Archive | June, 2014

Spiritual lessons learned from a wet basement

June 25, 2014

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There are a lot of wet basements out there right now. While water seeps into my basement, sin keeps coming back into my heart. Photo/littlegreenfroggy. Licensed under Creative Commons

There are a lot of wet basements out there right now. As water seeps into my basement, sin keeps coming back into my heart. Photo/littlegreenfroggy. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Like other places in the country, Minnesota has been pretty wet this spring and early summer. With each major rainfall, I’ve had streams of water coming into my basement.

My house is 106 years old and when it rains hard, water seeps in from the four corners. In one spot, there had been some kind of a pump which was later removed (I have no idea why.) and a concrete patch was placed over the spot.

Water comes in through the patch and pools there, so that I frequently have to sweep the water down to the drain. (I am going somewhere with this.)

A stream through the basement

Five minutes after I sweep, as much or more water collects in that spot so that I have to keep pushing it down to the drain. After an especially heavy rainfall last week, water continued to come up through that patch for a few days after the rain stopped.

It has mostly dried up but more rain is forecast this week.

I am looking for a permanent solution but for now I can be thankful that there has only been a couple inches of water in the deepest spots.  Compared to what many others are dealing with, that’s not so bad.

This stream running through my basement (apparently there are actual underground streams throughout the neighborhood) made me think of a particular area of sin I struggle with.

Pride like rainwater coming in

Like the rainwater, pride seeps in,  collects in my heart and swells my head. I sweep it out when I go to confession. I pray the Litany of Humility and I think things are drying out but then pride finds its way back in with each new rainstorm.

Confessing my pride and praying for greater humility are necessary steps in overcoming this sin. But just as sweeping out the water doesn’t keep more from coming in, I need to stop pride at its source.

In a sermon, St. Benedict said pursuing humility is like setting up a ladder. When we act humbly we go up and when we praise ourselves we go down. He identifies 12 steps going up the ladder toward heaven.  Near the top it gets a little monk-oriented but I think lay people can benefit from it, too.

Charity pumps out pride

Ultimately, the pump that will keep out the water of pride is charity, as Cardinal Giovanni Bona wrote in the 17th century:

Pride is the root of every evil; charity, that of all goods. But you cannot plant the latter unless you have completely uprooted the former. Charity will teach you how to extirpate it, since it alone knows how to withstand the spirit of pride. You will be able to resist its spirit if you hide your virtues and show your defects. Then give much attention and consideration to the following as the source of the vice of pride: not to tolerate that others say of you what you willingly confess of yourself.

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Father, son and values tested in superb WWI novel

June 8, 2014

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cartographerThe moral life takes center stage in P.S. Duffy’s “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” a World War I novel that centers around a family and village in Nova Scotia and the impact of the first “war to end all wars.”

To go to war or not, to fight or to give up, to love or go through the motions, to admire or be repulsed by, to change or carry on — the story lines come at the reader like the torrent of artillery shells pounding at the trenches one chapter and like the waves of the North Atlantic sweeping fishermen overboard the next.

Caught in the middle are a father and son, and the novel jumps back and forth between their thoughts and dreams, their expectations and the experiences life throws their way.

Along the way Duffy sneaks in the dirty bit of history of bigotry that put ethnic-German Canadian citizens in detainment camps along with prisoners of war and “suspicious” aliens.

Those familiar with the writing of ancient Greece will appreciate references to the classics scattered throughout. Phrases from Scripture pop up, too, as wartime puts long-accepted values to the test both in France and back on the home front.

World War I garners a small percentage of battle literature in comparison to WWII, it seems to me, and the stories of Canadian soldiers even a smaller spot on the shelves compared to books about U.S. and British forces.

“The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” puts a dent into those imbalances with a handful of captivating parallel plots, meaty characters, splashes of intense action and superb writing.

This Liveright Publishing Corporation release last fall is a marvelous example of the writer’s craft, and it offers great possibilities for a sequel. Introduced to these intriguing people, readers will surely want to know what happens next in their lives, and Duffy has set the stage well with plenty of ambiguity.

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Time to go fishing!

June 6, 2014

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Now that the spring turkey hunting season is over, it’s time to think about fishing. I will have my first chance of the year to get in a boat this coming Monday.

I have been invited to Lake Oahe in South Dakota for the annual Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament. It’s a fundraiser for seminarians in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, several of whom are studying here at the St. Paul Seminary.

My research online revealed that Lake Oahe is an excellent fishery for walleyes. That’s good news. I actually will be a contestant in the tournament, as well as a guest of the diocese. I don’t care much about how well I do in the tournament. I’m just hoping to bring home some walleye for a fish fry and meet lots of people, including Bishop Paul Swain.

I leave Sunday afternoon and will stop at Blue Cloud Abbey on my way out. I will take a tour and hear the history of the abbey. If it works out, someday I would like to stay there overnight. Perhaps, I can come out again and do that. There is a Bishop’s pheasant hunting event in the fall, which is very enticing.

For now, I’m setting my sights on catching some walleyes. I filled the spools of my reels with fresh line, so I’m good to go. I will be assigned to a boat for the tournament. Not sure if I will find out Sunday night who I will fish with. Sounds like a serious tournament, so most likely every person bringing a boat is a skilled angler.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a contribution to the live well. I haven’t gone fishing since last summer, so I may be a bit rusty. But, I’ll try to catch on quickly. Stay tuned for the results of the tournament!

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With quiet promptings the Holy Spirit transforms us

June 6, 2014

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Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble  Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Tongues of fire and door-rattling wind shook the Apostles up at Pentecost I’m sure. When I pray to the Holy Spirit I also sometimes expect dramatic action. Mostly what I want is for the Spirit to instantly transform me—to give me a clear vision for my vocation or life’s purpose, to make me bolder or better at prayer, and overall to make me act and feel holier.I wait for the Lord to come with a powerful show of force as the prophet Elijah might have been expecting:

Then the Lord said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak … (I Kings 19:11-13 NAB)

Often while I’m waiting for wind and earthquakes, the Holy Spirit comes with small quiet whispers that nonetheless coax me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I say yes to what the Spirit asks. Little things like, ‘ask that crabby co-worker how his day is going’ or ‘say something nice to the cashier’ or simply ‘smile at the lady pushing her cart in the produce section.’  

Some promptings are scary

Other times out of fear and irritation I swat at the Holy Spirit’s suggestions like flies at a picnic. Little promptings that make me uncomfortable such as inviting a neighbor to a church event, sharing about my faith with non-practicing family members or defending Church teaching when it’s attacked.

When I do respond to these scary suggestions, the situations often turn out differently than I expect–and somehow I’m different. I think the Spirit quietly goes about transforming us as we let Him guide us. Maybe He’s doing with these small whispers exactly what we wish He’d do with one spiritual earthquake. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t ever make an earthquake, strong wind or fire happen in our lives.  

Elijah recognized the Lord in a small noise. We need to listen for those quiet promptings, too.

I believe the Holy Spirit gives us His gifts through these promptings.  As the Church teaches, Confirmation increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at Baptism, gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. (CCC 1830)  But I wonder if are gradually learning to use these gifts as we rise to the challenges the Holy Spirit gives us.

He is transforming us

As we listen for the Holy Spirit’s whispers and try to act on them, we can trust that He is transforming us and  making us holy in the way He knows is best for us. St. Augustine reveals this trust in his famous prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

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