about marriage, they talk about what it will do for them. They are like the woman in the Guinness Book of Records who had been married fifteen times. When she was asked about it, she said, “All I ever wanted was someone to love me!” No wonder she failed! The people who marry successfully get married to be love-givers, not love-getters! As Jesus said, “It is in giving that one receives!” Receiving is not a goal, but a by-product, of the marriage or ordination commitment. Narcissistic priests and marriage partners are always doomed to fail. For both priests and married partners, it is not about us, it is about those we are called to serve!

When narcissistic young people talk about what to do with their lives, they usually ask themselves “what do I want to do or what do I want to be” that will make me happy? The real question is not what do we want to do, but what is God calling us to do and be” that will lead us to happiness? Jesus was right, “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who seek to give their lives away, will save them.” Albert Schweitzer was right when he said, and narcissistic people will never get it, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve.”

Pope Francis talks a lot about a “self-referential church,” in other words, a narcissistic church. He says that when the Church does not look beyond itself, when it is always focused on itself, it gets sick. The Church is the moon and Christ is the sun. The Church exists to reflect the light of Christ to the world, not absorb it for itself

What is the cure for all this rampant selfishness called “narcissism?’ We certainly don’t need to run off the other side of the road! The other extreme to narcissism is self-deprecation: putting oneself down or the minimization and devaluation of oneself. Humility is about accepting the truth about who we are, without exaggerating it or minimizing it. “Humility” comes from the Latin “humus,” meaning “earth.” “Humility” means “grounded.” A truly “humble” person, truly in touch with his strengths and weaknesses, neither inflates his worth nor devalues it. Humility is ultimately about truth. As Mary said in her Magnificat, “God lifts up the lowly from their manure heaps and pulls the powerful down from their thrones.”

We are back to the oldest sins in the world, the sin of Adam and Eve and the sin of Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve fell for the snake’s lie that they could be little gods. Cain and Able thought they could escape being responsible for each other.

What is the cure for these old sins that are back in spades and spreading like a disease through our country, churches and families? It’s the realization that we are interdependent. We are not little independent Gods out there on our own. We are dependent on each other and we are responsible for each other. We are one body with many parts. We have been given a variety of gifts, not just for our own good, but to share with others for the good of the community! God has entrusted gifts to us to be used! When we do not use our gifts, even deny we have them, we neither serve God nor the people we are called to serve. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and our light is not to be hidden, but to be shared with the rest of the world.

Dear friends! This community has a long history of humble sharing and caring. There are stories that would make you cry about how people in this community have heroically cared and shared with each other. We need to remember those stories, retell those stories, collect those stories and teach those stories to your children. Most of all, we need to create more stories of heroic sharing and caring. We need to wake up and realize that we are beginning to lose that trait of caring and sharing. We are letting narcissism eat at the hearts and souls of our families, our parishes and our communities. We need to wake up to it, stand up to it and refuse to put up with it! We need to recognize narcissism when we see it and put a stop to it now - starting with ourselves first!

We have a proud history of caring, sharing and unity building in this community. Saint Paul even sounds like he is talking about our history in today’s second reading!

Now the body is not a single part, but many. We are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
I Corinthians 12:12

We can’t go back, but we can go forward. We can revive and resurrect the virtues of our forefathers and foremothers in a new way. They invested all they had in passing those old virtues on to us, now we need to do what we can to pass them on to the next generation. A new day requires new ways.

This is the driving idea behind the new St. Theresa Family Life Center that St. Mary’s and St. Theresa will share. It will be a place where the virtues and values of our ancestors will be taught and shared today in a new way. If I have anything to do with it, this will not be some half-baked, flash-in-the pan effort. It will be a first-class operation dedicated to strengthening our young families, empowering our singles and caring for our seniors. We are well on our way. We have some more to go to make sure we have enough funds to staff and operate it once it is done. The Family Life Center will soon be a place where your gifts and talents will be identified, nurtured, encouraged and used to strengthen the family life of this community.

