The Joy of Gift Giving

Tags

, , , , , ,

“The Last Supper”, Jaume Huguet, c. 1470

It’s been a while since my last post, before Thanksgiving, in fact.  I hope you had a very merry and blessed Christmas and a peaceful and pleasant New Year.

Christmas 2020 was supposed to be the year that my wife and I would get together with all four daughters and their families, but, with COVID, that didn’t happen.  We had some disappointment but we understood the circumstances and declared, “No Foul”, and no hard feelings.  We were very thankful that everyone was healthy even though we couldn’t all be together. 

We did, however, travel to Lake Charles, Louisiana to spend Christmas with our daughter and her family who live there, and another daughter traveled to meet us from her home in Memphis.  We spent the week together enjoying mild weather, good food, and good conversation.  And, although we love our daughters dearly, the highlight of the visit was spending Christmas with our two grandsons, ages 4, and 23 months.   

It is always a special time on Christmas morning when the little ones open their gifts.  Paper, ribbons, and bows fly everywhere, and as soon as one gift is opened they are on to the next one.  I love to see the excitement and the smiles of magical wonder on the children’s faces. 

But, this Christmas, I found myself observing the morning mayhem a little differently.  As much as I noticed the grandchildren’s amazement at receiving their gifts, I witnessed the joy on my daughters’ and son-in-law’s faces as they watched the little ones open their gifts, gifts that they gave out of love.  It brought back beautiful memories of the joy I experienced of giving gifts to my own daughters when they were children.  That was always the best part of Christmas for me and I loved seeing my daughters experience that same joy.  The old adage, “It’s better to give than it is to receive”, came to mind, and I had to nod in agreement.

This two week old memory came to mind yesterday right after receiving Communion at Mass.  As I walked back to my pew I thought about all those who have denied themselves the Blessed Sacrament because of their social distancing fears, or who have, through laissez-faire attitudes, grown comfortable with the habit of not attending Mass.  Back at my pew, kneeling and offering a prayer of thanksgiving for having received Christ in the Holy Eucharist, I prayed for those folks by again making my own offering to Him as I do every morning and at every Mass during the presentation of the gifts:  “Heavenly Father, I offer You my prayer, work, joy and suffering, and I unite it to Your sacrifice made present in the Mass and I offer it for the conversion of souls.  Amen.”  

I wondered if they truly know and miss this gift of love that Christ so desires to give us if we just come to Him?  I mean, isn’t the reason we go to Mass to receive Him?

And then that’s when Christmas came to mind.  I had it wrong.  I had it backwards.  We go to Mass to give ourselves as a gift to God, to unite our hearts to the heart of Jesus through His sacrifice, to love Him for loving us and sacrificing His life for us.  We give ourselves freely to please God, to bring Him joy, to put a smile on His face.  And, in return, he gives Himself, and the infinite love of a happy Father which accompanies it, to us.

It’s the joy of giving that we miss when we don’t go to Mass.  It’s the missed opportunity to know that we have pleased God, and to show our gratitude for the experience.  And, since we know the happiness it brings when we give a loving gift to another, we fail to relate to the happiness we are denying God when He can’t give Himself to us. 

Thinking about that adage, “It’s better to give than it is to receive”, I decided there needs to be a corollary to it:  “The joy of giving makes the joy of receiving so much better!”  

I know there are certain folks for whom it may still be too risky to go to church to worship.  But, friends, if at all possible, find a way to return to Mass.  Rediscover the feeling of giving yourself to the Father so that He can give Himself to you with unimaginable love.  Find your happiness by making Him happy.

“Lord Jesus, I love You.  And, like giving gifts to my children and grandchildren whom I love dearly, I know it pleases You and brings You joy when I give myself as a gift to You.  Thank You for Your immense love and returning it to me in the Holy Eucharist.  Amen.”

(The Joy of Gift Giving was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Finding Peace In The One Who Is Really In Charge

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Christ, the King of the Universe

It’s been twenty two days now since the U.S. presidential election.  And, it’s been over thirty days since I’ve checked any news source to see how the election went down.  I’ve not watched television, read a newspaper, listened to the radio, or ventured onto social media.  I did stop by a friends house on Thursday evening after the election and he had his television on with election coverage.  It seemed there was yet to be declared a winner because of evidence of voter fraud in some states.  By now, that could even be old news.  I wouldn’t know and I have no interest in finding out anything more. I will learn when the time is right.  But, for now, I am at peace.

I am not a very political person in the first place, but I did vote for my preferred candidate.  I voted my conscience, which was guided by my faith, and for what I thought was best for the future of America.  Beyond that, there was not much I could do to affect the outcome other than pray that God’s will be done…. and hope that it matched mine.  Yes, like most folks, I have my concerns of how life will be if the election goes opposite of the way I would like.  

