Sunday, July 31, 2011

Approaching God

So there I was, sound asleep--which for me is a small miracle.  I never was a good sleeper, but now as time continues its linear march forward--I become less and less a good sleeper.
None-the-less, I was at the hour in the morning when the Trappists had already completed there vigils.
In the echoes of between awake and asleep I heard my wife let the dogs out side.
I fell back asleep before I heard them come back in.

Then, I felt it.
First I felt the warmth, then the wet, then it's presence.
One of our dogs (Benedict is his name), a beefy hunting Vizsla, had placed himself immediately to the right of my shoulder---
started shaking out of excitement.....and then...

Yep, that's how I woke up.
Dog urine--on my shoulder, arm and neck.

See. Ben has a bit of a problem.  He really tries to control himself.  But his excitement always gets the better of his entire being, especially his bladder.
Thing is--its every time.
My wife and I can't even hug without him butting in.

Now, I am sure the dog whisperer or someone trained in dog therapy will tell me that he has some issues.
No joke.  Maybe it's the middle dog issue, or the neutered big dog in a pack with a female doberman as alpha dog issue.  Doesn't matter.

Now, I am not assuming the role of "God" in his life, so the following thoughts are not meant to be presumptuous.  Please keep this in mind as you continue.
What it made me think about was simply How am I approaching God.  I mean this dog is this excited every moment he sees us.  How am I with God? Do I approach with Holy Fear and Awe?  Am I aware that I am in His creative hands?

So what is your approach to God?  Are you coming to Him with everything you got?
Now, let's go one step further...What is your approach to other people, familiar and non-familiar?

Later in the day, our family was working outside when I heard my lovely wife yell for help because one of the dogs was in trouble.  There is a very old in ground swimming pool that was covered and Ben had fallen through.  In my rush through the woods I re-injured a bum ankle and fell in a patch of poison ivy.

"He's okay." She hollered.

Yes, he certainly is.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Celibacy--Oh Well

Today I heard of a priest who recently left the ministry.  News like this tends to find me--must be the inactive priest magnet that I ontologically inherited.
Now, having been down the road of leaving the active diocesan priesthood years ago, I want to dismiss this blog from all rumors, slanders, and accusations which I am sure surround the specific situation.  After all it really doesn't matter who or where or even how....does it?

What was interesting was where my brief conversation lead--the issue of celibacy.
The person asked me "Having been on both sides of the ministry" (He was speaking not only of my being a Roman Catholic priest, but a married Episcopalian for a stint) "...what do you think?  Should the Roman Catholic Church allow it's priests to be married?"
I didn't have to think one second.
My lived experience was all I needed.

I used to believe that mandatory celibacy was one of the roots of many evils in the Church--and the uneducated media and issue driven (often angry) people want you to believe such.
Don't even go down the sexual perversion route--last I checked marriage was not seen as a cure for sexual predators.
Getting rid of celibacy is not the answer to any evil in the church or the world.
Last I checked there are other faiths where celibacy is not mandatory for it's ministers and their formation programs are not all filled to capacity.

When I was a Roman Catholic priest--I had no concerns over getting the family to church or dealing with the opinions of parishoners if your family preferred going to an earlier service or if your child didn't smile at someone else's kid or if it was your family's turn to provide cookies after the service--and that's just one Sunday.  Not to mention when you come home on that same day getting called out to the hospital while your family was heading in a completely different direction, or getting the house painted and cutting the grass-------i'm just saying when I was a Roman Catholic priest I didn't have those 'little' concerns.

I have heard all the arguments--theological, social, historical, financial, and cultural--I put alot of effort into trying to convince people for years that the church needed to change and grow..
That's like marrying someone thinking you can make them into someone else.

