July 17, 2017

Go Ahead and Be a Quitter! But Be a Prudent Quitter

“Don’t be a quitter!”  It’s a phrase frequently used to encourage – or belittle.  It goes along with that silly challenge to “Go outside your comfort zone.”  But I have been a longtime believer in quitting – when it’s appropriate.

We all like to be comfortable and avoid difficulties.  I’m not advocating following a plan of seeking an ever more comfortable life and eschewing challenges of all kinds.  I am, rather, suggesting that this (and all) advice should be evaluated with prudence, self-knowledge, and a grain of salt.  That which is the right course of action for someone else, may not be the right course for you.  It is valuable to learn to make wise decisions regardless of the opinion and choices that others sanction.

Neither am I suggesting that you be contrary and “Go against the flow” as a matter of course.  That might also lead to bad results, depending on the particular flow you happen to be in.  I am suggesting you practice the virtue of Prudence.  Prudence is one of the cardinal – or, pivotal – virtues.  It is “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it,” (CCC 1806).  Obviously, prudence is a really important virtue to develop in order to guide your growth in all the other virtues.  In fact, it is known as “the charioteer of the virtues” (CCC 1806).

I was hoping to give a gamut of examples of times I had quit and been happy, times I had quit and regretted it, and times I had persevered and had become a better person through doing so.  But, honestly, though I know my life is replete with examples of all those, the only ones that come to mind are the times I have quit with great results!  I know following through on a commitment is to be done whenever morally possible.  I’m sure I have grown in that other cardinal virtue of fortitude by practicing stick-to-it-iveness in many, many situations.  I have surely learned my lesson from staying a stupid course just in order to not quit.  But none of these stand out!

What does stand out is one of my favorite and often thought of memories of the freedom of being allowed to quit.  It happened the summer I turned nine.  I attended a summer camp with my sister and two cousins.  This was not the summer “camps” of today, which are essentially week long classes to keep kids out of their parents’ hair for a while.  This was real camp.  This was cabins, sleeping bags, and a mess hall, a lake, arts and crafts with pine cones, camp counselors, woods, campfires, the works!  I remember gathering in the mess hall to sing “camp songs” like “The Cat Came Back.”
The only real and distinct memory I have from this week or two away from home is the first day my group went to the pool.  I was not a strong swimmer and was anxious in pools.  Really anxious.  But, I was also a rule-following goody-goody.  We were told to get into line to go up the ladder of the high dive and jump in.  Frankly, this terrified me.  Here we were, supposedly having fun at camp and I just wanted to go home now!  But, afraid to talk to anyone (I was a very timid and anxious child), I dutifully lined up, climbed the ladder in turn, and plunged to my probable death by drowning.  I had no choice.  It was what was required of us.  To my surprise and disappointment, I did not drown and sputtered my way to the side of the pool to climb out and get in line again.  They had told us to get in line to jump off the board, after all.  As I stood there dripping wet and crying in line, a nice counselor came to me and asked why I was crying.  I admitted that I did not want to jump off the high dive.  Her answer was the voice of angels singing.  She gave me a happiness unanticipated.  Freedom from a life sentence!  “Well, honey, you don’t have to!”  What could be better than this revelation?!  I’ll tell you what could be better.  Not only was I released from the sentence of jumping off the high dive, I was actually offered a choice of what I would do instead!  Not just a choice between the expected options of swimming or sitting it out.  She asked me what I would like to do instead.  Without hesitation, I asked if I could go to arts and crafts.  She escorted me over to that building herself!  I was engulfed by a relief and gratitude that I feel to this day!  (Thank you, kind counselor!)

My thoughts go back to that day whenever I am faced with a situation that I dread, that fills me with anxiety – and then I realize, there is no moral reason why I must remain on this course.  I don’t have to!  This provides a freedom not only to quit, but, sometimes to stay and keep at it.  Sometimes, the best inducement to carry on in a challenging task, is the knowledge that you are free to choose to quit at any time.  But, sometimes, it really is more prudent to actually quit, when noting but “not quitting” is to be gained by persevering in the project.

