Author Archives: davidsmith4002

Everybody Prays

a small thought…EVERYBODY PRAYS

An earlier thought, about talking to myself, suggests another. Prayer is a central element of the life of a Christian, or of any believer in a God that loves and listens to his children.

Prayer can have many different forms and purposes. We can pray our gratitude for something, or for everything.  We can pray for forgiveness for our sins.  Or we can pray for God to do something specific, for ourselves or others.

This last type of prayer, sometimes called intercession, is probably the most common and frequent, as is natural.  We all have a lot to be thankful for, but we all seem to have an even longer list of things that we want or need.

The prayer life of a believer is a way to address his needs, but it is also a need in itself.  A believer always feels better after prayer. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” says the book of Hebrews, 11:1.

But what about the unbeliever: the atheist, the agnostic, or simply the “None” who has no place in his life for religion or God?  Does he need prayer?

Here is the truth, so obvious that it is almost unthinkable.  Everybody prays. They just do it in different ways, some better than others, some worse than no prayer at all.  Whether it is intentional or unconscious,  praying is a natural human function, only one step above breathing.

“I hope I get over this cold quickly.”

“I wish the kids would call more often.”

“It would be great if the University could finally get a decent football coach.”

“I hope this hurricane passes us by.”

“Seven come eleven, baby needs a new pair of shoes.”

Whether we call it praying or wishing or hoping or just wanting, we all pray all the time.  But believers do it better, because they know there is more to it. A hope or wish is an undirected arrow shot into the future.  A prayer is a direct request put forth in a personal conversation with the only being that can satisfy the request.

The believer also has a framework for making sure his request is a proper one and is made in the proper way.    The believer examines his request. “Lord, please let me win the lottery.”  Is this really something to ask God for?  Even if I promise to use the money to pay off my friends’ mortgages along with my own, and then give the rest to the church? Do I expect God to swallow that one?

“God, please let the Florida Gators beat Alabama this week.”  Is this something worth asking God for? Even if the Crimson Tide really needs a lesson in humility?

And finally, the believer, especially the Christian, knows how to judge his requests. We are taught to pray: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, help me to confirm my will to yours, to want what you want, to what you want me to want.

Everybody prays. Believers just do it better.

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The Mighty Mice

These “Mighty Mice” (astronomers can be quite poetic) are two enormous galaxies in the process of tearing each other apart. They have actually passed through each other and are pulling away.

Also this one, galaxy M96:

Both courtesy of NASA’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day, the best use our tax dollars have ever been put to.)

And remember: a hundred billion galaxies of a hundred billion stars each, every star a sun; and once so tiny it would fit in the palm of your hand.

For more, check out here: “nasa.apod.gov“, or Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

 

Talking to Myself

A Small Thought…about TALKING TO MYSELF

I have a habit of talking to myself. I have done so all my life. Mostly I do it silently, confining my conversation to my mind. But when no one else is around, I sometimes speak out loud.

It can be like I am reading a play, acting all parts. (I don’t usually use different voices, though occasionally…)

I think, I express my thoughts, I respond, I argue, I question, I laugh at my foolishness. Really, I have a lively time in here. It’s like there’s a party in my head, and no one is invited (to paraphrase a terrible old commercial).

It has only recently dawned on me, some 70 years into the conversation, that I am not really alone in here.  There is another person listening in, and often joining in. The wise words are his, the foolish ones mine.  It is not a soliloquy; it is a dialogue.

And now I know who it is. (And you, my reader friend, have probably guessed his identity by now.)

It is, of course, God in here with me.  And now that I realize this, I find I am trying to be more careful in my thoughts, which are actually the words I speak to God in m most candid moments. I need to clean up my act.

When I find myself thinking clever but unkind thoughts about others, I stop myself.  When I am passing silent judgment on the obese, tattooed, pierced folks around me at the store, I try to switch over to a prayer: “Lord, bless them and help them.” That short, six-word prayer is all it takes to shut down my cruel thoughts.  I don’t need to be more specific; I know that God knows what they need, and I know He knows I know. And I know that every one of us needs His help, so I add “And Lord, help me.”