On occasion a priest who is thinking about leaving will contact me.  Right away I will ask them if they are in an intimate relationship and they answer 'yes'.  At that point I cut right to the chase.  They owe it to themselves and their love to discern properly.  Don't even start giving me the arguments for relaxing celibacy and don't complain to me about the way the Church needs to grow and change.  It is just wasted energy and it deflects from the real discernment that the 'couple' will need to enter into.
I figured they called me so I have nothing to lose by coddling them.
If you are in love then great--you'll grow deeper into God.  If you aren't in love and are just lonely and ticked--well that is a whole other issue.

So my opinion on celibacy is not what one would expect to hear from a 'married' priest.
Oh well.

The Confession Priest

Today on the calendar we remember St. Leopold Mandic--a great confessor from Croatia.
He has a hand in my life story--though I never heard of him until six years ago--he, along with a few other saints in heaven and on earth--helped me reconcile with Holy Mother Church.

But I digress.

I didn't even know it was his feast day until I happened to look at the calendar.
By the way- we went to confession today.
And the priest was phenomenal--I''ve known him for years and have been seeking his gift of presence in the confessional for just as many.

"Hey, hows the blogger?  I better watch what I do or you might write about it."
Yep, he knows me and my soul.
He's one of the best and here is why.
He is always in the confessional.  He is about the business of cleaning souls for God.
Seriously, I 've walked into his church at all different hours and he is never far off.   Either putzing in the sacristy or sitting in the confessional.
Want to know what makes a great parish priest?---one who is there for his people, literally in the church--waiting for another soul to make itself ready for Christ.
He doesn't have any other agenda other than to be there for people who come to confession.  He truly cooperates with grace.

And so in the spirit of St. Leopold--thanks Brother. the way--if you haven't gone to confession--take this as a sign--and just go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

U2 Concert

I was part of a great moment.
In the middle of the concert I wondered what our soul would look like if we put all of our talents and gifts and treasures and knowledge and time and practice and energy into our quest for God--what would we look like?

Am I really living to my spiritual potential?
Am I really praying like it might be my last prayer?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Praylium now on Twitter

Praylim blog is now on twitter.  Check it out and follow it @praylium.
This is at the suggestion of my IT marketing saavy son.

Parenting Classes

Today is the Feast of Joachim and Ann--the parents of  Mary.
So, for you who think your day is pretty heavy--take a moment and think about Joachim and Ann--the parents of the Mother of God.
Talk about pressure???
Oh--and there was no electricity, running water, ready made food, drive thrus, washers, dryers, internal combustion-----you got the picture right?

History, tradition and written accounts describe a holy couple of the temple who were barren--without child.

Life is never, ever, what you think it will be.
It never unfolds the way you may want it to unfold--at least in an exact manner.
Life cannot be controlled by you.
You can't pick the conditions and accidents (Aristotelian) of your birth.
You can't pick the time you were born, the culture you were born into, or the parents who are your genetic pool.
Being born is a chaotic share in the power of creation.

What do parents do with it? ( I know my answer and I won't use this time as a public confession--suffice it to say that I need to confess my failings.)

 If I were preaching a marriage ceremony today, I'd focus more on the model of Joachim and Ann.
In the accounts of their life--they lived in constant prayer, fasting, and keeping of the Laws of God.
The day to day prayer and fasting and seeking the way of Christ in your married life takes work.  There are times you don't (public confession here) 'feel' like doing it.  There are times of strong emotions and opinions and even words that detract and take you off track.  But that is why we have models like Joachim and Ann.  Think about it.  Jesus is God made man--without sin.  Mary is born without original sin--a human temple in preparation for the Incarnation.  Why wouldn't the parent's of that mystical temple strive to be as holy as humanly possible?

As a therapist, whenever I was placed in a broken home--the issue that smacked me in the face on a daily basis was the absence of any parenting whatsoever.  And because of that there was an absence of God.  The abuses and mental health issues and other heinous happenings all stem from the absence of parenting
Now, here is the kicker--even in the families that appeared to 'have it together'--really didn't because the parents (single or both) weren't actively seeking God.  Parents seek their own self gratification and/or escape from the reality and responsibility of being a parent.
When the active search for God wanes in the soul--the demonic begins to take up residence.  Other things begin to fill up that search.  

