I take my son to his CAP (Civil Air Patrol) meetings once a week. It is quite a drive and for a 6:30pm meeting, we leave somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00pm, often driving through fast food something-or-other on our way. We leave so early because there is always significant traffic and if you add weather into the mix, it can often take 2 hours to go about 30 miles. It gives me time to think, because my son is inevitably watching a movie on the car’s DVD player!!!
At CAP, there are a great group of people who support it and the leadership is incredible. They are very welcoming and I often find myself sitting with the officers, chatting through most of the meetings. Last night, however, I chose to sit in my car for the 3-hour meeting, reading my Lenten book by Elder Thaddeus, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” The first portion of the book is biographical, and explains how he came to be a monk, Abbot, confidant, Spiritual Father, and guide. He lived his life in Serbia, born in 1914, and suffered through imprisonment during WWII, the communist take-over of Serbia, the NATO bombings in 1999, and at last, falling asleep in the Lord in April of 2003. I was taken aback by his continued positive outlook on life, his continual battle with his own spirituality, his longing for peace, and his desire to help everyone, in spite of all his misgivings and personal desires.
As I delved further into the book, it transformed into a treatise on his thoughts and teachings on several subjects. They are profoundly thought-provoking and struck me very deeply. And it led me to re-think the post I wrote yesterday. I received some wonderful comments and some exciting ping-backs, and many views. However, in relating to those who are my friends and family, and who worship completely differently from me, I feel that I was rather harsh in my description of other services and settings (as in big-box church, etc.). The adjectives I chose were ones I had read, some of which appeared in the article by an Evangelical, who was upset with his own legacy and the fact that so many are leaving the Churches. But to be fair, Catholics are loosing many children, too. It seems like we support our youth through High School and then there is a huge gap until they return for the sacraments like marriage, holy orders, or baptism for their own children. I have often heard priests say to parents, whose children have left the Church, “Oh, don’t worry; they have a strong basis of faith; they’ll be back when they want their children baptized.” As a parent, that is not very comforting. And as I have personally experienced this, not exactly a mark in the positive column for the Church.
And even though I seemed harsh, even to myself, I do want to seek forgiveness from anyone I offended with what I said. Words, written and without one-on-one communication, can have devastating effects on people. And once printed and published, cannot be taken back. So if I have offended or hurt anyone, please know it was never my intention to do so. This blog is almost like a travel journal; a very personal one. I have gone back through all my posts and deleted 11 or so of them, because after I re-read them, I realized I was angry and lashing out at people, or railing away at the “system.” And none of that is life-giving or productive. Elder Thaddeus said, “One should preach not from one’s rational mind but rather from the heart. Only that which is from the heart can touch another heart. One must never attack or oppose anyone. If he who preaches must tell people to keep away from a certain kind of evil, he must do so meekly and humbly, with fear of God.” And he goes on to say, “Pride, too, has its levels, just like humility. Outward pride is easier to cure, but pride of the mind is almost impossible to eradicate. No one can prove to such a person that he is on the wrong track. But outward pride is curable, because one can go from riches to rags in the twinkling of an eye and become humble, whether he wants to or not.” And, “A proud person is never satisfied; everything bothers him, and he follows his own will. We must be obedient to the Will of God in order to learn humility and meekness while we are still in this life, while there is still time. A heart that is full of love thinks not of itself, but of others. It prays for all living things and the whole world.”
Elder Thaddeus must have been reading over my shoulder as I typed, and again was pricking at my conscience as I mulled over his words. I cannot judge another form of worship as being less than how I choose to approach God. At least those who worship differently are worshiping! It would be worse if they were outside, with no faith life at all. As long as they are on their journey towards God, He will influence their lives for their betterment. As for me, I humbly submit that I am more or less chronicling my personal journey. And from my perspective of having worshiped God in many different ways, under many different roofs, as it were, I have come to a place where I feel my faith is authentic and being brought to its basics. My desire for this blog is but to share my journey with others. And perhaps by doing so, help someone in their struggle to find their authentic worship, their experience of the presence of God.
Apologies made, and forgiveness sought, I must also defend myself. I often feel attacked because I have chosen a more “orthodox” approach to my faith. People cannot see past the accoutrements of my form of worship; they cannot get past the “institutionalization” of the Church – that whole “big machinery” feeling of Catholicism – to even try to stand in my shoes. And it does get tiring; it does get overwhelming. I think that perspective is everything. If you cannot see things from where I am standing, then we have lost a major route of communication. Where I stand and what I feel is authentic to my walk with God; it is happening, and has happened, to just me. I appreciate divergence in thought: I welcome good discussion of views and historical significance of events. I think if you read what I write and if you know me personally, you know how much I value history. And my faith comes from an historical perspective. I love the tradition, both with a big “T” and with a small “t,” that has been handed down to me. I love that Scripture was put together in one volume, the Bible, by the Catholic Church and given to the world. I love all the small “t” traditions I have come to know, like eating certain foods on just one day a year, a particular meal that is always eaten on a certain feast day – and has been for a thousand years or more. I love being able to stand on the shoulders of men and women of faith, who held strongly to what they believed and have kept it intact for more than a thousand years. That is just who I am.
As Elder Thaddeus tells me: “…it is easy to sin against our neighbor. And when we sin against our neighbor, we are actually sinning against God, because God is everywhere. He dwells in the souls of each and every one of us. Our relationship towards our fellow men defines our relationship towards God.” And if I have hurt anyone, I am truly sorry because causing pain or anger was certainly never my intention. I only want to share my journey, from my perspective – a soul struggling on its wayward path towards perfection in Heaven with Our Lord and God.
Sometimes it feels as though we stand alone, facing the great abyss of life and ponder all those questions everyone ponders at one time or another – “Where am I going?” “What is life for?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I supposed to be going?” And now that I am older, I am asking some of these same questions, and I am feeling more of the urgency in discovering God’s answers for me. I feel closest to God, to His Word, and His Presence, when I stand in front of a wall of Holy Icons, light a wonderfully aromatic beeswax candle, and pray. And I do not mean to slight anyone else’s experience of God, or His workings in their lives, I just wish to add my perspective to the mix.
My prayers on this Ash Wednesday (for my Roman or Latin Rite friends and family), for a Bless-ed Lent to all my fellow Christians, for us all to experience the love of God more fully and more intensely. Let us look together, towards Easter morning, and the Son who rises, to give us Eternal Life.