Monday, May 20, 2019

Happiness Within

Even before Christ, there existed wonderful philosophy in Greece and Rome. The ancient Romans were practical people. They did not ask themselves theoretical questions. They asked how they, as people, could become happy. They concluded that they must keep the source of happiness within themselves. They were the Stoic Philosophers. The writers included Epictetus and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. They were wise and wonderful.

The Stoics believed that they could not depend on the "outside" for happiness. The "outside is beyond my control. I must keep some control over my happiness or I will always be a victim. Example: I would be happy if my wife (or husband) were cheerful in the morning. I will be happy when I win the lottery. This is not the road to happiness. Happiness is securely found only from within.

The Stoics said that we could not let our desires go unrestrained. If I let my desires go wild, I can convince myself that I need a yacht to be happy. I do not need a yacht, or a DVR or a Porsche, or a widescreen TV. We can decide what we need; we can be content with what we have. In this regard, there are two ways to get rich. I define a rich person as one who earns more than s/he wants to spend. You could earn a fortune, more than you could ever want to spend. Or you could limit your desire to spend. J.P. Morgan chose the first way. Francis of Assisi chose the second. They were both rich.

The Stoics were a secular philosophy. They did not bring God into the picture. When we take the Stoic wisdom and add our spirituality, then we really have a plan of life. Look inside yourself for happiness. Inside you find the God who loves you. This God is the only sure source of happiness. Now we find that Francis of Assisi just might have been the happiest individual whoever lived.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Two Scenarios

Imagine these two different scenarios in your life:

In the first instance, you have just experienced a religious high. Through prayer or some other religious or human experience, you have a strong, imaginative sense of God’s reality. At that particular moment, you feel sure of God’s existence and have an indubitable sense that God is real. Your faith feels strong. You could walk on water!

Then imagine different moment: You are lying in your bed, restless, agitated, feeling chaos around you, staring holes into the darkness, unable to imagine the existence of God, and unable to think of yourself as having faith. Try as you might, you cannot conjure up any feeling that God exists. You feel you are an atheist.

Does this mean that in one instance you have a strong faith and in the other you have a weak one? No. What it means is that in one instance you have a strong imagination and in the other you have a weak imagination.

Faith in God is not to be confused with the capacity or incapacity to imagine God’s existence. Infinity cannot be circumscribed by the imagination. God can be known, but not pictured. God can be experienced, but not imagined.

When the prophet Isaiah glimpsed God in a vision, all he could do was stammer the words: Holy, holy, holy! Holy is the Lord God of hosts! But we misunderstand his meaning because we take “holy” in its moral sense, that is, as virtue. 

Isaiah however meant the word in its metaphysical sense, namely, as referring to God’s transcendence, God’s otherness, God’s difference from us, God’s ineffability. In essence, he is saying: Other, completely different, utterly ineffable, is the Lord God of hosts!

Accepting that God is ineffable and that all of our thoughts and imaginative constructs about God are inadequate helps us in two ways: We stop identifying our faith with our imagination, and, more importantly, we stop creating God in our own image and likeness.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

A New Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen

Friday, May 17, 2019

5th Sunday of Easter

Throughout his ministry, the scribes and Pharisees tried to trick Jesus on matters of the Law.  He deflected their ploys by consistently going back to the most basic and most important commandments in the Old Testament:  "you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut.6:5) and "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18).  In today's gospel, Jesus gives his disciples and us a new commandment, "love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34).

This new commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us is the greatest challenge facing most of us as Christians.  This love is total, unconditional, selfless, merciful, sacrificial and forgiving love.  It is a force so absolute and boundless that St. Paul declares " I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

The challenge for us is putting this commandment into practice.  Talking about love is easy.  Practicing total, unconditional, selfless, merciful, sacrificial and forgiving love is something each of us most struggle with every day.  What Jesus is telling us in this new commandment is that we must love the people who hurt us, we must love the people who hate us, we must love the people who are angry with us and we must love the people who let us down and disappoint us. There is no room for compromise here.  In Luke 6:27-35, Jesus makes his point explicitly clear:  "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do the same.  But rather, love your enemies and do good to them then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."

By striving to love one another as Jesus loves us, we are building the "new Jerusalem" that St. John saw so vividly in Revelation 21:1-5a.  We are working in partnership with God our Father to "make all things new" so that he can dwell with us here in Peachtree City, Georgia and we can prove we are his people. 

God, loving Father,
you made us aware of the depth of your love
when your own Son laid down his life for us.
Jesus asks us to love one another
the way he has loved us.
Make this new commandment of love
the very foundation of our lives,
so that, loving you and loving one another
we may show that we are Christ’s disciples.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the first-born from the dead,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
AMEN

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Grace

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the empty valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks through our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying, “You are accepted.  You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you and the name of which you do not know.

Do not ask for the name now, perhaps you will know it later.
Do not try to do anything, perhaps later you will do much.

Do not seek for anything,
Do not perform anything,
Do not intend anything.

Simply accept the fact you are accepted.”

If that happens to us, we experience grace.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wish You Enough

Recently, I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport as the daughter's departure had been announced.

Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said, "I love you, and I wish you enough."

The daughter replied, "Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom."  They kissed and the daughter left.

Then the mother walked over to the window where I sat. Standing there, I could see she wanted and needed to cry.

I tried not to intrude on her privacy but she welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?"

"Yes, I have," I replied. "Forgive me for asking, but why is this, a forever good-bye?"

"I am old and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is the next trip back will be for my funeral," she said.

"When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, 'I wish you enough.' May I ask what that means?"

She began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone."

She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail, and she smiled even more.

"When we said 'I wish you enough' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them."

Then turning toward me, she shared the following, reciting it from memory:
 "I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
 I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun.
 I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
 I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
 I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
 I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
 I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye."

She then began to cry and walked away.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Prayer of Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new; And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you, your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.