Sts. Joachim and Ann,
...pray for us parents.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Riding the Hills

The other day my son shared with me that my last couple of posts sounded 'angry'.  I prefer to use the term 'spiritually provocative'.  After all, the blog is entitled 'Praylium'
None-the-less I will heed my son's advice for a moment.

Still fresh from me being pulled off my bike by an angry suv passenger a couple of weeks back--our family was sitting around the kitchen table talking about our 'best bicycle rides'.
While I have a few--- here is one that I love remembering.

The ride was one of the shortest of my life-- four or five miles and it was on my wife's birthday.
Since it was winter and the weather certainly was not conducive (20 some degrees in January--but the roads were clear) we took our trail bikes.
We decided to go do a certain hill--just to say we did it.
I rode beside her and at the top we hugged and kissed and she was beaming.

My wife was in the middle of her chemotherapy treatments.

The hill we did that day had seen us through the years--when we first moved to that area, trailer-ing our son up it, barely making it up in the mid day sun, racing up it, and simply meandering up it---but nothing quite like that day.  Weeks earlier we were in the ICU when her heart had stopped--now, well, we were climbing the hill.

I don't mean to preach--but here's a little more for you.
My wife was healed of cancer.
We then went to Medugorje (oh yeah, there's some hills there too--but you and I know what they stand for don't we now?)
And the rest?...well--it's kinda like a bicycle ride.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Spiritual Coma

If all goes as planned I have only a few weeks until I begin a new ministry adventure.  Followers of Praylium may recall that this blog began in the midst an uncomfortable transition in ministry.  The job and contract that I was hired to do changed and I could no longer meet the responsibilities of being a father, husband, and son.  Often times this happens in 'corporate' approaches to parish ministry and I certainly was not immune.   Fortunately within days of my departure a new opportunity was created and Fr. Larry Richards asked me to come on and create a new high school program at his parish.  I ask your prayers (and perhaps even some fasting) for their community--St. Joe's Bread of Life.  I will begin in just a few weeks.
Fr. Larry and I go way back to seminary studies at St. Vincent's.  Only God knows what is in store.

My time away has allowed me to work through a rewrite and editing of The Lost Shepherd--an expriest's journey from sin to salvation. At the moment,  I am not at liberty to share the details of the publication but the release date will hopefully be in 2012.

Now onto the spiritual stuff...
When I was an Episcopal rector I once remarked how the attendance at church was remarkably low during the summer months.  Someone shared, "Don't you know that God loves the Episcopalians the most and that's why he gives us the summer off?"
Right...they aren't the only ones who think that way.
We relax and excuse our spiritual development in pursuit of---what?

During our last pilgrimage to Medugorje, Ivan shared that the "world is in a spiritual coma"

  • We live attached to all the wires and 'life' support systems for years.  
  • And they feed us, they keep us barely breathing, functioning for years.
  • And we do this not even conscious of how we have been existing.
  • We've become immune to the deeper realities, to our history, to our future--a future of eternal life or a future of damnation.
  • We live attached to the wires that determine how we are to act, be, and live.
  • We live attached to our desires, our whims, our rationalizations, our faulty reasoning, our ego, our addictions.
  • We adopt the "I deserve it" mentality when we want something gratifying but when suffering comes we immediately cry "What did I do to deserve this?"
  • We live apart from God's will and design.
  • We abandon the very gifts He gives us in pursuit of something more exciting and glamorous that, in the end leaves the soul empty, lonely, and dark.
  • There are families, parish's, priests, communities and religious that somehow have developed and morphed their existence into a societal spiritual coma--constantly feeding and excusing itself.  In the end they will consume themselves.
God didn't become manifest to keep us in a 'coma'
He came to set us free and live and breath--on our own--not attached to some predetermined mode.

