Cruises, Consolations, and Holy Indifference

(At last a blog entry! It’s been a long time since my last one! Guess I’d better make this one a little longer.)

It was extremely hot and humid on Thursday for our trip to Vanuatu. We proceeded to a lush area with lots of vegetation and I watched in horror as about ten mosquitoes landed on the calf of the woman in front of me. I quickly brought this to the attention of my mom who wisely brought two insect repellant wipes. She handed me one and we rubbed them all over our open skin and walked away unbitten. Thank you Lord! (We were warned about the Zika virus on several occasions from Holland America.)

Vanuatu is a very small and poor country but the people are very friendly. It was fascinating to watch people climb up the coconut trees to gather coconuts, a staple food for them. My mom and dad visited Christmas Island several years ago for a fishing trip. My mom was telling me how big of a problem diabetes was for the natives because of the massive amounts of coconuts the people eat. One of the most enjoyable things I watched was the process of sand drawing. This is a custom of the native people where they use sand to do storytelling and show the important social connections they have with each other. A native gave us several examples at the National Cultural Museum we visited which was our last stop on the tour. 

Holland America does an excellent job with their cruises. This is my third and longest cruise with them. They have the reputation for drawing an older crowd. One image I might use to help this sink in happened over breakfast this morning. I was eating with my mom and dad and you would normally expect to see people passing a salt or pepper shaker to one another as they enjoy their breakfast. Instead  of these common items, the couple at the table across from us was passing around a large bottle of Benefiber®. We have so much to look forward to as we age🙄.

On Friday we were anchored at Mystery Island and they were using tenders to get to the island. I stayed on board and found a quiet and cool place to continue my excellent book “Elijah in Jerusalem” by Michael O’Brien. Fr. Elijah just reprimanded a bishop and cardinal for compromising his faith and misleading those entrusted to his pastoral care. 

Here is part of the conversation between the two men:

“…When the President’s vision is accepted universally, I trust that you will see that it takes nothing away from our humanity while giving us the manifesto for our common future.” 
     “It would change the world dramatically,” said Elijah.
     The archbishop nodded in affirmation, adding with gentle emphasis, “It will be entirely for the better.”
     Unable to contain himself any longer, Elijah rose to his feet and said, “The darkness he would spread over the world is beyond your fathoming. He is using you. And through him, Satan is using you.”
     The archbishop’s mouth dropped open; his eyes widened with astonishment.
     “You are a shepherd of the flock of the Lord,” Elijah continued, raising the palms of his hand over the man. “On the Day of Judgment you will render an account for every word and deed. I adjure you, leave the camp of the evil one immediately, return to your flock, and strengthen what remains!”
     Jerking his head back, the archbishop gave a small laugh of incredulity. “You are insane,” he muttered. Standing, he pushed back his chair and walked in the direction of a group of guests sharing drinks by the pool, where he began to talk and gesture with vehemence. The other turned and stared after Elijah as he went into the house. Unobtrusively, unnoticed, he left the party. (Elijah in Jerusalem pp.130-131)

I am pretty certain this action is going to cause huge problems for Fr. Elijah as I read on. We see over and over again throughout the course of human history how misguided people who have little respect for God or people easily fall prey to false ideologies and gradually become so blinded they cannot see how their compromises with evil begin justifying behaviour that is completely contradictory with the Christian message which relies on love, dying to self, and respect for God and His creation — all of His creation, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. 

The Enemy works most effectively with little compromises and this process gradually deadens the conscience. In the name of some pragmatic truth and the attempt to restructure society by taking away people’s freedoms and putting themselves in the place of God the evil gets ushered in and people get hurt and killed. How could people in Germany follow and believe the evil tactics of Hitler who promised a better world but first had to get rid of certain people in order to create it? Fear of the future, dreadful economic times, and finding a scapegoat were certainly precursors to Hitler’s horrific plans. There are many sociologists who believe if the stage is set just right, human beings of all cultures and ways of life will always attack and destroy one another.  History sure gives them some convincing evidence of this theory. The example of people like St. Maximilian Kolbe are an encouraging flicker of HOPE that other choices can be made when one’s heart is captivated by Christ.

