We often hear, “I gave him the shirt off my back, and I get nothing from him in return”.
But in reality, if I give a gift and expect a return for it, it is not a gift; it is a trade. So, we cannot dignify this giving as a gift if we expect something back. Jesus recommended that we give or lend without concern for return.
This is no easy task to achieve. We do not want to be taken advantage of. We must be careful about who we lend or give to. We cannot be a door mat for anyone. It is bad for us and bad for them. If we give to people, it must be because we really want to. I believe that I should not say “yes” to anyone unless I really desire the yes. Then, if I do not get a return, I can and will live with it. I am not guided by “shoulds” that others put on me.
I should do this; a priest should do that. I cannot let the “shoulds” control me. If I am disappointed, it leads to anger and resentments. I do not need more anger.
So, I need to figure out whether I am giving a gift or making a trade. My attitude will tell me which. If I have expectations, it is not a gift. It is a gift if I want to give without strings. Then I can be at peace no matter what comes.
To live this way, I must be prepared to say “no!” If I cannot say yes gracefully, I should say no. A no is better than anger against the person to who I am giving. So, is this a gift or a trade? Do I really want to give it?
Fr. James O'Leary
Someone who was depressed recently told me that her whole life was a long mess. There had been nothing good in it; no redeeming moments. That is how depression works. Happily, I had known this person for years, and so I was able to check off many of her gifts and blessings. One by one, she conceded them all. Life is rich; we only have to look honestly.
I think life is so much richer than most of us realize. But we must “Dig down deep.” That is, by the way, the name of a song. If we do not get beyond the superficial things in life, the headlines in the paper, we will never get to the rich part. People enrich us if we really listen and get to know them. There is enough in any person to change our whole outlook if we could hear it. People enrich us, present and past. Shakespeare enriches us, William Butler Yeats, Mozart, they all make their contribution. Children, with their openness and honesty, can enrich us beyond belief. I think children show us who we really are if we listen.
When we reach for or touch the depth of God inside us, then we realize how rich life can be. The process is called prayer. It takes no talent, no superintelligence, no training. It takes willingness. It enriches us.
A story: An Italian family took a boat to the U.S. about 1910. They knew nothing of such travels. They packed food for the journey, mostly apples, and ham sandwiches. After four days at sea, the young son came to his father and said that there was a room upstairs with real food. He had to have some. The father said, “We have no money to spare.” The son begged. The father gave him a dime to see what he could do with it. The son returned with the dime and said, “It’s all free. It’s part of the ticket.” The father said, “We have been starving when there is a feast upstairs?!”
Life is rich. God our Father has set a feast. Yet so many people are going through life on apples and ham sandwiches. Wake up. On the menu, tonight is a gourmet’s delight. We can feast. We do not need to settle for survival.
- Fr. James O'Leary
We rejoice in the “Good News” of Jesus Christ, that we are freed from sin. But, in all honesty, we would like more. We would like to be free of all pain, whatever upsets our lives. We would like to be free of sin and all the effects of sin. We would like to be returned to the status of the Garden of Eden. Happy dreaming!
Some of the tele-evangelists of the past have proclaimed this message. They believed Jesus saved us from sin, from sickness, from poverty. They proclaimed that a true believer would not get sick. All this in the face of 100% mortality of all believers. Their advice: Do not ask God for a Cadillac; tell him what color you want! Christ died to make us all rich. Happy dreaming!
Christ promises his followers nothing but His cross.
Feelings are a part of life. Painful feelings are a part of life. They are not sinful; they are not virtuous. They are just real. They are good or bad, depending on what we do with them.
I think painful emotions can be a gift from God. They indicate that God sees a problem in us that needs to be faced. Bad feelings like fear, resentment, anger, are like a high temperature. They let us know that something is wrong inside.
Painful emotion is they way that God gets our attention. In the face of emotional pain, we cannot just moan and groan. We must look inside. God is trying to tell us something.
