31 August 2013

Manners, Driver Courtesy, and Consideration for Others

Sub Tuum.

It seems driver courtesy is completely absent from today's roadways. How many among us have almost been run over? How many among us have been cut off by a driver impatiently bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic, only to arrive at the red light a few moments before you? 

The world is suffering from a lack of manners today. Most of us are guilty of breaches of etiquette from time to time, but the problem has exploded into a societal epidemic. This did not happen overnight. It has been slowly getting worse over the last several decades. As the schools, the government, and even now the parents preach a message of pure individualism and entitlement to children, it really is no wonder that few seem to have a sense of courtesy or any sense of consideration towards others. 

On the roadways, where many people drive heavy automobiles capable of causing serious injury to others, it would make sense that courtesy and caution would be the watchwords of drivers. Sadly they are not. Backing out of a parking space, one is likely to encounter drivers who cannot stop and wait, but feel compelled to whip right around you, even at a speed far too fast for a parking lot. Impatient drivers create dangerous situations. Even many police officers do not set a good example for driving. Are we in such a hurry to get "there" that we cannot enjoy being "here?" Is wherever we are driving so incredibly important that it warrants endangering or inconveniencing other people? Or is it merely that we have lost any sense of consideration of others? Other people have become unimportant to us as a society. Our society lives only for the individual and the concerns of the individual. Other people simply do not matter to our society. What a sad world it is when our interactions with others only matter in so far as they benefit us. 

How we drive on the road truly does say a lot about how we value other people. Next time you are tempted to cut someone off on the road, let them pass. Next time you feel you have to rush through a parking lot, slow down and let others get out of their parking spaces. Maybe they have somewhere to be, too. Next time your blood pressure goes up with anxiety at the "slow driver ahead of you who is actually already doing 5 miles per hour over the speed limit," take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the scenery where you are (but still keep your eyes on the road!). The more courteous and considerate you are to other drivers on the road, the more courteous and considerate you are likely to be to other people in other situations. Give it a try!

30 August 2013

Telling the Truth can get you beheaded....

Sub Tuum.

Today we commemorate the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of our Lord. He proclaimed the Truth. 

The Baptist had openly reproached Herod for divorcing his wife and unlawfully taking another one. (It was the Law of God that had been violated.) Herod used his worldly power to silence John, fearful of the influence he had over the people. John was imprisoned. 

One evening, one of Herod's daughters danced so well that he offered to give her whatever she desired. She said that she wanted the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod obliged, and the Baptist was beheaded. Thus ended the earthly life of a man who proclaimed the Truth of God.

It is not such a modern phenomenon that those who proclaim the Gospels might suffer persecution. It is nothing new at all. Are we willing to risk harm for proclaiming our faith? Are we ready for financial, legal, or physical assault that may occur simply for speaking the Holy Truth? John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed because the ruler of the land was afraid of his influence. His head was placed on a platter. Did this silence the truth? No it did not. All Herod could do was to kill the earthly body of the Baptist. He could not kill the soul. He could not stop the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. His entire argument was the blade of a sword, and it was wholly insufficient. 

Remember this the next time you are taunted, harmed, or persecuted for your faith. The world will hate you for proclaiming the love of Christ. Proclaim the love of Christ anyway. 

29 August 2013

The Syrian Situation

Sub Tuum.

The turmoil in Syria is all the talk on the news these days. Some are clamoring for an American invasion of Syria. Some believe the U.S. should avoid getting involved in yet one more regional conflict that is viewed essentially as a local matter. First and foremost, though, should be concern regarding the humanitarian situation. Christian churches are being bombed. There are allegations of chemical weapons having been used. There are many victims of man's inhumanity to man. 

Is American military involvement in Syria really going to save lives and create stability, or will it merely add to the killing and destruction? That is the question that politicians must answer. Before we ask even one soldier to put his boots on the ground in Syria and possibly die, the government must ensure that it is worth the potential cost. This is important anyway, but even more so in the wake of over a decade of military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Political considerations and distractions must have no bearing on the decision. Those who are worried more about their own political careers rather than the lives of those whom they might order into combat are not worthy of the awesome responsibility of having authority over troops. 

24 August 2013

What does "Sub Tuum" mean?

Sub Tuum. 

"What does 'Sub Tuum' mean?" is a question I get asked from time to time. It is no surprise, as I typically write it at the top of pastoral writings and personal letters. The simple answer is that it is the first two words from the oldest extant Marian prayer, Sub Tuum Praesidium. The words of the prayer, in Latin and English, are as follows:

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

Under thy protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our needs, but from all dangers
deliver us always, Virgin Glorious and Blessed.

I place the two words beginning this ancient prayer at the top of pastoral writings and letters as a dedication of whatever I am writing to God under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a more broad sense, it serves as a reminder to seek refuge under the mantle of our Lady that we may more freely and willingly dedicate all that we do to the greater glory of God.

