Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dear CCD students...

I'll be posting the Patron Saint project requirements in the next 2-3 days. Sit tight.


Lord's Gym

Riffing off (and hat tip to) what Der Tommisar wrote on the matter...

Lent is a sort of Spring Training for the Christian. We must train hard, much like Olympic or professional athletes do, because The Big Game will be upon us sooner than we think. Training, for those of you who have never engaged in it, is a complete and utter PITA.

It takes time.

It takes LOTS of effort.

It takes even more willpower and self-discipline, because many days you'd rather stay in bed and/or eat pizza than hit the gym and eat turkey on whole wheat.

Your opponent (say, the Devil) is counting on you getting fat, dumb and happy...getting used to slacking off, having your spiritual reflexes dulled and your soul's stamina diminished. This opponent doesn't want you to reach your heavenly goal line, and, while we're at it, wants to prevent you from doing so with the least amount of effort on his part. Prob'ly so he can go and prevent more souls from reaching the heavenly goal line. But I digress.

In I Cor. 9:24, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that since you're running in the race, run to win. Run to reach that mark. Not that Gene Vincent is even remotely canonical, but he was right when he sang we're in a race with the Devil. Train hard this Lent, so that you may be able to handily outrun Satan when your turn comes.

So put yourself on a spiritual diet, eating less junk food (i.e. the usual drivel on TV or the radio) and more nutritious food (the Bible would be a good place to start!) and exercising (prayer, penance--seeking it and AND being forgiving--almsgiving) instead of flopping around like a spiritual couch potato contemplating things that will be SOOOOOOOO very useless to you when you see Satan sprinting after you.

No pain, no gain.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Faith, Scarlett O'Hara-style

It is an object of no small friction in my marriage that I think Gone With The Wind is among the most overrated wastes of celluloid in the short and bitter history of man upon Creation. However, as I was being inflicted with it, in a 2nd hand smoke sort of way, I realized that in many ways Scarlett is a good metaphor for the way we live our lives in faith. Or at least the way I do.

I have often sort of sleepwalked through my spiritual life with the attitude that "tomorrow is another day." That is: I'll repent tomorrow, I'll pray over this or that fault tomorrow, I'll strive towards improvement in this area...tomorrow. I have fixated on what others have had, and almost lost what blessings I HAVE had.

But, I have managed to realize how deeply I have been (and am!) loved. Not a bloody minute too late, either.

Because where this analogy diverges from Scarlett's path is that God DOES give a damn that we love Him, which is a whole sight better than Rhett Butler. God will respond in the way Rhett couldn't after all the betrayals and empty promises and false starts, etc.

Now that I have placed myself fully under His care and feeding, with God as my witness I'll never go hungry again.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mea culpa-ing some more.

Sorry. I keep forgetting to enable comments. Thanks for those of you who emailed.



Monday, February 20, 2006

The Catechism, Part 1 of ?

Q. What is man?
A. Man is a creature composed of a body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.

First off, be careful with the word "Creature" (something that has been--duh!--created). Having said that, keep in mind that human beings are wa-a-a-a-ay different from everything else in creation. This is because all other things are either 100% matter, or 100% spirit. Angels and Archangels, f'rinstance, are "all spirit, all the time!" (sounds like a lame FM station motto) and sand is 100% matter; but humans have both spirit and matter, i.e., your soul and your body. (Mine too.)

Obviously, since God is a spirit and infinitely perfect, that "image and likeness" thing must apply to our souls, not to our physical appearance. I mean, really.

Q. How is the soul like God?
A. The soul is like God because it is a spirit that will never die, and has understanding and free will.

Okay...let's break these down into separate parts:

a) That it's "a spirit" means it really does exist, only we can't see it with our physical sense of sight. Of course, just because a spirit is invisible, that doesn't mean every invisible thing is a spirit. We can't see, say, air. Sure, we feel it or see what it's doing--like a windmill spinning or a kite flying or feeling ourselves breathe it, etc.--but we never see the air itself, right? Same with electricity. We see lightbulbs or computers, but we never actually catch a glimpse of the electricity itself. Interestingly, nobody (well, nobody SANE) denies the existence of air or electricity or ultraviolet radiation or atomic nuclei just because they are invisible.

