Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Getting a Whiff of Things

Baxter’s nose is amazing. It leads him through life. When I am having lunch, Baxter is usually just waking from his morning siesta. I come in the door and go back to my bedroom to see him, and he looks up at me but doesn’t make any effort to move. He continues to lounge in place, easing himself into consciousness and activity. When I go into the kitchen to prepare something to eat, he still remains prone and seemingly apathetic. Nothing is going to force Baxter to disturb his comfort. Nothing, until he gets a whiff of something appetizing.

I don’t know how he does it. His sense of smell is so acute that it picks up the slightest hint of his favorite foods. I can understand how opening a packet of tuna might set Baxter stirring, but opening a package of graham crackers? He loves graham crackers, and as soon as I break open the package to get a treat to top off my lunch, Baxter comes running to my side for his share. From two rooms away, he picks up the scent, and this olfactory stimulation sets him begging for a morsel. (I may have to try eating in my car in the garage to have an undisturbed lunch.)

What are we prone to sniffing out? Often it’s not thekindest smells. Some of us are keen on gossip. We wake from our drowsy, boring ways of getting through the day when we get a whiff of something shady on someone. Somebody’s marriage is rocky. Someone’s kid is in trouble with the law. Someone is sick with a serious illness. Somebody lost a fortune on a business deal. Someone has a drug or alcohol problem. Whatever misfortune we smell about another, we can’t often resist the hunger it rouses for more.

A tidbit only whets our appetite. Having tasted a juicy piece of information about another, we want more, the full story, all the details. We aren’t satisfied until we think we have it all. What gives here?

Gossip allows us to avoid what really smells around us—our sin and weakness. When we get caught up in pursuing gossip, we stop looking at ourselves and reflecting on how we need to grow. Our attention is drawn to other’s faults and failures, so that we don’t have to be honest about our own and try doing something about them. We lose focus on our own lives, so that we begin to assume there is nothing wrong.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6: 41)

Baxter’s nose is programmed for “good” smells, things that nourish him and that he likes to consume. Our noses are often in the air for the opposite kind of scents that we hope to discover on each other. We need a way to freshen theair between us. Smell the roses in other’s lives, and the rot in our own. Admire the roses and get rid of our rot. In that way, the world will be a fresher place for all of us.

-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shutting Out the World

Baxter loves to sleep curled in a ball. He walks around his bed for a few moments, plops down, settles into place, and then rolls his body so that his head and tail meet with his face nestled in his soft and warm stomach. In this pose, it is hard to figure out what exactly he is. He looks more like a furry pillow than a cat. When Baxter is set in this self-enclosed circle, he is dead to the world. Lights and sounds go unnoticed; I can come and go around him without any reaction. At times, Baxter is so removed from life in this disposition that I have to watch him carefully for a few seconds to make sure his diaphragm is moving. He’s not dead, but he is dead to the world.

Wouldn’t we all like to learn this cat trick? The times we are in sometimes seem so confusing, upsetting, threatening and contentious that we are at a loss for what to do. How do we fix the Middle East, the environment, economic inequality, racial divides, cultural divisions? How do we stop terrorism and nuclear armaments? Whom do we trust to lead us through these dilemmas? What do we teach our children about the right way to live in this world? Where is God in all this?

No wonder we would like to curl in a ball and escape it all, just sleep away until we can awaken to a new world with all the problems solved. But for us humans, and especially for us Catholic Christians, it doesn’t work that way.

This messy, unclear and uncertain world we live in is the place where we must work out our salvation. Trying to escape the picture doesn’t give us a better way. It simply gets us nowhere, living in a dream-land from which we must eventually awaken and face the situation we left when we fell asleep. Like Baxter when he awakens from his deep sleep, we need to lift our heads, stand and stretch, and get moving again. Our church offers some tried and true advice on how to do this.

Start with prayer. Pray for God’s presence and power to be felt as we tackle the dilemmas of 2016. Next, learn the Church’s teachings on the principles that guide our way towards the best solutions. The document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, and other explanations of Catholic social teachings are examples of these. Finally, have a conversation—not an argument--with others trying to be faithful disciples as they grapple with the issues of our day. Listen to their concerns; ask questions about why they hold the positions they do; think about the agreements and differences that surface between us and what they tell us about each other, our problems and God’s ways in our midst.

Baxter can afford to curl in a ball and sleep his life away in peace. We don’t have that luxury. We need to be about God’s work in the uncertain times and perplexing situations we face. As daunting as this task may be, we cannot abandon it, for we are His disciples and the instruments of His grace. So wake up and don’t be afraid. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Doing Tricks: Part 2

Not long ago I wrote about how Charlie has quite a repertoire of tricks he can do. Like many dogs, he can sit, speak, and lay down. In addition to that, Charlie can roll over, play dead, and shake hands. His tricks are amusing for me and my friends, but not all dogs do tricks.