It is vastly more important to know yourself than to live under the tyranny of a popular catch phrase.  Rather than “Don’t be a quitter” exercise the prudence to know when it will make you happier to quit and when it is a better course to push through to the end.  Instead of stepping “outside your comfort zone” because you were told it’s what you ought to do, be aware of your level of comfort – and your level of anxiety.  Your gut reaction usually gives good advice.  Do accept challenges to grow, but not at the cost of violence to your weaknesses.

Sometimes it really is okay to make silly crafts out of pine comes instead of jumping off the high dive.

July 3, 2017

Humility: The Unachievable Virtue

Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled;
and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Luke 14:11

Humility is a rather slippery virtue.  It's one of the most important to have, but it's impossible to achieve.  Once you set out to become proficient in humility, it has dissolved!  If you strive to grow in it by your actions, the moment you check to see how you're doing, you prove your lack of it!  So, how does one get around this annoying catch 22 to become humble?  Good question.

Part of me wants to shrug and assure you I am not your best consultant on the matter.  On the other hand, I'm probably as good companion as many along this invisible path to a destination that can only be seen using our peripheral vision - if at all.  You know, the blind leading the blind or misery loves company or some such cliche.

Humility is difficult to try to become, but it is not difficult to see what it’s like.  There are ample great works of spirituality and theology describing humility in detail, as well as the oh, so familiar signs of its absence.
One I recently enjoyed is a tiny little book called Humility: Wellspring of Virtue by Dietrich von Hildebrand.  It is actually an excerpt from this great man’s much larger (and therefor, less likely to be read by me), Transformation in Christ.  Besides the ease of size, it’s a fun book to read as von Hildebrand excruciatingly etches out the hair-splittingly fine distinctions between the manifold offenses against the virtue of humility.  

How is this fun?  Well, I like that sort of thing (hair splitting), but it’s also kind of fun to think of people I know of who may exemplify these various breaches in virtue.  Satanic pride: “Ooo, Lucifer!  I know that one!”  Literary and historic examples abound, too.  It’s fun, that is, until you smack right up against a description that implicates yourself.  Ouch.

In this book, Von Hildebrand provides a “survey of the types of pride from the worst and most characteristic” to less harmful forms as an aid to better understand humility.  As he puts it:
 “There exist formally and materially distinct forms of pride.  As humility represents an antithesis to every form of pride, a consideration of the various forms and degrees of pride will help us become aware of the various aspects of humility, each of which expresses a negation of pride in one or another of its manifestations.” (p. 8)

I found this passage describing two forms of self-complacency particularly helpful and amusing:

 “Similarly, the less we may claim a value as representing a merit on our part – in other words, the less we, as free beings, are responsible for its possession – the more stupid it will be on our part to exhibit conceit on its score; and the more harmless from a moral point of view will be the pride of a value which (as is true of moral values) requires out active participation and effort to be realized, the more reprehensible our pride will be.” (p. 65).  

So, if you can choose between being proud of your intellect or your red hair, it is more stupid, but less dangerous to your soul to be proud of your red hair.  This is handy information!

In fact, like perusing St. Teresa of Avila’s mansions, as I read along, wondering if I’m in the second or third room, it slowly dawns on me that I’m pretty much on the door mat, scratching to get in.  These and other works might really help us to realize how lacking we are in humility, but we won’t become humble by reading them.  It is not a situation where we can “fake it till we make it”.

Here's the problem as I see it.  We can practice avoiding pride in its many manifestations and will become better for it.  We can practice those things that a humble person would do and become better for it.  But reducing pride and doing humble things in their place alone does not make one humble, because humility is not simply the absence of pride.  Humility is a thing itself.  It is a thing that only exists in the absence of pride in all its forms.  But it is more than the absence of pride and the presence of certain actions and behaviors.

It’s a good start, and by all means start doing the things a humble person would do, but it's not going to become actual humility until you don't even know you're doing it.  You could say that about many virtues - you practice until they become a strong habit of doing good without thinking about doing them.  With humility, though, it's more than just a habit, like riding a bike or brushing your teeth.  Humility requires self-forgetfulness.

