Saturday, January 30, 2016

Struggles, worries, fears - human beings face to face with God



Struggles, Worries, Fears, and God

OR

 Called to be good stewards of the Earth for the common good

Struggles? Yes, I have them… doesn’t everyone? Worries? Life would be better without them, but unfortunately they are there. Fears? Oh yes…. These three, among others, describe much about our human condition. Struggles every day, worries touching on the future, and fears about many things – these three – add much burden to our lives and make it more difficult for us to be happy.
God loves us and doesn’t want us to be unhappy. That is why He has given us his solutions to these weak points in our humanity. The three most sensitive points in our lives are probably the same for all of us: time, energy, and money. Rare are the days when time is not an issue, or we don’t run out of energy, or we aren’t haunted by fear. God feels sorry for us when He sees us suffering and unhappy; so this is why He told his Chosen People about his solutions and taught them how to put them into practice. Jesus also practiced these solutions and showed us by his example how important and practical God’s solutions are.

TIME

Time is how we experience our life as a gift from God. He began to give us life through our parents. Even the most terrible of parents deserve at the very least respect and gratitude from their children if, for no other reason, because God used them to begin giving us life. The reality is that we receive life from God moment by moment, which makes time a key way that makes us aware of being alive.
Why then is time so often difficult or painful for us? We have to get somewhere and get upset when we think we not arrive in time. We are doing something and find ourselves running out of time. We enjoy a good experience and time seems to go by too quickly. A situation makes us suffer and time seems to slow down to a crawl. We become concerned that there is more time behind us than there is ahead of us.
As we grow older and wiser we realize that we have little or no power over time or over the thoughts and feelings that time generates in us in the course of our lives. We feel helpless to change our relationship with time despite our best resolutions and efforts to make changes.
God announced a simple solution to our problem with time. Our trouble with time was originally caused by the breakdown in humanity’s relationship with God. Time can only become a blessing again by allowing God to restore us to an intimate relationship with Him. Here is what the Lord told his people.
Exodus 20:8-11   8Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” (NRSV)

For us to be restored to an intimate relationship with God we need to allow God to be God in our lives. This means we need to make room for God’s way of looking at us and our lives. God knows that we need time to rest and so He gave his own example in the account of how He created the universe and us. When you think about it, resting is attractive and makes sense. Even machines need to be turned off so they can cool down and be maintained.
So God’s solution is that of the seven days He gives us each week, we give Him back the day that He has marked for us to spend with Him. We keep holy the Lord’s Day, the “Sabbath” or seventh day, by giving Him worship and then spending the whole day with family and friends, relaxing, celebrating, playing, and putting aside all work and worry. We will have the next six days to work all we want. 

ENERGY and its twin TALENT
(Energy well spent makes the best use of our talents and abilities.)

One way we know we are alive is by generating and spending energy. We do that in ways that are pleasant or unpleasant. We can spend our energy in ways that replenishes our energy at the same time or we can spend our energy in ways that depletes our energy reserves even faster. When we stubbornly push against obstacles that won’t move or throw ourselves at those walls in anger and other tough emotions we deplete our energy twice as fast. On the other hand, when we take a moment to stop and figure out what is happening and how best to apply our energy we can experience better results, feel greater satisfaction, and find that instead of depleting our energy reserves we are building them up at the same time that we are spending them. Even great effort can be rewarding when we direct our energies well.
Another way we rapidly deplete our energy reserves is when we struggle with tasks because in ways that are not effective or without the necessary skills. Clumsy efforts tend to use up more energy than efforts that employ skills to guide and precisely direct our energy to the desired objectives. We probably all know a person who is always angry and miserable in the course of their tasks and another person who is always glad and cheerful. The angry person will tend to be exhausted more often than the cheerful person.
God sees how we use our energy and is sad when we struggle under heavy burdens and are unhappy because He loves us and wants us, like any good parent, to succeed and experience the satisfaction of tasks well done. That is why each human being has a unique personality and set of talents and abilities. Some of these function well from the first time we use them and just get better with use, while others require more practice or learning and development. There is much satisfaction to be had from well directed efforts.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37    25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[j] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus (then told him about the good Samaritan who cared for a stranger who had been mugged and left on the ground to die. Then Jesus asked the lawyer:) 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (NRSV)

