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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pet Rescue

Charlie is a rescue. That is, we adopted him from the local animal shelter in Greensburg. Someone called the local dog catcher because this little blonde mutt was scavenging in the trash.

Charlie was not neutered. He did not have a micro-chip tracking device. He had no collar or tags. The shelter vet estimated him to be about two years old.

How on earth did this gorgeous dog get to be two years old without someone caring for him? No one wanted this adorable friendly little pup? Really?

I know there are many who are flabbergasted by this, but everyday people lose their pets. Some pets run away, some are left behind, and some pets are even dumped in the hopes that someone else will care for them. Why do people do this?

There are thousands of reasons why a person can no longer keep a pet. In some cases the care of a pet becomes too much for them. High maintenance pets through illness or bad behavior can complicate life in ways we weren’t expecting. Sometimes, though, its our own selfishness that gets in the way.

What I find most interesting, though, is that folks get really upset when they hear about this happening to animals, but don’t we sometimes do this to people?

Are there people in your life that you have thrown away? Ones that you can’t seem to get along with? What of the people we don’t know that we throw away: the poor, the elderly, the sick? Do we ignore those who are struggling in our midst?

I know that it is difficult to see these things. The norms of our society are that a person should help himself; that people should work and earn their portion. What if a person can’t earn their portion, though, because of illness, physical or mental? What if they haven’t been taught how to fend for themselves? What if, like Charlie, they learned the wrong way to make ends meet?

We make lots of excuses for why we don’t have to be generous and loving, but that isn’t how Jesus teaches us to be. What are we doing in church every week if we never take any part of the Gospel out of the building with us?

Living as a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean you have to be some kind of cheesy “church-lady” fake-out. It means that you look outside yourself, and as that one president said, ask what you can do for others. It means that you are thankful for what you have instead of constantly seeking more. It also means that some-times you have to bury the hatchet and love someone in spite of the fact that they have wronged you. It means you give second chances.

Jesus shows us all of this time and again if we would just listen to the Gospels. He reached out to those in need, he did not turn them away. He healed them and fed them. He literally showed us how to love and evangelize.

I don’t know about you, but the person that drives me most nuts is the hypocrite. You know, the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type. That’s the opposite of who Christ was. He did all of the things he told us to do. That’s why he could even give his life for us. He did it to show us the love of God.

That’s the Good News. We can be excited to share it with others because God loves us all that much. Not the lim-ited way we love each other but with fullness and abundance.

Instead of throwing each other away because we feel re-jected and un-loved, perhaps we could give ourselves one more chance. Maybe we could all benefit by letting a stray into our lives. That stray might even be ourselves.

Charlie was a stray be-cause someone threw him away, but because of that I have been blessed with the most wonderful dog. Right, Charlie?

-Christy Cabaniss

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Relaxing

One thing Baxter can do well is relax. He has mastered the art of doing nothing and accomplishing it in the most unusual positions. He has no guilt over spending hours prone, stretched out in the sunshine, licking his chops. He hates to be disturbed at times like these. He is content with letting life pass him by while he absorbs the surroundings their warmth, their quiet, and their soft comfort on a chair, rug or bed.

Nothing is more importantthan the present moment when Baxter is in his “down time”, and even a call for treats or a game of fetch won’t tempt him to give up his relaxation. Baxter knows how to let go of his worries and enjoy the freedom of doing nothing. He is a master at it.

We all need to learn this lesson. Sometimes we get trapped into thinking we are indispensable, that unless we do it, it won’t get done, that no one is good enough or conscientious enough to take our place. We get trapped into taking care of everything around us, and once one job is completed, we are looking for another to fill our time. We don’t know how to relax, and so we miss so much of what life has to offer.

Sunrises and sunsets, wild flowers blooming, a child’s smile or peaceful sleep, a simple “thank you” or the sound of rain on the roof, these are free gifts, if we take the time to notice them. Prayer happens best when we don’t work at it. Just place ourselves in God’s presence and let God do the work. The closeness, the peace, the quiet intimacy with the holy come to us most often when we are relaxed with God. Trying too hard or with too much intensity about getting it all said and done might complete our prayers, but we miss the point of praying—enjoying and appreciating the love God shows us in just being with us.

Jesus went off on His own to pray and relax. He called our attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air that neither worry nor toil but know God’s care. He walked, He didn’t run, on His ministry journeys from town to town. He took time to talk to people, especially the least prominent— beggars, Samaritans, children.

While there was an urgency to His mission, He never seemed to be in a hurry when dealing with a particular situation. He has time for people, and this helps them understand God’s ways in their lives. Jesus shows that we can’t rush into the Kingdom of God. We get there slowly, changing one piece of our hearts at a time, waiting for God to show us how, and soaking in His love and grace slowly, carefully, gradually, over a lifetime. Baxter knows how to relax. I guess that’s why he’s going on vacation this summer after this Sunday’s bulletin. He’ll be back in the fall with more antics. In the meantime, follow his example and relax, stop worrying, take time off, and….pray.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

For the Love of Baxter

I do all sorts of things for Baxter. Besides the basics of food, water, shelter, I also make sure his favorite places to sleep are clean and in order. I brush him daily. I greet him when I come home. I wait for him to drink from the spigot in the tub when he cries for it, and after his drink, I dry his wet head with a towel. I talk to him about the creatures in the yard outside the window. When I am away, I worry that he might be lonely. Regularly, I tell him he’s a good cat and my buddy. In all these ways, Baxter comes to know that he is loved and has a place in my life.

It’s easy to send this message to a pet. They ask for simple things as favors. They don’t take advantage of our kindness to deceive or manipulate us. They show affection without any strings attached, without expecting a future favor from the relationship. Pets are quite straightforward in their dealings with us and their expectations from us.

Maybe that’s why their affection seems so unconditional. It is clear, focused and unambiguous. They tell us what they like, and we try to provide it. In turn, we get a lot of satisfaction from this way of dealing with each other. No games, no guessing, no doubts, no intrigue, just simple, direct and genuine ways of connecting and caring for each other. No wonder we value them so much, and miss them when they are gone.

God calls us to deal with each other this way, but on a more profound level, the level of faith. Our adult relationships are partnerships of equals. We are all God’s children, and as such, we share a bond with each other based upon a common identity and purpose. Our relationships then are supposed to reflect a respect and value for each other, an honesty and integrity in how we deal with each other, and a generosity in our sharing God’s gifts with each other. There is no place for prejudice, for deception or fraud, for greed, envy or jealousy. When such vices enter into our connections, they poison them with mistrust and distance. We can’t live in a communion of saints because our self-serving and self-protective attitudes prevent any genuine bonding with each other. This is a sinful condition, and we can’t be satisfied in living with it.

For the love of our pets, we spend money, inconvenience ourselves, and go out of our way for their comfort and pleasure. But for the love of each other, we often are begrudging and narrow minded. Unless another measures up to our expectations, we eliminate them from our world. Unless another benefits my aspirations and ambition, I have no time for them. Jesus says, “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 5:20).

Our love for each other must be rooted in God’s love for each and every one of us. Pets may be easier to love, but people hold the secret to God’s love in our world. Learn from our pets, but don’t give up on people.

-Monsignor Statnick