So check this out, then: How can anyone say there is nothing spiritual--no God, no angels, no souls, zip, zilch, zero, nada--just because they they are invisible? After all, we really do have other evidence, far more compelling than any evidence our eyeballs could provide, that spiritual beings really and truly exist.

b) The soul will "never die," it will never cease to be; it is immortal. Stop and consider that a while. Now, if you are in the right place as far as God is concerned, this is a Very Good Thing. If you're in danger of winding up medium-rare after death...then, maybe not so much.

c) The soul "has understanding" which is another way of saying it has the capacity for reason. This gift lets people think about all their actions, and the reasons why they should do X and why they should avoid Y. With the use of reason, your soul is capable of thinking about past events and can make a reasonable assumption as to what might happen in the future. So...people can foresee with pretty good clarity the consequences of their actions.

In other words, people not only know what they do (or don't), but why they do (or not do) it. This gift puts humans wa-a-a-a-ay above the stars of Animal Planet in creation's scheme of things. Meaning people are not just plain ol' animals, but rational animals. Animals with (you guessed it!) the gift of reason. Now, "regular" animals have no capacity for reason at all, just instincts. If you wanna be all tech-y about it we can say people have access to upgradeable software, but animals only have hardware. We are like computers and they are like, say, blenders. Maybe toasters.

Animals follow the various impulses and feelings with which God created them. God made rules for each type of animals ("fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly!" or something like that). These animals just go through life following these rules. When we catch them at it (say, that cutie pie Free Willie chomping on an equally cute baby seal) we shrug and say "it is their nature."

Sure, it SEEMS like animals sometimes act as if they knew what they were doing, but that's not really the case. I, mean, c'mon, if animals could reason, the cheetah would have invented a far better way to catch a zebra for dinner than just sprinting after one, the same way cheetahs have sprinted after zebras since Day One. In contrast, people invent lots of things that were unbelievable to our say nothing of 10 years ago. (Remember--or ask someone old enough--about life before eBay. Why, blogs are only 3 years old!) One person can improve on the invention of another*, etc. But you never see animals trying this, oh nononono. The bald eagle, just to use a patriotic example, builds the same type of nests, generation after generation, without ever thinking of making any change or improvement in the nest-making process. No subcontracting the gathering of reeds, no hiring the beaver to gnaw some excellent twigs. Just the same stupid nests for millennia.

Furthermore, when someone teaches, say, a dog anything (sit, fetch, whatever) the dog can't teach the same thing to its puppies. "OK, OK, we got it...animals can't reason." I hear you saying.

So...even though someone has the gift of reason through which he (or she) can learn a whole lot, he (or, again, she) cannot learn everything through reason alone. There are loads of things only God can teach people. When God does the teaching, we call this Revelation. How could anyone ever figure out the Trinity using their reason alone?

d) The soul has "free will." This is another gift of God, via which we may do or not do as we please. Golly, we can even sin and disregard God. God, by giving us free will, will not force us to do anything and--guess what?--neither can the devil. We are free, and we may use this gift either to the benefit or detriment of our soul.

If we weren't free we wouldn't deserve any reward or punishment (duh!), since nobody gets punished for doing what he (or, of course, she) simply can't avoid. God will not punish us for a something if we weren't free to commit or avoid it. (We'll go over this later, but if you don't have a choice in the matter, it's not a sin.) We use this freedom for our own good if we do what God asks when, instead of doing the complete opposite...which is often a whole lot easier. This way He will be more pleased with us, and gve us greater rewards than if we did something simply because we had a gun to our heads.

Animals (again with the animals?) have no free will. If, for instance, turtles are hungry and you put Purina Turtle Chow in front of them, they will--duh!--eat. But people can starve, if they really want to, with an all-you-can-eat buffet staring them in the face. Just like a person can endure more, fatigue-wise than any comparable animal. Animals give up when exhausted, but people by strong willpower, can force themselves to move.

Ah...but I hear the clever ones out there saying "Wait! Didn't the lions in the den decline to chomp on Daniel (Dan. 6:16, for you keeping track) even when they were starving?" Yeah, but...they didn't not because they had free will and said:

"Gosh, Leo. This Daniel fellow sure seems a pious sort. What do you say we spare him?"

Not, it was because God prevented them. That's what makes it a miracle, right? When God stopped projecting His will upon them, these same lions immediately made a healthy snack of Daniel's enemies when they were chucked into the den.