If we don’t do this, with all that has been invested in us, we will have failed our ancestors and the priests and Sisters who came here in the 1800s and we will have squandered their investments in us. They are not coming back. Missionaries eventually move on after they have done their jobs. Waiting for an new infusion of priests and Sisters to return would be like leaving the runway lights on for Amelia Earhart! The priests and Sisters of the past came to Kentucky to start the first parishes, schools, orphanages, old age homes and hospitals. They were successful. Now there are many parishes, schools, childcare institutions, old age homes and hospitals. They have passed the baton to us. Let’s not stumble and drop it now. Our new Family Life Center will offer us a unique opportunity to recover the strong family virtues of the people who went before us! Let’s help each other do this! New and creative projects don’t always have to come out of Jefferson County! Let's show them what Meade County Catholics can do when they work together like they always have! Let's do all we can to make sure our families remain strong. It's really up to us and time is running out! There is no rescue party out looking for us! We simply have to help ourselves this time! 
















Monday, January 17, 2022

THE POWER OF WALKING AWAY




There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be silent and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1;7

One of the advantages of "social media" websites is that it gives everyone a platform for their opinions. One of the disadvantages of "social media" websites is some people's tendency to use them to demean, criticize, gossip about, show off and put down other people's opinions, looks, political or religious perspectives and standing in the community.  The reason I do not have a Face Book account is that I have come to believe that its downside far outweighs its upside.

Instead, I decided several years ago to start this BLOG called "An Encouraging Word." It is an extension of my preaching ministry where I try to look for goodness to affirm, rather than evils to condemn. It comes from a long-held belief that there is still a lot of "goodness" out there, but it often gets little attention in the swamp of "badness." There are plenty of condemners of "what's wrong with everybody and everything" already out there so I have decided to speak mainly about "what's right" out there. 

Recently, I was given an opening and opportunity to publicly "leap into the fray" of a brewing collision of opinions. Such invitations are now coming daily and sometimes hourly. Sometimes I have entered the ring. This time, I have decided not to take the bait! Oh, I do have strong opinions about that issue and they boil under the surface. Inside, I am outraged. This time, however, I decided to simply  remove myself from that battlefield, say nothing and let my absence speak for me. I am not one to give up easily, but I believe that this situation requires a different response. Silence can sometimes be an even more powerful response than "using one's voice." For me, in this particular situation, saying nothing implies "non-complicity" in an even more  powerful and effective way than "speaking out." If you want a tennis game to end, you don't have to negotiate with the other player, all you have to do is quit hitting the ball back over the net! 



“You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths.
Alison McGhee

 



 "When your horse dies, get off! 
Cowboy Wisdom 





 



 


 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

TABLE OF PLENTY

It was at Cana in Galilee that Jesus

 began the signs that revealed his glory.

John 2:11

 

Jesus came to this world to teach us, by performing a series of "signs" or delivering "messages" about what heaven is going to be like!  There will be many as we follow his life this liturgical year, but today we read about the first of those "signs" or "messages."    

 

Now, you would think the first "sign" or "message" that he would want to deliver, right out of the gate, would be something more practical, like healing the physically, emotionally or spiritually sick. There were certainly plenty of them to go around! You would think that his first "sign" would be something practical like feeding those who were hungry. There were certainly plenty of them to go around!  Instead of multiplying loaves of bread to feed the hungry first or curing a few hundred lepers first or even healing a bunch of mentally disturbed people first, he went to a wedding reception and delivered a truck load of wine - somewhere between 120-180 gallons, in fact! What kind of "sign" or "message" is that?

 

If you line up the details of this reading, surely Jesus wanted to male a statement about abundance.  His first "sign" or "message" seems to say that, in the kingdom of heaven, there will be plenty.  In a culture where people routinely lived on the edge of starvation and want, for Jesus to make this wedding reception event his first "sign" or "message" was quite powerful.  A wedding is about fertility, new life, continuation, happiness and possibility.