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “they will seize and persecute you… have you led before kings and governors….and you will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives.“ (Lk 21:12-19The day may come when I am indeed persecuted, but I’ve decided I will not let it disturb my peace of mind and heart. 

I found I was losing that peace by allowing myself to get caught up in the pre-election noise and angry vitriol that was being spewed from both camps.  I’ve been voting for forty-four years and, although this is nothing new, I’ve never seen our nation as polarized as it is now, nor as divided between good and evil.

To compound my disillusionment with the whole mess, I sadly noticed that many people on social media who professed to be Christian, fellow Catholics included, were equally offensive.  The Christian faithful, in defense of their candidates and moral beliefs, seemed all too eager and willing to join in the artillery battle and retaliate by lobbing an equal number of bombs on their opponent.  For a child of the Cold War, it conjured up visions of a nuclear holocaust where he-who-runs-out-of-bombs-first is the loser when in fact everybody loses.  Eventually, someone will hold the office as the next President.  But, whichever way it falls, the character of our country has already suffered crippling losses because the morally right allowed themselves to be drug down from the mountain and into the muck.   

I wondered if a non-Catholic who knows that we are called to love our neighbor even when a part of us might wish he or she would get run over by a beer truck would recognize us by our words and actions?  It seemed to me that, in our Christian parlance, we hated the sinner and anyone associated with the sinner as much or more as we hated their sins.  Anyone who might have been considering joining our Catholic ranks could easily have deduced that our faith was in one political party or the other and not with Jesus Christ, himself.

Life is full of hard times and unpleasant circumstances – difficulties which we do not like, do not choose and cannot change – that go against our will and cause us grief.  Politics is simply one of  those circumstances.  You have only a fifty-fifty chance of being satisfied with the outcome.  God doesn’t create the outcome to be viewed as punishment for those who don’t get their way.  But, He allows it for the purpose of a greater good to be realized.  We are not God so we don’t have the inside scoop on what that greater good will be.  But, we are called to have faith, a faith that accepts that all will work out well for those who love and trust in Him.  Thus, anyone who finds themselves either overly ecstatic or depressed by the election outcome has placed their faith in a human being instead of God.

As Catholics, we are called to evangelize, a job at which, I admit, we are not very effective.  But, I can’t imagine that Jesus intended for us to evangelize by placing our faith in a political party and then beating the other side over the head with it.  If anything, we are called to have such a strong trust in His will that we are willing to turn the other cheek.  Rather than expending so much energy frustratingly trying to change other’s political views that don’t match up morally with our own, we ought, instead, to be putting our effort into living virtuously, making friends with people, getting to know them and understanding why they believe what they believe.  We might learn something and they might become open and comfortable to do the same with us Catholics, thus opening the door for us to introduce or reintroduce them to Jesus Christ.  Is this not what the early Christians did while they were being persecuted during that first three hundred years after Christ’s death?  Are they not the ones who, per today’s first reading are those who are “standing on the sea of glass”, “who have won victory over the beast”, and who are singing, “the song of the Lamb” (Rv 15:1-4)? 

You might think that I, by choosing to not follow the election coverage, don’t care about what’s going on in our nation, about all its problems and lack of unity.  You’d be wrong.  I care so much that I want to focus my efforts on what I believe are the root problems, namely a lack of faith and virtue, and a departure from the moral values inscribed on our hearts by our Creator.  I choose to turn my back on the one-sidedness of the news media, and ignore the anxiety to which the world would have us fall prey and which causes us to lose hope.  It may feel as though the world is going to hell in a hand-basket but I refuse to let it steal my peace.  Nor will I allow it to make me live my life worrying about the future.  The future is in good hands with God.  He will come, “to govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.”  (Ps 98:9)

This last Sunday morning, as I walked out of church after Mass, at which we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, two friends began to complain about the election not knowing that I have chosen to remain reclusive with respect to the media.  I quickly raised my hand to signal resistance, let them know that I did not know where the election stood, and politely asked them to not spoil it for me.  Then, in response to their confused looks, I explained that, for me, no matter who wins the Presidency, the real One Who was, is, and will forever be in charge is He Who was raised to His throne by being hung on a cross.  He brings me peace and, in Him, I place my faith, trust and allegiance.  

In whom do you place your faith, trust and allegiance?  Does that one bring true and everlasting peace to your soul?  Are you inviting chaos and anxiety into your life and allowing the bitter dissonance of the world to control you?  There is a better way – a way of faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ.

“Heavenly Father, on this day before our National Day of Thanksgiving, I give You thanks that I live in the greatest nation ever created.  We may have our problems, but there’s no physical place, economic or political system on earth better than the United States of America.  I pray that we turn to Your Son, Jesus, as our guiding light, and for the fortitude to bring others to Him.  I pray for the intercession of our Mother Mary, to whom our great nation is consecrated, to protect us under her mantle from the Evil One.  Amen.”

