Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Practicing Humility

O Father, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance,
Admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice,
Accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize,
To sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy,
And to think of people at their best rather than at their worst.
 - William Barclay


My wife Karen and I are part of a ministry called Teams Of Our Lady, or TOOLS for short.  TOOLS is described on their website as "an international lay movement in the Catholic Church, designed to enrich marriage spirituality and make good marriages better. Teams provide a proven method of increasing and improving prayer life, which will help couples grow closer to God and each other.  At the same time, their family will reap the benefits as well."  It has been a true blessing in our marriage.

One of the things we are asked to do in TOOLS is develop and try to live out a 'Rule of Life' - a private, individual endeavor focused on moving one from the person they are to the person they want to be.  My Rule of Life for the past couple of years has been to grow in Humility (it feels kinda strange to write this, cause I'm not sure that revealing this is a very humble action - but I feel the Spirit moving me in this direction, so I'm following)

I have found Humility to be a difficult target to hit.  How does one grow in Humility?  Well, my mind goes to the question of how did I become adept and grow at any of the skills that I have honed in my life?  The answer to that is simple - by learning and then building proficiency in what I have learned through practice.  Growth is slow at first, but as experience and practice increases, real skill is developed.

So, learning - there are many sources of information on humility, but I have found the Saints and how they chose to live their lives as some of the best schools providing instruction on what it means to be humble.  And from my studies of various Saints, I think the prayer above does an extraordinarily good job of embodying their hearts when it comes to living out humility. 

But of course, I am no Saint - and therein lies the rub...

So how do I grow in Humility?  Maybe by recalling often the prayer above, and practicing the actions called out in it - realizing my ignorance (ouch), admitting my mistakes (oooh), recognizing my need (yuck), accepting rebuke (noooo).  Basically, by experiencing humiliation - and isn't that a word we all want to embrace!

 The key is to not be overwhelmed by that word.  I would venture to say that if you look, you can find small, almost imperceptible ways to manifest humility in your everyday life.  Let these small actions be your first practice field, where your initial exposure to humility can grow to habitual practice.  Once this seed is planted and has sprouted, God will lead you to ways to grow and mature that sapling.

Below I provide a few ideas that may help you feel a little humility.  Some may speak to your sense of humility, some may not.  My prayer is that you will find a few actions you can take daily to light or re-ignite the humble attitude we all need to be the children of the Almighty God.

 - If you enjoy a well manicured lawn, let your grass grow for a few weeks without mowing

 - Say a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal in a crowded restaurant with your buddies.  Extra points if you say your prayer out loud

 - If you enjoy a well put together outfit, wear mismatched clothes to work one day

 - When you run across a person driving slowly, get behind them and do not pass

 - The next time your spouse says something trivial that you know is wrong, do not correct them

 - Put a religious article on your desk at work, or hang your favorite prayer on the wall of your office/cubical

 - The next time you know you have hurt your spouses feelings, admit your part of the situation and ask for forgiveness


I'd love to hear your ideas on small things that can help build humility - please share them in the comments!



Thursday, May 10, 2018

Your Will Be Done

March 18th, 10:05am. I’m sitting in a chair, overlooking the river on the final day of a silent retreat at the White House in the southern part of town. I get a text, “Hey can you talk.” I reply that I’m on retreat and that I’d call in a few hours. The reply, “Something’s come up.” I decide to step outside for a walk and call my friend. “What’s going on?” “I went to the hospital last night with intense chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack. Good news is, no heart attack. Bad news is, they found a tumor the size of my fist in my chest.” “Wait, what?” “They think I have cancer.”

Mark has been like a little brother to me for the past 15 years. During the hardest crossroads of my life, he was the one who showed me that living out your faith was more about joy and abundance, than denial and hardship. We’ve travelled to more cities, and met with more people than I can count. I look back at so many adventures I’ve had, trying to build this business, and my life, and he’s been there through it all.

All I can think about is what my life would be like without him. How could I take care of his family - make sure his wife and kids were provided for? I usually am the one who has all the answers. I can sense that he is looking to me again to explain that everything will be fine, and that we will get through this, whatever it is. But I don’t feel that way. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I can’t muster the strength to provide hope that I don’t know is real.

Moments like this only happen a few times in your life. There are significant memories like a birth of a child, or a first kiss that you will never forget, but moments where you feel a real panic and fear that overwhelms you, are rare. Your breath starts to quicken, you begin to sweat, and your mind begins to race with all of the horrible possibilities in front of you. This raw state is where God can do his best work in us. When you are stripped of your pride, your plans, your defenses. When you are driven to your knees, you have nowhere to look but up.