When people forget that they are going to give an account to God for everything they do the compromises with the Enemy become far easier. A parishioner and friend once shared with me a graphic image of this sinister process. He shared a story about the Eskimo people and how they discovered a way to kill wolves who would come in and kill their sled dogs. They would take a spear and put seal’s blood on it and freeze it. They would make what might be grossly called a “bloodsicle”. Then, they would set it outside the camp. The wolves like seal’s blood and would come and frantically lick the bloodsicles. They so enjoyed the taste of the blood they didn’t notice that their tongues were becoming numb because of the cold of the frozen blood. When they got to the last layer of blood the blade of the spear would cut their tongues and they would bleed to death. The gradual deadening of the nerves in their tongue prevented them from feeling the cuts of the blade. This is how sin works. Gradually the conscience is deadened until choices are made that result in the destruction of the person. But it starts with the smaller compromises which always lead to the bigger ones. The Church is supposed to be a moral compass and guide for humanity helping it to refrain from these false movements which promise so much but deliver the exact opposite. Remember the conversation between Satan and Eve in the garden: 

Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’ ”  But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die!  God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” Genesis 3:1–5 (NABRE)

Unfortunately, death did enter the world and Satan proved to be the “Father of lies.” He is still very active today deceiving people to make compromises with evil and go against the will of God.

Several years ago a parishioner made an appointment with me, indicating that he had a number of “concerns” he wanted to discuss. It was hardly a discussion as he unfolded a two page piece of paper and began rattling off a litany of complaints. I happened to be having one of those rare days where I didn’t react to hardly anything he said. I sat just and listened. As he went on and on and began personally attacking me for a number of my “shortcomings” I saw an incredibly unhappy and angry person. I wondered what his childhood was like and what events led him to where he was today. There was no talk of love, or gratitude for blessings received. I heard no respect people’s freedom to believe differently than he did but just a series of condescending labels about people who were against him. He talked of controlling people and putting politics ahead of a simple and naive faith that had been unsuccessful in making a “better” world. I have never seen the man since that day and he has obviously left St. Brendan parish. It was a most disturbing meeting for me, not because we disagreed or all of the personal attacks, but because he had no idea what Christianity was really all about but thought he did. He was using the Church to promote a very humanistic and political agenda.

Somehow, the conversation between Fr. Elijah and the bishop reminded me of that man and my appointment with him. I remember him referencing one of his granddaughters who was a “devout believer” and how he was working on converting her to see things as he did. I certainly hope he didn’t succeed in that! The simple faith of so many people who are most concerned about their own conversion, and becoming the most loving people the Good Lord intends them to be is precisely what is helping keep the Church afloat. These people aren’t and never will be the majority in the Church or the world. However, an encounter with them is a huge source of encouragement. These are people of the what Jesus refers to as His “little flock”. 

Here is a paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the Holy Spirit and how He is preparing the “little flock” to base their hope on God’s intervention and not the doings of people who try and usher in the Kingdom of God without God: 

The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming. It is this quality of heart, purified and enlightened by the Spirit, which is expressed in the Psalms. In these poor, the Spirit is making ready “a people prepared for the Lord.” #716

Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 189). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) sat down with Peter Seewald shortly before his election to the papacy to answer a number of questions. The question and answer below reminds us that God works in His own ways and that we cannot use worldly standards and must live by faith. 

Seewald: Even so, this Chosen People has had to spend two thousand years of its three-thousand-year history in exile, and even today it has a struggle to make its own state secure. We have to ask ourselves: Why did the Egypt of the Pharaohs become so great and powerful, while the very people with whom God had made his covenant had to face centuries of expulsion, persecution, and suffering—right up to the attempt at absolute extermination in the Holocaust?

Pope Benedict XVI: God’s way of looking at things is different from ours. Being chosen by God does not mean that he will make you great in worldly terms. He does not turn his people into a great power, but he reveals himself in small things and works through them. Political power is not what counts in God’s reckoning, but faith.

A people who were always in danger of being ground down between the great powers of Egypt and Babylon, like corn between millstones, was obviously called to have faith. Thus God creates his own history in something that is far from being a world power. And the lesson we can draw from this for the Church is that she, too, is not important on account of worldly power or influence but simply because she incorporates and represents God’s alternative. Her greatest moments are those when she is suffering persecution and not those times when she has at her disposal great wealth and worldly power.

Through this we can learn for ourselves the system of values as to what is, or is not, important in life. But to try to work out God’s reasons in detail is not our task. He shows us the way, points the direction, and retains his sovereignty.

 Ratzinger, J., & Seewald, P. (2002). God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. (H. Taylor, Trans.) (pp. 146–147). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The simple truth is we are responsible for being obedient and trying to be the best example for others that we can be. The results are up to God. If I were to measure my success in ministry solely on the basis of data and statistics I would be incredibly discouraged. Statistically speaking we are in the middle of a huge crisis of faith.