(Finding Peace In The One Who Is Really In Charge, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Wanted: Saints in Heaven. Please Send Resume.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Calling of Zacchaeus

This last spring I applied for a job which I thought would be interesting, would lead me closer to Christ, and was in-line with my passion for helping others grow closer to our Lord.  And, it offered full medical benefits at no cost to me!  However, there were two downsides to the opportunity:  first, that I would have to drive an hour each way to and from work (the cost of which would be offset by the savings on retiree medical insurance); and second, after being retired for three years I really didn’t want a full time job anyway.  

After waiting the obligatory two weeks, I received a response thanking me for my interest but advising that my engineering degree and 36 years of engineering related management experience made me exceedingly over-qualified for the position.  I felt neither rejected nor relieved at the response but, instead, looked at it as God saying that someone else needed the opportunity more than me.  I was happy to let His will be done.

I thought about this as I read today’s Scripture (Rv 3:1-6, 14-22; Ps 15:2-5; 1 Jn 4:10; and Lk 19:1-10 NAB).  I thought, “Every day I am adding one more experience, either good or bad, to my resume for the position of a Saint in heaven.  When the day comes and it gets reviewed, will I be qualified or under qualified? (Thankfully, there is no such thing as being over qualified although we humans may often think we are!).  How will my resume read?  Will it be an affirmation of the requirements mentioned in today’s scripture?:

“Has my faith been alive or dead (Rv 3:1)?  If it’s been alive, has it been on fire or has it been lukewarm at best (Rv 3:16)?

“Have I opened the door of my heart to the Holy Spirit and allowed Him to enter and form the interior life within me (Rv 3:20)?

“Do I hope for the victory and the right to sit next to Jesus on His throne (Rv 3:21)?

“Have I done what is right, and spoken the truth from the heart such that I can walk without blame (Ps 15:2)?

“Have I not harmed, defamed, or slandered a neighbor or friend (Ps 15:3)?

“Have I honored those who live a holy life, trying to live a holy life myself and steering away from the wickedness of the world in spite of the pressures to do otherwise (Ps 15:4)?

“Have I taken advantage of others financially and profited from it, or could I have been more generous in my charity (Ps 15:5)?

“Have I been grateful to God for His love and, out of love, sending me His Son for expiation of my sins (1 Jn 4:10)?

“Have I been grateful to God for all the love He has sent my way through my family and friends (1 Jn 4:11)?

“Have I lived in the present moment and been intentional about seeking Jesus through prayer (Lk 19:3-4)?

“Have I received Jesus with joy when He hears me, answers my prayers, and when I feel His presence (Lk 19:6)?

“Have I been grateful for all my possessions, especially all the graces the Lord has bestowed on me (Lk 19:8)?

“Have I confessed my sins when I know I’ve done wrong, and have I repented to do right (Lk 19:8)?”

Wow!  Those are some exacting job requirements!  And, I know it’s not all of them.  Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get that job after all because I think I need to spend my retirement creating some new and positive experiences and tweaking the final edition of my resume.  

The good news is that each of us already has an office in heaven with our name on the door just waiting for us to occupy it.  It is not beyond our reach to become qualified for the position.  The benefits will certainly make the drive worthwhile! 

How will your resume read?

“Loving Father, as the blind man in yesterday’s Gospel (Lk 18:35-43), I pray to be able to ‘see’ – that is to grow in faith so that I may love You more clearly and more dearly; for the grace to live by Your commandments; and to never lose Hope that I may one day sit with You on Your throne.  Amen.”

(Wanted:  Saints in Heaven.  Please Send Resume. was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

That’s Why I Pray

Tags

,

Yesterday I posted in I Love Because of You that I came up with the lyrics to the song of the same name while I was driving west across Iowa through 300 miles of non-visually stimulating cornfields on my way to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. What I didn’t say was that the same cornfields offered no improvement on the return trip.

The Jerry Jeff Walker CD, It’s About Time, which provided the inspiration for I Love Because of You, was still in the player so I hit play, cranked it up and started singing along. The first song on the album is titled That’s Why I Play, which is an upbeat lively tune about the fun of playing music. As I belted out the words with operatic fervor I mistakenly said, “that’s why I pray”, and realized I had just come up with the basis for another new song. Creating the verses and the chorus and dictating them into my phone kept me busy for the next couple hundred miles. After tweaking them a little bit, I thought I would share this song with you, too. I hope you like it. (Hint: listen to the original tune and then incorporate the new verses into the tune). Thanks again to Jerry Jeff for the tune and to God for the inspiration.