 

Every detail symbolizes plenty and abundance.  Not only were the bride and groom's family there, along with their relatives and neighbors, but also Jesus, his disciples and even his mother!  Not only were the water jars now full of wine, we are told they were full to the brim!  This wedding was not a single day affair. Jewish weddings went on for a week, so this 120 -180 gallon infusion of extra wine toward the end of the week, didn't even count what the family had purchased in the first place and had already been consumed!  Not only was this new wine added to what was already supplied, this new wine was actually much better than what was served first, unlike most weddings when they pulled out the cheap stuff after people were pretty well two-sheets to the wind and wouldn't know any better!

 

This multiplication of wine was the first "sign" or "message" that Jesus performed to teach us about the kingdom that God has in store for us. The rabbis at the time of Jesus had a saying, "Without wine, there is no joy." So this "sign" or "message" wasn't as much about a wedding or wine as it was a "sign" or "message" about the joy that awaits us in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, "I have come to bring you life - life to the full - life to the brim - a joy that is not stingily divvied out in thimbles, but "pressed down. shaken together and poured into our laps."  Saint Paul talked about it this way, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even dawned on human beings the great things God has in store for those who love him." 

 

Jesus did not teach, as some assume, that this kingdom only awaits us in the afterlife. Jesus taught us that we are already in his kingdom. He wants us to start tasting it now, even though it will not come to its fullness until we enter heaven.  Think about it! We are partially in heaven already! All we have to do is have the eyes to see it!  Jesus said as much before he performed this first "sign" or "message."  In fact, these were the first words out of his mouth when he began his public ministry! "Metanoiete! Change the way you see so that you see that the kingdom of God is at  hand, right there in front of you!


 

The kingdom is already here? To that Jesus said, "Yes, it is! If you have the right eyes you can see it has begun! It is subtle, like yeast working in a batch of dough, but it is here! The "signs" that I perform - healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those who are bound up - are "signs" that the kingdom is building. The "signs" that my followers, as they spread around the world in the years to come, will perform will be "even greater" because there will be millions of my followers "healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those bound up."  Then someday, in the great by-and-by, there will be no sickness, no hunger and no imprisonment of any kind!”

 

 

One of the "signs" of the kingdom today is the work of Catholic Relief Services, carrying on the ministry of Jesus, delivering medicine, food and aid to desperate places. It should make us all proud that one of the most respected, most efficient and most trusted relief agency is Catholic Relief Services.  Another “sign” is the daily feeding of street people downstairs, at the Cathedral, something that has been going on for over 150 years! Through the donations and volunteering of disciples like us, the kingdom of God is shown forth, and will be shown forth, until there is no need for it when the kingdom comes to perfection in the world to come!  Then on that day, there will be no tornados, no earthquakes, no disease, no hunger, no thirst and no crying! On that day, when our lives will be "filled to the brim," there will be plenty for everybody! Until then, let's do what we can to help the suffering experience a little taste of heaven, right now! 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, January 15, 2022

CELL PHONE ADDICTION CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM


 He looks so natural!
or
Did you remind him to call you when he gets there? 
or
Thank God, you chose the one with the "forever" plan!
or
Did he try turning it "off" and then turning it "on" again?  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

PLEASE! THANKS! SORRY!

 


WISE WORDS TO MARRIED COUPLES

 POPE FRANCIS 

December 26, 2021


Pope Francis sought Sunday to encourage married couples, acknowledging that the pandemic has aggravated some family problems but urging couples to seek help and always remember three key words in a marriage: “Please, thanks and sorry.”

Francis penned a letter to married couples that was released Sunday, a Catholic feast day commemorating Jesus’ family. It came halfway through a yearlong celebration of the family announced by Francis that is due to conclude in June with a big family rally in Rome.

Speaking at his studio window Sunday, Francis said he intended the letter to be his “Christmas present to married couples." He urged them to keep having children to fight the “demographic winter" which, in Italy, has led to one of the lowest birthrates in the world.