Painful emotions are not a punishment. If we use them right, they can be a gift, - like everything in life.
Fr. James O’Leary
“If salt were to lose its savor, how can you restore its taste.”
In these words from the Sermon on the Mount, we see Christ outlining our problem today in proclaiming the message of Christ. We have heard it all before, so-ooo many times. It is all stale; it has lost its savor. So, I think, that is the problem. What is the solution? How do we restore its flavor?
I can suggest two ways to make the Word of God mean something to us today, to give it taste in a world gone flat. For one, we could clear our minds and listen to God’s Word as if for the first time. Could I pretend that I have never heard this before. If that were true, how would the first hearing effect me? I might be astonished, I might be comforted, I would certainly be impressed with the love of God. I think that I can get in that “for the first time” state of mind. I would have to cut out all the other voices that have described the love of God as conditional on my actions. This might be a great experiment, to cut thru the static and hear only the pure unadulterated voice of Jesus.
Secondly, we could hear the Words of Scripture as a personal message. Jesus is not giving a message to the whole human race. He is speaking only to me. He is speaking of His love for me. He is speaking of His hopes for me. When it is personal, I always listen. It is never stale.
Fr. James O'Leary
I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. Sorrow and suffering, pain are outside the door. I am in the house, and I have the key.
- Charles Tumaris
I recently came across the above statement and I like it. It seems to me that so much of our anxiety in life is a vague thing concerned with our future. Will I be all right, many bad things could happen, what would I do? As I am in old age now, or at least on the threshold, these concerns multiply more than ever. And I am not so sure that I agree with the above statement, that all the bad things are outside and that I have the power to keep them there.
For that one needs more than a door and a key. Old age leads to death. And no one dies of good health. The bad things will get in the house. At that point, I need to believe in more than my fortress house. I need to believe in God; I need to believe in me.
I have incredible internal resources. I have seen these work again and again. Recently I lost a friend. He took his own life. I was sad, mad, disappointed, hurt, all the things that go with such a death. He had been faced with a difficult future, a future of huge personal changes and of not inconsiderable pain. As I look back to our talks, I can see now that he knew he did not have the internal strength to make it and, by comparison, I knew that I would have the resources to go on. He came from a terrible background and I did not. I had gifts that he simply did not have. I hope I am not excusing suicide.
We are told that God never gives us more than we can handle. I always think that whoever says that has never visited a Nazi death camp during World War II. I think, sometimes God gets pretty close to that line. But that is for God to judge. Nazi death camps and my friend are not typical.
We cannot sell ourselves short. We have resources from our family background and from a loving Father in heaven. If we cannot keep all the bad outside the house, we can let the bad things in and we can handle them; we being me, we being you and God
- Fr. James O'Leary
Grieving properly means that we do not let hurts have permanent power over us.
We misunderstand the process of grief. We speak about grief as if it were an occasional thing that pops up in our lives. When it does, then we must deal with it. Like a death. Actually, grieving is far more important and far more constant.
We are always grieving, because we are always suffering losses. The losses are not always unwanted. We move to a new city and a new job. We love the change. We are happy. But we have still suffered a loss. We have left friends behind. Or perhaps there was a cherry tree in our old back yard, and we miss it. Losses come in all shapes and sizes. They are always with us.
When we lose, we tend to get mad, maybe a little mad, maybe real mad. Look around you. We see angry people all around us. We have rage everywhere. The real victims of this anger are the angry people themselves. They are the ones in turmoil. If we are the angry ones, then we are in turmoil. We have no peace.
We must become good at grieving. It is the only way we cut our losses. Grieving is the way we let go of hurts and losses and move on in peace. We cannot let a hurt of the past ruin our peace of mind in the present.
- Fr. James O'Leary
Death has got a bad name. I am not talking about the process of death. If that has a bad rap, it is well earned. But death itself, that moment of crossing into eternity, is looked upon with dread. And why? We really do not know what it is like. Maybe we should be looking forward to it with longing.
