Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting Back to Zero

Mother Theresa said, "Without mistakes, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is no love."

What happens when we make mistakes? Take the example of a drug addict. They spend years abusing drugs, their lives unraveling, hurting people, blowing thousands of dollars, getting arrested, etc. They want to get clean. They sweat and struggle and with support and grace and a lot of willpower, they put drugs behind them. Withdrawal is painful; not a day goes by when they don't feel like going back to drugs. They spend years repaying their debts, earning back trust. They are proud of their accomplishment, looking back on the horror and chaos of their former life and are grateful for their new life of sobriety. Life never felt so good. But every day is a struggle to stay above water. The return to grace is spent just getting back to zero.

Now compare them to someone who chose never got into drugs in the first place. They know nothing of the struggle to maintain sobriety, because they never lost it. They were able to focus their efforts on other things, maybe get ahead in life more. Drugs might have been fun, but this was a fun they never took part in. Short term "pain" for long term gain. They wonder what all the fuss is about, someone whose biggest accomplishment in life is not doing drugs.

Is the person who never abused drugs better than the one who chose to? No. But they also saved themselves a lot of grief and trouble by making the choice not to abuse drugs in the first place. The addict has had his fun, and now he is paying for it (and he knows he has to pay for it). The non-addict has nothing to pay, and so he is free to apply his efforts elsewhere.

The long hard fall from grace, though, seems to have some merit, since Jesus said, "those who are forgiven little, love little." Look at the parable of the prodigal son. The eldest son did everything right, the younger did everything wrong. The father loves them just the same, not one more than the other. But the eldest son is spiteful, and in the end, the younger brother got the fattened calf and party. The eldest son complains why he never got one before while he was doing all the right things. The father replies, "all I have is yours."

Maybe it is a matter of appreciation. Sometimes you don't know how delicious food tastes until you haven't had any for a day or two, for "hunger is the sweetest sauce." Should one take the invitation to sin, then, in order to experience the intoxicating joy of redemption--or in other words, "should we continue in sin so that grace may abound?" Paul says "certainly not!"

"When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

One thing I worry about in our society is that things that people should be "ashamed of," as Paul says, people are not seeing as sinful. It is one thing to sin and know you are a sinner in need of grace; but things have been diluted, and people sin while not thinking themselves sinners, or even worse, that their sins are something to be proud of. This thinking will lead to death in the end, and people will say "Lord! Lord!" on the Last Day, but they will not be let in to the kingdom.

Our moral conscience is like a delicate barometric machine that needs to be finely and wisely tuned. Allowing our societal standards to inform our conscience is like letting the plumber work on your car. How do expect it to turn out--plumbers are not car mechanics! In this way I think Christ's Church serves a valuable function--helping to inform our consciences in the right way--like a lighthouse guiding ships in the dark. Without it, we are crashing our ships into the rocks, one after the other.

Stupid Virgins

I've been reading a lot about people "underwater" with their mortgages. The newspapers seem to report about people who bought $300,000 to $500,000 houses, added additions, borrowed against their home equity, etc. and suddenly can't afford them due to one circumstance or another, or the value of their house is less than their mortgage and they can't move, etc. That stinks. On the other hand, how many of these people did not anticipate a loss in salary, injury, need to move, or simply bought too big a house? It is hard for me to feel sympathy for some of these people. I think the days of living beyond our means is over. It's a shame we can't count of the equity in our houses as an investment anymore, but times change, and things fall apart.

It reminds me of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins:

Now the kingdom of heaven may be compared to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." Then all these virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. Now the foolish said to the prudent, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the prudent answered saying, "No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves." Now while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, Lord, open up for us." But he answered them and said, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

The thing that strikes me in this parable is that it seems almost uncharitable (un-Christian?) for the wise virgins to not share what they have in order to help the other virgins. The oil seems to be "non-transferable."

But is this not true of our spiritual "investments?" That is, those who put in the time and effort of developing a relationship with God so that on the day of judgment, God will recognize and welcome them in to the kingdom? Who spent their time in prayer and penance and living for God rather than other worldly pursuits? These things develop our spiritual character. And character is not transferable--we cannot lend it to others who have been unwise in not 'investing" in the Spirit. It's like someone who works out for months in a gym and someone who sits on their ass asking them "give me some of your muscle." It doesn't work like that. God holds us accountable. We reap what we sow; it's kind of a law.