“Maybe we aren't born into an exceptional, problem-free family, but our family is our story — everyone has to think: It’s my story,” he said. “They are our roots: If we cut them, life dries up!"

In the letter, Francis said lockdowns and quarantines had forced families to spend more time together. But he noted that such enforced togetherness at times tested the patience of parents and siblings alike and in some cases led to real difficulties.

“Pre-existing problems were aggravated, creating conflicts that in some cases became almost unbearable. Many even experienced the breakup of a relationship,” Francis wrote.

He offered his closeness to those families and reminded parents that the breakup of a marriage is particularly hard on children, who look to their parents as a constant source of stability, love, trust and strength.

“The breakdown of a marriage causes immense suffering, since many hopes are dashed, and misunderstandings can lead to arguments and hurts not easily healed," he said. “Children end up having to suffer the pain of seeing their parents no longer together."

He urged parents to keep seeking help to try to overcome conflicts, including through prayer. “Remember also that forgiveness heals every wound,” he said.

He repeated a refrain he has often used when meeting with families and married couples, listing the three most important words in a marriage: “Please, thanks and sorry.”

Picking up the theme in his remarks to tourists and passers-by in St. Peter's Square, Francis said a failure to make peace before going to bed at night can lead to a “cold war" the next morning.

“How many times, unfortunately, conflicts originate within the domestic walls due to prolonged periods of silence and from unchecked selfishness!" he said. “Sometimes it even ends up in physical and moral violence. This lacerates harmony and kills the family."

He urged families to put down their cellphones at the dinner table and talk. “It's sad to see a family at lunch, each one with his or her own cell phone not speaking to one another, everyone talking to the mobile phone," he said.

Then when an argument breaks out, each one repeats their refrains “staging a comedy they've already seen where everyone wants to be right and in the end a cold silence falls. That sharp, cold silence, after a family discussion, is ugly, so very ugly!" he said.

He urged parents to think not of themselves but others, and to pray “for the gift of peace."

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

NO EXCUSES, NO WHINING, NO BLAME

IT'S EASIER TO PUT ON SLIPPERS THAN CARPET THE WORLD
You Can't Change Others But You Can Change Yourself 



 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

CALLED TO ACT BETTER, DO BETTER AND BE BETTER

FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD


Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God's children?

Do you reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?

You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life.

You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

From the Rite of Baptism of Adults

CALLED TO WALK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

 

TAKE THE NARROW CONSTRICTED PATH AND AVOID THE WIDE EASY ROAD 

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Matthew 7:13-14

 Keep Watching This Amazing Video Until You Really Understand It.
Once You Understand It, Commit to Living It Out.



Saturday, January 8, 2022

ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS GIFTS - GET YOURS

FROM SUSAN, 
ONE OF MY NEIGHBORS,
OF
Chips Cookies


GET YOURS DELIVERED 
@
www.chipscookieslou.com

"They're Huge! 
Tell Her That "Ron" Sent You!"

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Absolute Necessity of Getting A Grip On Yourself

 ANOTHER INSTALLMENT IN "MY FAVORITE SELF-HELP VIDEOS" SERIES

 

New Year's Resolutions Without Self-Discipline Are A Big Waste of Time







 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

GOD HELP US! WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING!


Switzerland Approves Assisted ‘Suicide Capsule'

Exit International
Exit International

Switzerland has just legalized a new way to die by assisted suicide. The country’s medical review board has just given authorization for use of the Sarco Suicide Pod, which is a 3-D-printed portable coffin-like capsule with windows that can be transported to a tranquil place for a person’s final moments of life.

Conventional assisted-suicide methods have generally involved a chemical substance. Inventor Philip Nitschke of Exit International told the website SwissInfo.ch that his “death pod” offers a different approach. “We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” he said. “Our aim is to develop an artificial-intelligence screening system to establish the person’s mental capacity. Naturally there is a lot of skepticism, especially on the part of psychiatrists.”