Some dogs live a very simple life. They never learn any tricks at all. I guess their owners either treat those animals as outside pets or perhaps don’t have the patience for using nonverbal cues to teach an animal.

There are other dogs that have a tremendous capacity for learning, but I wouldn't really call what they do tricks. We have trained dogs to sniff out drugs, to function as security animals, and even to be working companions to people with a variety of disabilities.

Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities including service to those who are blind, deaf, and/or paralyzed in some way. These dogs can do such things as lead a person, turn lights on and off, retrieve needed objects, and even bring a phone.

All of these learned abilities don’t necessarily speak to the intelligence of the dog as much to their formation and training. Of course, their particular temperament is a factor in both their training and then what partner they are paired with.

I think people aren’t much different when it comes to occupations. There are folks who have a capacity to learn many skills, and there are those that don’t. We have nurses, doctors, and surgeons who are all in the medical field, but have different types of training and education. Also necessary masons and plumbers have specialized training, but in a much different environment than medical professionals.

We have come to accept that people have a different capacity for learning and study, and also different natural talents and temperaments. These things play a pivotal role in what occupation a person eventually takes on in life. We also respect the person that decides after 20 or 30 years in a particular field, that they want to do something different, and so learn a new trade.

Right about now I suppose you are thinking, sure Christy, but what does any of this have to do with God or the Church? Well, I think these are very much related!

When we talk about our faith life, it has become popular to call it a journey. In this diocese, we even refer to it as a “journey of a lifetime.” Although we say those words, I don’t know if we really give them the credence they deserve.

It seems to me we go about expecting others to have the same level of engagement in our faith life that we do.

Whether we have a little or a lot of God in our life, we think everybody ought to do the same. But that isn’t really how we were made, was it?

We also say we should meet people where they are, but then hold them to a higher standard than they are able to fulfil, but that isn’t fair or just.

Just like dogs in their abilities, or our occupations, people learn and grow in their faith both to different levels of understanding and in different ways of engagement. They also grow at different rates and based on different circumstances.

We don’t have control over another person’s faith life any more than we have control over any of their relationships. Each individual has to come to relationship with God in their own way. It isn’t ours to judge how much a person can handle at their particular juncture. All we can offer others is what hasmade sense for us and how God has been present in our lives. That may or may not work for the other person, and we need to learn to give that to God.

Ultimately, I don’t think a dog is loved any less if he does a thousand tricks or none at all. The same is true of God. Right, Charlie?

-Christy Cabaniss
Parish Minister

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Helping Out

I love having a dog, but it sure is a lot of work. Charlie needs to be fed twice a day every day. He needs to be given water several times a day, especially in the heat we have been having. He also needs to be supervised when doing doggie business outside. 

Then there are his grooming needs! A dog with such beautiful long hair needs to be brushed  regularly. Since he is an inside dog, he needs to have his nails trimmed, and I buff them for him too. At least once a month he gets a bath to keep his skin fresh and clean.

Charlie also needs to visit the veterinarian! So far, he has been a healthy pup so he only goes once a year. He gets a regular check-up and any boosters he might need.

Along with all of Charlie’s physical needs, he also needs love and attention. He gets lots of pets and snuggles from me, but he also needs to play. He wants to run around, chase a ball, and hunt for woodland creatures. 

All this is a lot of work for just one person, so I am thankful that my husband and kids are there to help out! I wouldn’t be able to take care of all of Charlie’s needs with just them, though. We need the vet to take care of shots and checkups. When I go on vacation, we get friends to watch him or he
goes to the kennel.

We need others in more than just pet care. We need others in our lives everyday. 

There seems to be a strong tendency (especially for us, Americans) to think we can do things on our own. Independence is highly valued. I don’t know if it’s really a true story, though.

If you think about it, there isn’t much you can say you’ve done without some help from others.

We don’t learn to walk or talk or read on our own. We don’t grow all our own food. We don’t drive in cars we’ve made or on roads we’ve paved. We don’t pay ourselves, we don’t generate our own electric, and we don’t build our own homes.

While we like to kid ourselves that we are independent, the truth is we rely on others for many things. That reliance seems to increase as we age or if we become ill. One of the complaints I hear most often when I visit homebound folks is that they aren’t independent anymore. The good news is, there are people who want to help!

One of the things I find interesting about working for the church is the plethora of people who want to do something good and positive for others and the severe lack of folks who want someone to help them.

It seems funny that every time we read the story of the good Samaritan the only person we imagine being is the passerby or the helper. What about when you are the one who has been robbed and beaten?