I have been reading a book called “Final Gifts.” It was written by several Hospice nurses. It is a collection of their experiences with death, both the process of and the moment of. Their experience is abundant. They give a whole new understanding of death. They tend to take away fear. I think the book is a must for anyone seriously ill or a caretaker of a person who is.
It was not so long ago when denial was about the only recourse when faced with death. Death was always spoken of in the second or third person. You are going to die, he is going to die, never I am going to die. As an old man, the philosopher Saroyan said, “I have always known everyone dies, but I always thought they would make an exception in my case.” These nurses point out that death does not have to be denied. It is a part of life, a rich part. It does have its difficulties, but so does every part of life. Remember your first day in school? That was no walk in the park.
A very rich person is visited by friends and family who express their love as they never have before. Pain can be controlled. It may take some effort, but it can be done. The dying person knows that he is waiting for God. He is getting closer. At the moment of death, He is there, in the room. We who are present stand in awe. We will never get closer to God on earth than at that moment.
We do not need to deny death. Death is a part of life. And all of life is rich, even the last part.
- Fr. James O'Leary
I had a professor in the seminary, a priest who was a bit narrow. If he was mentioning anyone who had a good idea, he would add that the person was Catholic. Apparently a good idea from a Catholic was much better than the same good idea from a Methodist. This was pointed out to my professor. One of his students pointed out to him that Thomas Edison was a Protestant. But the electric light bulb would have been just the same had he been Catholic. The professor blew his stack.
Wisdom is like gold; it is where you find it. We cannot be picky about the sources of our gifts. Which gets me to John Calvin. Surprise! He was one of the principal reformers of Protestantism. I think he was less Catholic than all the others. His ideas of the pre-determination of souls makes me very nervous. However, he had another idea that, I think, was a real gift. He said that in our striving for God, our first awareness is not of a loving God, but of our own sinfulness. In other words, we really become aware of a loving God when we become aware of how much we need Him.
I do not know if this fits everyone, but it sure fits me. I always believed in God, but I became a real believer on the day when I could not see how I could make it through until sunset unless God did something. My being out of control and powerless led me to the God who has all power.
It is like a baby. Does a baby need his mother or love his mother? Well, both. They go together. But which is greater, his love or his need? My need for God is greater than any baby’s need for his mother. My love for God and my need for God is all mixed up.
And so, John Calvin, I thank you for this piece of wisdom. It is okay to need God before you love Him. That is only recognizing the fact of our creature-hood. Our needs lead us to love. It’s true you were not Catholic but I do appreciate your spiritual wisdom.
Fr. James O'Leary
Creating your own monument
The above project involves two questions.
No. 1 – What would you like to be remembered for?
No. 2 – Who would you want to be your museum curator?
Very probing questions! Let’s look at no. 1.
If you were going to be remembered for one thing, what would it be? What one thing in your life really expresses the real you? What would you stand with? All of us have a horrible memory that we hope the whole world will forget. At least I do. But it is easy to laugh at our foibles. What are we most proud of in our past life? How would we like to be remembered two generations from now?
It would not have to be a great thing. Few of us have aspirations to go down in the history books. The little things may best show who we are. I know a woman who, I think, would say her greatest moment came in taking care of her dying mother. I know another who would say that rising above the hurt of her husband’s adultery and going on loving was her finest hour. No one really knew what the cost was to both of these women during their shining moments.
Which leads to question No. 2. Who do you want to remember? Our first moment may be an anonymous moment. What if our time of heroic virtue comes and no one notices? This would be intolerable for me. I realize that God knows, but I have to have someone else. Just one person! Who would that person be for you? Who do you want to take care of the lasting treasure that is you?
I invite you to think about these two questions. The answers will tell you who you are; the answers will tell you what you are about.
Fr. James O'Leary
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