The pod can be activated from inside and can give the person intending to die various options for where they want to be for their final moments. “The machine can be towed anywhere for the death,” he said. “It can be in an idyllic outdoor setting or in the premises of an assisted-suicide organization, for example.”

To qualify to use the pod, the person who wants to die must answer an online survey that is meant to prove whether they are making the decision of their own accord. If they pass, they will be told the location of the pod and given an access code.

Once inside, the person intending to end their life will have to answer pre-recorded questions and press a button that will start the process of flooding the interior with nitrogen, which will quickly reduce the oxygen level inside from 21 percent to 1 percent. “The person will get into the capsule and lie down,” he said, adding, “It’s very comfortable.”

He said the person will likely feel disorientated or euphoric. “The whole thing takes about 30 seconds,” he said “Death takes place through hypoxia and hypocapnia, oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation, respectively. There is no panic, no choking.”

In 2020, around 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in Switzerland, almost all by ingesting liquid sodium pentobarbital, which puts a patient into a deep coma before killing them. Assisted suicide is also legal in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada.

The Sarco Suicide Pod is expected to be operational in 2022. The company has made three prototypes, but one was not “aesthetically pleasing” so it will not be used, it says. The company has not yet announced how much it will cost to use the service.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.


Monday, January 3, 2022

WELCOME TO 2022

A BIT OF GOOD NEWS AMONG ALL THE BAD NEWS

IT COULD BE WORSE



By Mark Pattison


WASHINGTON — The percentage of Catholics in the U.S. population in 2021 held steady at 21% in the latest Pew Research Center survey, issued Dec. 14.

The percentage of Protestants, however, dropped, while the percentage of “nones” — those who profess no particular denominational attachment — continued to rise, said the report, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated.”

The survey results also indicate the proportion of Christians in the U.S. population continues to slide. A decade ago, they constituted 75%, or three out of every four Americans. In the new survey, that percentage is down to 63%, or five out of every eight Americans.

“Christians now outnumber religious ‘nones’ by a ratio of a little more than 2-to-1,” the report said. In 2007, when Pew began asking its current question about religious identity, the ratio was almost 5-to-1, or 78% vs. 16%.

Since 2007, Protestantism has dwindled from 52% of all Americans to 40%, not quite twice the percentage of Catholics today. Within Protestantism, the percentage of those adults who profess evangelical or “born again” Christianity has shrunk by 6%; the number of those who are not evangelical or “born again” also has shrunk by 6%.

The dip in the percentage of Catholics is less pronounced; it was 24% in 2007 and 14 years later is 21%. The Orthodox churches make up about 1% of Americans, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprises 2%.

Prayer also has taken a hit since 2007. The percentage of those who said they prayed every day then was 58%; today, it’s 45%.

So too are those who consider themselves “very” religious. Fifty-eight percent of Americans had described themselves that way in 2007. Now, just 41% do. The number of those who feel “somewhat” religious has drifted downward from 28% in 2007 to 25% today. But those who say they’re either “not too” or “not at all” religious has more than doubled over the past decade and a half, from 16% to 33%.

The trend lines maintained themselves on the religiosity question even after Pew switched from a random-digit-dial protocol to find survey respondents, which ended in 2019, to its National Public Opinion Reference Survey, which debuted in 2020.

Thirty-five percent of Catholics say they go to Mass at least monthly, with Hispanics outpacing whites, 36% to 33%. But those numbers are dwarfed by the 46% of Protestants who say they attend services at least monthly.

Catholics straddle the halfway mark about how often they pray — 51% say they pray daily — while 48% say religion is very important in their lives. Of this 48%, 54% of Hispanic Catholics say this is true for them, vs. 41% of their white counterparts.

While a combined 29% of those surveyed profess no specific religious identity, the percentage of those who say they’re “nothing in particular” (20%) is more than double the combined percentage of atheists and agnostics (9%).