So, how does one forget oneself??

Sometimes you might be so engrossed in a project that you forget you have an appointment or even to do basic things like eating or going to bed.  Has that happened to you?  Well, that’s not the kind of self-forgetfulness that leads to humility.

Von Hildebrand says,
 “true humility has its origin in our right response to God, which implies not only our awareness of the glory and omnipotence of God, and of our own creaturely finiteness, but a total emancipation from our spasm of self-centeredness in the presence of Christ.” (p. 87 - 88)

The self-forgetfulness that signifies humility can only be brought about by an ongoing, personal encounter with the infinitely good God and bears the fruit of trustful love.

A realization of our creatureliness in the face of His omnipotence, but lacking trust, might result in fanaticism (picture here a young Elvis Presley fan, being touched by the superstar and swooning) or in scrupulous fear of receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.  While trust in God without acknowledging our nothingness in juxtaposition to our Creator, could lead to thinking of Him as a dispenser of goodies to us, His deserving children and a complacent reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament as our right.

Avoiding either skewed perception – or some other one, is not going to happen just by learning about humility.  This right relation to God (and, consequently, ourselves and others) can only be cultivated through a relationship with God.  And, a relationship with God requires spending time with Him, opening your heart to receive as well as offer.

Rather than reading about humility to become humble, try reading about Our Lord Jesus, spending time in His presence, speaking and listening to Him, meditating on His passion.  Let yourself fall in love.  Ask Him for those things that will result in the self-forgetfulness that comes from being in Love with the One Whose Love has brought you into being.

I know I can’t achieve humility as a trophy to admire in my trophy case of virtues.  But I can ask God for humility and hope He will take me as an oblivious trophy in His trophy case of saints.  Because, He’s God and can do things as miraculous as that.

June 20, 2017

Four Simple Tools to Help Navigate Your Way From Sin to Sanctity

So, you’ve got a sin problem too?  It’s not uncommon.  In fact, it has plagued every living human since the first living humans.  It’s called Original Sin.  It is part of the human condition.  Darn it.

At first we just had to live with it, while God prepare us for the solution.  Even His favorite humans, the Hebrews, were not very well behaved.  That’s what this Original Sin problem looks like.  Just as two-year-olds given rules push their limits, the Hebrew people did things like make a big golden calf to worship just after the babysitter (Moses) told them God said to worship only Him.  Then when Moses came back and found them worshipping it, and asked, “What are you doing?!??!  I just left the room for 5 seconds?!?!?!  Your Dad just told you not to worship anything but HIM!!!” they shrugged, looking as surprised as Moses, and said “We just threw some gold into the fire and this calf came out!”

Does this sound familiar, parents and babysitters of naughty children?  Well, it should be familiar to all of us because, unless you’re well on your way to sanctity (and if you’re spending your time reading this, that’s unlikely), it’s probably how your soul, like mine, behaves in the face of God’s loving will.

Even after Christ’s Redemptive work opened the gates of heaven and turned on the tap of grace from which we can drink in God’s refreshing Life, it is still hard to stay the course sometimes.  At least we’re in good company, though.  Most saints have suffered difficulties and temptations en route to heaven.

Even when we want to do what God wants, it’s hard to do!  Not because he asks hard things of us – all He asks us is to  love Him – but because we’re just so scatter-hearted.  Like a slightly disoriented navigator, we only need veer from our charted course by one degree to completely miss our target destination!  Between our condition of concupiscence and Satan constantly thrusting alluring distractions and temptations into our path, we’re going to need a safe strategy to prevent our souls from becoming utterly shipwrecked.  

But, our loving Father knows this and has given us sure help.  Not only help, but He has given us many navigational tools that can actually turn our failings to good!  Here are four simple strategies we can use to help steer you back to His course for your life.

Pray a Morning Offering

Set your course by starting your day offering everything in it to God for His purposes.  Super easy.  God so wants to help us do The Good, even our intention made at the start of the day covers us if we forget, in the moment, to offer our prayers, works, joys and sufferings, big and small, to His Redemptive work.  We don’t do this because His work needs a boost from us, but because, parent-like, He wants us to learn to become like Him (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” Mt 5:48).  So all those little difficult moments - suddenly they're a benefit to the Kingdom of God.

