Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Favorite Places

Baxter has his favorite places. Most of these have to do with sleeping spots—his mattress under the window, the TV table with a blanket on top, my bed. Some are places to sit like my chair at the dining room table or the window sill facing the side yard. When he is in the mood, Baxter wants to explore the basement. Then he lies on the old couch down there to get away from all the street noise upstairs. All of these spots are places where Baxter feels safe and secure, warm and comfortable, and he can stay in one of these places for hours, waking and sleeping, occasionally changing positions, but always at peace.

Where do we go for peace? In the noisy, crowded and hurried world we live in, a quiet, comfortable spot is not always easy to find. We recreate in places where we can shop or watch a game or listen to music, but these are often like the rest of the world. They are loud with a lot of people speaking over the sounds and elbowing each other for a place at the table. It is fun to be together with all the excitement being shared, but it is still much like the everyday work world we face. The only difference here is that we can dress down, don’t have to report to anyone, and have no deadlines to meet. These places are relaxing, but in a charged way.

Come home, and often the same atmosphere prevails. While the decibels may be down, the noise is still there with the televisions, phones and music devices, and the activity is still nonstop. With emails and text messages we are never away from our work, our friends and family, and all the demands for our attention from advertising. Then there are the robo-calls soliciting our attention and support for all sorts of causes. Is it any wonder that we feel homeless at times, unable to find a place to relax, to be quiet with ourselves, and be undisturbed with our own thoughts and reflection?

Maybe we need to do a little remodeling. It doesn’t necessarily involve physical construction. Rather, to get the space we are looking for we need to adjust the space we are in. Turn off the phones, computers, television and all other electronic devices. We need to find a way to quiet our living space, turn off the demands for our attention and enter into ourselves. It is almost impossible to be in touch with God and our soul’s desire for Him when we can’t be at peace. Opening our spirits to the holy mystery that can’t be readily heard or seen requires us to relinquish the sights and sounds of this world for a while.

Take a tip from Baxter. Make a favorite place in your everyday world where God can speak, you can listen, and peace can be found.

-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Our Soft Underbelly

Cats are very protective of their underbellies. They usually guard them literally with claws bared. Their stomachs are very sensitive, and they keep them hidden from any third party intrusion. They know they are vulnerable in this area, so they let no one near for fear of harm. Baxter was that way for a long time. However, more recently, he has begun to roll over on his back and look for a scratch on his stomach. He starts to purr when I pat his pure white underside, and he continues his pleasant disposition as long as I am soft and gentle in my approach. When he has had enough, he jumps up and walks away, and I have to respect the boundaries he sets. Baxter has come a long way in relying upon me and trusting in my care for his well-being.

We all have our own soft underbellies--things about us that we are sensitive about. Maybe they come from past hurts, experiences that directly wounded our relationship with someone due to an insult, a betrayal or a disagreement that remains unresolved. Maybe they come from our expectations of ourselves or others. We have certain unwritten rules of how others should talk and act, and when they don’t meet these rules, we are offended. Of course, the other person may not know the rules, and not even realize they are offending us.

Maybe our sensitivities come from our backgrounds. We all carry the baggage we inherited from the way we were raised. Some of this baggage is heavy. We react to situations and people not out of the present relationship, but in terms of what we felt and understood from our pasts. This can cause a problem. We automatically begin to protect ourselves based on what we learned from an earlier unpleasant experience. The person presently in our life isn’t aware of our past, and so he or she cannot understand where we are coming from and why we are acting as we do. There’s no trust here, and the relationship is always weighed down for unclear reasons.

These sensitivities don’t just affect our family and friendships. They also influence our spiritual relationships. How we connect with God and with the Church come from past personal experiences, from what we learned either formally or informally, and from the religious background we bring to our present faith life. We may have been hurt by a personal tragedy and blame God for it. We may have encountered someone in the Church who was rude and intolerant, and we write every church person off because of them. We may have expected God to do certain things for us, and feel disappointed and betrayed that He didn’t come through. We may feel betrayed by the Church because some of its members have failed gravely and were dishonest about it. We may feel threatened by God or abandoned by Him because of what we were taught about God’s ways from our backgrounds. We may feel dismissed and disrespected because of the way authority was exercised in the Church. Whatever it might be, the effects are clear. We feel distanced from God and a stranger in God’s house. We are afraid to become vulnerable to the love and care of our God, and to allow God’s people to express this love and care towards us.

We can learn from Baxter. First, it takes time to build or rebuild trust. We cannot slough off the past in the blink of aneye. It takes time for feelings to heal, for ideas to change, for relationships to grow. Second, put the past behind us and live in the present. Take new people at face value, unless they become two-faced to us. Forgive the past, and we will release the power of grace in the present moment. Third, dare to think differently. There is always more to God than we at first imagine. God does not rescue us from life’s pain and loss. He saves us from allowing that pain and loss to sap our lives of meaning and caring for each other. Loving despite the hurt is what Jesus showed us on the cross. Finally, don’t be afraid of the feelings. We have permission to be angry, confused, frustrated or hurt when others take advantage of our vulnerabilities. Read the Book of Lamentations, the Psalms, or Jesus on the cross. Just don’t get stuck there. God can empathize with our pain, but He won’t allow us to wallow in it. Resurrection follows suffering and death as the powerful mystery of life.

