Sunday, October 30, 2011
But one of the most important lessons he ever taught me was not really a message at all. It was a name. His name. Michael.
“Who is like God?”
The only name I had ever heard of whose literal translation in Hebrew formed a question. He told me this once merely for fun, and how it had constantly been an inspiration for him throughout his life. But over time, I found out just how important this name, this message, would be.
For those who know me, they know that I have something of a Superman complex. I am often proud enough to believe there is nothing I can’t do. But every one has their kryptonite. Yet in spite of these weaknesses, I still strive to do what I can for people. But sometimes, it is simply beyond my control. I cannot do everything.
So, I have to trust in God. He can do all things. And much better than I can, might I add. Much, much, much, much better.
Leaving home has been enormously difficult for me. I miss my family. I miss my home. I miss my city, and my streets, and my car (or what’s left of it…battery died, duct tape is coming loose, and thus the doors are falling off.) But what I miss the most are the people.
I miss being able to know how they are doing. I miss knowing that they are okay, or if they’re not, knowing that I could be there to help them.
But I can’t.
I am not God.
(And aren’t we all the better for it?)
It is not by my hands that the world is saved. It is not by my suffering, my blood, my cross. It is not my hands. It is the Lord’s hands, working through His humble servants as instruments of His sacred grace, by which His will is done.
When my senior year was approaching, my spiritual director approached me with a sudden and shocking revelation.
His order had called for him to be the pastor of a parish an hour and a half away from my home. I was quite crushed. This was going to be the most crucial year of my discernment. He couldn’t go. I needed him. But even more than that, he couldn’t go because he was my friend.
Only now do I realize that I suffered so little in comparison to him.
I was losing a spiritual director, but he a spiritual director. I was losing a father, but he a son.
Just as I am now experiencing being away from the people I love, the people I have always strived to serve with love, he was experiencing the same thing ten times over. I was not the only one he cared about. I may have been losing one friend, but he was losing many, many more.
But it was not by his hands that we were to be saved. The Almighty One’s will had called him elsewhere, and he humbly accepted that will.
I still talk to him from time to time. Even though we do not speak as frequently as we had in the past, I still respect his opinion highly, and no matter how hard I fight him, he’s usually right.
But I understand now the hope he put in the Lord for my own good. He trusted me to the One he knew could care for me better than any one else. For who is like God?
It’s a rhetorical question, obviously. At first, the pride in me wanted to translate it as a question like, “Who among you is like God and thus worthy and able to serve His people?” But now I understand the truth. The answer to the question, Michael, “Who is like God?” and even my own variation of the question is:
No one is like God. God alone is God. God’s hands alone work the saving wonders of the world. God’s hands alone.
These are not my hands, Lord; Lord, take my hands.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
Who is like God?
I am here by the will of the One who made me and made me to serve Him. Of course I miss the people I love. The people who love me. But they are in better hands. They always were. I trust you all to the Lord, and I pray for you every day.
“Be it done to me according to thy word.” –Luke 1:38
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I am currently writing this blog post using only one finger on my left hand after having injured my left hand…fun story…running into a piano at the seminary. (I wish I could say I was running away from other seminarians…or pirates…or dragons.) But it was Game 5 of the World Series, and I needed to see my boys win. (Na-po-li! Na-po-li!)
Seeing as no more needs to be said, the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of my left hand are currently taped together with hospital tape, and I am using a pen as a stint for my ring finger (which has swelled and discolored some.) Ironically enough, today the school nurse was booked, and tomorrow’s her day off. So, my makeshift stint will have to last.
Over the summer, the index finger of my right hand was rendered mostly incapable (via meatslicer.) So, being mostly one-handed is nothing new to me, and I seem to be managing just fine. (Yet in guitar language, these are my key fretting fingers… :( …)
Anyways, the point being this:
How often do we underestimate such basic human abilities as our hands? And by what right do we even declare ourselves worth of using such basic abilities?
Whenever I play or sing music for any form of liturgy or prayer, I make this prayer:
“These are not my hands, Lord; Lord, take my hands.”
The same for my voice,
“This is not my tongue, Lord; Lord, take my tongue.”
I pray this so that it might be His works done through me, a mere instrument of His will.
Another common prayer I make whenever I write is simply writing the letters “AMDG” which stand for, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” or “For the greater glory of God.”