Put God on His Throne of Mercy

When you get lost, find your bearings and recalibrate your course.  St. Francis de Sales wrote to one of his spiritual directees, that God’s favorite throne is His throne of Mercy (according to a little book called, How to Profit From One’s Faults by Tissot, which I can’t find now to quote directly.  I love this book, but I thought it was going to help me become rich!).  The only time He gets to sit on it is when we approach him seeking forgiveness and mercy.  If we reflect often on how tenderly He receives us when we seek His mercy, we should not hesitate through shame or embarrassment, but we should run to Him with our sins.

Far from encouraging us to sin more, in order to let Him sit there more often, the thought of His loving forgiveness will help us to love more, sin less.  Because as reassuring and refreshing as received forgiveness is, the prospect of deliberately withholding our love from one Whose being is the source of all love is absurd.  The sins we will no doubt fall into will provide more than ample occasions for God to sit upon His favorite throne.  

Use your habitual sins to become a saint

Surely I’m not alone in repeating the same sins time after time in confession.  There is probably a reason for this, besides that I’m a weak schmuck.  The reason may be that God has given us character strengths and talents that will help us fulfill His mission for us in our lives.  These are like the sails of our vessel.

As we know, in order to hit our destination, our trajectory has to be right on the mark.  Satan knows this too.  So, rather than expending a lot of energy tempting us to turn 180 degrees to commit sins that are completely out of character, he only needs to use our natural strengths and momentum, while distracting us from our course by a degree or two.  If he can get us to set our sails wrong, they will carry us forward, but not to our intended destination.  

The way I figure it, if we look closely at those habitual sins that divert us from our target of sanctity, we can figure out what strength or talent is being distorted.  Then, find a fitting use for your gift that will build up the kingdom of God and put it to work there!

What could be more satisfying than turning Satan’s own devious stumbling blocks into stepping stones to get to heaven?!  And, if we get good at this, maybe he’ll leave us alone for fear of filling heaven through his efforts.

Take that, father of lies (and bad directions)!!  Ha ha!

Keep your Eye on the Star

Lastly, every navigator knows to look to the stars to get their bearing and know the direction to go.  We too can look to the star, Stella Maris - Mary Star of the Sea.  Look to Mary, she exists to point the way to Jesus, our Savior.

Prayer to Mary, Star of the Sea
Hail, O Star of the ocean, God's own Mother blest, ever sinless Virgin, gate of heav'nly rest.  Taking that sweet Ave, which from Gabriel came, peace confirm within us, changing Eve's name.
Break the sinners' fetters, make our blindness day, chase all evils from us, for all blessings pray.  Show thyself a Mother, may the Word divine born for us thine Infant hear our 
prayers through thine.  Virgin all excelling, mildest of the mild, free from guilt preserve us meek and undefiled.  Keep our life all spotless, make our way secure till we find in Jesus, joy for evermore.  Praise to God the Father, honor to the Son, in the Holy Spirit, be the glory one.  Amen.

These four simple navigational tools can make the difference between shipwreck and smooth sailing in our daily spiritual journey.

June 16, 2017

A (Baker's) Dozen Book Series To Read to Kids (or Yourself!)

Who doesn't love a list of books?  I know I do, so I decided to make my own list.  For you!  This list is mostly of books that you’ll enjoy reading to children.  Children may even enjoy hearing them read, too!  In fact, they might enjoy reading them themselves.  It is far from exhaustive, as it only contains those that we have actually read to (or listened to with) our kid between the ages of three and nine.  I haven't included some that are on everybody's list - because they're already on everyone's list.  I had never even heard of some of these until I had kids and sought out good books.  It is my goal to prevent this in the lives of other book lovers!

As I was compiling my list, I realized it was getting way too long!  So, this installment (there will be another!) only contains books that come in a series.  The list is numbered only to thirteen, but gives you over 120 titles!  The great thing about a series is that you don’t have to say goodbye to the characters you have come to know and love when the first book ends.  Another benefit is that you can also appreciate the writers’ skill developing through the subsequent stories. 