It helps.

The Little Girl Hope

Christians have hope because they have faith – the very substance of things hoped for. Christians have hope even in the darkest prison cell (as demonstrated repeatedly from St. Paul to Solzhenitsyn.)

The rest of us? Some substitute optimism for hope, based on a faith in humanity and its inherent goodness.  Others simply avoid thinking about it, relying by osmosis from the ambient cloud of hope generated by a Christian civilization. But can that last? Can we forever be parasites of Christians’ hope?

In Mystery of the Portal of Hope, French poet Charles Peguy describes hope in familial terms.  Two older sisters (Faith and Charity) lead their little sister Hope by the hand.  But in fact, Peguy explains, the little girl Hope is actually leading them, the big sisters.

The little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one scarcely notices her.

On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between her two older sisters the little hope

Pushes on…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.

Because Faith sees only what is.

But she, she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is.

But she, she loves what will be.

 

But I know this family; they are my neighbors and friends, and Peguy has miscast them. In reality, Faith is the father. Charity, love, is the mother.  But he got the most important part right: Hope is indeed the little child, the daughter whose faith and love are so strong that she cannot help but trust.  And it is she who leads the family along through this valley of the shadow.

MIRRORS AND SINS

Mirror tricks can be delightful. Who has not found himself placed between two mirrors, and noticed in the background a diminishing cascade of reflections; telescoping images of mirror and self and mirror and self…

Another trick, my favorite, requires an array of mirrors, as you might find in a bathroom with a front mirror over the sink, and another mirror on the door of a side cabinet (you can do it with a big enough hand-held mirror, but it is harder).  We all know the oddness of looking at ourselves in a mirror, and noticing that my right side shows up on my left side; my mirror reflection is reversed!

But if you can adjust or tilt one of the mirrors, you can reverse the reversal, and actually see a reflection that is as right-handed as you are in reality. (It probably works just as well if you are left-handed; I don’t really know.)

I was reminded of all this while preparing for my most recent visit to the Confessional for the sacrament of reconciliation. 

Reflecting on my sins, I distractedly wandered into thinking about some of the GOOD things I have done (like a defendant preparing to bolster his guilty plea with character references to show he isn’t ALL bad.)  And I instantly challenged myself – had I done the good things simply to square my accounts with God? Or worse, had I done good so that I might feel good about myself?  In other words, was I doing good for my own sake, rather than to help others or to please God?  If so, was that not a sin of pride, or presumption? A kind of greed for praise or self-praise?

And then I started a round of second-stage self- judging.  Was I being too fastidious, worrying about my motives?  Was I committing the sin of excess scrupulosity, exaggerating the importance of very small distinctions?  (My confessor had in the past introduced me to this sin.)  Was I making too much out of a small sin?

And then I rebuked myself for even entertaining the idea of a “small” sin. Is there such a thing? Or are all sins better categorized as either “big” or “bigger”?

I started with self consciousness in pursuit of self examination. Then, my self-criticism led to an automatic reversion to self congratulation.. That triggered self condemnation. A self-referential cycle of over-thinking, spiraling into confusion.

At some point, I felt like the man in the first trick, standing between two mirrors and puzzling over the endless array of reflections, wondering which one is real.  Then, when mental flip-flops led to mental exhaustion, I remembered the second trick I described above. I needed to get back to my reversal-reversing mirrors to find a true picture of my sin.

But where could I find the properly placed mirrors of my soul?

In the confessional, of course.

Beng a catholic can seem very complicated at times.  But it can also be very, very simple. Not easy, but simple.

God bless you all.  Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Reality

Another glimpse into the real universe, courtesy of NASA and their splendid site APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day).

I have to remind myself, while gazing on this beautiful galaxy, that I am looking at a real thing, and not a work of art.

Remember: a hundred billion stars, one of a hundred billion galaxies; and all beginning with something infinitesimally SMALL. Something that could fit in the hand of a child – the child Jesus’ hand. (Or, as Edward Oakes wrote, “Infinity dwindled to infancy”, but in reverse.)