So I write these words.  One person, re-iterating what a man who sees the Blessed Virgin Mary everyday, shared.  Maybe it was meant not only for me--but you, and if not you--then someone you know--go ahead forward it.

Are you in a spiritual coma?
It's time to wake up.
Pray harder today.  Don't take a vacation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weeds and Wheat

Yesterday I heard a pretty good homily.  The priest talked about God's radical way--so radical that he allows the weeds to grow right alongside the wheat--a pretty bad farming practice.
Seeing that this blog is about the spiritual battle--I offer a few additional thoughts on the Gospel according to Matthew (13: 24-31)

  • Except to a trained eye--when a seed first sprouts it can easily be confused to be something that it isn't.  Only after time does it show it's true colors and the true intention of it's existence.
  • There is a constant struggle between good and evil--all the time--sometimes this struggle is conscious but often times it is not.
  • The wheat cannot 'weed itself'  This is actually the point I want to play with. Why would I think that I could get rid of the weeds when it was 'the enemy' who sowed them?  No.  I need a much more powerful entity to combat the demonic--Christ.  Evil is counting on me trying to beat it all by myself.  It is my very pride that makes me think that I have a handle on it.  
  • I need the patience in order to continue to grow even among the weeds.  I need the patience and trust to hope that God will indeed keep His promise and send the 'harvesters'--but know that it will be in God's time and in God's way--just stay ready.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Praylium and St. Benedict (revised)

**I had to revise this entry ff. some reflection while on the tractor** 

Our spirits can grow lazy and often times satan is betting on it.

We may not want to do the work of the spiritual life.
We may not want to get rid of the weeds and cultivate the soil and life of the soul.
We may indulge our spirits in pursuits that distract and take us away from being centered on Christ.
We may lose the balance of prayer and fasting.
We may not have the support of a spouse or friends or family or even community to continue to seek the higher ground.
We may simply be too worn out or tired or defeated.

Just a few short days ago we celebrated the Feast of St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism.
During my time in seminary, when Latin was seen as a dead and buried language, we were given the exercise of spontaneous preaching.  One fellow picked the card that said "St. Benedict".  He stood up, cleared his throat, and said, "Ora et labora...these are Latin words.  Let us pray to St. Benedict for his intercession."  Then he sat down.  The professor had a bird.
St. Benedict--F. Angelico

That was it.

For the past 20 years, whenever I'd lead a mission trip, the theme was simple.  Ora et Labora.

I often wonder if the countless youth and adults on all those trips ever connected with the saying.  I wonder, as their years progressed, if St. Benedict's simple method left a mark.  When life got tough, when they questioned the very existence of God, when suffering and despair wouldn't cease or when they were simply overwhelmed and assaulted by evil.
The mission trips were never about building the house--they were about building the soul..and building the soul takes work.

I hope they got it.
But there was something I forgot to share--many years ago.

St. Benedict combats satan.

In the holiest of places on this earth--where God becomes manifest--so too does evil exist--this is a spiritual reality.
During my time on pilgrimages I would witness demons cast out as well as demons that would not leave.
During my time as a therapist I would encounter an innocent child who was beaten and abused.
During my time as a priest I would encounter wonderful growth in community and in people's hearts only to be squelched by the sins of gossip and pride.
During my time as a husband and father, a priest, a brother, a son, and a friend I allowed my will not to cooperate with Grace but darkness.
But the Good News is Christ.... and St. Benedict is a living witness to the quest that evil does not win--and that through prayer and work we become one with Christ.

Yep--that's what I would share with those first mission trips--just a little more info.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Communion Services

I don't think many priests read this blog (i'm not sure many people read it either).  None-the-less, if I knew that there were a few out there I would float the question; Do You Like Attending Communion Services?

Don't get me wrong I see and understand the reasoning behind them.
When all is said and done, the fact remains that they exist because of the absence of a priest.  As an active priest I enjoyed the Communion Service as the 'go to' move when no other priest was available for the celebration of a Mass--but i never had to attend them

This is not a critique of those who conduct the actual service.  I'm just playing with the issue and asking some questions. 