A few are, sadly, out of print.  But that’s what the library is for, right?  This ought to keep you reading for a good long time!
    by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Published 1932 – 1943
    8 books

Believe it or not, I was a grown up before I knew Little House on the Prairie was a book before it was a TV show!  That's the kind of childhood I had.  (I was not a voracious reader.)  I began reading these to my three-year-old daughter and we both loved them!  We have since dated historical figures and events by Laura's life (e.g. "That happened when Laura was ten.").  We raced through the books, becoming friends with the Ingalls family and learning so much about the building of our country and it’s westward development.  I was so enraptured by the author and the character of her childhood self that I have since read everything I have found written by her!  My favorite of these is the collection of her columns for the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924, titled, Laura Ingalls Wilder: FarmJournalist.  I mention it for your enjoyment, though it is not officially on my list.

2.  Five for Victory    
     by Hilda Van Stockum    
     Published 1945
     3 books (CanadianSummer ‘48, Friendly Gables ’58)

We first meet with the Mitchell family while their father is away, fighting in the war.  It mostly deals with the children's doings, while the thread running subtly through the story involves the inadvertent acquisition of various pets, contrary to Father's explicit prohibition of their getting a pet while he's away.  There is a tenderness shown toward the inner feelings of the various children that truly brings them to life.  I was not surprised to learn that the author based these stories on her own children.  It is a pleasure to follow them as they move to Canada in the next two volumes.

     also by Hilda Van Stockum
     Published 1938
     3 books (Francie On the Run ‘39, Pegeen ’41)

Three more books by the same author are set in Ireland.  Reading aloud gives you a chance to exercise your best Irish accent!  I was so impressed by the author's ability to draw out the depths of personality of the characters and their history of place.  Her stories are engaging for children, while not just entertaining for adults, but full of texture and depth.  She has written other books as well, but those are still on my "to be read" list.

     by Sydney Taylor
  Published 1951

I came to love this sweet family of five daughters.  The story is told through their little daily moments, big illness, holidays, lived in pre-World War I New York City.  We have only read the first two of the series, so we still have some to look forward to! 

5. The Moffats  

    by Eleanor Estes
    Published 1941
    4 books (The Middle Moffat ’42, Rufas M. ’43, The Moffat Museum ’83)

You'll love this family and enjoy seeing the author's writing about them (based on her family) develop to a beautifully sensitive level.  They are adorable, quirky and pull together to help their widowed mother keep the family going.  Despite their difficult circumstances, there are more moments of happiness than anguish.

6. Ginger Pie, Pinky Pie     
    also by Eleanor Estes
    Published 1951 and 1958)
    2 books

Two more stories by Eleanor Estes, these stories take place in the same town where the Moffats live, but feature a different family.  The Moffats make an appearance, but the books have a very different feel. 

7. Betsy Tacy     
    by Maud Hart Lovelace
    Published 1940 – 1955
    10 books                                                                                                           

Again, I can not believe I had never heard of these marvelous books!  They are set in the early twentieth century.  The first four feature two and then three very little girls and the later ones begin when the girls are in high school.  They really bring to life a time not really that distant, when the town marveled at the first “horseless carriage” to enter the scene.  The author has other books too, so you don’t have to be sad when you finish these lovelies!

8. The Saturdays    
     by Elizabeth Enright
     Published 1941
     4 books (The Four Story Mistake ‘42, And Then There Were Five '44, Spider Web For Two ’51)

These peculiar books follow another peculiar family.  The first book, The Saturdays, details the interesting ways the four children of the Melendy family each spends a Saturday in New York City, when they decide to pool their allowance money each week for the use of just one sibling.  Clever and insightful!