The Pew survey interviewed 3,937 Americans who responded either on paper or online. The margin of error for the entire respondent group is plus or minus 2.1%. Among the 860 Catholics surveyed, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.5%.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

BE SAFELY ANCHORED IN AN OUT-OF-CONTROL WORLD

NOTES FROM MY PRIVATE NEW YEAR'S EVE RETREAT  

For most of my life as a priest, I have assiduously avoided New Years Eve parties. The thought of spending that sacred evening being a screaming drunk, surrounded by a mob of screaming drunks, has just never appealed to me. I know I am different and I realized a long time ago that that fact does not necessarily make any better or any worse than anyone else. It's just my personal preference. As the old saying goes, "To each his own said the old lady as she kissed the cow!"

Here is what I enjoy doing on New Year's Eve. I spend the day setting the stage for the evening's event. I clean the house. I make a fresh bed by changing the sheets, fluffing the pillows and turning down the covers. I put on my baggy loose pants and comfortable shirt. I prepare a new journal for the new year. I fix a few extra nice healthy things to snack on. By evening time, I turn the commercial-free cable music channel to "Soundscapes" (soothing "new age" music) and turn on my convincing fake fireplace.  I pour myself a nice drink, skim though last year's journal and remind myself of what I was thinking at various times, not only evaluating the events of last year, but more importantly how I reacted to the events of last year. That triggers a few laughs, a few sighs and more than a few out-loud words of  gratitude. 

Once I have had enough of that, I turn my attention to the future: things I need to remember, people I need to pay more attention to, ideas I may want to implement, corrections I need to make and projects I need to finish. I start writing things down in my journal, in no certain order, as they come to mind. 

This year two resolutions already came to mind. (1) Since the chaos of our world will, no doubt, last for quite a bit longer, I need to figure out more ways to anchor myself from the inside. There is an old quote that sums up what I am going to try to do with this year's time of serious reflection. "Since you cannot control the waves, you must find a way to adjust your sails." (2) I need to get back to my health regime that took a beating over the holidays. This I usually do quite easily when I begin it on New Year's day. 


I am so damned tired of COVID that I could scream! I tried screaming a few times and I can vouch for the fact that it doesn't help and it just gives the neighbors more ammunition when they come to drag me off to the funny-farm and the operators of that institution try to make me "move in" - "for own good," of course !  

Compared to others, I have little to scream about so I need to get a grip! The only thing I have to fall back on is this - the realization that compared to other people, I have it made! I live happily alone in a comfortable paid-for condo. I consider myself "financially secure" and I have adjusted pretty well to retirement living.  I have plenty to eat and my health is probably above average for my age. I know a lot of people much younger than I am who have bodies that are "shot" already. I have a wide variety of faithful friends. I am at peace with most people with the exception of an irritating horse's ass here and there!   

Even with these advantages over a whole lot of other people, because I am so tired of the unraveling madness all around me that this COVID has unleashed on the world, I still find myself wanting to scream and lash out at something. As I said, I know that screaming and being upset, being unsettled and being irritated in response to this wearing down of my nerves, does not help. It simply exacerbates the pain - like the urge to scratch a poison ivy outbreak. 

I just finished checking out the news on my computer. Here are only a few of the headlines. "Father drives son to store to commit murder." "Woman arrested after running onto the Phoenix Airport tarmac to stop flight she missed." "Teens ambushed their teacher on her daily walk then dragged her into the woods." "Over 65 shots fired on busy Philadelphia street; 6 wounded."  That's only the tip of the iceberg! No wonder I find myself wanting to scream! 

As I said earlier, "If you can't control the wind, you can adjust your sails." I have no simple answers, but here are a few things I hope to implement to help anchor me in an out-of-control world.  