A few months ago I was watching Joyce Meyer who was giving a powerful teaching on the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel. She pointed out how trusting the three men where when confronted by the bully, King Nebuchadnezzar. Here is their inspiring response to his demand that they bow down and worship an idol: 

King Nebuchadnezzar questioned them: “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up? Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well; if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands? ”Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.” Daniel 3:14–18 (NABRE)

Their response shows that even if the Lord did not intervene they would not compromise. They didn’t care about the results but about being faithful to the Lord’s calling. These were three amazing men and their dedication and loyalty spurred King Nebuchadnezzar to abandon his idols and believe in the God of Israel. The willingness to undergo hardship and not just look for “payouts” is then an essential part of the Christian journey and this is not a very popular teaching. True love of God consists in the willingness to undergo hardship for the cause of the Kingdom. This often means being misunderstood and being labeled as “ineffective” by people who want to use force and manipulation to bring about change. In the end the Christian lives with the hope that God is full of surprises and things are not often as they seem. The Holy Spirit helps us to embrace the difficult teaching below: 

They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22 (NABRE)

Our generation is no different. God works in all circumstances and suffering tests us but we often can see that even in those difficult moments there are lessons to learn. We have to rediscover the message of redemptive suffering in order not to lose hope and keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. I know for myself I have been greatly inspired by the number of lay people I have met over the years who have had tremendous challenges in their lives and yet their hearts remain open to the love of God and they take all of their experiences to Him in prayer and seek strength and understanding. A friend once recently reminded me that periods of desolation can teach us a lot and are valuable. That is very easy to forget.

The Enemy loves to isolate and pounce on us. He loves to lie to us and make us think that God has forgotten us or doesn’t care about all of the things that drag us down. That’s why we need to strive to stand on God’s Word, develop a deeper prayer life, and faithfully attend Sunday Mass. We need to celebrate Jesus’ defeat over sin and death and draw strength from an engaged and welcoming heart where Christ can dwell through the gift of His Body and Blood. I am seeing more and more that the Eucharist is my lifeline. I sometimes feel so close to the Lord during Mass I am reduced to tears. Sadly, sometimes I too am incredibly distracted and forget about St. Augustine’s prayer to “become what you receive.” About nine years ago, during and after our trip to the Holy Land, the Lord began sharing amazing teachings with me about the centrality of the Eucharist. Now, I just need to remember those and put them into practice. This is a daily challenge because the Enemy doesn’t want that kind of intimate connection with the Lord and will do everything in His power to prevent it. 

Another passage from one of Pope Benedict XVI’s writings reminds us of how God works quietly in the world today: 

      If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance? Do we know Jesus at all? Do we understand him? Do we not have to make an effort, today as always, to become acquainted with him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to recommend to us directly that we should worship the devil. He only suggests that we should decide on what is reasonable, choose the advantages of a planned and thoroughly organized world, in which God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev ascribes to the Antichrist a book entitled The Manifest Way to Peace and Welfare in the World, which becomes, so to speak, the new Bible and has the worship of well-being and of rational planning as its actual subject.
     As we have already indicated, the same temptation returns once more in the New Testament after Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus. Jesus accepts Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah, but in order to keep it from being misunderstood along the lines of Barabbas, he immediately begins to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer much, be rejected and killed, and then rise again. Peter, who previously has spoken in the Holy Spirit, speaks again entirely on his own and rebukes Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Mt 16:22). And then he hears the reply: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mt 16:23).
      God’s will opposes man’s will. Ultimately, in this temptation, too, it is a question of prompting the individual to turn away from God. Jesus’ response to the tempter, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him only shall you serve”, recalls the Shema Israel, the central statement of the Old Testament, its essential profession of faith and its fundamental prayer, which therefore has a central place also in the New Testament and in Christian life: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:4–5). In Judaism the recitation of these verses is described as “taking upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of God”. That is exactly what is happening here: Jesus establishes the primacy of God and declares that the world is his kingdom, the kingdom of God. And only where God rules, only where God is acknowledged in the world, is man also held in honor; only there can the world be set right. The primacy of worship is the fundamental prerequisite for the redemption of mankind.
     The power of God works quietly in the world, without raising a hue and cry. Not only the incident of the temptations, but the entire story of Jesus demonstrates this. But it is the real and lasting power. Again and again God’s cause seems to be in a “fight to the death”. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. All the kingdoms of the world that Satan was able to show to the Lord back then have long since vanished. Their glory, their doxa, proved to be illusory. But the glory of Christ, the humble and self-sacrificial glory of his love, has not perished. In the fight against Satan, Christ remained the victor; angels came and ministered to him, says the Evangelist (Mt 4:11). The Holy Year invites us to discover this victory of his, his abiding glory, and to allow ourselves to be led by it in our everyday decisions.