That’s Why I Pray – Lyrics by Jerry Robinson

I woke up this morning and thought what will I do with my day
I could stare at my screen and just let my day waste away.
Or I could stay off of Facebook
And open the Good Book
And let the Lord lead the way
Yeah, that’s why I pray.

I could pour me some coffee and go out and watch the sunrise,
And marvel at the beauty He makes and the clouds in the sky,
The birds and the bees,
The flowers and trees,
And give Him thanks for this day
That’s why I pray

Chorus
I like the feeling I get from the One up above
I like the feeling I get lost in His love
When we make time to talk every day
That’s why I pray

I have some friends who need a little help every day
And a few others who’ve let the world lead them astray
Now, I’m trusting in You
To pull them all through
I know they’ll all be okay,
That’s why I pray

I like the feeling I get from the One up above
I like the feeling I get lost in His love
When we make time to talk every day
That’s why I pray

I know there’s a better life waiting for me down the road
When I pass from this world, that’s where I want to go
But since a Saint’s life for me
Is no guarantee
I need to live like Christ every day
That’s why I pray

I like the feeling I get from the One up above
I like the feeling I get lost in His love
When we make time to talk every day
That’s why I pray

Yeah, that’s why I pray
That’s why I pray.

(That’s Why I Pray was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting, sharing or use of this material is not permitted without the express written consent of the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

I Love Because of You

Tags

, , ,

16″ Rainbow trout caught on a #22 midge and released

Last week I went for a little drive. From Cincinnati to Rapid City, South Dakota and back. Just 1,225 miles each way. I visited family and took the opportunity to do a little fly fishing in the Black Hills. I caught a few trout including this 16 inch Rainbow on a #22 Midge on what was going to be my last cast of the day.

The Black Hills are always stunningly beautiful, and with the fall foliage contrasting with the deep blue of the sky, they are even more so this time of year.

Upper Rapid Creek in the South Dakota Black Hills

But, to get to the Black Hills of South Dakota, I had to traverse from east to west the entire state of Iowa. It is difficult to describe the corn fields of Iowa with quite the same picturesque enthusiasm. I’m not saying corn isn’t beautiful in its own way, but 300 miles of it got a little boring.

Somewhere just west of Davenport, I slid in Jerry Jeff Walker’s CD, It’s About Time, a good sing along album, to break the monotony. Track 3 is titled Because of You, a love song to his wife about how their loving relationship changed his life. I thought about that a bit and transferred the idea to how our lives change when we turn to and have a loving relationship with Christ. And, by the time I made it to Sioux City, I had four verses and a chorus written to that tune (there are only three verses in the original song). I’m sharing them with you here. Thank you, Jerry Jeff, for the tune, and thank You, Lord, for the love You give and for the inspiration to write this.

I Love Because of You – Lyrics by Jerry Robinson

I never knew Your love, Lord, all those years ago,
I turned my back on You, and I chose to go alone.
But when I hit the bottom
Some friends brought me to You,
And everything I love now,
I love because of You.

You knew I needed love, Lord, so You gave to me my wife,
A partner for the good and hard times in my life.
You gave us beautiful daughters,
Sons, and grandkids, too,
And everyone I love now,
I love because of You

Chorus
Jesus, You have loved me for all my life,
Your grace and mercy are a love that’s true,
So, I want to thank You
And give my loving heart to You
‘Cause everything I love in life
I love because of You.

There’re a lot of people, Lord, who struggle every day,
There’re hungry and there’re homeless, and those who’ve lost their way.
You say to love our neighbor
‘Cause that’s what good folks do.
So, everyone I love now,
I love because of You.

Jesus, You have loved me for all my life,
Your grace and mercy are a love that’s true,
So, I want to thank You
And give my loving heart to You
‘Cause everything I love in life
I love because of You.

There’s no greater love, Lord, than what You did for me,
You sacrificed Your own life on a cross on Calvary.
Yet, You still sustain me
With Your blood and body, too,
And everything I love now
I love because of You.

Jesus, You have loved me for all my life,
Your grace and mercy are a love that’s true,
So, I want to thank You
And give my loving heart to You
‘Cause everything I love in life
I love because of You.

(I Love Because of You was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting, sharing or use of this material is not permitted without the express written consent of the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

“I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

In today’s Gospel, Luke 9:7-9, we hear King Herod Antipas ask about Jesus, “Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” I don’t think Herod wanted to simply see Jesus to identify Him, rather, I think he wanted to know more about Him. Certainly, his ego probably made him feel threatened by the attention Jesus was receiving, but he could also have been curious to know what made Him so popular. What was it about Him that enthralled so many?