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

This is one of (to paraphrase my oldest son) my very most favoritest parts. Let's break it down:
a) We have "to know Him," because we must know something before we can love it. An indigenous guy born and raised in some as-yet-undiscovered Micronesian island never longs to be at Lord Winchester's Wild Marmot Hunt, because he does not know of it and therefore can't love it. We have to "love Him." Let's say you see your wife (or husband). Inwardly, unconsciously you say "I love this woman!" (like in that diamond commercial...but substitute "man" if you are a wife and you wanna play along) and if you love her you will try to serve her.

Put it another way, if you truly love someone you won't--can't!--be satisfied with only doing the bare minimum she (or he) asks, but rather whatever we think might please her (or, obviously, him). We have to "serve Him." Think about how it was St. Valentine's Day just a few days ago . Most (good) husbands didn't go get something for their wives in the spirit of contractual obligation. Whatever the budget, the good husband went to the mall to find something he thought his wife would really enjoy, instead of just getting a gift strictly for the sake of not being accused of forgetting.

Same with God. We must first know Him--learn who He is from Scripture and other books and sources of instruction, from the teaching of God's faithful followers throughout history and today, etc. When we know Him, we inevitably love Him. If we knew Him perfectly, we would (duh!) love Him perfectly; so the better we know Him the more we love Him. Did I say "duh!" already?

[As an aside, you will note the exhortation "to know Him" definitely comes first, ahead of the other ones. A lot of times, people engaged in catechetical work make the mistake of trying to instill a love for God without this foundation. Don't misunderstand, I am not saying that striving to instill a love for the Lord is wrong or fruitless...only that one should make sure the necessary foundations have been laid first. Step one comes first and then step two, and all that. Remember, Christ explicitly stated the wise man builds his house upon rock and not sand (Mt. 7:24-27). To have knowledge of Him is imperative to loving Him. A "love" of God borne out of an absence of knowledge is only a mirage, let alone be able to stand. When the woman at the well asked Christ: "Lord, give me this water" (Jn. 4:15) she had the means--a spiritual bucket, if you will--with which to carry this water. If you have the means to carry the water He gives you, you will also have the means to take this water to others. So teach these others first, that they may also have the means to carry His water to yet more people who thirst. Just a thought. We now return to this post, already in progress.]

Since it's our main duty to love Him and serve Him on earth, it becomes mandatory (duh!) to learn here whatever we can about His nature, attributes, and holy laws. Now, we have all seen someone in this world, whom we have greatly admired, right? Still we don't love them perfectly; there is always some little something about them (that goofball grin, the way he or she won't stop saying "y'know" or whatever) that could be, in our estimable view, improved. OK. Suppose you had the power to take all the good qualities you found in the people you loved and smush them all into one person, and likewise squeeze out anything and everything that would bother you. Inevitably, you'd love that person a WHOLE lot.

But wait! There's more! What if that person loved you intensely, wouldn't it be the best thing--ever!--to hang out with a friend like that? Well, then, all the great qualities you see in created beings come from God and are His gifts. But even all the good qualities on earth (and of the angels and saints in Heaven) if you smushed them into one person wouldn't be JACK compared to the goodness and beauty of God. Therefore, it's obvious how good and how lovable God must be, right? (Duh!)

But what happens when we realize He loves us with a greater love than the one we could ever sunmmon towards loving Him? Even if we really, really, really and I mean, really tried?

Try to first know God and you will certainly love and, logically, serve Him. Don't settle with the little you learn about Him in passing, but read good books, and above all hear sermons and instructions and discuss with like-minded people.

b) "In this world, in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." Because unless we do what He asks of us in this world we can't be with Him in the next. What happens to us in the next life depends totally on our behavior in this one. Think of a concert or a play...if you don't go through the hassle of getting tickets ahead of time, you run a serious risk of being turned away at the box office. "What happens next" is invariable the result of "what happened before."

More later!


* Sir Isaac Newton used to call this "standing on the shouders of giants."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Stay tuned.

Over the next few posts, I'll be doing a "series" on the Catechism, basing it on the format of the Baltimore* Catechism. While, yes, sure, of course, it will primarily have a Catholic orientation, I hope and pray others along the Judeo-Christian spectrum may be able to benefit therefrom.

Also, while I'd love to go through it line by line, such a thing is neither feasible nor desirable nor within teh scope of this blog. I'll just hit some highlights and, wherever possible, throw in a Scriptural reference.