9.  Freddy the Pig Series  
       by Walter R. Brooks
       Published 1927 -1958
       26 books

How is it possible I have never heard anyone mention these books ever before I found one on the shelf in audio book section of the public library??  Why are these not as ubiquitous on reading lists as the Little House books and the Chronicles of Narnia?  These are some of the funniest, cleverest, vocabulary enriching, snappy dialoguing stories I have encountered.  Brooks is like an American P.G. Wodehouse.  The stories concern the Bean Farm's animals who are able to talk (to the great discomfort of Farmer Bean).  They are not your typical personified animal stories, as they are talking animals functioning within the real world, where they gain some notoriety for this ability.  The very first story relates the adventures that hilariously ensue when some of the animals, let by Freddy the Pig, decide to migrate to Florida.  I'm not even sure Mr. Brooks intended them for children, but as there is nothing untoward in them and plenty of good writing and humor, I highly endorse them!  My nine-year-old may be truly addicted to them!

10. The Famous Five   
      By Enid Blyton
      Published 1942 - 1963
      21 books

I was assured that this series was a must read as they have been popular children’s books in the UK since their publication.  We have been greatly disappointed by the Famous Five, but I include them nevertheless, because they have their good points and – there are 21 of them!  The stories are based on four cousins who manage to get into serious adventures every time they get together on their holidays from boarding school. Who is the fifth member of the famous five?  The dog, of course.  They are quite formulaic, the children are unbearable snobs and as soon as they return from boarding school, the parents go off without them!  So, why would I continue reading these miserable books to my nine-year-old?  Because we have come to enjoy laughing at them.  I had no idea there were so very many secret passageways under England!!  It’s good fun to see how arrogant and bad tempered these kids can be and still be portrayed as the heroes of the stories.  It is a great lesson in the class system and what’s wrong with it.  They’re like the boxcar children, but rude.  We’re only on the eighth book (we got tired of them and have taken a break), but it should be interesting to see how the author managed to keep English kids hungering for more for over twenty years!  (However tempting the low cost edition published by Birch Tree Publishing is, avoid it.  It is the worst example of publishing I have ever encountered!)

11. Swallows and Amazons Series   
       By Arthur Ransome
       Published 1930 – 1947
       12 books

Following the adventures of two families of children, the Swallows and Amazons series is everything that The Famous Five are not!  Beautifully written, adventures that could actually take place in the real world England, nice - but natural - children whose parents make a showing and an interest in them.  The twelve books are quite long, but enjoyable from beginning to end.  They usually involve boating adventures, as that is what brought these children together on their school holidays in the Lake District.

12.  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle   
        By Betty MacDonald
        Published 1947, 1949, 1954, 1957, 2007
        5 books

We happened upon the audio book in the library and it quickly became one of my daughter’s favorites!  And it’s handy, too.  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is a lovable lady to whom all the children flock.  Their parents seek her out to help find “cures” for typical childhood behavioral difficulties.  Children love this silliness of these families!  In addition to being wholesomely entertaining, it gives you, the parent, an arsenal of humorous examples to toss out to your kid, to mortify them out of a bad attitude!  I have been known to mention to my daughter on an occasion of disrespect, “You’re being a bit like Mary O’Toole!!!”  Point made, behavior improved!

13.  Redwall  
        By Brian Jacques
        Published 1986 – 2010
        21 books

The Redwall series is a little more mature.  Redwall is a peaceful abbey.  Peaceful until the happy mice are intruded upon by the evil rat and his thugs.  Adventure, prophecy, mystery, battles, virtue, heroes - Redwall is filled with action.

You don’t really need kids to enjoy any of these books.  If you missed any in your childhood, get yourself to the library and get reading!

(If you would rather buy them to keep in your home library and do so through my Amazon Affiliate links, I might gain some financial benefit – though it has yet to be seen)

June 4, 2017

Cultivating the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

I could use a lot more fruit in my life.  I'm not talking about dietary fiber, either.  I'm talking about the fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22 - 23.  Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  And I'm going to need some help to grow these fruits.  Sure, I have some of each naturally, but, like growing a really good garden, my personal fruit generation would benefit from a hefty application of compost and fertilizer.

It’s not hard to love.  It’s just hard to really love.  It’s hard to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me.  It’s hard not to complain at the prospect of suffering – by which I mean inconvenience and not getting my way – in order to put another first.

