Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why Me, God?

When troubles, heartache and bad things happen to us, we often ask, “Why me God?” or “Why is God punishing me?” These are very tough questions to ask and the answer to them is even harder for us to accept and bear.
The past month has certainly been a difficult and trying one for me, for Phil, and the Church. The range of emotions that I, personally, have experienced over the past month has, at times, been very troubling to me; especially the feelings of anger, resentment, doubt and despair. There have been others, but these have really been the most disconcerting. I have sat here wondering what the past sixteen years of my priesthood and the past nine years of my episcopate have meant, if anything.
Thursday, September 19th, was a particularly difficult day for me as it was the ninth anniversary of my episcopal consecration and it was also one of my scheduled court appearances. As I sat in court waiting for my turn to appear with my attorney before the judge, I could not help but ask myself the question that has plagued me since this all started over a month ago" "Why me God?" The anger and resentment run deep and I struggle every day to rid myself of these and the other feelings which attack and plague me, but then something happens every time I am in that courtroom.
Every time I stand before the judge, I am confronted with the sight of the steeple of my Cathedral with the Cross sitting on its peak. It is clearly visible from where I stand in the courtroom and it is on that Cross that my gaze is fixed the entire time I stand at the podium. All of a sudden, a peaceful calm comes over me and I know that what is happening to me is happening for a reason, that this tribulation is the Cross I am to bear for love of my Lord and His Church. In human terms, I am afraid and scared, but who wouldn't be in my situation?  But on another level, I know God loves me and that even in my utter weakness and sinfulness, He would never abandon me.
I have always believed things happen for a reason and everything that happens figures in God's plan of salvation and redemption, it's just hard to swallow when bad things happen to you personally, especially when one strives to do things that are pleasing to God and meant to glorify Him. So when bad things happen to me or something goes wrong I ask, like every fallen mortal, "Why me, God?"
While God loves us with a limitless love that defies human understanding, He is still capable of afflicting us with hardships. It may not seem logical that a God who is  pure Love can discipline or afflict the ones He loves, but the reality is, He does. God afflicts us or disciplines us because His love for us is so intense and immense and he wants the best for us.  Like every loving parent, He wants us to be the best we can be in every way. If He sees us doing something we shouldn’t, if He sees us straying from the righteous path, the path of virtue and holiness, then He is going to do something to correct our behavior and nudge us back in the right direction.
When God afflicts or disciplines us, He does so with a purpose. He wants us to step back and look at how we are behaving or living and see that we may not necessarily be making the choices that are right for us, choices that may be putting distance between us and Him. By afflicting us, God hopes to open our ears to His word, to His instruction. In affliction, God hopes to teach us something about ourselves, to reveal something we overlooked or even refused to see that may not be quite right, something that makes us less than what He intends us to be or destroys the image in which He created us.
Many times we are often deceived by our own sinfulness, especially the sins of pride, arrogance, and ambition. We can even be deceived by our inexperience or immaturity. On many occasions, we believe we have the answers to everything and know what’s always best for us. Unfortunately, this is not true. We don’t necessarily have all the answers. We don’t always know what is best or even good for us.
David the Psalmist wrote: “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there are any hurtful ways in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24). David knew very well that there could be things in his life, in his way of living that could be harmful to him and his relationship with God and others. Understanding this, David turned to God for help and assistance to identify and correct what was lacking or deficient in him so that he could continue in the way of righteousness.
God sends us affliction, or allows us to be afflicted to show us ourselves. In affliction we can learn a great deal about ourselves and about where we are in our relationship with God and others. In times of affliction and hardship, we are able to see ourselves, to see what is weak and lacking in ourselves. In affliction and hardship, we are able to make necessary changes in our way of behavior and living that will make our lives better and make us better persons. God always uses affliction as a tool of instruction to teach us the ways of God.
All of us, no matter what our station in life is, experience affliction and hardship at one time or another. Even “good” people, people who strive to live lives of righteousness, experience hardship, trials and tribulations in their lives. And not just once in a while. Righteous people are tested, some even severely, and they experience difficulties many, many times during the course of their life. How we react to that affliction, to the hardships we experience, is another question. Do those tribulations and hardships drive us further away from God and our faith? Or do they bring us closer to Him, strengthening our bond with Him and strengthening our faith in Him? Do the troubles and trials we encounter in our life produce the fruit of righteousness and holiness or do they cultivate a harvest of anger and resentment in our hearts and minds that becomes like a cancer that eventually destroys us?