You have been warned! :-)


* I think its Q&A format lends itself best to this sort of thing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The thing with patience, etc.

This is adapted (OK, shmushed together) from a discussion I've been having with a friend.

The more I meditated about the readings--in addition to meditating on our assorted discussions--the more I* see something of a pattern emerging. The clincher, of course, were the readings.

The verses from St. James' Epistle reinforce that God will give us wisdom generously and cheerfully and willingly if we ask in faith. (More on that in a moment.) Remembering specific past instances of God’s steadfast love in our lives and the astonishing wisdom of His word strengthen our capacity to ask for this wisdom in faith. The key here is not so much faith-the-word, but faith-the-concept, We have to ask these things with the "irrational" knowledge they will be given us. Faith, after all, is the soul stretching out further than it can see. Faith specifically denies three things: despair, fear and impatience. All three of these displacers of faith are related. When faith is lacking in some corner of your life, the result will be despair, fear or impatience or, worse, all of the above. They all say the same thing, essentially: "God's not going to come through for me, is He?"

Being a little bit fearful, impatient and/or desperate is like being a little bit pregnant. To be afraid is to lack faith in God's will, to be impatient is to lack faith in God's timing and to be desperate is to lack faith in God's providence. Speaking strictly about my own case, I struggle with a LOT of impatience and, for a piquant bit of seasoning, despair every once in a while. What I have learned is that whenever I let myself fall into the trap of "God's not going to come through for me, is He?" is that I fall.

As in the theological equivalent of down-the-stairs.

The other hard thing I have learned is that when catch myself falling I don't get a "do over" like kids do when they play a game. There is no mulligan. Just like when you fall down the stairs and you finally stop or catch yourself, you don't get to magically float back to the step you were on when you tripped. You have to schlep back up, step by step.

I believe this is God's way of making us--forcing us, even--to flex the faith muscle. God wants us to flex that muscle because NOTHING we do will be worth jack without useful faith. Until we learn to shrug off the impulse to meander away from faith, we won't be able to climb the staircase. In a way, the example of the Menorah in Solomon's Temple is reflected in our own lives...once you contaminate (i.e. by despair, etc.) the oil (i.e. our faith) even a teeny-tiny little bit, we have to toss it out and wait until undefiled oil is available before the light can be lit. (An imperfect analogy, but be kind...look at the time stamp and cut me some slack!)

In many ways, what I can figure out from all this is that we must start to learn (in my case) patience, i.e. obedience to God's timing, or serenity, or whatever our case requires and doing the work in front of us. I don't know if at some point I will be called to do something else...Start St. Cyber's Online Seminary or evangelize wayward Jesuits in alphabetical order or whatever. But I do know I am to do the work God has placed before me until He calls me--whenever He deems it best--to do something else.

I realized this when I was pondering something else entirely in my discussions with someone whom I was trying to bring back to participation in the Faith after a lo-o-o-o-ong life in which drugs, promiscuity, abortion and divorce have taken a toll (pray for her!). If God calls me to do something else, He will not only make it abundantly clear what it is, but He will also let me know, pretty clearly, the when.

Which brings me to the main point of this. Whatever it is God eventually wants from you, it seems to me you are lumped in with the impatient-with-a-dash-of-despair likes of me. God promised to give us wisdom IF we ask AND are willing to listen to the answer AND be a person of one mind and heart. The last one is what, I think, reinforces the premise of this email...we have to be a person of one heart and mind, which we can't be if we let impatience, fear or despair cloud our faith. In my case, even though I have an abundant knowledge of this, I still haven't gotten the self-control thing sufficiently well to actually internalize this. It drives me mental, to tell the truth.

So, um, now what? Do the work in front of us and as we do that, flexing our muscle of faith, the instances of impatience, etc. become less frequent and--check this out--we will be better able to see what it is God has in mind for us, and we will be better able to hear the Divine Phone Ring, calling us to

Now, I think we've been given two kinds of signs. One kind that means SOMETHING and the other kind that means "OK, be patient, don't despair, have no fear...just relax and the other kind of signs will become so clear as to be impossible to ignore or mistake." I have gotten these in my own life...and it's like a highway sign that reads "Rest Stop Ahead" and instead of rejoicing in that fact, I begin to self-whine:

"What if it's FIFTY miles?"
"What if they don't have a Subway's?"
"Is that a Chevron? That would be cool, because I have a Chevron card."
"I can practically see myself getting a cappuccino at Starbuck's!"