As I meditated on this passage this morning, my mind wandered back a few years, to Saturday, 14 April 2012, when I attended a Christ Renews His Parish weekend. I was present not because I felt I needed to grow in my spiritual life – I didn’t have a spiritual life – rather, I was there to find some rest and solace from the grind which my life had become; to seek clarity on what I needed to do to improve my relationships with those whom I loved; and, possibly, to meet new men and make new friends.

My life had recently become almost oppressive from difficulties at work and work related travel that kept me away from home and family. Like it was for Qoheleth, the author of today’s first scripture reading, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, life seemed to be just vanity with little hope nor purpose. I was working and making good money, but coming up empty on the happiness meter. Life had become just a “chase after wind” (Eccl 1:14).

Each day was a dread and, if I had been a Christian, the prayer from today’s psalm, “Fill us at daybreak with your mercy, that all our days we may sing for joy” (Ps 90:14), might have been my mantra.

As I listened to men talk and give witness that day, I, like Herod, began to wonder who this Jesus was about Whom I was hearing such things? Listening attentively, I heard how they found happiness through their faith in Jesus in spite of many trials and tribulations, and even in the midst of severe tragedy, that made my problems in life seem insignificant. The love they had for Jesus, Whom they could not see much less hug, as well as the friendship they shared with each other, made me envious.

The men presenting that retreat were infected with something I did not have. It was something good and I hoped it was contagious. These were regular guys like me – they had jobs and families, heartbreaks and headaches, struggles and deep seated desires – but they had something more. They had prayer. They talked to Jesus like they knew Him, like He was their best friend, someone in whom they could confide and trust.

That night, bedded down in the church undercroft, sleep would not come. My mind was racing from what I’d experienced during the day. I knew that the only way I might catch their disease was to talk to Jesus myself, to pray and ask Him to help me. So, I rolled off my cot and went upstairs into the sanctuary. I took the third pew from the back on Joseph’s side and I knelt and truly prayed for the first time in my life. I spoke to Jesus and I called Him by name. I prayed to feel loved and that my family would know my love for them. Even though I got no response, I thanked Him for listening to me, and I went back to bed and let sleep overtake me.

The next day, I received dozens of cards and letters from my wife, children, parents, siblings and people I didn’t even know but who would soon become some of my closest friends. Each letter was one of love and encouragement, and the ones from my wife and children let me know that they felt my deep love for them as well. I had received all I had prayed for, plus some. In His mercy, God showed me His love for me, totally unexpected but as tangible as the love letters I held in my hand. I had never heard the scripture that is today’s Alleluia, John 14:6, but in that first inkling of naive faith I knew that Jesus is, “the way and the truth and the life”, and that I would follow Him from that day forward.

“Dearest Jesus, thank You for patiently waiting for me all those years. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me when I finally sought You and knew I needed You. Thank You for showering me with more love than I knew was possible, and for the grace to love You more every day. Thank You! Amen.”

(I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Why Are You Here?

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, doctor of the Church, and whose memorial it is today, asked himself daily, “Why have I come here?” The question reminded him to respond, “To lead a holy life.” With the challenges facing society today, it’s easy to lose sight of our purpose. We should ask ourselves that same question and respond with the same answer.

Today’s scripture readings for the Memorial of St. Bernard give us clues as to how to do just that. First, we have to accept that we are God’s Beloved, that the Father loves us as He loved His only Son, that He has loved us for all of Eternity, and that He remains in us if we remain in Him. (Jn 17:20-26). In our daily prayer we need to give thanks for His great love and return that love to Him, and then, throughout the day, pass it along to others.

We need to seek God with all our heart and desire to do His will and keep His commandments and, thus, find joy more precious than any riches. (Ps 119:9-14). We need to ask God to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts, to open them wide to receive the message of His will for us that day, make a resolution to follow through on that message, and to rejoice when we have successfully completed our resolution.

We can’t sit idly by and not try to grow in holiness. We need to sit with our Blessed Mother, Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in praying the Rosary, and trust in her to teach us as she taught her son, Jesus, to Whom she will bring us (Sir 15:1-6).

These things don’t happen by themselves. They happen when we intentionally take time daily for solitude and silence, making time for prayer and conversation with God, telling Him what’s on our heart and, more importantly, listening to Him speak to it.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love, a love so deep that You gave Your only Son so that I might live with You for all of Eternity. Thank You for the desire to do Your will and grow closer to You. And, thank You for our Blessed Mother, who gives me strength and teaches me to live a virtuous life. St. Bernard, pray for us. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!”

(Why Are You Here? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: Finding Peace in “God’s Country”

Tags

, , , ,

In our pastor’s weekly Friday email to his parishioners last week, he mentioned that many people are on edge because of the challenges and upheaval that seem to be occurring in our country this summer. He recognized how good it would be for us to find some peace – “peace in our hearts…homes…communities…nation and world. We know that the Lord Jesus gives us a peace that the world cannot give, but we also know that we need to do our part to bring about peace.” He suggested two ways we can bring about our own peace: to not be troubled by trouble, and to spend time outdoors. This road trip has fulfilled both of those requirements for me, bringing me much peace.