Somewhere in that moment, I realize the true source of my fear. I am not in control. I do not have the answers. Regardless of all my plans, my resources, and my skills, I can’t keep “tumors” from showing up in my life, or the ones that I love. It’s here that I have to realize that the only way out of this anguish, is not by fighting against it, but by being obedient to it. My life is not my own. As a pilgrim, journeying though this world, my home is somewhere else. Knowing and believing that helps me not lose perspective when the blow of tragic news strikes.

I can feel the peace settle over me. I trust things will be ok. Maybe they won’t be what I want, or what I envisioned, but it will be ok. And it’s not up to me to have all the answers. I just need to sit with my friend and go through this with him. I had a dream of us teaching our grandkids to fish and camp, or going on some bucket list adventure when we are gray and wrinkled. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t. My prayer is for healing. Not just for what's in my friend's chest, but for what's in mine.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The Highest Leaf


“I said to the almond tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed.” Greco

As Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him with this request: “Sir, my serving boy is at home in bed paralyzed, suffering painfully.”  Why didn’t he request a private audience with Jesus to accentuate his status among the public and other Roman militia?   He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”  “Sir,” the centurion said in reply, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof.  Just give an order and my boy will get better.  I am a man under authority myself and I have troops assigned to me.  If I give one man the order, ‘Dismissed,’ off he goes….  Why would the centurion place himself under the authority of a man beneath his social rank?  Why would he blindly trust Jesus to heal? Why didn’t Jesus embellish himself in stature before his followers to enhance his position?  Jesus showed amazement on hearing this and remarked to his followers, “I assure you, I have never found this much faith in Israel….”  To the centurion, Jesus said, “Go home.  It shall be done because you trusted.”  That very moment the boy got better.  (Matthew 8:5-10,13) Why didn’t the centurion or others for that matter ask for proof that Jesus was good to his word to heal?  How significant was this event that the centurion did not ask for more? 

The request we share before the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” directs me to seek the faith of the centurion.  Often, I revisit a father, his son, and a tree.
Years ago, to celebrate our anniversary, I surprised my wife with a hot-air balloon ride.  With the sun just peeking over the horizon, we met our pilot at our launch site.  We discovered two additional balloons would launch and follow the same jet stream during this rather calm morning.  Like that of an enormous sleeping bag, we unrolled our soon-to-be airborne vessel.  We unfolded it for inflation.  Adjacent to our balloon, a high school teen knelt while his dad draped the balloon fabric over his knee.  I watched the boy cup the colors in his palms and massage his cheeks in the silks.  It became apparent to me; the boy was blind.  His father escorted him along the unfurled edge, not to step on the exposed cloth. 
I did not ask, though curious, as to why a blind individual might desire a balloon ride.  Little time passed before inflated rainbows rose above recently harvested fields.  The father assisted his son into the basket as their pilot delivered instructions on where to stand to avoid the burners.  More than a hundred fifty feet in the air and rising, we entered a slow-moving air stream flowing over the calm below.  Oaks, elms, sycamores, and hickories blanketed the Missouri landscape occasionally opening to small developments below.  Keeping us aloft, blow torches interrupted an unexpected silence. 
As if reading my mind, our pilot shared the mission challenging the pilot guiding the adjacent balloon carrying the blind teen and his father.  “As we head out over the forests, their pilot will seek the tallest tree in our flight path.  He’ll gradually lower his balloon so that the boy may pick the highest leaf from the tallest tree.” Among us all, one could not mistake the tallest tree!  Thriving upon a ridgeline in the distance, broad outstretched branches, white mottled with gray and brown peeling bark, an American sycamore towered above oaks and hickories. 
We learned the teen lost his sight to a disease, having had sight as a child.  Why would the father take his son on a hot air balloon ride?  Why would the son ask for such an experience?  Even though they traveled on a balloon, why would the son trust his father?  The father could deceive his son and take him to the most convenient tree to pick the most convenient leaf rather than the tallest leaf from the tallest tree especially given the fact; the balloon pilot actually has very limited control of where he can navigate.  Did the son know what he was asking?  And if so, why would he request a nearly impossible task?  Did the father appreciate the challenge he’d given to the pilot? I watched with elevated interest, not to rush the event, to take it all in.   
Despite my attempts to suspend time, the moment arrived.  Beginning far from the ridge, the pilot allowed gases to cool such that the balloon descended much lower than the treetops.  As they slowly approached, the pilot strategically directed the blow torches.  The basket ascended gradually in silence. The pilot intently made gentle alignments with the sycamore.  Silence.  The father embraced his son from behind.  He nestled his chin into his son’s neck.  The balloon drifted splitting a high fork.  Branches scraped the basket.  As if straining water over a boat’s edge, the son stretched, extending his fingers into an ocean of leaves. “Now!” the father commanded.  His son wrapped his fingers around a leaf picking it from the sycamore.  
“I have it!” Sheer joy proclaimed.  Elated, the teen waved the highest leaf and pressed it to his cheek.  His father wrapped his arms around his son.
Our pilot recorded 140 feet.  I roughly estimated a water column’s pressure to that height to be nearly twice the pressure in a typical car tire.  In wonder, I marveled how the tree supplied water to the cells at the extreme tip of that leaf?       
Perhaps the balloon ride was the son’s gift to his father; to pause and glimpse the Kingdom’s vast beauty in creation.  Perhaps the father trusted his vision in God through the pilot and nature so that he might fulfill his son’s request.  Maybe the son already knew what I discovered; the miracle of supporting life to the highest leaf.  The son trusted his father to take him to infinity to grasp it.
Their pilot and I gazed back upon the sycamore.  We knew we’d traveled through sacred space!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Distraction