20 August 2013

Marriage: Freedom or Ball-and-Chain?

Sub Tuum.

We have all heard it said that a man's last night of freedom is the night before he marries. Thereafter, it is said, he is permanently shackled to the so-called "ole ball and chain," his wife. Similar thoughts abound that suggest a great lack of freedom in marriage for both men and women. Is this really so? Or is it instead the case that a true marriage brings freedom to both spouses? I believe the latter is the case. 

Marriage in most of the world is in a deplorable state today. It has largely been reduced to a mere social and legal contract. Many are choosing to forego marriage altogether and instead cohabitate or move from partner to partner. This today is sadly perceived as freedom. It is not. 

Consider relationships like gardens. Everyone is allotted a space for a garden. In one scenario, we have no divisions between our land and our neighbor's. At first glance, this appears to be freedom. There is nothing telling us or anyone else what to do with respect to our gardens or anyone else's. If we run out of space to plant in our garden, we simply go and use the land belonging to someone else. If we tire of what is growing in our garden, there is nothing stopping us from going to take what was grown by others. And, likewise, there is nothing stopping others from planting on our land and taking what we have grown. When we leave our land at night to rest, we do not know what we will find in the morning, for there is nothing protecting the sanctity of the soil we have tilled and that which we have planted. Perhaps we awake to find all as we left it. Perhaps we awake to find that others have taken the fruits of our labor. There is no stability is this. There is no security. Ultimately there is no freedom. 

In another scenario, we each jealously build a fence around our garden. This not only keeps others out, but it keeps us in. We are forced by the fences of others to stay out of their gardens. We are forced by our own fence to remain within our own boundaries. Perhaps to some this appears as a lack of freedom. Yet, what we plant, what we tend and nurture, and what we harvest is for our nourishment and enjoyment. We need not worry that our labor will be stolen by others. We need not concern ourselves with taking from the gardens of others, as we are kept out by their fences and kept in by ours. Our minds are freed to tend our own garden. We are free to commit our entire selves, heart, soul, and body, to its success. That is stability. That is security. That is freedom. 

It is obviously the fenced in gardens that represent what it means to have a true marriage. With the indissoluble bond of matrimony, there is a fence that both keeps others out and the two spouses in. They are thus freed to build their own life together. They are free to put whatever they wish into the relationship and receive from it accordingly. 

15 August 2013

Treasuring Our Friends and Family

Sub Tuum.

A Happy and Blessed Ferragosto to all! In my two most recent letters, I wrote of Saint Lawrence proclaiming the poor to be the true treasures of the Church and of detachment from worldly things, using Saint Clare of Assisi as an example. Today on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a good time to continue the theme of detachment from worldly things and treasuring others by discussing treasuring our friends and family. It seems so obvious, does it not? Yet how often do we all neglect those who should be dear to us?

The Venerable Fulton Sheen, in writing about the Assumption of Mary, used the example of a gardener who grew a lily and a rose of great value in a garden. Would that gardener then allow the garden in which these flowers grew to go waste and rot? And who would want to see their childhood home razed to the ground? Thus was the Blessed Virgin Mary, the garden and home that nurtured the Incarnate Word and raised him through his childhood years, spared the return to dust and assumed body and soul into Heaven. This is a living example of the fulfillment of Christ's promise of eternal life. It is a symbol of hope for us all.

Now, consider those in our life who have nurtured us and helped us. The "self-made man" is a myth. We all had help of some sort. We all have people who made a difference in our lives and who continue to make a difference. Our parents, our priests, our teachers, co-workers, friends, family, and others. These people, these fellow human beings, form a garden of sorts that help us to grow and flourish. How often do we remember them? How often instead do we forget them, allowing memories of them go to waste in our minds?

Think now how many injuries and injustices we have suffered at the hands of others and how easy it is to recall those vividly. If we take up the room in our hearts and minds with this hatred to others, then there is no room left to tend the garden of those who have made a positive difference in our lives. On the other hand, you won't have time to hate when you spend your time thinking of those who are dear to you. Pray for them. Do something nice for them. Help them when they need help. Our Lord did not turn His back on the garden that nurtured Him on this earth. Rather, so much did He love her that His Holy Mother was assumed into Heaven kept close to Him. There is the example for us all! Love our Lady as Christ loves her, and let that be our guide for loving those who have helped us grow and humans. Forget not your own garden and leave it not to waste.

13 August 2013

Saint Clare and Detachment from Worldly Things

Sub Tuum.

When last I wrote, it was of Saint Lawrence and the poor, who are the true treasures of the Church, and of detachment from wealth. Today, the Feast of Saint Clare, we are presented with another opportunity to explore this same theme. Perhaps the soft economy in which we live at present makes spiritual detachment from wealth even more relevant as people are physically being separated from their wealth. Even in times of a thriving economy, though, we must be motivated to burn the bridge between money and our hearts so that our soul may belong entirely to God. 