Then I worry about what that rest stop will have or what will look like, instead of concentrating on the driving. And maybe when I get to that rest stop it will be just as I hoped, or different but better, or just plain ol' different.

But patience is not just THAT. Oh, nononono. Patience is also much more than just waiting, it is also showing forbearance with the faults of people or their ignorance or their misconceptions. As one of these orthodox-flavored, Latin Mass types I show my impatience in abundance when people gush forth about tambourines and bongos at Mass, or when they enthusiastically mention something I consider a liturgical faux pas...and I roll my eyes or feel I simply have to correct them then and there and do so uncharitably. I am being impatient with them and, therefore by extension, with Christ. I need to work on that, even IF the tambourines and bongos and folk-y music drives me MENTAL. I'll try to remember to offer up the aggravation.

Lastly, we also have to remember that patience doesn't only apply to getting signs, signals, directions, indications and/or hints. It also applies to being able to assimilate and interpret them correctly. And the graces to do so usually come from doing the work God's plopped on your lap as an expression of faith. God's plopped a TRUCKLOAD on mine.

So, let's do the Lord's work (the harvest is a big one, and the laborers are few) until He calls us to come in from the field to work in the cellar, fermentation room or whatever. He knows where to find us and how to get our attention.

Pax et Bonum Dei,


* This is only what I see, and, until I can start get a prescription for Infallible Pills, therefore subject to Divine correction.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sometimes it can even get cute.

Go here and try it. Not too shabby...I think I'm gonna get the yellow T-shirt w. navy letters (an homage to my school, Our Lady of Bethlehem Jesuit, and its colors) and you should try it.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thinking up all the advice I would offer for today's college graduates sent me back to my own days as a student, and how much easier, for me, college was than high school. This was because I attended one of those hardass, Jesuit-run, old-school academic boot camps. Interestingly, someone sent me this link (which was not working 100%, so I reproduce the contents below) which crystallizes my teenage years.

The New Oxford Review:

The Way Jesuits Used to Be
October 1995

By P.M. Aliazzi

P.M. Aliazzi is the Director of the Wean Research Library, at University School, a prep school in suburban Cleveland.

What do you say to a white-haired old man in a black "bathrobe" toting a matching briefcase? "Court's in session in the cabana, Your Honor"? It was the first time I had ever seen a Jesuit, and I was both spooked and fascinated. I was used to kindly, comfortable parish priests in suits, but this guy -- these guys -- were something different: brisk, no-nonsense, "in-your-face" drill sergeants in insignia-free uniforms and far from slow to say that they had been given charge of some terribly unpromising raw recruits. Soon there'd be much more to worry about than how that wrap-around, buttonless, zipperless cassock stayed put; there was no time for idleness -- or student wisecracks -- in the Latin class of Arthur Walter, S.J.

From the second day until the end of the year, you began by passing forward your homework, in ink with no scratch-outs, never in pencil or without the obligatory heading of name, date, and A.M.D.G. (ad maiorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God). Into the aged briefcase it went, exercises in Latin to English, English to Latin. From the third day on, and without fail, you came to class and found the previous night's work waiting for you face down on the desk every error (down to vowel length marks) corrected in a meticulous hand, and a percentage grade written at the top. He did that every day, for five classes of 35 to 40 students each, for I never learned how many years, in a demonstration of dedication hard to match apart from Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.

There was one escape, however. It was called an "exemption," and you earned one by besting the kids in your row in the sudden oral quizzes that were more like a cross between a gladiatorial show and a police line-up, with Father as Emperor Joe Friday seeking "just the facts" and determined to get them. After he chose a timekeeper from among the (temporary) spectators, the first group of combatants slunk forward, each to be participially probed, declensionally decimated, and generally found wanting -- within 10 seconds:"That they may have been praised," came the pitch."Huh?" And down went Casey at the bat."Was that 'praised'?" stalled another."Sit down," intoned Father, ignoring his timekeeper and briskly throwing his change-up to the next batter. "Bob Feller pitched...the camp.""Ut laudati sint," chirped Chaffee, answering not that question but the previous question out of some time-warp delay, clearly a victim of what today would be diagnosed as post-conjugational stress disorder.

On it went. To be left standing in what everyone knew was a smart row gained one a stature comparable to surviving the Bataan Death March. And the reward? Not a medal, but something even more coveted: the right to skip a single homework assignment of one's choice.