It’s Friday and I’m sitting to write this blog post.  Most weeks, I have everything ready to post by Monday or Tuesday.  Sometimes something strikes me worthy of passing along and I am inspired to write days, or even weeks before the blog will come out.  This time it didn’t happen.  Was I busy?  Overly scheduled?  Procrastinating?  Distracted?

A few days ago I started a post after inspiration hit me while getting ready for work.  I had the local morning news on and heard them teasing an upcoming segment about kids being in too many activities.  I didn’t think anything of it, and continued to look for my belt that I swear I just put on the bed.  The news anchor went on about how they had a family expert in the studio who discovered that spouses should actually take priority in a marriage, and most people put too much focus on their kids’ activities.  Ok, THAT got my attention.  Not because it was an amazing discovery, but because they were actually reporting it as something new and profound.  How was that statement news?

Just then I saw one of the miniature ninjas who lives with us, my wife calls them children, walking down the hall dragging a stuffed animal by a thick leather leash.  I rescued the stuffed dog that had been bouncing against the walls and loosened the leash/belt from around its neck.  The little ninja looked up at me with big eyes and simply declared “I was taking my puppy for a walk.”  I don’t understand how kids can sneak around quietly right under my nose one morning, but on Saturday at 6am they transform into a herd of elephants.  Oh well.  With my pants now appropriately secured around my waist, I hugged my wife, kissed her goodbye, and headed out the door to drop off our high-schooler on the way to work.  Unfortunately when I was chasing my belt, I had missed the segment where the expert was going to tell me why my wife is more important to my marriage than my kids.

Even without expert input, that day I felt God had laid out the topic of my blog for me.  I assumed it was about recognizing marriage as being between the husband and wife.  Kids often enter the lives of a married couple and demand time, energy, and resources, but they aren’t actually one of the participants in the sacramental bond of holy matrimony.  Unfortunately, my attempt to write on the importance of focusing on your spouse ended up being a long rant about overemphasis on kids’ sports.  Since I had a busy day scheduled, I had to move on.

Yesterday I took the day off to help chaperone our middle-schooler on a field trip to the Cardinals’ game.  The first half of the day was actually spent at Busch stadium learning about weather, meteorology, and watching some science experiments.  While we waited for children from other schools to finish filing in, the organizers threw some beach balls into the crowd to keep the kids occupied.  Next, they started launching t-shirts into the crowd.  The kids seemed appropriately distracted and most of them even kept their phones put away.  It was actually the chief meteorologist running the event who stopped a dozen times to take selfies of himself on the field with various Cardinals players and Fredbird.  Later on during the game, which was a pitcher’s duel during the early innings, many phones made their appearance.  I won’t comment on the kids I was with, because they were admittedly pretty good.  But all around us, children AND adults of all ages, took to social media and captured countless selfies.  One group of girls must have taken 200 pictures with various areas of the field and stadium in the background.  I suppose that could make for good memories later on about their trip to the game, but I had to wonder if they actually even realized where they were, or if they knew the score of the game going on in the background of their pics.

Last night I went to another baseball game, but this one was for my 5 year old.  The first game of the season, and the first game ever for most of these boys, marked a monumental occasion.  Between the two teams, there were probably 24 boys playing.  The stands for this micro-field were packed with nearly 100 moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and grandparents.  I don’t fault anyone for coming to watch the boys play.  They certainly were cute out there, and for most families it was obvious this was their first child playing the sport…most likely their first grandchild as well.  I sat next to another dad who had multiple older kids.  We were each there alone, and the only individuals without extended family to support us in our cheering.  We passed time by discussing whether any of the boys had any grasp on what was, or what should have been, going on in the field of play around them.  Since everyone scored and points didn’t matter, we came up with our own ideas for determining victory.  Whichever team had the most boys paying attention was the winner.  At one point, the other team only had 1 boy watching the batter, while others sat down, looked into the outfield, or played in the dirt.  Two different boys on the opposing team were sitting down, looking into the outfield, AND playing in the dirt all at the same time…trifecta!  I call that a solid victory for our side.