Here at the seminary, the same idea applies. Everything I do must be done entirely for His will and done with genuine humility. It is not I who do great works. I am simply an instrument of His greatness.
Now the reason I am writing this at all as a personal witness is not because I wish to brag at my success. Quite honestly, there’s no success by which to brag. And that’s just it. This is still very much a work in progress. I am learning…slowly, but with His grace, I believe surely.
This has not been a lesson easily learned either.
(But more on that to come…)
Monday, October 10, 2011
Saturday was a day of milestones for me.
A fellow seminarian decided to take me and one other in his truck out to his hometown of St. John, Indiana, in the Diocese of Gary. Our goal was to visit the Shrine of Christ’s Passion, a half-mile trail with a life-size Stations of the Cross. They were absolutely stunning, and I encourage you all to visit there at some point. Check out the website here if you’re interested: http://www.shrineofchristspassion.org/. We also visited his home parish of St. John the Evangelist. They recently built a new church in order to house the ever-growing parish, and we visited both the old and new. Both of them were absolutely incredibly beautiful, and I enjoyed every minute of it. However, what affected me the most may have been the one thing I least expected. But isn’t that how God always works?
St. John, Indiana, is now officially the farthest I have ever been west of Cincinnati. A milestone for me. It was also just the second time I have ever been in a different time zone. And the closest I have ever been to the state of Illinois.
While there, we made a stop at a Chicago-style Hot Dog stand, and there I had my first ever Chicago-style dog. It was quite good too.
But perhaps the most powerful experience of the entire journey for me was that it was my first time ever seeing the Meadow Lake Wind Farm from I-65 North.
For those of you who, like me three days ago, have never seen or even heard of the Wind Farm, it is basically an enormous field with hundreds of those white windmills you always see on TV and stuff. In the past, I had never really thought much of them. Sure they are great ways of making energy with little to no harm to the environment. Great. I’m all for it.
But what really did it for me was the sheer beauty of seeing hundreds and hundreds of towering windmills along the highway. I cannot even express it! It’s something you should all see for yourselves. As I continue to discern my vocation from God in this life, the windmills were a perfect reminder to me to continue to live a life of humble obedience to God.
I am just a small boy in this enormous world. When one is struck by the sight of a hundred giant windmills, their arms twisting and turning and whirling and twirling in the wind towards you, one suddenly feels very, very small. And intimidated. One of the reasons it was so humbling for me was the symbolic metaphor of windmills in my own life.
As a child, my grandparents had a video of an animated retelling of Don Quixote for children. My grandfather always loved, “Man of La Mancha,” and I learned to play, “To Dream the Impossible Dream,” on the piano just for him. But the story bears so much more meaning to me now.
In Chapter 8 of the first part of the novel written by Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote sees a field of windmills, and driven by his own delusions of grandeur, believes them to be giants. He then promptly charges into battle with them, though he is easily defeated, and sent sprawling from his horse and crashing into the ground. Pop culture has deemed this practice, “tilting at windmills.”
I am very much like the poor man of La Mancha. I am prone to tilt at windmills, and my grandfather knows this. He has often made this reference to me many times, but only know do I see just how much it applies. I need to stop trying to fight the windmills in my life, the things I see myself capable of conquering. It’s time to turn my windmills over to God. If I conquer these windmills at all, it will not be of my own strength, and it will not be for my own glory.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Being the history nerd that I am, I have actually read some pretty interesting stuff comparing the United States of America and the Ancient Roman Empire. But here are some insights that I have had recently as I work towards a history major. They are grouped along with the other, more common comparisons. Though the chronology is not an exact match between the two, it’s still something interesting to ponder.
The United States of America was founded by the wealthy landowners who led the rebellious colonists in overthrowing British rule and establishing a republic represented by elected officials.
Rome was founded by aristocrats who grew tired of corrupt monarchs and overthrew them, establishing a republic represented by elected officials.
Eventually, the USA’s attempts at building a republic confederation of states that would be ruled under the Articles of Confederation fell apart, and more power was given to the Federal Government.
In Rome, the Senate quickly rose up as the chief power over the representative district magistrates.
The USA fell victim to a devastating Civil War that tore the country apart and changed the way the government ruled.
Civil War broke out in Rome as well between Octavius (later Augustus) Caesar and Marc Antony over who would rule Rome. Ultimately, Caesar emerged victorious and changed the republic into an empire.