WALLOW IN SILENCE REGULARLY

When I was a child, I had the privilege of being able to play in the woods all day. We had no ear buds or cell phones or any other electronic gadgets, not even transistor radios! We could  actually forget what was going on in the so-called "real" world. Today, I am convinced that many of my country cousins who like to deer hunt in the fall are attracted more to the experience of long periods of silence than they are to the actuality of killing a deer. (By the way, for your information, you can actually still go to the woods these days, without a gun, in places like the Bernheim Forest.) 

A long drive with a broken radio and a cell phone with a dead battery can actually be a great blessing. Regular benefits come from deliberately turning off the radio and cellphone on a long trip, opening the windows on a spring day and just taking in the quiet. I like to do that once in a while. For an hour or two, I can actually forget the world is falling part. 

Never underestimate a nice walk through a beautifully manicured cemetery. Most cemeteries are very quiet. Many are peaceful. Some are absolutely beautiful. They can remind me not to waste time feeling sorry for myself. They can remind me that there are some things worse than having a bad day, a bad week, a bad month or even a bad year.  An extended walk can actually bring my focus back to what is important and the importance of taking advantage of the time I have to "smell the roses," even if they are on a strangers grave! 

Here is one of my favorite insights about silence. “You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect a leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths." Alison McGhee

It may not be in my power to shut the world up, but it is in my power to shut the world out, at least for a while. As Will Rogers said, "Never miss a good chance to shut up!"  


RESTRICT YOUR INTAKE OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA

Electronic media is a blessing and a curse. It is not uncommon to see people walking around looking down at their cellphones: in grocery stores, on sidewalks, on buses, in cars, in restaurants and even in churches. As good as electronic media could be, it has sometimes driven us further apart when we use it to communicate with others in place of normal personal face-to-face communication. 

As much as I enjoy electronic media, I need to wake up to some of the truth about it. Some electronic media outlets today are actually guilty of intentionally misinforming the public. In the cases of misinformation, electronic media has been known to ruin the reputation of innocent people. Some media hyped conclusions on different topics are accidently or intentionally misleading. Unfiltered electronic media sometimes spreads unnecessary information which can lead to disputes and chaos. It may be fast, but often its content lacks depth. In case of minimal news, some media outlets settle for negative approaches to keep themselves going.

 I plan on using the conveniences of electronic media, but this year for my own sanity I need to put my foot down to any over-use and abuse that I may be involved in. As part of my "keeping my sanity program," I plan to limit any of my overuse and rediscover what it's like to smell the roses and carry on a coherent conversation with real people in front of me. I plan to turn my cell phone off when people come to visit, when I am in an inside public area and never turn it on at table while eating with people. I am just not that important and nether is much of the information people want to send me or talk to me about. I can wait. It can wait. Leave a message! I am too busy "smelling the roses," "dining with a friend" or focusing on a task right in front of me! 

I do not use FACEBOOK. I consider much of it a cesspool of gossip and I don't want to pollute my mind with such garbage. I already know everybody has the "smartest dog/cat in the world and their baby is the "cutest ever!"  Frankly, I don't care what people had for dinner, much less want to see a picture of it on my phone!  If people don't want to see my blog posts, they don't have to sign up to get it or download it. It is strictly voluntary. It's not forced onto anybody and it's not distributed via unwanted mass e-mails! 


DO A FEW THINGS WELL, NOT A BUNCH OF THINGS POORLY

To survive in an out-of-control world, with any peace of mind and sanity, I know I have to focus. I cannot ingest constant chaos all day long and expect to maintain my equilibrium. To focus, I have to restrict how much I let into my consciousness at one time. I need breaks. I need rest. I need time to recover and to recoup. Even Jesus withdrew and went off to a "lonely place" once in a while! Anybody with responsibility, whether he or she be priest, parent or professional, needs time to recover if we are to last the long-haul. It's not about me saying "yes" all the time nor saying "no" all the time. It's about pacing myself. The world will not collapse without me, no matter how indispensable I may like to think I am! The time to be renewed and refreshed will not happen by accident. I must plan and structure it. I must take control of my own life or it will be nibbled away by needy people until I am completely unable to function in a healthy way, leaving them without a valuable source of help and support on which they can rely.   Just because I live in a "buffet world," does not mean I have to eat the whole thing in one sitting! Picking and choosing wisely, saying "yes" and saying "no," is the healthy and sane approach. 