So what is the point of this post?  I’m not really sure.  I lost focus a third of the way through, then regained it, and then lost it again at various points midway.  Life is like that.  Our experience at mass can be like that.  Our faith can be like that.  Most of what I mentioned above is completely neutral and innocent.  However, do we have the ability to recognize it when it isn’t?  I’m a big fan of “THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS” by C.S. Lewis.  I don’t often read, because books are long and movies are a lot quicker and easier, but that book is honestly a fairly quick and easy read.  One partial plot overview could describe the book as demons tempting us through simple sins and distractions that guide us along a slow, gradual path to hell, so that we lose focus on the true goal of heaven.

I need to look at the distractions in my life and determine if they are good, bad, or neutral.  More importantly, I need to look at my true goals and priorities and make sure everything is ordered correctly.  Have the simple distractions in my life made me slowly lose sight of my direction?  Is God first?  If so, and heaven is truly my focus, then my relationship with my wife should easily fall into place.  If that relationship is sound, and appropriately prioritized, then the rest of my family would be next.  If my kids and the rest of my family are good, then excelling at work should be a fair and positive goal.  What if one of my kids is struggling, should I drop work and hobbies to focus on them?  What then, if work suffers, and my employment falls into jeopardy?  Won’t that harm my ability to care for my family?  Will finances stress my marriage?

These questions are just a few I have to ask myself when approaching different situations.  They may or may not be relevant to you, and they may or may not even be able to be answered.  But do you know what questions you do need to be asking yourself?  Do you know what direction you’re facing?  Do you know how your priorities rank in your life?  Generally at work, in sports, and throughout many other aspects of our life, we have concrete ways of knowing how we are performing, how we rank, or how successful we are.  This can aid in keeping us focused.  When is the last time you gave yourself a SPIRITUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW?  How did you do?  Did you make an action list of items for improvement?  Did you seek mentoring from someone who may be able to help guide you?  Perhaps you’re too busy for something like that.  The simple act of doing an examination of conscience and going to reconciliation takes care of almost all of this.  Perhaps you can convince yourself that it can be done later.  I know it is easy for me to talk myself into putting off my spiritual growth.

Luckily God is loving and forgiving.  Jesus tells us how much rejoicing there is in heaven when one sinner returns.  No matter how much distraction we face, either from simple meaningless things, or serious life-altering occasions, we need to figure out how to stay focused on the goal of heaven.  More accurately, we need to figure out how to always come back and RE-focus after each distraction.  Reconciliation, time spent in discussion with my wife, and keeping a good group of friends around me are my Actionable Items for this Spiritual Performance Review.  And also keeping a few extra pre-written blogs handy, so you won’t have to read about my kid’s little league game the next time I’m distracted.

-Matt Buehrig

  
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Mercy of God

By Fred Vilbig

It is important to note that God is all about mercy. Early in his encounters with Moses, God reveals Himself as merciful.[1] God is described as being rich in mercy[2] and merciful to all.[3] Jesus told us that God desires mercy more than sacrifice.[4] And Peter tells us that God wants everyone to be saved and for none to perish.[5]

One of Jesus’ most memorable parables is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After the son wasted all of his premature inheritance, when he returned to the father, the father cannot restrain his joy.[6] We are told there is vast joy in Heaven over the repentance of each sinner.[7] As the Catechism points out, the entire Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.[8]

One of the early Church Fathers, Origen (†254), once said, “He ‘prays without ceasing’ who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider realizable the principle of praying without ceasing.”[9] In more recent times, Pope St. John Paul II wrote that,

“Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called "to practice mercy" towards others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." [Matt. 5:7.] The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy.” [10]

We have to live our faith. As I mentioned, God is all about mercy! And we should be too.

--------------------------------------------------------
  1    Ex. 34:5-6.
  2    Eph. 2:4.
  3    Wis. 11:23.
  4    Matt. 9:13, 12:7; Hos. 6:6; Mark 2:17; cf 1 Tim 1:15.
  5    2 Pet. 3:9.
  6    Luke 15:11-24.
  7    Luke 15:7.
  8    CCC 1846.
  9    Quoted at CCC ¶2745.
  10    Dives in Misericordia, ¶14


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