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
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