Friday, October 18, 2013

Devotion for today: Living the Spiritual Life with Clear Vision

1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 

It seems I have a cataract which needs to be removed next month. In the cosmic realm of things this isn’t the worst event to have happen to a person. It is a relatively easy procedure and follow-up plan to clear vision. I have learned to live with this thing, and have adjusted my life around it. I can’t see all that well, but I can make do. It isn’t perfect, but I have learned to live with less than perfect vision for the first time in my life and have discovered that it isn’t all that difficult. This makes me think about my relationship with God.

We all have areas of our lives that aren’t perfect. We learn to live with them and actually leave them alone for the most part. As long as we can function on some level, we tell ourselves, we are doing ok. That may work for a time in the physical life, but it only leads to bigger problems down the road. The same is true with our spiritual lives. Maybe we know we spend too much time playing in the seven deadly sins, but since we are only spending a few hours playing video games, or watching a little too much TV or engaging in gossip just at work, or eat a wee bit too much all day long, or entertain angry thoughts but heck the person did me wrong, or take all the credit for something but only when I really feel I did more than the other guy, and you get the picture. They start small, seemingly innocent, but in fact will lead to our spiritual death.

There is another “I” problem that clouds vision. Did you ever try to count how many times some people use the pronoun “I”? They are clouded in their vision of themselves in relation to others, and cannot see any faults in themselves, only in others. They are free and easy in telling other people what is wrong with them, are very slow to forgive a perceived injury and absolutely feel that if they are not made right all the time, then the other person isn’t worth knowing.  This  “I” problem is as dangerous as the first, since in both cases we  are blinding ourselves to the truth as to who we really are and what we need to do to once again become children of God.

I will be able to have surgery to remove my cataract and improve my physical vision, but then it is time to do spiritual surgery as well. Those pesky deadly sins need to be removed completely or they will, well, kill us. Pride, greed, lust, sloth (laziness or wasting productive time on unproductive activity), envy, gluttony, and anger are all so easy to justify and live with, but when we examine those areas in our lives, we find that they take precious time away from our spiritual development, cause us to be less than the person God designed when He created us, and limit our true vision of ourselves. They start out small, like a bad habit, and, just as my cataract now completely covers my retina, they become obsessions and completely define who we are.  It isn’t easy to let them go, but choosing God instead has infinitely greater rewards.

The same is true for the ego centered “I” problem.  It causes us to see ourselves as more important than those around us. Even our charitable works have a hidden motive behind them, since nothing we do is other- based, but only self- centered. Like my cataract, egoism begins with little bit of distorted pride, or an inkling of inferiority, or maybe even anger. Then it becomes self-preservation and so hard to remove. It is one of the main reasons we can’t get close to God. He is asking us to give ourselves to Him completely and totally, to wake in the morning and say, “Do with me as you will today” and let go of all control. Although this “I” problem requires major surgery, with God’s help and grace, it is so very possible and so freeing.

I cannot wait until I can see the world again as it really exists. Right now I am looking through a clouded mirror. Soon the beauty and light of God’s world will be made clear again to me. Let us start today to remove the areas of our lives which are clouding our visions of ourselves and let God’s light shine in us. Only then can we let ourselves shine for others.

I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day

Oh yes, I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been praying for
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day

Look all around, there's nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead, there's nothing but blue skies

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Here's the rainbow I've been praying for
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day
It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day
Real, real, real, real bright, bright sunshinin' day
Yeah, hey, it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Devotion for today: If at first you don’t succeed…

2Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

1 Corinthians 9:24: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:25: Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

I watched a great football game the other night. Two college teams played a well-fought and surprisingly evenly matched contest. In regular time, the one team came from behind with seconds left to score a touchdown and tie the game. The players had to endure four overtimes before one player, exhausted and pulling strength from sources he never knew he possessed, grabbed the ball and ran it in for the game winning touchdown. It was amazing. These young men played over four hours of football, played well every minute and never stopped trying to make those precious points. It was exhilarating to watch, and made me think about our path to heaven.