If you are watching this on a touchscreen device (smartphone or pad), you can touch the screen with two fingers and then expand the picture. By doing so, you will see deeper and deeper into the Heart of Light (as opposed to the Heart of Darkness). It is dazzling, mezmerising, overwhelmingly beautiful.

This was posted on May 15. Check the archives there (at apod.nasa.gov).

God bless NASA. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19).

 

Suffer the Little Children: Aquinas on Divorce

In Mark 10, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (“to test him”) whether divorce was lawful.  As he responded, the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24 and elsewhere) permitted divorce under some conditions.  But Jesus argues more broadly, basing his words on the second chapter of Genesis, “the two will become one flesh.” Therefore, Jesus says, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The Mosaic Law on divorce is complex (to say the least; for one thing, it permitted polygamy), but the overriding sense is that it is at best a necessary evil caused by unnecessary (and worse) evils.  Adultery and abuse were the commonly accepted justifications.  Remarriage of divorced persons was permitted in some cases and prohibited in others.

Throughout the Pentateuch (indeed, the entire Bible), many aspects of divorce are addressed, but one omission is glaring: there is not a word about child custody.  The impact on the children receives no more consideration than it does in a modern American courtroom.

In biblical times, the concept of family meant a father, a mother, and their children.  The idea of an intentionally childless married couple did not exist; at least I have not seen any indication of one. Effective contraception did not exist.  Children were valued as workers in support of the family.   Children were valued as caretakers in parental old age. Many other reasons probably factored into what was in all likelihood not a conscious decision (to procreate) at all.

St. Thomas Aquinas comes at the divorce issue from an interesting tack:  the natural law.  The natural law is our fundamental understanding of right and wrong (sometimes called the First Grace, followed by the Mosaic Law and finally Jesus’ Law of Love.) It is the law that Paul ascribes to all, even the gentiles, as innate in our humanity. Here is Thomas:

“By the intention of nature, marriage is directed to the rearing of offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life…  Therefore since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter [husband and wife] to live together forever inseparably; and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.” (“I answer that”,Q67. Art. 1 Suppl)(emphasis added)

In response to the (very modern-sounding) objection that some couples are infertile, and therefore marriage cannot be directed primarily to offspring, Thomas patiently explains:

“Marriage is chiefly directed to the common good in respect of its principal end, which is the good of the offspring; although in respect of its secondary end it is directed to the good of the parties…Hence marriage laws consider what is expedient for all rather than what may be suitable for one.” (Reply to Obj. 4)

It is worth noting that this is from his Summa Theologiae, which is based on both revelation and reason. He could have based the indissolubility of marriage first and foremost on biblical grounds: Genesis and Matthew/Mark. But instead, he bases his answer on natural law.

One would expect this non-theological approach in his Summa Contra Gentiles, in which he argues from reason and nature, without divine revelation, to attain truth; and one is not disappointed:

“Hence, as law is instituted for the common good, the function of procreation ought to be regulated by laws divine and human. Now the laws laid down ought to proceed on the basis of the dictate of nature…Since then there is in the human species a natural exigency for the union of male and female to be one and indivisible, such unity and indissolubility must needs be ordained by human law. To that ordinance the divine law adds a supernatural reason, derived from the significancy of marriage as a type of the inseparable union of Christ with His Church…” (Chapter CXXIII)

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The Church Stands Alone

In the Pedophile Priest Crisis, the Church (specifically its internal corrupters, the pedophile priests and their superiors in the hierarchy who refused to take responsibility) was in the wrong.  The world helped correct it.  That is, the news media, law enforcement, and especially the lawyers of the plaintiff’s bar.  They publicized and sued and brought the scandal to public attention, forcing the Church to deal with it.

In the present Homosexual Crisis, the world stands enthusiastically on the side of the Church’s internal corrupters.  The media love the current pope and his “See No Evil” approach (along with his breezy off-the-cuff airborne theology).  The media and other elites all shared in the near-universal horror at pedophile child abuse; but they all equally support the Homosexual Agenda, from normalization to gay marriage to transgenderism.