The purest or holiest use of our energy and talent is when we do so entirely for the good of others, out of charity or perfect love. Within the family this happens when spouses care for one another, parents care for their children, children care for their parents, the young care for the elderly, the healthy care for the sick, and so on. It also happens outside the family and out in the world when we care for our neighbour, or forgive enemies, or for strangers or the poor, sick, lame, wounded, prisoners, or other suffering persons.
It also happens when we serve others through the Church, Church institutions, non-governmental organizations, or other groups or agencies. The most inspiring work we can find is that done by parents and grandparents, people who proclaim the Gospel by their lives and by their words, and all those who serve the People of God in response to Jesus’ call to serve as priests, religious, other consecrated persons, or other dedicated lay people. When what motivates us is pure love even considerable effort and expenditure of our energy brings both satisfaction and the restoration of our energy reserves because our love for others puts us into sync or communion with the Holy Trinity and opens us to receive even more of their life and love. 

TREASURE
(All material goods in this world are intended by God to be enjoyed equitably by all of humanity.)

Our experience of time can indeed cause us considerable stress and suffering. In addition, so many factors can cause us to suffer from the constant depletion of our vital energy, particularly when we struggle in difficult situations or at tasks for which we are ill suited or trained or prepared. Perhaps what causes us the greatest suffering in life is our relationship to material things, to what could be called treasure. Jesus was quite clear in his teaching and example regarding earthly treasure and material goods.

Matthew 6:19-21    19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   Mark 14:3-9    While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,[c] and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (NRSV)
 
Jesus taught by example that material goods have value by the use we make of them with other human beings and with God. Material goods and money can strangle us with greed and fear or they can give great joy to others and increase our own joy. We cannot be free of greed, fear, or anxiety about material goods on our own. For this reason God gave his Chosen People a guideline. He inspired Abraham and others to give to the service of God a tithe or ten percent. This seems to be an ideal that symbolizes and expresses in a practical way the detachment we need to put our trust in God rather than in ourselves or in riches.
Jesus offers us the freedom of the children of God when we “give back to God” the holy portion, the tithe or ten percent, which is sufficient to allow God to set us free from greed and fear. This includes what we give to God’s work in his Church as well as what we give and share with the poor and all those whom we help in our families. It is amazing to realize that God will never be outdone by us in generosity.

JESUS HAS GIVEN US HIS EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW

When we hear or read about Jesus in the Gospels we see in Him a human like us in all things but sin, a man who always has plenty of time for everyone who comes to Him. He never seems in a hurry or worried about time. Jesus is eager to make the best use of his talents and to put Himself at the service of everyone without worrying about running out of energy. 

When He was tired, He rested or slept, like the time He sat down at Jacob’s well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink because He was tired and thirsty. Jesus was never concerned about shelter, clothing, food, or money, and He taught his apostles and disciples to adopt the same attitudes of absolute and practical trust in the providence of his heavenly Father. 

Saint Francis of Assisi is probably the saint who imitated Jesus most literally in these attitudes. What Jesus invites us to do is truly possible and the most direct route to peace, satisfaction, joy, and the happiness of perfect love. When we dare to imitate Jesus we are surprised to find ourselves already enjoying a taste of the life that will be unending in the radiant presence of the Holy Trinity with all the angels and saints in heaven.

Laudato Si - How do we dialogue with Muslims?

In "Laudato Si" Pope Francis invites all Catholics, Christians, and indeed all of humanity to consider that much of our distress in the world today is caused by human beings valuing many things more than the human person, family, and the common good. Pope Francis calls us to hear anew Jesus' teaching and example in the Gospel and to embrace the Holy Spirit who wants to realign our beliefs, thoughts, priorities, decisions, and behavior in such a way as to be in accord with the will of God for all of humanity and for the common good of all human beings.