So don't be a stupid virgin. Be a smart virgin. Live within your means, and trust in God for your "investments" to pay off.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

what to write about? bah!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Love the Shepherd, Love the Sheep

There is a running joke among my friends that "Rob hates people," as in, "Rob, do you want to go to a ball game tonight? To the clubs? To a live filming of Regis & Kelly?" No...I hate people.

I don't really hate people; just people en masse. The throngs of latte-seekers that come into the store. The people I have to contend with to get a tennis court. The lines at the DMV. Airports. Humanity itself, sometimes.

If you look through the Bible, Jesus had to deal with crowds a lot. People were always following him, thousands of them. Some were sincere, some were probably just following along for the show. They were often hungry and rowdy and didn't respect private property (like when they ripped apart a man's roof in Luke 5:19). In Jesus' public ministry--the job the Father had assigned to him--he was rarely left alone.

Despite this, Jesus never despised or cursed the masses; he cared for them and loved them and sometimes pitied them because they were "like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus came to save individuals, but he also came to save humanity--the very group I catch myself cursing so often. Despite his solitary ways, Jesus was also a real people person. He didn't avoid crowds or shirk his responsibility for them, though he may have wanted to at times.

It occurred to me recently that it is not Christ-like to hate people (duh), whether that be individuals or groups or whatever--there is no real justification for it. I still hate crowds, but maybe I can find another way to start sentences besides "these idiots..." when I am at work, and can stop judging people who choose to travel in mobs, or stop cursing people who want what I want. I can learn to stifle my ego a bit and put my prejudices aside. Consider it my Lenten sacrifice.

If you love the shepherd (*sigh)...you gotta love the sheep.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You GROW Girl

My babies are getting BIG under the grow light. Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers (bell and sweet) are pictured. Beans and zucchini on the other side (not pictured). Will probably wait another month or so to plant outside. Better re-pot in the mean time. Getting spring fever!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Luring Angels

A few weeks ago Debbie and I were at a friend's house. I have deep admiration for this friend and her family for their purity, goodness, and faith. Anyway, this friend recounted how just a few days ago two of her daughters encountered an angel in their basement. I can't remember the story in enough detail to retell it and give it justice, but it involved a bright light (bright enough that the young daughter thought the light was on in the basement) and the other daughter having the angel's hands resting on her shoulders (she thought it was her mother, at first). The mother and daughters were all very happy that an angel had visited their house.

I was skeptical, of course, but thought "what reason would she have to make this up?" And then my self-centered side of me thought, "why don't I see angels?" And my question was answered by my aforementioned skepticism--angels visit children because they believe. Which is why Jesus tells us to be like them.

Some days I am so filled with such anger and anxiety that it is no wonder why the angels stay away from me--I give them no room to exist. It reminds me of the story of St. Macarios and the angel:

"St. Macarios of the desert in walking one day, he sees someone and perceives that he is seeing an angel and as he draws near the angel says to him that he is not a man, but an angel. He says that in fact he is this man's guardian angel and points to a house. This angel had been weeping because this man was inside this house committing adultery and that he could not go into the house to protect the man because the stench is too strong."

St. John Cliamcus wrote:

“Are the guardian angels standing by us, or are they still at a great distance? For until they come close to us, our efforts are vain and futile. Our prayer has neither the power of access nor the wings of purity to reach the Lord, unless our angels draw near to us and take it and bring it to the Lord."

Which begs the question: how do you get an angel to stand close to you? Don't sin; they can't stand the stench. Be like a child. Be humble, and penitent. And believe. Remember: we can lose grace, can fall out of favor with God. Having an angel near you to deliver prayers to God is like having an hookup for a job--your resume might not make it on its own, but if an insider hand delivers it, you might be given a better chance to get an interview. And God knows we could all use more hook-ups these days. So keep your angels close.
"Fear, apprehension and suspicion make us live stingy, narrow and small lives."

--Henri Nouwen