Being troubled by trouble means, to me, letting events and situations that I don’t like, did not choose, cannot change, and even things that are beyond rational understanding, control my emotions. It includes worrying about the future. Here in the mountains of Montana, it is so very easy to forget about the outside world and all that is going on. We have no television, and we have limited cellular access so it is difficult to stay up on current events. After two weeks of this life it makes me want to never listen to or read a news report again. In place of those distractions, I have spent more time in prayer, time with family, and time in nature. All have brought me peace.

Ratine Creek

Rising early in the morning to spend time in mental prayer is something I do on a daily basis, even at home. But, sitting outside on a brisk morning in July/August, next to the little creek that runs just a few yards in front of the cabin, takes peaceful meditation to a whole new level. I not only read and hear the word of God, but it’s easy to feel His presence around me as I pray.

We spent most of our first week here with our children and grandchildren. After they left on Wednesday, Melinda and I had the cabin to ourselves for a couple days. On Friday, Melinda’s sister and her husband arrived from Marble Falls, Texas to stay at the cabin for a couple weeks after we leave. Another sister and her husband came in from Rapid City, South Dakota on Friday and stayed through Sunday. Together, we took advantage of the mild weather and spent peaceful time outside in nature as we hiked, fished, and sawed and cleaned up fallen timber around the cabin.

9 inch Rainbow Trout

Talking about fishing, I fished Rock Creek on Thursday and got shut out, but caught a nice Rainbow and a small Brown trout on Saturday.

Melinda and I hiked the Corral Creek Trail, or rather, we hiked the first mile of the trail which included an 800 foot elevation gain, before we reached a questionable log bridge we would have had to cross. We decided it was a good place to turn around and head back down.

Hare Bells
Indian Paintbrush

We saw many beautiful wildflowers lining the trail and took time to examine them and take photos. The trail itself was only a couple feet wide so we were thankful we saw no bears with whom we would have had to share that narrow path.

Showy Daisy
Blanket Flower

Talking about bears, Melinda and I were driving down the dirt road that runs along Rock Creek on Thursday evening and, as we rounded a bend, a large black bear crossed our path just a few yards in front of us. It stopped, looked at us and then headed up the hill towards our cabin. Fortunately, we didn’t see him again.

But, on Friday evening, we were looking out a window of the cabin and a cow moose and her calf came trotting up along side. Seeing Melinda’s sister walking up the path towards the cabin, the moose stopped in the middle of our outdoor sitting area. Moose are huge! And, a mama moose can get belligerent if she thinks her calf is in danger. Fortunately, she must not have felt threatened and they turned and sauntered back down the hill.

Fireweed
Lupine

On Sunday evening, we drove up Rock Creek Canyon to the end of the road hoping to see more wildlife. They must have heard us coming because all we saw was a doe deer, a chipmunk and a squirrel. But, as a consolation prize, God granted us an almost unbelievably beautiful view of the creek and the mountain from which the creek flows. The sun shining on the mountain top was truly magnificent!

Sunset on Rock Creek Canyon

We packed and loaded up on Monday morning and began our return trip home. Our destination for the night was Rapid City, South Dakota to spend a couple days with Melinda’s sister and her family. But, first we stopped in Billings to visit an old friend, Mikey, with whom I used to work many years ago. The very first time I ever met Mikey in 1986 I asked him where he was from, and he replied, “God’s Country!” Not knowing where that was I asked him to be more specific to which he replied, “Montana”. Ever since then he has invited me to stop and see him the next time I came to “God’s Country”. This time I finally obliged his invitation. Mikey, it was great to see you and Annette again after so many years. Thanks for lunch!

Driving across the plains of northeastern Wyoming, we saw many pronghorn antelope beneath dark gray storm clouds that, thankfully, we were able to outrun. As we neared South Dakota, the Black Hills provided the perfect visual backdrop for praying our daily Rosary with our friend from Louisiana, with whom we joined our prayers with those of our Blessed Mother for the many people we know who are suffering. It was a perfect and peaceful way to end the day.

“Oh, Glorious God, thank You again for the beauty of Your creation, both the natural beauty and that which resides in the hearts of friends and family. Thank You for the peace You bring when we immerse ourselves in Your loving gifts instead of the fleeting pleasures the world has to offer. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Finding Peace in “God’s Country” was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: Family, Fun and Fly Fishing

Tags

, , , ,

Hello, friends. I left you hanging over a week ago in Fargo, North Dakota. We have since reached our destination, our little cabin in the mountains outside of Red Lodge, Montana, where we have no internet. I’ve also spent the last several days with our children and grandchildren which is more important than running to the coffee shop in town to access their WI-FI.