Due to the unceasing acts of terrorism in our world today, especially those acts of violence claimed by people who identify themselves as Muslims acting for the glory of Allah and Islam, people not only in the western nations but also people in Muslim nations are increasingly subject to fear. It is not only Christians who are targeted for violence and murder but people of other religions and no religion and even Muslims of other Islamic sects and views.

Against these fears the quintessential Catholic and Christian response is what Saint Francis said and did, that is, a literal and complete trust in God expressed in prayer and loving outreach to even those violent extremists. We believe as Jesus taught that the Good News of abundant life offered by God is for everyone who will listen, hear, and accept it. This is manifestly the attitude and approach of Pope Francis as spelled out in his "Laudato Si", and so it is a very Christian way of looking at the world, at life, at religion and society.

For Muslims the views are radically different and not unlike what our views were in the Middle Ages. During those centuries all of society at all levels was permeated by religion. In that context, as people saw things, the Spanish Inquisition seemed to make perfect sense. It made sense to them not to spare the physical body in the process of trying to convince people to repent of their errors and in this way return to true faith in God and allow Him to save their immortal soul.

The most deadly danger was understood to be those beliefs that were erroneously in contradiction with the divine revelation of God as expressed in Christian faith and morals. They understood that errors in belief gave rise to thoughts, words, and behaviors inconsistent with the Sacred Scriptures or with the teachings of the Church and put one at risk of walking away from God.

In such world views that we could call "medieval" there are no distinctions between religion and government, between the church and society, because it is all one reality. Until today westerners look at Islamic states and expect their leaders to be like those in our own societies where religious and civic leaders are independent of one another. Under Islam religious leaders are in sync with the government which operates according to religious principles to the point that there are no longer any distinctions between "church" and "state". An Islamic state is under Sharia Law and all laws and civil judgements and punishments are in accord with the Qur'an and other Muslim writings and traditions.

Since the 1928 foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt a wave of renewal or revivalism, to use a Christian term, has been sweeping the Muslim world in a very deliberate and unrelenting effort to bring successive generations of Muslims to return to their roots in Islam and the Islamic impulse to bring the whole world into the subjection of Islam, that is, into "submission" to Allah and his prophet Mohammad and to make the whole world governed by Islam.

What Christians point to as the "peaceful" verses in the Qur'an are considered by Islam to be "early" verses before Mohammad was called to become a militant warrior. The "violent" or "later" verses are seen as the final call of Allah to subjugate the world under Islam for Allah. In this widespread view Jews and Christians are the first who must be subjected because they are considered to have lost the original truths revealed by Allah and to have corrupted the "Book" of Scripture. Tim Staples is a Catholic evangelist who made an exhaustive examination of Islam through the lens of the Christian faith in talks available on CD entitled "Islam Exposed - The Crescent in Light of the Cross".

The Muslim societies that aspire to conquer the world for Allah under Islam are not interested in dialogue with the Christian faith which they consider inferior and surpassed and perfected by Islam. The conviction of being superior generally held by Muslims makes authentic dialogue with Christians very unlikely. Nevertheless, dialogue and the willingness to dialogue is intrinsic to the Christian faith as shown in the Gospels witnessing to Jesus' eagerness to dialogue with everyone.

Christians aspire to a world united in peace and love under Christ and in the Holy Trinity; whereas Muslims aspire to a world united in submission to Allah and the principles of Islam. These are fundamentally irreconcilable views. Muslims who show true and authentic understanding, sympathy, and agreement with our Christian view are at times called "moderate" Muslims but in the eyes of the fervent Muslim world they are heretics or traitors and hence considered irrelevant.

This is why our world is in God's hands and all we can do is continue to walk with our Lord Jesus Christ, remain faithful to Him, live our faith and bond of charity with others and the world, proclaim the Good News, accept to endure persecution for the glory of God, and pray for our enemies or those who make themselves our enemies.

I welcome your views, either to agree or disagree, and only ask that you substantiate your claims.