Of course, I don’t wish ill on anyone, but misfortune, poor health, and even old age happen to us as part of life. That’s reality. Why do we try so hard to pretend either it isn’t happening or won’t?

Vulnerability is part of human existence. We are fragile both physically and mentally. That is a scary state, especially in a world that insists on our security and strength.

God knows our weakness and he loves us through it. He sent Jesus to show us the way, and He told us how to care for each other. Life has that beautiful ebb and flow like the ocean. Sometimes we give the help, sometimes we receive it. There is no shame in that. 

We need each other. We cannot accomplish much in life without others. It is through learning how to accept love and assistance from other people that we learn how to accept that love and assistance from God, himself.

Charlie doesn’t mind who puts the food in his dish, he only knows that he can’t do it for himself. I guess he has learned to ask for help. Right, Charlie?

Christy Cabaniss - Parish Minister

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Doing Tricks

Charlie is quite a showman! Since he has come into our care, his bright intellect has led me to teach him many tricks. His doggie tricks started when we first adopted him and he already knew the command, “Sit.” From there, we taught him to lay down. He also learned to “Speak,” on command.

Once we had these basics down, it was on to more complicated tricks. Charlie now can either speak, a loud bark, or whisper, a series of doggie groans that sound like mumbling. He can also play dead when shot with a pointed finger, and roll over.

The most recent addition to his repertoire is to “wave” good-bye. This is where I ask for a paw to shake, but never offer my own hand so that it appears he is waving.

Why do I make my dog do these silly circus tricks? Is it an effort to exert my own authority? Well, yes. In dog mentality, there is a hierarchy and in forcing my dog to do tricks for treats, I enforce my alpha status.

Of course, I never catch Charlie rolling over or waving good-bye of his own accord, he only does these things when a treat is promised. He will, however, start doing some tricks without prompting if the treat jar is mentioned.

It seems that we humans might have this same idea when it comes to God. There are some who preach a “Gospel of Good Fortune.” That is, if we follow all the rules, and do things just like God wants us to, we will be healthy and wealthy in this life. Some folks also think that if they follow all the practices and maintain superficial standards they are all set. It isn’t really that simple, though is it?

Life isn’t just about externals. A quick way to show what I’m talking about is to look at raising children. There aren’t really a set of rules to follow to ensure one has successful children. Each child is an individual, and their particular needs and personality demand different things from their parents in the way of both punishment and reward. Even when your kids move out and have good jobs, it doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily been a good parent.

The same is true in the workforce. Just because you are on time everyday and put in exactly 40 hours, you don’t automatically achieve raises or promotions. It also doesn’t signify you are doing good or conscientious work.

Perhaps the main difference between our secular practices and our religious ones is that our Christian practice is supposed to lead us closer to God. Let me clarify this.

When I go to Mass on Sunday, it isn’t really supposed to be so that I don’t go to hell when I die or because my mom told me to. I go to Mass on Sunday to re-orient my life. I go to place God above myself as the one who deserves worship. I also go to recognize that I am not the only one on this journey. I go to share in the relationship with my brothers and sisters and to encounter Jesus. There are a million other reasons, but I think you catch my drift.

All the practices of being a Christian aren’t for their own sake, they are supposed to help us. In previous generations, folks did things because they were told to, and while that isn’t bad in and of itself, it can leave out some of the most engaging reasons why we would practice our faith.

God isn’t some rulemiser judge watching to see if we have punched our coupon card. He is a loving and gentle companion who seeks us out so we can grow and be better than we were yesterday.

Charlie does some really great tricks, but since he’s just a dog, he only does it for the physical reward. We aren’t dogs. We engage in our faith because it helps us to grow in love of God and one another.

There aren’t any tricks about that. Right, Charlie?

- Christy Cabaniss: Parish Minister

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Jumping Around

My dog has some really ridiculous behaviors. In his defense, I think that most of them are a result of genetics and instinct. Let me explain…

I think that Charlie might be a new breed of dog, only recognized by the AKC in 2003, called a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. This dog is the smallest in the retriever family and looks like a miniature golden retriever with white markings. The breed was developed to help duck hunters. In the wild, a fox will play at the waters edge in order to entice a duck to come closer, which the silly ducks do! The dog was bred to simulate fox behavior so hunters would have an advantage and then send the dog to retrieve it. This frolicking behavior is actually part of the breed standard and a dog must pass a field test exhibiting it to be considered an actual Nova Scotia Duck Toller.

Charlie exhibits this EXACT behavior! When he thinks he is on the hunt he leaps around our yard like a Tigger. Tail is flashing back and forth and all four paws literally leap from spot to spot.

He never catches anything when he acts like that, though, because rodents are scared away by his breed standard behavior. It is hilarious to watch from a human perspective, though.

I wonder if we don’t scare folks away with our leaping and jumping about when it comes to God? Let me explain.