Joy is really great – when things are going great and good things are happening in our lives.  It sort of springs forth from the good things that happen. I have Christmas decorations proclaiming it!  But really?  I’m supposed to exude joy during rough times?  Ummmmmm.

I want peace.  I want World peace.  Peace and quiet.  Peace, man.  It makes me so mad when there’s war and injustice, incessant demands on my time and concentration, people who just don’t understand how to chill out.

I’m willing to offer up my suffering for the good of another person or my own soul.  No problem!  I do it voluntarily every Lent, right?  I go without some totally unnecessary goodies – sweets, coffee, something.  I got this one.  It’s a snap!  Well, for the first hour or so.  I’m telling you, though, that Thursday following Ash Wednesday’s fast and abstinence I feel so accomplished having gone without, you’d think it was already Easter.  And then the realization sets in that that was only the first day of the six week season.  Yeah, I think I could use a little help with long suffering, too.

Kindness.  Surely I can claim kindness, right?  I would never kick a puppy!  I might say a few critical words about really bad people, but even a kindergarten teacher would fall there, right?  And, okay, maybe it’s not just “really bad” people, but sometimes even I succumb to the “us” and “them” mentality that permeates our society these days.

Goodness.  Okay, no argument here.  The lack of this keeps me going to confession.  Let’s just move along.

Aha!  I’ve got this one, right?  I have faith!  Yes, I do!  I go to church at least weekly, I believe all the stuff – probably better than some people.  Wait, you mean there’s more to faithfulness than just believing it?  I have to be faithful to it – to Him – too?  It’s not just about doubting Him, but two-timing Him with my own selfishness?  Drat!

Gentleness?  I don’t even know how that differs from kindness.  This is getting embarrassing!

Last one – and I think we have hit on the problem: self control.  If I only had some of this, the others would just fall into place domino-like, right?  So, where am I going to get it, because, this is seriously lacking in me.  I’m in good company, though.  Even Saint Paul did what he did not want to do and didn’t do what he wanted to!

These fruits are not to be found in their fullness within me.  Fortunately, I’m not expected to just practice till they’re perfect.  These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  So, having been baptized and confirmed, all I need really do is ask for them in greater abundance and get out of the way!

A little further on, in Galatians 5:25, St. Paul writes, “If we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Some translations render it “let us walk in the Spirit,” but keep in step suggests a dance.  When dancing, the most important skill of the following partner is to follow and not constantly try to lead.  It’s much more enjoyable and beautiful for everyone that way, too.

But I began with a gardening image for these fruits and I’m going to stick with it.  You can dance if you want to.  What I need is some compost to amend the soil of my soul.

Compost makes us think of decomposition – Eww, yuck!  And there’s something to that for my needs.  I need to be broken down a bit.  But it’s not really just about dying and falling apart.  Compost happens because the matter is, in fact being acted on by living things – by insects, bacteria, fungus – to transform something dying into living soil!

The Holy Spirit is the source of life and is Living Love.  I must ask the Holy Spirit to keep working on those areas in me that are just dead matter so that I shall put forth the fruits I was meant to.  And not only will I become more myself, but I can better feed and nourish others as well.  I must ask for the fruits then let the Holy Spirit amend my soul.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.  And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

May 21, 2017

Dear Mr. Disney, I Thought You'd Like To Know

Dear Mr. Disney,

I thought I'd write you a letter on the off chance you did not die in 1966, but really were cryogenically frozen as the rumors said.  It might be nice for you to wake up to a little fan mail to offset the shock of the bill for the freezing.

I hope you are not disturbed by all the changes in the world.  Some things did not turn out quite as you had anticipated in your big, bright, beautiful tomorrow exhibit.  Probably, you'll be delighted by today's telephones.  Not only can you make and receive phone calls, you can take pictures, tell the time, send electronic letters, listen to music, look up any information (like having a set of encyclopedias in your pocket - but not as heavy), and watch many of your own movies - anywhere!!!  They have also become useful in streamlining a trip to the happiest place on earth, your beloved Disneyland!
We owe this all to you, Mr. Disney!  