Afflictions and troubles in life are never fun, but they do have their rewards. Those rewards include greater knowledge and understanding of self; opportunities to change, making us better persons; and of having a closer and more intimate relationship with God.
Whether the trials and afflictions we experience are brought about by our own sinfulness, or because the world we live in is fallen and broken, or because they were sent to us by God directly, they are ultimately for our own good. God uses our afflictions and troubles as tools to instruct and teach us and to bring us into a more intimate communion with Him.
St. Peter warned us not to be surprised or disheartened by the trials and tribulations we experience in our life, telling us that God will always work them out for good. (1 Peter 4:12) God knows what’s best for us and we need to trust Him. We may not like what is happening to us and we may be tempted to despair, we may even fall into despair because of our afflictions, but God is with us. We must never forget that God is with us and walking by our side in the person of Jesus Christ.
During those times in our life when things seem the darkest and we feel we can’t go on, we need to know that Christ has lifted us up and is carrying us in His loving arms. Jesus is always walking the journey with us. Even in times of inexplicable pain and hardship he is with us, comforting us, encouraging us, guiding us, and advising us.
Even if you feel that you are living a righteous, holy and good life to the best of your ability, you should know that God will send you afflictions none the less. He will do so because He loves us too much to leave us where we are spiritually. We can always be better than what we are today. We should never be content to be mediocre in our spirituality but ever strive to perfect it in Christ so that it is always vibrant and fresh, exciting and transfiguring.

God can afflict also as a means of purification. We may be walking the righteous road but there are things in our life that must be purified. We may be given over to affliction so that our relationship with God becomes purer and stronger. Like gold in the furnace, God tries us and tests us, that the gold of our heart may be pure and solid, and that our souls may radiate with the glory of His righteousness; that our lives may become acceptable offerings in His sight, like fragrant incense.
When we are given over to afflictions, we should look at them as tests of our faith and devotion to Christ, as means of purification, as vessels which pour a Christ-like spirit into us, and as tools which equip us and strengthen us spiritually and which help us grow in wisdom, understanding and the knowledge of God.
Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual hurt, pain, suffering, disappointment, and sorrow are inevitable while we are here on this earth, but we can always choose how we respond to them. We can blame others; we can turn to drugs, alcohol and sex to escape from our troubles and afflictions; we can turn to Satan to provide us with false happiness; and we can despair and say there is no hope of anything good coming from this life. Or, we can respond by saying God is in control and will take care of everything according to His will and divine plan. God will see us through. He has sent us His only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who remains with us even unto the end of the age to be our Savior and Redeemer, our Help and Protection. Let us look to Him to get us through the difficulties of this life.
Thank you God for this present tribulation in my life; may it be for me a means of growth, purification and drawing closer to You and Your divine Son. Glory to You, O Lord, for all things!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Power of Hate

Every day I check out to see what the latest news is from the Vatican and to read the synopses of His Holiness, Pope Francis’ daily homilies. Today, His Holiness talked about people who speak ill of their neighbor. He calls such people hypocrites because they lack the courage to see their own shortcomings and failures.
In his homily, the Pope focused on gossiping and how it has a “criminal” side to it because when we gossip or speak ill of our neighbor, we imitate Caine’s homicidal gesture. Wow! This is a really strong and vivid analogy which is very unsettling, to say the least. Yet, when you think about it, what the Pope says is very true. Every time we gossip about someone, every time we say something bad about someone, especially when we don’t have the facts to back it up, we assassinate someone’s character which can ultimately destroy someone’s life and reputation.
Gossip is evil. It is borne out of things like hatred and envy. As the Holy Father says, “He who has hatred in his heart is a murderer.” These are not the Pope’s words though. Pope Francis was quoting from the First Letter of St. John in which the Apostle writes: “Anyone who has hatred in his heart for his brother is a murderer, he walks in darkness and does not have eternal life within him.” (1 John 3:15-16)
The Pope goes on to quote St. James the Apostle, who said “The tongue is to be used to praise God, but when we use the tongue to speak ill of our brother or sister, we are using it to kill God, to destroy the image of God in our brother or sister about whom we speak ill.”