If it sounds mean, if he sounds mean, nothing, not even Casey, could be more wrong. It was just that Father had the seriousness, the weightiness, the dignity prized by the Romans he taught about. Here was someone who, you sensed from the very start, had no time for trivialities, and who wanted you to have no time for them either. Accordingly, his remarkably comprehensive written tests always had exactly 50 questions -- one per minute -- which he somehow always managed to cram onto a single side of one mimeographed sheet. Invariably smudged, the things came out of the machine looking rather like a 50-lobed purple Rohrschach. But they revealed in short order whether you knew the stuff or not. There was (literally) no room for fakery.

Nor for hiding from Roman history and culture, which we learned, somewhat like ancient kids must have done, through stories. Mucius "Lefty" Scaevola, Manlius & the Gauls, and the Horatii & Curiatii all made their appearance in Latin, and before the term was out, became the subject of oral questions and answers in Latin as well. And of course, there was always "Explication de texte meets Groucho":"Anseres clamabant...," read the anthology of stories."

The geese [pause] were shouting," construed the hapless Casey.

At that, Father's white eyebrows arched so high over his rimless spectacles that his usually impassive, even granite, face took on the look of an affronted Colosseum."

Cackled," shouted Father.

"Shouted?" cackled the class.

The overmatched linguist, desperate to change the topic, looked up in mingled exasperation and wonder, and spluttered, "Father, who taught you Latin?"

"Caesar," boomed the reply, uttered with such finality that for a moment we thought the old guy and Julius had been buds.

In that instant, I knew what it was to be initiated into a tradition; not just the classics (which were automatically assumed to include the Vulgate, St. Augustine, Prudentius, and St. Gregory), but into what I can only call the tradition of Christian humanism: It was from Fr. Walter that I learned neither to fear nor to idolize intellect; to take responsibility for my own education; to link self-respect to objective achievement, not to sugary compliment; to respect persons but not necessarily the ideas they hold; to expect to have what one says taken seriously and, as need be, seriously taken apart; to see that human dignity is grounded in the gift of an immortal soul, not the growth of an inflated self, and, above all, to understand that the doing of however humble a task can truly be A.M.D.G. (Emphasis mine.)

Self-esteem panderers might cringe at all this. Let them! A quarter century later, I shudder to think at the whiny, undisciplined, anarchic creature I could have become but for that gruff old priest. Turns out he was as good at construing boys as sentences. Requiescas in pace, Pater et magister.

...and here's how we're going to do it.

We're going to win. We may be down by a score of eleventy bazillion from 1965 to today, but that's, in reality, thoroughly meaningless. The other team* is being lulled into a sense of false security, but by the 4th quarter, the victory will be a blowout. 40 years in the wilderness really is quite enough thankyouverymuch.

Just so's ya know, m'kay, here's our playbook, try and stop us:

In the words of Bl. Miguel A. Pro: "Viva Cristo Rey!"



* This refers not to other Christian faiths, but, rather, the enuretics that have infested the Catholic faith since the end of Vatican II, when a whole lot of things were either hijacked or chucked overboard.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What to do, what to do?

The thing of it is that we're supposed to do what God wants us to do. We do that and we're golden, man!

That part is easy. In fact, it's so easy many people just quit after this point, because the topography gets not-so-horizontal.

The hard part is figuring out what it is that God wants from us. A good clue is to examine* two things:

1- Your gifts


2- Your flaws

The gifts part is pretty easy. This is the stuff people usually tell you you have and that make you go all "aw, shucks" when you realize it's true. (As opposed to flattery...beware flattery. Ask Dante what happens to the flatterers.) Anyway, make a list of your gifts and, afterwards rank them, not according to importance (say, putting "healing the sick" over "makes a banana pudding") but according to your proficiency with that gift. Why? Because, just maybe, the way YOUR gift of healing works is that you're the guy who always has a first aid kit and the way your gift in making a banana pudding is SO BLOODY UNBELIEVABLE that it makes people aware of the majesty that is our Creator and His infinite wisdom in making the banana plant.

It also shows you where you need to be concentrating** more. Which is nice.

So get right on that, will ya?

Seeing as how we move from easy, to less easy, to not-so-easy-now-is-it-?, to Gettin' Kinda Rough we enumerate our flaws. (I could spend all day enumerating my flaws, and even longer typing them out. But I won't bore you. Suffice it to say there is nothing like "simony" or that sorta thing involved.)