 Ratzinger, J. (2005). On the Way to Jesus Christ. (M. J. Miller, Trans.) (pp. 97–99). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

This entire cruise has been a time for me to rediscover the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord who continues to work in my life mostly in quiet ways. For a long time I thought I was going to be around to see a massive work of the Holy Spirit in bringing souls back to Christ. I totally believe this is going to happen and many people call this grace the “New Pentecost”. I pray for this daily. However, based on a number of things that have happened in the past few years, I am now led to believe that I am going to be part of the preparation for this period and won’t actually see a lot of the fruits of it. This in no way diminishes my responsibility to strive to accomplish the will of God. We have to be most interested in faithfulness and not on what we believe the results will be. St. Francis calls this “holy indifference”. 

Here is a little insight into this important attitude from his book On The Love of God:

In like manner God not unfrequently trains us in holy indifference by inspiring us with lofty designs, to which He does not grant success; and in such case, just as we are bound to carry on the work bravely and heartily so long as we are able, so we are bound to acquiesce patiently in whatever issue God may appoint. Saint Louis was inspired with a design to recover the Holy Land; he was unsuccessful, and submitted to his failure. Surely his calm submission was even grander than his noble plan? Saint Francis went to Egypt to convert the infidel, or die a martyr’s death in pursuit of God’s Will; but that Will was that he should return, having accomplished neither one nor the other. God willed Saint Antony of Padua greatly to desire martyrdom, which He willed not to grant him. Saint Ignatius, after founding his Company, foreseeing the great work it had done and should do for Christ, yet had courage to vow that if it should be dispersed, great as the trial would be to him, he would accept it as God’s Will. Saint John Avila had projected a Company for somewhat similar objects, but finding that he was forestalled by Saint Ignatius, he stopped short at once without hesitation. Thrice blessed are such souls, ready boldly to carry out whatever God inspires, and equally ready to withdraw when He sends a check! There can be no greater proof of a very perfect indifference than readiness to stop short in a good work when that course is plainly indicated as God’s Will. Jonah thought he had good reason to murmur because the prophecy sent by him to Nineveh was not fulfilled. He did God’s bidding, but he consulted his own will as well as God’s; and consequently, when his prophecy was not carried out, he was angry, and complained. If he had had no other thought than God’s Good Pleasure, he would have seen it as gladly in the remission of punishment as in its infliction on Nineveh. We are eager for success in all we do, and forget that God is supreme. If He willed to threaten but not to destroy Nineveh, what right had Jonah to complain?
Francis de Sales. (1888). Of the Love of God. (H. L. S. Lear, Trans.) (pp. 295–296). London: Rivingtons.

I have been specifically reflecting on my upcoming transition out of St. Brendan parish and a very difficult situation that happened in our school last year. I have spoken with my parents about this and have concluded it is time to draft a correspondence to the Archbishop to address what happened. My dad is an excellent writer and has agreed to help me with the letter. For the sake of prudence I don’t want to share any more about this matter with the exception of asking for your prayers. Thank you!

I am so grateful for my own journey, my family, my spiritual friends, my parish, and everything God has done to show that He is a good and loving Father. I am truly blessed and will be entirely ready to be back in the parish after this time of rest and consolation. Like Elijah, challenges lie ahead but let us together remember God is faithful. May we be faithful in return. (And listen to “Good To Me” by Audrey Assad if you get a chance. It is on Youtube and ITunes. I am adding this song and “Lead Kindly Light” to my requested music for my Funeral Mass planning sheet from the Archdiocese.)

Perhaps now would be a good time to re-introduce a very important prophecy from Pope Benedict XVI that I have shared in the past. I believe this prophecy is unfolding. The Church is going through a very difficult time but the trial and very necessary purification that will result are going to lead to a beautiful new springtime for the Church. You and I may not see the dawn of this glorious period, but we can work to prepare souls for it. The most important thing is sticking to our duties and trusting that "all things work according to the purpose of God for those who love him" (Romans 8:28). So when things get tough and we look around and see all of the confusion, lack of interest in following Christ, etc, there is absolutely no need to panic. God’s ways are not our ways and we need to be eager and ready at all times to give an account for the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). There are probably many blessings we fail to recognise in our lives. Gratitude is such a powerful witness to attract people to Christ. 

No matter how difficult things get, we always have Hope. Jesus Christ has found us, loved us to the end, redeemed us by His sacrifice on the Calvary, and sent us the wonderful help of the Holy Spirit. Be of good cheer and remember these important words from God’s Word: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33 (NABRE) 

Here is the prophecy:

     We have arrived, then, at the present day and find ourselves looking toward tomorrow. Today, likewise, the future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: the future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we all are!
     How does all of this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
     Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
     The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
     And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

 Benedict XVI. (2009). Faith and the Future (pp. 113–118). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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