Sadly, it is much easier to hate and to gossip than it is to be kind and work things out, especially in times of difficulty. When we are hurt or have been aggrieved by someone, especially someone we have loved or trusted, it is a lot easier to hold our anger and be resentful than it is to let go and move on. When someone has done something wrong to us, what do we do? We complain about them to others, we talk badly about them. We may even make things up about them that are not even true in an effort to justify our own feelings of hurt and anger. Gossip and rumor mongering do nothing but create more evil from evil. If we cannot say something nice about someone then we should not say anything at all. If someone has wronged us, there are ways to address the situation but those ways should never rest on a foundation of hatred or resentment.
Pope Francis used the Apostle Paul as an example of how we should handle difficult and even contentious people. The Pope recounted how St. Paul had been a sinner and that he said of himself, “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man. But I have been mercifully treated.” The Pope went on to say, “Perhaps none of us are a blasphemer – perhaps. But if we ever gossip we are certainly persecutors and violent.”
Gossiping is certainly an act of violence. It is no different than physically attacking someone with your fists. Gossiping can do irreparable harm and damage to an individual and not just emotionally. It can hurt people professionally, psychologically, spiritually and economically. Gossiping can literally destroy lives, especially when its motivation is hate.
A person who hates has sold his soul to the devil. A person who bears hate in his or her heart is soulless and has destroyed the very image of God in which they were created. For these people we should pray earnestly and intently that the Holy Spirit may once again enter into them, transfigure them and renew them, making them once again children of the light.
It is very possible for people to willingly align themselves with Satan in order to get what they want. It’s not only a possibility but a reality. People look to Satan every day to provide them what they seek because they know he will do it immediately. Satan is more than willing to step in and provide us with immediate gratification and satisfaction and the fulfillment of our every worldly desire and want. But there is a price to be paid for what Satan has to offer.
Ozzy Osbourne wrote a song called ‘Lord of This World.’ In the song, Osbourne has Satan asking those who seek him out to provide for their needs and wants the following question:
‘You made me master of the world where you exist. The soul I took from you was not even missed. You turn to me in all your worldly greed and pride, but will you turn to me when it’s your turn to die?’
Most of us, when we approach death, start looking more to God. But that is not the only time when we should look to the Savior and Redeemer of all to help us. We must look to God at all times and keep ourselves away from Satan, away from his temptations and false promises.
Gossip is one of Satan’s temptations. It is one of the tools he uses to trap us and draw us closer to him. Gossip is the language of Satan. It is foul and rooted in evil. Satan laughs and rejoices when we do things like gossip because he knows that we simply cannot resist the temptation to revel in another’s misfortune or weakness. It is so easy to say bad things about another person, to point out their faults and misdeeds, and not look at our own shortcomings and failings.
The closer we get to Satan, the more enticed by sin we become and the more comfortable we become with it as a lifestyle. The more we give in to sin, the more power Satan gains over us. The more power Satan has over us, the harder it becomes to break free from his control. We become slaves to Satan and his rule of darkness. As Satan tightens his grip on his victims, he continues and intensifies his evil work until he has destroyed their personalities and ruined everything that could have meant life and happiness for them. They, in turn, eventually become his agents of evil, sowing seeds of discord, hate, intolerance, indifference, injustice and oppression everywhere they go and especially among people of good will.
God gave us all a free will and we can use it to do good or evil, to follow Him or to follow Satan. The choice is clearly ours. God does not interfere with our choices. But He provided us with a way, in the person of His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to make the right choices. Jesus Christ, and He alone, has the power to deliver us from the evil that is within each of us which, sooner or later, will be our ruin. He took our sin upon Himself and died for us on the Cross to set us free from all that binds us and from the consequence of sin, which is death. Satan has no power over us except that which we freely give Him. If we look to God and not Satan, then Satan’s power will diminish over this world and it will become a place of light, peace, justice and goodness. It is either the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light. You have to decide which kingdom you want to live in and who you want to serve.
We must treat people mercifully, even those who have wronged us, no matter how difficult it may be. We must rise above the temptation to hate and seek vengeance. If we do not treat those who wronged us with mercy, how can we expect God to be merciful to us in our great sinfulness? How can we hope for goodness anywhere in the world or in our own community when we look everyday to Satan instead of God?
God expects so much more of us but we seem content to just maintain the status quo. As I said, it is easier to hate and hold a grudge than it is to love, forgive and be merciful. Such behavior only empowers Satan even more and makes him stronger. How can this be good for humanity?