The only voices being raised against this grooming-and-groping-and-worse behavior of some bishops come from the much-despised “Traditional Catholics”, smeared by their own pope as “Pharisees”.

G.K. Chesterton wrote somewhere (I think in Orthodoxy, but I don’t have a copy handy so I am quoting from memory) that when the world becomes too worldly, it is the church’s role to turn it around. But when the church becomes too worldly, the world cannot save it.  Only the church (through the Holy Spirit) can save itself.

There will be no outside help, no cheering from the sidelines.  The press coverage will be terrible.  We already see the calumny against the traditional church as a homophobic institution, a bunch of haters in Knights of Columbus uniforms.

It will be a lonely battle.  There will be no one on our side…except the Holy Spirit.

The Needle Galaxy

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The Needle Galaxy, courtesy of NASA (apod.gov.nasa, archives).  Always remember: According to the scientists, there are at least a hundred billion galaxies, each made up of a hundred billion stars; and when it all began 14.5 billion years ago, it (the entire universe) was smaller than a mustard seed.  Fitting neatly in the palm of God’s hand.

Reprise: “I Am That Man”

[By request, a rerun of a previous post. Plus a few Digressions.]

A few years ago, in RCIA at the age of 69 after a spiritually wasted life, I was finally getting serious about many things, including the Bible readings.

 But I was taken aback by one of the vineyard parables (Mat 20):  the one where the owner pays the same daily wage to late-arriving workers who only put in an hour’s work as he pays to the laborers who worked the full day.

As a former union representative, I rose to point out the unfairness of this.  It would violate wage and hour laws, not to mention any union contract.  The result would be a grievance, a federal charge, or a walkout.  The late worker would be singled out for derision (or worse) as the owner’s stooge.  My objections cut no ice. Salvation economics, I was told, were different from labor economics.  I dropped the subject, filing it under “Catholic Stuff I Don’t Get…Yet” Note: (There are still a lot of these. See the Digressions below.)

But later, at my first communion, the daily reading was that very same parable.  And after re-hashing the same issues in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me – I was that man! I was that laborer who showed up near the end of the day and happily, if a little guiltily, collected my full wages.  And, most amazingly, the other workers seemed happy about it. No grievances were filed.  No cradle catholic shunned me as an upstart.   They actually welcomed me!

Now whenever I see someone full of self-esteem and entitlement, the kind of guy who is convinced that he deserves all the good things life has given him, I have to remind myself that “I am that man.”  And when I am with one of the many good people who have been working in the Christian vineyards their entire lives, I feel my own unworthiness all the more.  But I know that this is the way God’s grace works.  My job is to accept the grace, and to pass it on.  And to keep at it until my workdays come to an end.

_______________________________

 DIGRESSION #1: One of the things I don’t get, or at least don’t like, is the New Testament’s low opinion of tax collectors.  I understand the history of the inherent corruption in that ancient imperial system, but surely there must be a better word for those corrupt officials. The Greek “telones” and the Latin “publicani” described contemptibly corrupt characters.  The modern-day American tax collectors I have known (and represented as union members) are upright, honest public servants. I don’t recall ever having to represent one accused of theft or embezzlement.  How must they feel when they read the gospel references to “tax collectors and other sinners”?  So Bible translators, get creative and come up with a better term.  “Corrupt officials”? “Crooked bureaucrats”? 

DIGRESSION #2: Speaking of Bible translators, why does the Catholic Church use such lame ones?  Consider Matthew 16:18. KJV: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [the Church]. New American Bible: “The gates of the netherworld…” Netherworld? The image conjured up suggests Holland, not Hell.

Or consider Psalm 23:6. KJV: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  NAB: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”  How many years? Two? Three? How long have I got until my lease expires and God throws me out?

DIGRESSION #3: Speaking of crooked public officials, one of my favorite lines from Casablanca is spoken by the dastardly police captain Renault, played by Claude Raines. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) proposes a twenty-thousand-franc bet that Victor Laszlo will escape to America. Renault responds “Make it ten thousand. I’m only a poor corrupt official.”