At the balloon festival, I saw a small child wander away from her family. She was adventuresome and having a great time. Suddenly, she looked around and saw only strangers. The joy in her face turned to fear, then to panic. She screamed and started to cry. Her mother was there in a few seconds. It seems that she wandered away from mom, but mom did not get far away from her. The lesson was learned. This little girl should not get too far away. She needs mom. She is dependent.
We all admit our dependence upon God, but in our world, when and how do we experience that dependence. And nothing is real, until it happens to you. So, it seems to me that I live in a world where everyone believes that they depend upon God, and few people find that fact very real in their lives. Nothing is real until it happens. We have become prosperous enough to hold off all the unpleasant realities and thereby avoid the experience of our dependence upon God. We depend on our income, our insurance plan, our health care system, our retirement preparations. We depend on ourselves. Disaster can strike, and does, but not too often and hopefully, not to us.
So how do we experience our dependence? When was the last time you had such an experience? It is not a frequent happening in our world. How can we bring this about? We really do not want to look for a way to get an exotic disease, so as to experience our dependence. Can we find a way in our world to experience who we are, to know who we are, and to know truly who God it? Then, we would know what our relationship is. We would know that it is not a relationship between equals.
I think ambitious prayer can give us that experience of who we are and who God is. I say ambitious prayer because we must be trying to achieve something precious, something only God can give. Intimacy with God is that precious something. We cannot earn this or work for it. It is God’s gift. We depend upon Him to give.
If we only want the minimum from life, we may make it alone. If we are ambitious, we will need to depend upon God. We need this experience. It is either get deep into prayer, or get lost at the balloon festival.
Fr. James O'Leary
As I get older, I realize that to be happy, one must learn to let go of so much. Letting go is a very special talent on the road to happiness. This is another way of saying that we must adapt. They say that the raccoon is one of the most adaptable animals around. If he lives in the woods, and they build a sub-division in his woods, he simply finds a way to live in the subdivision. He does not say, “But I liked the woods.” He lets go and adapts.
Years ago, I began to recognize how much letting go I had to do. It was my personal home work. I found that I put a lot of energy and anxiety into things that were entirely beyond my control like things the Pope said or Bishops said or the President or politicians said. Attitudes of friends or parishioners caused problems. I realized that I did not have to care about those things or at least give them a lot of my energy.
So, I began to make a list of things I really did not care about. It was a healthy exercise in letting go. I eventually stopped when the list got as long as my arm. This exercise was simply an effort to prioritize issues. I do not want to fight every battle that comes along. I only want battles about issues of my concern. And my concern is smaller that it used to be. I let go.
If a raccoon can adapt, why can’t O’Leary.
The happiest people do not have everything the best. They make the best of everything. They adapt.
Fr. James O'Leary
I had a good start in school. My home prepared me for the rigors of kindergarten and first grade. I never had to go through “remedial” anything. I never had to play “catch up” in school. I knew a class mate who was not so lucky. He entered our class in college and he could not read! I saw him as hopeless. We were struggling to learn Latin and Greek, and he could not read English. Both our seminary professors were wise. They saw something in him. They encouraged him to stick it out. Remedial reading was all he did his first year. In one year, he caught up enough to finish college. I stood in awe of him.
But we would like to think we do not need remedial anything, especially in our spirituality. We are baptized, we start fresh. No catching up to do. But it is not so. We all start from behind in spirituality. Call it original sin, call it inherent selfishness. We all have it. We are sinners. No one starts clean with God. We have some making up to do. And therefore we need to learn certain words. The words “I am sorry” leap into mind. The words “I will try again” follow quickly.
We cannot approach God on equal terms or think we can bargain with God on equal terms. As far as I know, every spirituality known to man includes some expression like “I am sorry.” Because of who we are, we are into remedial spirituality. Before we can get too far into the journey into God, we have to acknowledge honestly who we are. And that acknowledgement has to be a continuing process. Otherwise, we go nowhere.
We do not go far into God without honesty. We simply stand still. Honesty makes us look at ourselves and see what is there. So welcome to Remedial Spirituality 101. There is no graduation day.
Fr. James O'Leary
In the 12th century, God gave his people a spiritual giant named Bernard. Officially, he was St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux, France. Also God started on another giant. Francis was born in 1181 in the Village of Assisi. Let us look at Bernard for a moment.
Bernard was spiritually ambitious for himself and for everyone. He thought that God wanted far more from all of us than the 10 Commandments. He thought that God wanted all of us to be intimate with Himself. He thought that we should always be reaching beyond ourselves for God. But then, we would discover something. It is impossible. We cannot touch God no matter how much we try. He can touch us, but we are powerless. So then we must simply place ourselves in His hands and wait on His good graces.
Bernard knew that God was intimacy within us. He will give us the gift, but only if we are anxious, if we are ambitious, if we are reaching. So, we should constantly be reaching beyond ourselves, because this enables God to give us what He wants us to have.
The whole process does not make us proud. We are not doing it. We are trying and failing. God gets the job done. Intimacy is His gift to us. The process reminds us of who we are: children dependent upon a Father. In our spirituality, we do not achieve; God achieves. We simply get out of his way.
When God is going to do something wonderful, He begins with a difficulty. When He is going to do something very wonderful, He begins with an impossibility.
Fr. James O’Leary
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Dr. Albert Schweitzer
In making the above statement, Albert Schweitzer was in full agreement with Francis of Assisi. Francis conceded that one might have to use words to preach, but it would certainly be a last resort. The Alcoholics Anonymous organization proceeds in the same way. AA is not for those who need it; it is for those who want it. No one in AA strong arms another into joining. Admittedly, judges do that. AA people simply say, “If you want what we have, we can show you how to get there.” AA’s public relations policy is one of attraction, not promotion. They grow by example.
All churches should follow this principle. What if each one of us made ourselves responsible for our example in our church. Suppose we put to ourselves the standard, and the question, “Would any sane person watching me say to themselves, ‘I want what he has got?’” If we went by that standard, I would bet there would be more joy in our church. After all, you are really not going to attract many people if you walk through life looking like you are sucking on a pickle.
We had a professor in the seminary who was widely reported to be deeply spiritual. He was in Chapel all the time. But he was very rigid, he had a terrible temper usually under tight control, and the last time he smiled was the day World War II ended. And he was a model for us. I would think, “How could anyone want to be like this joyless man?” Happily, among our professors, he was an exception. I would gladly be like the rest of them. I am like some of them.
May you look at your children and be comfortable proclaiming, “If you want what I have, I can show you the way.”
Fr. James O'Leary