Which leads to the next question; Aside from prolonged absence in the community of a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ--why even have Communion Services if only a couple of days will be missed? Why not just have Morning Prayer?  How many people really want a Communion Service?

I recall my old Episcopal Bishop who desired even on Sunday mornings in the Episcopal Church that Eucharist be celebrated more often than Morning Prayer.  He used to say; "I can do morning prayer at my kitchen table."  He wanted Eucharist celebrated every Sunday at every service (which i took a lot of heat for implementing)

Hey, I'm just asking a question or two.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Demons of Entitlement

A few years ago, when I was an Episcopal rector (which ended up being my last parish ever not only as an Episcopalian but as an Episcopalian Priest), I was sitting alone in the empty church.   When I got up, I walked into the sanctuary and moved ONE chair.
Blessed be the name of Jesus!

The stares and the whisperings at coffee and donuts following the first service that sunday were certainly noteworthy.
Finally a few people let me know that my decision was a poor one and that I had no business deciding to move a chair.  Did I mention that it was never used?

still from film: Jesus of Nazereth
What right did I have?

I was reminded of this during another one of our family adventures that happened just yesterday...

Seeing that bicycle riding was not proving to be as enjoyable as expected (see previous blog entry) due to the previous day's assault, my family decided to take a walk down on the beach of Lake Erie.
We've walked the same beach for years.
I camped out on a concrete erosion pier while my wife and brother sat in the sand casually looking for beach glass.  My son and his aunty were running and jumping into the water.

Suddenly there was a stir in the woods behind us.  Startled and alarmed I turned, my heart started pounding, and then....
out from the woods came a man.
This was no ordinary man...
This was a man dressed in hemmed tanned shorts, little socks with sperry docksider shoes, and a cute pink izod polo shirt (I think the collar was turned up)

He approached;  " I'm sorry I have to ask you to leave this is private property."

Technically it isn' are allowed in that geographic space between the high and low water mark on the beach...which we clearly were.

He continued to babble and babble and claim his territory.
I was too tired.
It was his water, his beach, his entitlement.
He had money--I didn't.
He would pursue it legally--we couldn't.
People like this make me sick.

Entitlement comes in so many forms...24 hours earlier a man was entitled to pull me off a bike.  Now, this guy is entitled to kick us off one of the Great Lakes.

I should have shared that we had deeded access and were his neighbors...just about two miles down the beach.  Maybe we should have pulled that my wife is a phenomenal physician in town and that we at one time belonged to the country club (where they wear shirts like that).   Maybe we just didn't look the part.

Entitlement has roots in the demonic.  It makes the beholder believe that they are deserving of whatever right they want to exercise.  Pride fuels it.  Self puffed up lies are it's kindling. Use anybody to get what you deserve and get rid of anybody who is in your way or on your beach. 
 Entitlement seeks to demean and entrap.

The church continues to wrestle with the demons of entitlement. There are Bishops and Priests who abused their administrative, pastoral, and spiritual authority and now, with the flash point of media we know all too well way too much.  But it isn't just the clergy.  There exists another deadly form of entitlement in parish life and that involves parishioners with money or gossip who entrap pastors and fellow parishioners.  It is difficult to break out of that mode of existence.

No wonder St. Michael took issue.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Assaulted...a Praylium Moment

So there we were on a weekend holiday bicycle ride.  We were coming near the end of our trek which promised a couple scoops of custard for our gang; my lovely wife, son, brother, and my wife's sister.  We waited at a rather tough intersection, clipped in to the pedals and ready to move at the green light.  My wife and her sister were on the tandem, the rest of us on singles.  Out of no where comes a big suburban towing a big boat, cutting us off and passing us in the middle of the intersection--not giving us any time or safety to get through.