On Wednesday, the 22nd, we left Fargo for Billings, Montana under a deep blue, cloudless sky, and temps in the low 60’s. This was my first trip to the “Peace Garden State”. You might ask why I went so far north rather than take the shorter route across I-80 or I-90. Well, North Dakota was one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) that I had not driven through. Now I can check this one off my list.

We stopped in Bismarck, the state capital, to visit with a friend, Bernice, whom we met a year ago on our pilgrimage to Italy. We spent two hours catching up with each other and reliving moments from our pilgrimage. At one point our conversation turned to our faith and shortly a young mother with three children sat down at our table under the pavilion we were occupying in the park. She wore a t-shirt that said, “Be a ….Saint”, with the letters of the word “Saint” spelled out using the names of real saints. I caught her attention and said, “I like your shirt!” to which she responded, “I heard you talking about praying the Rosary!” It turned out she is a school teacher at the local Catholic school. Coincidence that we were there together? I don’t think so. (Bernice, thank you for the goodie bag! Everything was delicious!)

North Dakota Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

As we drove westward across the state on I-94, the topography changed from being flat in the east with corn as far as the eye could see, to undulating fields of corn and soybeans in the central part of the state, and then rolling hills of grassland and cattle in the west. Not far from the Montana state line we stopped at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit and drove through the Badlands of North Dakota.

We arrived at our hotel in Billings, Montana after dark with 670 miles for the day.

On Thursday morning we hit the road one more time for the final hour and a half to our cabin just south of Red Lodge. We arrived early enough to unload and get situated before our daughters and their families began arriving from Seattle, Washington, Olathe, Kansas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Memphis, Tennessee.

For the next four days, the 16 of us (two grandparents, four daughters, three sons-in-law, and seven grandchildren age 5 and under) had fun being together. We played, explored, hiked, fished, cooked, ate, shopped, and reconnected. The cousins, who seldom see each other, had fun and got a little rambunctious at times, driving their parents a little crazy. But, that’s what little ones do. We know, their mothers did the same to us. Regardless of the noise and shenanigans, It was wonderful spending time with them.

Cousins

Two daughters and their families left on Tuesday, and the others left early Wednesday morning to catch their flights home out of Billings. For the first time in a week Melinda and I were by ourselves in a quiet cabin. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the peace and quiet, but it didn’t take long to miss the whining, the pitter-patter of little feet, and lightning-fast hands getting into things they shouldn’t get into. We’re already looking forward to the next time we can all get together, whenever that will be.

What do you do to get past the shock of missing your family after such an enjoyable time? You go fishing of course! There’s no better way to distract yourself than to be standing in a clear mountain stream waving a fly rod in the air. I found a nice spot on Rock Creek just down from the cabin and caught two Rainbows on a size 14 beaded nymph.

Rock Creek

In my opinion, fly fishing is only a step or two away from heaven. Even though following the drift of my fly takes intense concentration, my mind and heart still found a way to recognize the beauty and majesty of our God, and all that He has created. Between casts, I gave thanks to Him for this week, for my dear wife, children and grandchildren, for the love we have between us, and for the love that He has shown me through them.

I gave thanks for all the natural beauty we’ve seen this week: from the corn fields of Illinois, the pastures and dairy farms of Wisconsin, the woodlands of Minnesota, the prairie of North Dakota, and the grasslands, mountains and streams of Montana. All different but beautiful, all unique in their own way, but all precious and valuable to the people who live there. We go to great lengths to experience the wonder of God’s creation in all its forms, and we go out of our way to take care of it.

The most amazing of His creations, however, are us, His people. It occurred to me how different life would be if we marveled at people the same way as we do nature, and similarly valued life. What if we approached other people with an interest to learn more about them, trying to find out what makes him or her unique and what makes them beautiful? Just as we might study a geologic formation or the flora and fauna of a region, imagine how much we could learn from the experiences of other people if we took the time to get to know them.

With social media replacing real human interaction, society is becoming more and more isolated. Just as there is something special about road trips where you can see the country up close instead of simply looking at photographs, we ought to set the electronics aside and take more “personal road trips” to explore our neighbors, our friends, and our own families on a close and personal level.

God created us to be social beings, to accompany each other through life. Jesus asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but it’s hard for people to feel loved if we don’t know them. He asked us to grow His Kingdom by leading others to an encounter with Him, but it’s difficult to lead people who don’t know us and who feel as though we don’t care about them. We need to take time to share a meal, sit around a campfire, take a hike, play a game, (or better yet, go fly fishing together!) and for other activities which offer the opportunity to get to know each other. When we do these things, we need to be interested in the other person, and intentionally seek to know and understand them. Then, perhaps, when the time is right, they may be open to a discussion about faith. Then, we can do His will by leading others to Him.