Saint Clare was a noblewoman, the daughter of the Count of Sasso-Rosso. She lived in the family palace in Assisi, home of the great and humble Saint Francis. When she turned 18, she eschewed the financially prosperous marriage that was being arranged for her and succeeded in escaping her family home to give herself completely to God. Even the manner of her escape is significant. She dug her way through a walled-up door in the palace that was only opened to carry out a member of the family who had died. This signified her own death to the world. 

Her father unleashed his fury on her in an attempt to bring her back. Clare clung to the very altar and dared him to try to separate her. As he would not commit such a sacrilege, he confronted her with filial piety. She showed her shaven head, which identified her as a bride of Christ. At this her father finally saw in her the same resolute will that he himself possessed. He admired her courage and accepted the path she had chosen. She lived a remarkable life dedicated to God in the service of the Church and died on the morning of the feast of Saint Lawrence. How fitting that the holy virgin from whom the Poor Clares take their name would died on the same day as that very Saint who declared the poor to be the true treasures of the Church! 

Now, not everyone is called to the cloistered life behind the walls of the monastery. Most of us are called to live out in the world. Therefore, let us choose to use what assets we have responsibly with a mind towards the common good. Let the model of Clare of Assisi be that we die to the world and do not generate income purely for the sake of money. Let the measure of success be what you do for others. 

10 August 2013

The True Treasures of the Church

Sub Tuum.

How do we as Christians comprehend the concept of treasure? How do we overcome the world's view of treasure? Anyone who has been to the Vatican or many of the great churches around the world has discovered a great volume of beautiful art worth a fortune in money. It is easy for the world to claim that these material things are the treasures of the church. It is easy for cynics to accuse the church of being concerned only with such material wealth. Saint Lawrence, though, knew better. He was a Roman deacon in the early Church. As a deacon, he had responsibility for safeguarding and dispensing part of the church's material goods to those in need. After his arrest, he was asked to show his captors the treasures of the Church, no doubt so they could exploit the situation and engage in plunder. Saint Lawrence took them to see the poor people of Rome, whom he proclaimed to be the true treasures of the Church. He was brutally tortured and condemned to die by being slowly roasted. He never renounced his faith. He chose to follow the Cross by taking his own cross.

The world's view of treasure was exemplified by the captor's definition. They defined treasure as material wealth...gold, silver, currency, and valuable goods. They could not comprehend what Lawrence meant when he said that the true treasure of the Church is the poor. They were confronted with the power of the truth of Christ. They did not understand it. Instead, they responded with hate, and Lawrence earned the martyr's crown.

What, then, do we make of the material goods and wealth held in trust by the Church? Those assets are mere tools for the Church militant to carry out her mission here on earth. Money itself is not evil, but the love of money is. Using one's assets for the good of others is a mark of Christian love. To implement this, there must be a detachment from money and material wealth. In a society so secularized and oriented towards money as the end-all goal of existence, it is not easy for people to overcome this attachment. How freeing it is, though, when someone realizes he is a slave to money and profit and chooses to break free from the bondage! The chains of money are strong indeed, but the power of God is far greater. To succeed in this liberation, one need only transfer one's devotion from money to God completely. The more God is in your heart, the less room there is for harmful attachment to other things. Once you succeed in this through a constant process of conversion, you will be freed from your attachment to money. You will see that money is but a tool to be used for the common welfare just as Saint Lawrence dispensed goods to those in need.

The great irony is that those best suited to handle and manage great sums of money are those who are completely detached from money. In today's ultra-capitalist society, very often those who accumulate massive amounts of wealth are far from detached from money. Instead, they accumulate money because that is their goal. They want money for itself and for what it can do for them, not for what it can do for others. That is the trap of money.

Let us look once more at the words of Saint Lawrence that the poor are the true treasure of the Church. Consider your own life. Do you not spend your time and your money on those who are most dear to you? And do we not treasure those people who are dear to us? When we give to those genuinely in need, we are saying that those people are dear to us. We are saying that we treasure them. When we detach ourselves from material wealth and give appropriately of the wealth we possess to others, even those whom we do not personally know, we increase our own faith, we implement the love of Christ in the world, we confront our own shortcomings, and we ignite the Holy Passion in ourselves and in those we help.

09 August 2013

Thank a priest!

Sub Tuum.

This is a day especially dear to priests. It is the feast of Saint John Vianney, patron Saint of parochial clergy. So, it is a good day to remember all that priests have done for you and where your life would be without them. Priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and convey the saving graces of the sacraments to the people. Flowing from that Sacrifice on the altar, priest provide you counsel, visit you in the hospital when you are sick, educate you and your children, help you learn about yourself and grow as a child of God, and so much more. Make a point today to thank a priest and to thank God for giving us priests.

May God bless you all.

+Rutherford CP