If it was just me--I would have said a bad word and let it go--but the move endangered my family.
I gave chase.
Yep, a man in spandex on a bike-- chasing a testosterone fueled suv and boat.
They pulled off the road and next thing I knew....
I was on the ground having been pulled off my bike by a rather large man.
So, cut off at the intersection then pulled off the bike.

My brother was off his bike ready to scrap.  I wasn't so ready physically but at least verbally I started.  My son seized the moment and decided to share his knowledge of some vulgarity...nice.
My attorney sister-in-law had my legal back and added her two cents.
A young lady came out of her house and offered ice...a conservation officer sped past to some other emergency and I called 911.

Here's the funny thing--the man who assaulted me wasn't even the driver.  The driver acknowledged his wrongdoing and laid down in the grass while we waited for the State Police.  The passenger who assaulted me--continued to try to show me how 'right' he was.
My back was torqued and it matched my temper.
Soon calm prevailed and that's when my wife took over.  She convinced me that either I pursue the assault or let it go.
I didn't want to spend time in an emergency room--especially on the weekend of the 4th of July.
I called the State Police dispatch and told them the matter was settled.  Then walked over and told him I am not filing a report.  The man kept trying to talk his way out of it--his ego made me sick.  Cut off people on bicycles and then jump out of your suv and pull a guy off his bike--and you think you're okay doing this?

Where do people get this?  Do what you want, cut corners, save time, tramp on whoever whenever, allow greed and speed to rule your daily way--then if anything or anybody gets in your way--run em over or at least pull them off their bike.

Granted--I should not have rode as fast up the hill towards them after they endangered us at the intersection.  (I should have listened to my wife and 'let them go')  But the world seems to be filled with people like this.  Maybe your family, maybe your workplace--people who seem to think they are entitled to do whatever they want.  For some reason I just had enough.  Maybe it was a PRAYLIUM moment

In the end my wife asked him; "Are you Catholic?"
"Yes I am."
"Then you need to go to confession."
"Okay, I will, I haven't been there in years...but I will."

So hopefully a guy goes to confession and hopefully his soul grows closer to Christ.  Getting pulled off a bike is still easier than being fed to a lion.
In the meantime I will continue the motrin and get some new handlebar tape.

Oh, and be careful out there--cause spiritually there is always someone trying to cut you off and knock you down.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Garage Sale

We need to do them.
And they take work.  First the physical, then the emotional....
There's that whole climbing up in the attic, or to the back of the shed, or down in the basement--all those places we 'store' stuff.
You know--those old pokemon cards that your son stopped playing with, the perfumes your wife stopped wearing, the books that have been read, coffee mugs--and more coffee mugs, and of course you can't forget a 22 by 50 foot solar cover for a built in swimming pool that was hotel size, oh and the engagement ring (my lovely wife said we don't need it).
Then there's a rug--5.00--but it's a cool rug---i grew up with it then it ended in our house for the past 13 years--but it has seen better days.
In its' day it held generations of family and the seasons and life of a family--you know from evenings in front of the black and white tv to naps and dogs and twister and generations of parties, funerals, first communions, and an ordination.  It held about 7 dogs and countless spills and accidents.
The rug went quick.  Thanks be to the rug angels because I was tired of moving it.  It wasn't a bad day because we even got rid of a toilet tissue holder.

We need to occasionally have garage sales for our spirit--we need to get rid of all that stuff that just gets moved around and never used.  We need to get rid of what doesn't 'work' any more--only after careful discernment.
Reconciliation is a chance to get rid of the crap we keep moving around in our life.

I don't want to parallel this garage sale/spirituality thing too much--because i don't want to offend the intelligence of the praylium readership.  But you get the idea.
Oh, one more thing.  Remember satan has a very simple goal--to keep your soul away from God--he will use any way, any practice, any sin, and any inclination, usually congruent with your personality, to achieve his end.  So if having too much stuff in your spiritual life is keeping you from progressing--even if it appears to be 'good' --then it's time to have a moving sale.