Baxter has learned to expose his tender underbelly to a loving touch. We can too, and it’s God’s hand on us.

-Monsignor Statnick


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Slowing Down

Baxter is slowing down. He is fifteen years old now, and I can see how time has changed his pace. Although he can still have an episode of chasing his own shadow or a piece of kibble, generally he walks his way through the day.

He moseys out to get his cat milk in the morning. He lets spiders live rather than use them as his toys. He also has become much more docile. He lets me pet him whenever I like,and when he has to have his monthly flea medicine, he just lies down until the vile of liquid is squirted onto the back of his neck. He still likes to jump into the bath tub for a drink from the spigot, and onto the bed for his afternoon nap. He still gets excited around dinner time, and perks up at strange sounds. But all in all, Baxter is slower, calmer and friendlier in his later years, than he was as a young cat.

Aging has its pluses and minuses. The symptoms of physical wear and tear become obvious. There is stiffness when we stand up at first. Stairs may take longer to negotiate and produce some heavier breathing on the ascent. We become helpless without our glasses, and we have to turn up the TV or radio to hear it clearly. All of these physical changes slow us down.

God may be sending us messages here. Now we have to notice ourselves and our surroundings more carefully. It’s an opportunity to see what we may have never noticed before. Smell the roses, and also discover the hidden garbage. Maybe we need a few attitude adjustments along with adjusting our motor skills.

Instead of getting frustrated, enjoy the slower pace life is calling us to live. Learn to appreciate what others do for us rather than finding something wrong with it. Waiting for something or someone isn’t always bad. It teaches us patience, and that things can take their own course without jeopardizing anything. Think about what we do have—the people, the memories, the fruits of our labors—and give thanks.

Since many things don’t have to get done in a hurry, be flexible about how they get done. My way is not the only way. Pay attention to what is important, and don’t fuss about the little things. Loose ends don’t unravel unless we pull them. Others aren’t perfect; we aren’t perfect; only God is perfect. Praise God, and love the imperfections. They are the hooks God uses to draw us to His saving grace.

Looking at Baxter getting older, I see myself as well. We can get angry about what’s happening and frustrated with the limitations it places upon us, or we can embrace the opportunities our slower pace and reduced drive offer us. We can connect with each other more sincerely and less defensively. We can fill our hearts with gratitude for the blessings we may have never recognized. We can let God be God, and accept our humanity with humility and dignity. We can grow in “wisdom, age and grace” just as Jesus did.
-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Creature of Habit

Baxter is a creature of habit. You can almost set your watch by his daily routine. He rises with the sound of the feeder exposing a portion of food for his breakfast at 4:30 AM. He gets a drink of water twice after he has had his share of kibble-- I guess to wash it down. Then it’s a bathroom break and a rest on the bedroom rug before he makes his move to the cat mattress for a serious hour and a half nap. Before I leave for Mass though, he will get up while I’m having breakfast for his slug of “cat milk”. What he does while I’m gone for the morning is a bit of a mystery. I expect he sleeps for a good portion of the morning, but I also suspect that he has a few tricks up his paw that he keeps hidden from me. I think he might roam the dining room table when I’m not around because he knows that he is not supposed to be up there. I also think he explores the boxes in the spare room where my old tax returns are kept. He wants to find out if he’s getting his fair share of my assets.

We all have habits to get us through the day, week or year. Some are obvious to anyone who knows us. Others may be hidden from view. Habits keep our life steady. They create an order to our activities. Because we don’t have to think about them, they allow for less effort in getting things done.Getting ready for the day in the morning, and ready for bed at night usually involve a routine that we follow out of habit. Weekly, I gather the garbage for pick up on Mondays. Every four or five weeks I get a haircut in the same style from the same barber. The holidays have longstanding habits associated with them. We call them traditions. Certain foods, festive gatherings and decorations are all a regular part of our celebrating certain seasons. We don’t have to wonder what we will do this Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. We know the ritual.

The Church uses habits as well. The liturgical cycle is fundamentally the same every year. We are asked to develop a habit of Sunday Mass, regular participation in the Sacrament of Penance, daily prayer, almsgiving and service to others. Even the teachings of the Church are meant to form a habit of mind that sets our thinking in a certain direction when issues arise. These habits are meant to incorporate us into God’s ordering of life, because through these activities we participate in God’s actions in our world. Yet, there is a catch.

Habits are the first step in forming us as disciples, but they alone won’t get us to a life style of discipleship. The ordering of our actions to God’s ways has to be internalized. We have to understand the reason for these habits, allow them to change our sentiments and attitudes, and use the values they embody to set our priorities. Habits of religious behavior are meant to shape our characters as persons of faith. When religious practices become more than mindless routines, they mark us as virtuous people. We do what we do because these actions show who we are and reinforce our faith in what we can yet become with God’s grace.

Baxter’s instincts lead him to a regular habit of living. It’s his survival technique. Our desire to find God leads us to form habits, but these practices are meant to help us grow as persons who reflect the holy mystery in our lives, and continue to seek its love and understanding. They are habits of the heart—not gross instincts—that in time are meant to form a person who thinks, feels, decides and acts as God would in our world.

-Monsignor Statnick