And that's what I wanted to write to you about.  Things have changed there.  It's still marvelous, of course.  But there are some changes I think you should know about.

It's not just Mickey and the gang any more.  I'm not sure who's behind the changes, but they keep buying into other genres and characters that are not what you typically think of under the Disney banner.  Star Wars and Indiana Jones, for instance.  Good in and of themselves (you should watch those as soon as you get your phone), but it is rather jarring on me to reconcile these vastly different worlds as I navigate my way through your Southern California theme park.

And, for the record, the Indiana Jones ride leaves a lot to be desired.  I loved the original movie, but the second - universally proclaimed to be the lamest of them - features largely in the even-jerkier-than-Mr.-Toad's-Wild-Ride ride.  In our recent visit, my 9-year-old was traumatized by it, leaving me questioning who amongst Disneyland's decision-makers is suffering from an inability to distinguish  "Happiest place on earth" from "Scariest place on earth."  Even I found it to be over the top in grossness for Disneyland (rats, snakes, spiders).  The best moment of the ride was hoping the rope might break as the car passed under a figure of Indiana Jones, suspended above.  That pleasure is probably limited to the adult female guest population, however.

I'd like to also draw your attention to Toon Town.  They shoved that in at the top of the map, and it is a handy place to find Mickey and Minnie to get pictures taken with them.  It's kind of cute, kind of weird - as cartoons can be.  But, most of us are not going to give a full explanation of how it came to be a feature of Disneyland to our young'ns.  I'll just direct you to the film, Roger Rabbit.  Maybe it would be best if you just watch it yourself and see if your own eyes don't spring out of your head, while you shout "Va Va Va VOOOM!!" at the appearance of Jessica Rabbit.  I am not at all surprised they chose not to let her character walk around the park signing autographs.  You'd have to have a special license for that, probably.

Mickey hugging my tiny friend.  He hasn't aged a bit, has he?

Most of the good old attractions are still there, though they are removing Bear Country and replacing it with, I forget what.  That can't be helped, I suppose.  People these days don't know who the bears are any more.  And, animated figures have come so far these days.  You're going to love what they can do!

A day in your amusement park is still a load of fun.  And I love that at Disneyland, in California, one can enjoy it in a day.  Many people go for several days in a row - or even buy an annual pass!  That is surely a good deal for those who are close enough to go often, because you will not believe what they charge to get in now!  When I was a kid, you still had the ticket books.  You'll be tickled to know that people often use the phrase, "E ticket attraction" to refer to something highly desirable!  It was sometime in the '80s that they moved to a single ticket that gets you into all the rides.  You're probably smacking your forehead now, saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"

My daughter and I are smiling upon admission to Disneyland despite no longer having any  money.

While I was there, I thought of a great new attraction you might wish to add.  Considering your advanced age of 115, you might feel the fatigue some of us do halfway through a day at the park.  Sure, you've had a half century to rest, but still, you might get tired there; it's a big place, as you know.  Especially if you're in the company of children you are responsible for.  It would work well in Frontier Land.  I call it "Siesta Village."  Picture a Mission style courtyard, surrounded by arched, cloistered porches on all sides - deeply shaded, vibrant with hanging, flowering plants.  It is furnished with rocking chairs, hammocks, bench swings and chaise lounges.  Envision a fountain bubbling in the center of the peaceful courtyard.  There should be restrooms, cold drink service - even, perhaps, masseurs on hand.  Of course, these will be called Mouseseurs and wear big, white gloves.  What do you think?  Isn't it brilliant???  Parents will flock there after lunch!

Overall, Disneyland has still got it.  It is amazing how clean it stays and how good the service is.  And the technology they have developed!  This is no  Mickey Mouse operation!  Oh, wait.  Nevermind.  Scratch that.  Mickey and the gang are still going strong and they'll be delighted to see you!  I'm sure they've wished upon a star more than once and your return will be a dream come true.

It still delights!

Thank you for so many great memories, Mr. Disney.  Now, go enjoy that happy small world you created!

Warmest regards,