Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

07 October 2014

God in the Docket

The "Local" section of my former local daily, the Reading Eagle, has a "Daily Docket," which includes a list of local births and marriage license applications, and, at the top, the "Daily Thought." The Reading-Berks Conference of Churches annually invites about a dozen local Christian clergy to compose a month's worth of Scripture verses accompanied by very brief reflections. The token Catholic priest (however he, or anyone, gets on the list I don't know) very kindly asked me to fill in for him.

It was a delight to put my Thoughts together, because I like people to read my writing and I like the aphoristic mode of communication for purposes of humor and insight. Some of my favorite authors (including Hans Urs von Balthasar) have penned pithily, to good effect. I try to think and talk that way when the Spirit moves me and when I'm drinking enough coffee.

Since many of my readers don't get the Reading Eagle, and now that my month is over, I decided to air my Daily Thoughts, one whole month at a pop--here goes!

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"If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31) –“There’s no telling some people,” they say; but what is your “deaf spot”?

 “He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’” (Luke 15:31) –Chrysostom said of St. Paul, “Above all, he knew himself to be loved by God”; what else is there, really?

 “Better…if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than…to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:2) –People are paying attention to you. If that’s scary, good.

 “Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be visible through him.’” (John 9:3) –Ask not what God has done to you; ask what God can do through you.

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled.” (John 11:33) –Allow yourself to become appropriately affected by the people you encounter in life.

“Peter said to [Jesus], ‘You will never wash my feet.’” (John 13:8) –Don’t be embarrassed when you need forgiveness or assistance. Everyone benefits from it.

“Peter began to say to [Jesus], ‘We have given up everything and followed you.’” (Mark 10:28) –In moments of self-pity, we might think so; but there’s always more, and God will wait for it.

“Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4:28) –We can’t fully know, and therefore control, God’s action in others or ourselves.

“Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50b) –You can learn and grow from interesting, stimulating conversation.

"Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits…and the last condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Matthew 12:45) –Regular spiritual housecleaning prevents the infestation of devilish habits, and demonic inhabitation.

"At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30) –Even our most nourishing earthly relationships abide in the context of our primary relationship with God.

"Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matthew 6:27) –“No, but that never stopped me before!” Time is short.

“’See, he said, ‘now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.’” (Isaiah 6:7) –Make a point of eating something healthy today, and consider its salutary effects on your soul.

“You have preserved my life from the pit of destruction, when you cast behind your back all my sins.” (Isaiah 38:17) –Consider the power of forgiveness in your own life, and pay it forward whenever possible.

“Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.” (Isaiah 53:11) –Put your hardships to good use by connecting, even spiritually, with someone else in distress.

“Put not your trust in the deceitful words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord!’” (Jeremiah 7:4) –Authentic believers don’t rely solely on external manifestations of their devotion.

"Then the virgins shall make merry and dance, and young men and old as well” (Jeremiah 31:13) –Remind your face that occupation with God is well worth your time and effort.

“You have become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!” (Jeremiah 15:18) –From my perspective, God can seem rather unreliable; what adjustments must I make today?

“If you warn the wicked man…and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” (Ezekiel 33:9) –There is value to fraternal correction, but don’t ignore your own errors.

“I will…[take] from your bodies your stony hearts and [give] you natural hearts.” (Ezekiel 36:26) –Empathy is one of God’s greatest blessings and man’s greatest needs.

“You shall have honest scales, an honest ephah, and an honest liquid measure.” (Ezekiel 45:10) –Your time and resources are not your own, so use them well.

“I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” (Hosea 2:16) –God often reaches us best when we seem at our worst.

"We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands” (Hosea 14:4) –What idol(s) ought you set aside in favor of your first, true Love?

“My people perish for want of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6) –Spend time with informative books, periodicals, websites…and people.

“What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” (Exodus 17:5) –Don’t be afraid to share your exasperation with God.

“The task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:18) –Lending a hand, or an ear, lifts a burden from another’s back.

“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) –Treat the people you see today as sacred, not as means to an end.

“Let those who seek you, God of Israel, not be disgraced through me.” (Psalm 69:7) –Positively put: may my life give honor to God and hope to people!

“Is it in vain that I have kept my heart clean?” (Psalm 73:13). –Only if your obedience is motivated by human respect. God’s respect is most necessary, and most reliable.

“I gave them over to their hardness of heart” (Psalm 81:13). –Some say to God, ‘Your will be done,’ while God says to others, ‘Have it your way.’

“Those who follow the way of integrity, they alone can enter my service.” (Psalm 101:6) –Being the same person with everyone makes us fit for God’s employ.

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Since I'm not living in Berks County anymore, I probably won't, and shouldn't, be asked to submit another month. But there's always the social media. No promises or deadlines (and they can be helpful!), but stay tuned for more Daily Thoughts!

05 October 2014

Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel--Requiescat in Pace

I note with mingled sadness and gratitude the death of Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, C.F.R., Ed.D. For many years he was the director of Trinity Retreat in Larchmont, New York: a place for priests to make their annual retreat and, in the case of a good number of us over the years, a place to stay while taking extended time for reflection and self-care. Such was my case for a few months in 2006 and 2007.

I had met Father Benedict before that time, when he gave a retreat to us seminarians during our Spirituality Year in 1998-99. Not long into a confession I made with him during that retreat, he looked intently at me, put his hand on my arm, and said: "You are a card-carrying member of the self-haters club." Dead right! Seven years later our acquaintance would be far more extensive--and intensive--because of my stay at Trinity, where occasional meetings with him were one of several therapeutic initiatives in the program. 

Father's life of prayer and years of experience with priests gave him a knack for recognizing the truth. Because of his Jersey City upbringing, he also had a knack for stating the truth as he saw it without ambiguity. His upbringing and personality were perhaps tempered by his life of prayer and suffering, though they were also bolstered by his sense of humor. He would often joke about the town of his youth and its regional accent, using a pronounced version when quoting bygone slogans such as,"When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer." This saying applies, of course, to the Catholic Church as having been invested with the fullness of the means of grace.

In our meetings Father would mention various priests he knew from our diocese, often with a story and a keen observation. He didn't forget a face. (I just accidentally typed, "fact"; that was also true.) But the bulk of the conversations centered around the concerns that led me to request the time away. I will contend with most of them for the rest of my days; but my perseverance, and God's grace, will redound to my salvation and to that of my charges. Father believed that I would "make it," and encouraged me several times to that effect. From his warm smile and quiet tone I wouldn't have known that he'd almost died from a bus accident a little over two years before. He knew that every moment subsequent to that event (and every moment before it) was a blessing. Sitting with him in his wisdom-infested office, I knew, was also a blessing.

Our final encounter took place at the episcopal consecration and installation of our diocesan bishop, John Oliver Barres, who grew up in Larchmont. Considering that this might be (and was) the last time I'd see Father Groeschel, I wanted to get a photo with him. As Father was caught in a maelstrom of well-wishers (as many for him as for Bishop Barres), I didn't get to say much more than my name and the reason for our acquaintance, if he even needed my reminder. Since the modern media have made it easier to allow no personal data--thoughts, words, and deeds--to go unpublished, I conclude these remarks with that photo, and a Deo gratias for Father Benedict's life and ministry.

CMZ and BJG, 30 July 2009