We are all like those players. They came into the game physically prepared by spending hours in training and strength exercises. They were in top shape because they fed their bodies well and rested before the big contest. They were confident because they had good coaches who had prepared plans for their games and taught them how to execute those plans, gave them game books to study and memorize, and taught them to work as a team for ultimate success. There really wasn’t a loser in this game because all the players did their jobs, and did them well.

They are very much like all of us. We spend every day training and preparing ourselves for what lies ahead at any given moment. We spend every morning in prayer and reflection on God’s Word, which is the game plan we follow in life. We feed ourselves the Bread of Life, study the Catechism and Lives of the Saints to find plans that work for us, and spend time with our parish communities to learn to help each other reach eternal life. God is our coach, our priests and holy friends are our assistant coaches, and all our fellow Catholics are our team. If we all do our jobs well, we should all cross the goal line.

Some of us are like the players who did everything right in preparing for the game, yet got injured and had to sit on the sidelines, miss the rest of the game or maybe even the rest of the season, yet they are never idle. They always find ways to help the coaches, work with the players, spend time analyzing strategies and lend encouragement as they heal and prepare to enter back into active play. We, too, get sick and weak and injured and have to be sidelined for awhile, yet God asks us to support our teammates through intercessory prayer and works of support: encouraging emails, notes of appreciation, phone calls to cheer up our friends. We can spend more time in study so that we can help our team members know and understand the faith.

Sometimes we do the best we can and come up short. I watched extremely gifted kickers miss relatively easy field goals time and again. They probably made those same goals every time in practice. Other players had the ball in their hands and dropped it, some never caught the pass at all, and others were pulled down by weight much stronger than theirs. So no matter how hard these players trained, stuff happened. Sound familiar? The point is that they never gave up, said it was too hard for them and left to go play football on video games. Nope, they stayed in the game and tried again and again. That is what God asks of us. Although it looks as though we are doing everything right to get to heaven, we succumb to sin, fall into bad habits and let the weight of the world pull us down into what might look like failure. But there cannot be failure for us. We don’t get the option of playing life on a couch. We must always remain active players to get across our goal line.

Some players are naturally gifted. They possess an inner idea of the game that just comes out in everything they do. They are usually trophy winners and first round draft picks. Others have come to the game with less training and ability. They have a lot of catching up to do, yet they succeed by sheer determination and hard work. The saints are like that. Therese of the Little Flower and Bernard of Clairvaux were born holy and devout. As children they hungered for God and entered religious life to go on to become extremely effective coaches and game planners for the rest of us. Augustine, however, was thirty years old before he gave up his worldly life to come to God, and Teresa of Avila, although a nun, was 40 years old before she gave up her attachment to fine things and left everything behind to help reform the Carmelite Order. What do all four have in common? They are all Doctors of the Church, the A-team so to speak. We can surely see ourselves in one of them. Either we always had a burning passion for God’s will in our hearts, or we came to it later on. But one thing is clear about all of us. We want to be holy, and holy is defined as totally accepting God’s will as our own. No ifs, ands or buts. If a college football player’s coach tells him to do something, he does it. If God tells us to do something, we do it. We want to cross the line and enter heaven. God knows how to make that happen. He created us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, and like a good coach, he will put us where we will be most effective on the team.

One last point: only one young man crossed the goal line to score the winning touchdown that night, yet he didn’t do it alone. It took the entire team, coaching staff and fans to get him there. He was part of a community that wanted success. Working all together for one purpose, to cross the goal and make it happen, success came to all of them. That is the way we must live our Catholic lives. We may be blockers who open spaces for those who will run ahead of us, we may be kickers who bring home the point, we may be sideliners who cheer and encourage. Whatever role we play, whatever position God has assigned to us, with prayer, study, use of the Sacraments and participation at Mass, we will do as St. Paul exhorts us and “win the prize that will last forever.” Fight team, fight!