The USA participated in the First World War in order to aid France, the end of which resulted in a peace treaty that caused harsh war reparations to Germany that would ultimately enrage the Germans into forming Nazism and launching World War II. (Note: the USA did foresee the coming of German vengeance.)
Rome came to the aid of other cities as well in order to defend them from Carthage in the First Punic War. The defeat of Carthage resulted in a poorly planned peace treaty, and the Carthaginians would rise up many years later to declare war on Rome and attempt an invasion in which would become the Second Punic War.
The USA expanded to the west throughout the 19th Century, establishing what could be considered a form of colonial imperialism, and either drove out or mistreated many of the indigenous peoples.
The Roman Empire conquered vast amounts of land in Europe and the Mediterranean and though they attempted to rule the natives fairly, ultimately the warriors of these native tribes would rise up against Rome and destroy the empire.
Which leads to my final point. It is not so much a comparison as it is…an allegorical theory.
The Roman Empire fell when the “barbarian” tribes of Europe began to rise up against the armies and the constant war was too much for Rome to hold it together.
I’ve often heard that the USA is being invaded by “barbarians” as well, namely illegal immigrants, foreign influence in economy, or even foreign ideals and religions.
But my question is: what really destroyed Rome? The barbarians from outside…or within?
Many historians recognize that years of war and expansion had run the Roman treasury thin. It was simply too big and ruled too much territory to support itself. There were also great economic issues with inflation and recession under Nero. The wealthy few also began demanding the market by way of taking advantage of the market and using their money to control the common man and the government.
Take it how you want. But economic turmoil and the inability to know its own appropriate limits was definitely a key factor in the downfall of the Roman Empire.
But these are not even the barbarians I’m talking about. Take a look at American society. In Ancient Rome, the wealth and luxurious lifestyle that came with the pride of being a Roman consumed the people.
Are we so much different?
I won’t go into it in depth or detail. I leave that up to your own mind and thought.
After all, it’s a free country.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
What happens to a man when you break him?
When you turn him, when you spurn him, when you take his heart?
When he’s tossed and crossed and at a loss?
When he’s burnt and beaten, torn apart?
Where do we find this broken man?
What’s left: bereft, a man alone?
What remains: the stains of too much hurt?
What is he: a king without a throne?
Why does he cry upon his knees?
Why does he fall or call for one to hear?
Why speak? How weak can one man be?
Why walk so far when no one’s near?
What happens to a man when you break him?
When he’s crushed and hushed and brushed away?
When he’s bruised, confused without a path?
What happens to a man when you break him?
Wrote this poem today. Don’t worry, I’m not depressed or anything. It’s actually happy if you read it right. But I know none of you will. I didn’t the first time either.
What happens to a man if you break him?
We all get beaten down in life. No exceptions. It’s one of the few universal experiences of men. Every one suffers. Which is a good thing, because our suffering allows us to love. There is no love without suffering. And vice versa.
The vice versa is something I’ve only discovered recently, though. In the past, it had seemed that my sufferings were the direct result of a lack of love of some sort. (Don’t be shallow here; I’m not talking just romantic love. And to clarify, love of family is the one thing I’ve never been without.)
But let’s explore the nature of man. What separates man from the rest of life on Earth?
Philosophers will tell you that what separates man from other animals is man’s ability to reason and rationally express themselves to the world surrounding them. In other words, man is rational, relational, and expressive.
These are the same things that allow man to suffer. Man can reason, and just as man can reason to good, man can reason to evil. The result of this evil reasoning is sin, which brings suffering to the sinner and all those affected by the sin.
Man’s relationships can lead him to suffering. When man loses some one he loves, he suffers. When a man is lost to those he loves, they suffer. When one man suffers, another man suffers for him. We suffer for each other all the time.
Man can express beauty, create art, and man can express evil, create hatred. Like sin, this inevitably leads to suffering.
But it also leads to love.
Leads to love. It does not create it.
Man cannot create anything from nothing, let alone beauty or truth or goodness or love.
We are not alone.
I don’t always know what to believe. I have my doubts. Not that my doubt exceeds my faith. Not even close. But it’s not really my faith after all. I know in what to place my faith. I trust that Object of my faith to do the rest.
What happens to a man when you break him?
He is still just a man.
But He is always God.