PICK YOUR BATTLES

One of the last papers I wrote before leaving the seminary was an essay about the difference between courage and foolhardiness. It was about the fine line between bravery and stupidity. In a world that keeps inviting me into the latest conflict, I have decided to look before I leap, to keep my powder dry and to get my act together before rushing into a rash decision with my hair on fire! My favorite Greek word, the word that I used to name my little publishing company, is sophronismos. Sophronismos is an almost impossible word to translate into English. Sometimes it is translated as wisdom, but it is a very specific kind of wisdom. It is more the wisdom of "knowing what to do in the face of panic" or "knowing how to keep one's cool under pressure." 

The word "discern" is related. It literally means  "to cut in two." It's the ability to separate one thing from another, as in "good" from "not so good." To me "picking my battles" after "discernment," is a sign of "sophronismos."  In my old age, I think it is wiser to be a "marksman," than it is to be a "loose canon." 


BE YOUR OWN SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR

All of us need someone we can trust who can listen to us, who will be honest with us and who can help guide us back to our chosen path. In my profession, we call them "spiritual directors." While I am all for the idea of having a "spiritual director, " in reality I know they are as scarce as hen's teeth! Trying to find one who is capable, one I can trust and one who is available to me is an exhausting search. 

Even if my search for such a trusted advisor is fruitless, I still don't have to be a tumbleweed blown around by every gust of wind coming down the plain. I have learned that I can be my own "spiritual director" in an emergency. All I have to do is be serious about wanting to engage in personal and spiritual growth. As Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you." 

I find that doing what I am doing right now, tonight, is one of the great places to start - journaling. I journal almost ever night before I go to sleep. I spend a few minutes reflecting on the events of the day, my reaction to them and the things I have either learned or want to remember. It is a practical way of reminding myself of my desire to "direct" myself toward my stated goals and to engage in some self-correction if necessary, before things get too far out of hand. Tonight, I will start page one of a brand new journal. After I finish a quick review of last year's journal, I will begin to write down some of my wishes, dreams and goals for 2022. I am going to try to "discern" where I want to grow! 

Another thing I do in my personal and spiritual "self-direction," is collect wisdom quotes. Many of them I have committed to memory. I can pull them up at a moments notice. Many are from Scripture. Some are from the Saints. A few are from famous people. Many of them are simple bits of wisdom that have come out of the mouths of some very ordinary people - people who are wise and just plain good to the bone. 

Another thing that helps me tremendously to engage effectively in my "self-direction," is having a few close friends I feel free to confide in. Some are priests. Some are lay Catholics. Some are Protestants. Some are non-believers. Some are just friends. I am proud of the fact that I can relate pretty easily to a large cross-section of people.  

It seems, sooner or later, during these personal New Year's Eve retreats that I remember the first word that came out of the mouth of Jesus as he began his ministry. The word, in New Testament Greek, is "metanoiete." It is sometimes translated as "repent." That is sad because that invitation, in people's minds, usually means to "feel sorry for some mistake you made or some sin you have committed." I think it is much more challenging than that! "Metanoiete," I believe, is better translated as "change the way you think about things," "change the way you look at things," "change your mind about what you think is important!"

For me, the New Year is about this kind of "changing." Notice I used the word "changing," not "changes." Metanoia is not about making external "changes," it's about "changing" internally! In 2022, I want to keep "changing," not just making "changes" as in "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." As Cardinal John Henry Newman said, "To live is to change, and to change often is to become more perfect."


CONCLUSION

Have a Happy New Year! It's in our power! We just need to go get a grip on ourselves and choose happiness!
We need to know that if we are safely anchored, our happiness is possible even in an out-of-control world!