Sometimes we think that there needs to be some big huge movement to signal that God is involved in what we are doing. We think we need to proclaim Christmas greetings and God’s blessing upon all those we meet. We think we need to offer explanation for our good treatment of others: that it is for the kingdom of God.

We also think that people need to come to us in droves. The way we can tell if our programs are successful is if oodles of people are in attendance.

We also fall into this all or nothing trap with our treatment of others, but in an opposite sense. We talk a good game about justice, peace, and love toward one another in the plural, but we renege when it comes to a single person. When faced with a particular individual all our judgement and anxiety take over and we aren’t just, or peaceful, or loving toward them.

I suppose that it is the intimacy and vulnerability of facing a single person that brings out the worst in us. But, this is ultimately where the rubber hits the road with our faith.

Being a Christian isn’t really converting huge numbers of people, it’s about individual relationships.

If we look to the bible for guidance, we will see that God operates on the small scale more often than on a large one. While in the Gospels Jesus did preach to the crowds, and they did follow him about, you only hear about the real conversions on a one on one basis.

Think of who brought you into the church. Whether a cradle Catholic, a convert, or some other state, you learned about God from someone. We can almost always point to an individual (or a few individuals) who set an example, shared their faith, and who loved us.

Practicing Christianity involves a listening ear and a loving heart. That means forgiving others, for ALL their failures. It also means realizing that we too have flaws, and need to ask for forgiveness.

Just like Charlie we have a natural tendency to jump around and make a big fuss when we are after something. Unlike Charlie, we have a mind and can reason, so we don’t have to be bound to our instincts. Learning to love others on a one on one basis is hard and takes practice. It’s part of our faith tradition to understand discipline and virtue, though.

St. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ!”

(No jumping required!)

Right, Charlie?

~Christy Cabaniss
Parish Minister

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A friend in need

I get many compliments on what a great dog Charlie is often. It is true, for the most part he is a really good dog. But, why do other people tell me that? It doesn’t hurt that he is really quite handsome. Something about his butterscotch color with the white accents is just pleasing to the eye. His fur is also exceptionally soft, so petting him is really a pleasure. He isn’t too big either. At just 40 lbs., he isn’t an ankle biter, and he isn’t imposing. Ultimately though, his calm demeanor and friendliness toward people is what wins them over, I think.

Charlie is always interested in making new friends, but he doesn’t forget about the ones he already has, either. One of the great things about dogs is that they really sense their owners attitudes. From what I have heard, cats do much the same. If their owner is sick, the pet will stay right by their side. The same is true when the owner is sad. Somehow pets just seem to have a sixth sense about what is going on with their people.

I remember when I lost a really close friend. The news came in that morning, and I could not stop crying. I was devastated. Charlie didn’t know what to do. He just knew his mistress was upset. So, he did the best thing a dog can do. He sat in my lap and let me cry into his fur until I didn’t have any tears left.

When people in our life are having a hard time or aregrieving, it’s hard to know what to do. We are in such an immediate gratification culture that it’s hard to process problems that just take time.

We want answers when there is a problem, and we want them NOW. We ask our friends or maybe our parents, and sometimes, we even ask Google. How can I solve this problem that I am having?

It can be even more difficult to be the person called upon to have the answer! You rack your brain, give similar experience stories, or tell of what others have done in the same situation.

Whether we have a problem, or are trying to help with the problem having the right answer always seems to be the key. If you are able to come up with it, somehow you are the hero.

But, maybe that isn’t what’s always necessary.

I spend my fair share of time in our bereavement groups we have every spring and fall. There are two very particular things that I have noticed about these groups. The first is that there are no answers when you have lost a loved one. The second is, that when a person is suffering a loss the thing they need most is a friend who will listen without judgement, or answers.

Death and dying aren’t things we talk about much in our culture. It’s taboo and that’s because it’s scary. Who wants to think about their loved ones dying? But, the disservice we do to ourselves by not talking about it is that we aren’t prepared when death comes.

I don’t mean prepared for loss. Nothing can ever prepare you for that. I mean knowing  that grief is a journey through uncharted wilderness and that it takes time. I mean knowing that being sad when you lose a loved one is normal. I also mean that we need to learn to be prepared to be that listening ear for others when they are suffering. We get caught up in having the answers and finding a solution. Mostly you’ll find that a person in pain just wants you to sit and listen. Listen to how much that person meant to them and what they are going through. They need to know you are there.

God is there for us too, but part of our Christian understanding is knowing that God reaches out to us through others. We can be the face of Christ to one another by listening and offering comfort to those in pain.

That little dog of mine has been there to hear my cries and dry my tears. The world would be a better place if we could learn to do the same for one another. Right, Charlie?

-Christy Cabaniss