When you enumerate your sins, try putting them in the order of how susceptible you are to temptation in that regard. (This, ladies and gentlemen, will help you map out your near-occasions of sin, which is also nice.)

Now that you finally have all THAT--and it will take a while--you have an idea what the place where God wants you to be looks like. That place will be where you can use all of your gifts (after all, God gave them, all of them, to you for a reason) and where your flaws will encounter minimal temptation to come out and play. No, it doesn't give you a map of the place God wants you to inhabit, it gives you the photograph of what the building looks like. And that's as far as you can go on your own, pal.

At this point, you need to pray for guidance. A patron saint to help out wouldn't exactly kill you, either? But the matter you have to remember is Ora Et Labora. Meaning that you have to do your bit too. You can't expect God to ALWAYS drop a little sign on a parachute just for your convenience. Sometimes you have to go, to schlep, to where the sign is. So you schlep, and via this schleppage, you grow so that by the time you get and understand this sign you will be in a position (mentally, spiritually, etc.) to act on it.

The other thing is to have a sense of timing. Sometimes God wants you to, literally, drop everything RIGHT NOW. (For example, St. Matthew 8:22 or St. Luke 9:60) Other times God wants you to be patient. (For instance, Isaiah 40:31) A good rule is that if you are to show celerity (oooh, SAT word...) God will let you know. Otherwise, be patient. Now patient doesn't mean for you to twiddle your thumbs and whistle the theme from "Jeopardy!" because in the meantime God will give you plenty of stuff to do meanwhile. Pray that the stuff God's put on your plate will be stuff you can use to discern what He wants you to do. More often than not, because we're fallible humans trying to figure out the infinitely perfect, we will misread, we will hit dead ends, will have to backtrack, start over, spin, make turns, zig-zag and otherwise stand at the side of the road, scratching our heads and looking mighty confused.

This all goes with what I had blogged before (in fact, I should have inverted these two things, but hey, I'm all about the chronological here). The last thing to do is to cleanse your mind of what you want God's answer to be. It won't go well if we approach God with a request for guidance that has a "hint-hint" (What do you want me to be, Lord? I was thinking Internet zillionaire...for your greater glory, sure.) appended thereto that deep down only appeals to our vanity*** or assume that whatever God wants you to do is something He wants you to do right now.

More on this later.



* An examination of conscience would seem extra handy just about now.
** Your gifts are not hardware, nor software, but firmware. They need to be kept up and exercised and updated.
*** See? Examination of conscience bustin' out all over the place!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

It was a weird thing to realize that God has been talking* to me all along. I'm still in such an awkward phase that I know I am often not interpreting things clearly for much of the time. Oh, sure, there are times when a Scripture reading hits me square between the eyes, but a lot of the time the best I can do is the old "OK, God, I know you're trying to tell Throw me a bone, Lord, because I'm floundering ovah heah."

So this is what I do. It may even work for you...and if it does not, I promise you my next blog entry is free. And you can keep the Ginsu knife with our compliments.

1- Whatever the problem, issue, question, matter or "thing" I try to break it up into as teeny a buncha pieces as I can manage.
2- I then take the first teeny piece and, about it, I ask for a sign, a signal, an answer. Because I'm not that good at this, I ask God in a very Yes-or-No way wherever possible.
3- After that, if I get something that I think is an answer--or at least answer-ish--I ask for God to please clarify. "OK, God, do I have it right that you want me to ___?"
4- After I get something about THAT, I ask God if my understanding of that thing is such I can consider the matter settled and I can move on to something else, i.e., the next teeny piece.
5- I also ask other people to pray for me. So as not to prejudice anything, I'll say something like:
"I think God is trying to tell me something...please pray over this and tell me what, if anything, you get out of that."

If I have been wondering if I should go meet with a client in, say, Dallas and my friend/wife/random stranger says "I had a weird dream that you were in Dallas..." I take that as a Very Likely Divine Hint.

The reason I do this is because my own nature is to be impatient and also to run off and get going without having all the details. I know that when I do God's will I am likeliest to be happiest, and in order to do that I need to have the best understanding possible of His will. That is, I need to know what God is saying, not just what I THINK God is saying.

There. Hope that helps.


* No, not in that "I hear voices" way and not in the Charlton Heston-Ten Commandments way