There are a plethora of bad things going on in the world today. The media, both television and social, focus on the things that take away our peace, and instill in us fear and worry about the future. This is just what the Evil One wants. But, it’s only in the present moment that we are able to do God’s will. Thus, if we want to change the world, we have to first look within ourselves and take advantage of every opportunity to see Jesus in others and let them see Him in us.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the time we’ve had together as family this week. Thank You for Your beautiful creations, both the natural beauty of our country and for the people You place in our lives. Lord, give me the grace to do Your will and lead others to You. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Family, Fun, and Fly Fishing was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: New Cars and Old Songs

Tags

, ,

I slept well Monday night and awoke early and made time for my daily prayer and meditation before getting back on the road. The Gospel for the day was from Mt 12:46-50 in which Jesus tells us, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” He’s telling us that if we would just live God’s commandments, we will be adopted into His family for all eternity. That doesn’t sound too difficult. Just keep it between the ditches and we’ll be fine. I wish it was that easy.

I forgot to mention that last week we purchased a new car, a new Subaru Outback, and we’re driving it on this trip. The technology on these vehicles is getting more advanced every year. One feature that I kind of like is the lane departure warning. When you approach either the center line or the right edge of the lane, the car gives an audible warble and a visible yellow flashing light at the base of the windshield above the steering wheel indicating that you veered too close to the edge of the lane. It also tells you that you have made a “lane departure” if you cross the center line without first turning on your turn signal indicator.

At first, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the car telling me how to drive. But, then, it dawned on me that all it wants me to do is keep it between the ditches, so to speak, to follow the commandments of good driving. I thought how nice it would be if life came with such technology that could keep us from sinning. But, then I realized that we already have that technology within us. It’s called our conscience. It’s OEM equipment which God installed in us at the factory. It lets us know when we are getting close to doing something wrong, and when we’ve crossed over the line either intentionally or unintentionally. The best part is that when we wreck the car because we have failed to heed the warnings, and we bring it back to the manufacturer, sorrowful and with intentions to steer straight and true from then on, He forgives us and strengthens within us the virtue of prudence to drive properly and safely.

Leaving Madison, we headed for Minneapolis-St. Paul to meet up with Melinda’s two nieces and one of them’s husband and son. We enjoyed two hours of catching up, good conversation, a delicious lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches, and entertaining the little one.

After saying our goodbyes, we got on I-94 and headed northeast toward Fargo, North Dakota, our stopping point for the night. An hour or so into the drive we passed an exit for St. John’s University near Collegeville, Minnesota. What’s special about St. John’s, you ask? It is the Alma Mater of my friend and co-founder of this blog, Rich Brewers. St. John’s University and St. John’s Abbey sits on the shore of Lake Sagatagan, as does the Stella Maris Chapel, the brick chapel you have seen in the header photo of this page over the years. I’ve always loved the image of that chapel sitting there in silence and solitude as if it, itself, were praying to God, with it’s reflection in the lake urging us to do the same.

Our new car also came with a three-month free trial of satellite radio. I found a station that plays old-time country music from folks like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Ernest Tubb. An old song came on, Bobby Bare’s version of Loretta Lynn’s and Conway Twitty’s 1976 release of God Bless America, Again. As I listened to the lyrics I thought, “Yes, Lord, please bless America, again!”

“God bless America, again. You see all the troubles that she’s in. Wash her pretty face, dry her eyes and then, God bless America again.

“God, I sure do wish you’d bless America again. You know, like you did way back when it all began. You blessed her then, but we just sorta kind took it for granted, and never did ask again. So, just hold her hand God, that’s all. And, if she should stumble please don’t let her fall. God bless America, again.

“You know I don’t understand everything I’m readin’ here about what’s wrong with America….”

That last line grabbed me. If things were out of whack in 1976, how much more so are they today? I don’t understand, either. But, I’m here living it now, doing my best. I didn’t choose the way things are, I don’t necessarily like the way things are, and there’s not too much I can do to change the way things are other than to vote, pray and be the best person and disciple that God intended for me to be so that I can be an example to others.

After a second day of 504 miles, we made it safely to our hotel in time for a short walk before it was Rosary time.

(Note: Folks, I know I’m a couple days behind. Bear with me, I’ll post as I can. Thank you.)

“Good and Gracious God, thank You for another day of seeing this beautiful land, for family to visit, and for the inspirations You provide that come from the ordinary things in our lives. Give me the grace to follow Your commandments so that I will never exclude myself from Your family. And, give me the grace, I pray, to be the kind of disciple, husband, father, son, brother and friend that You created me to be. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: New Cars and Old Songs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.