Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Hungry Man and Mass

A week ago Wednesday, I had a 9:00-12:00 meeting at headquarters that I hoped would not last all the way until noon, since noon is the time of Mass at the little chapel near my office, about twenty minutes from headquarters. I squirmed as one hour turned into two. After all, I don't sit still readily, so these three-hour meetings, of which I have had many recently, are killers. Then, two hours rolled over into the start of the third hour. 11:00, 11:10, 11:15 ticked by. It seemed like all we were doing at that point was wrapping up AND wrapping up AND wrapping up. Of course, I could not sneak out of the meeting. I was supposed to be leading it! However, I was working together with our Human Resources folks, and, of course, I could not ride ramshod over their input. So, we continued to wrap up. 11:20, 11: 25. At that point, I just assumed I would not make Mass and starting to plan on lunch over the noon hour, followed, sigh!, by another 3-hour meeting from 1:00 - 4:00.

Right before 11:30, though, we finished our work. Yes! Not only would I be able to catch Mass, but I would be able to do a quick drive-through McDonald's to pick up lunch. Yippee! It was going to be a better day than I had imagined.

So, I headed to my nearby car, hopped in, and took off. As I came to the intersection by McDonald's, there was a man holding a sign, asking for help. Oh, oh! I knew I had no cash in my wallet. So, I looked around the car. Nothing laying around there, either -- not even the spare McDonald's gift card that I usually keep on hand. I did not remember giving out the last one, but apparently I had. Hm...

Talking myself into thinking that I had no way to help (which, of course, I did; I could have invited the man into McDonald's and paid with a credit card, which is how I planned to pay for  my own meal), I drove into line at the drive-through, ordered, and started to drive away when I noticed the man was still there. Now, I seemed to have a dilemma, and I was aware that I did have options: (1) give the man my lunch (but he probably would not like it -- I never get anything except meat on my hamburger -- no fixings and no dressings -- and that would not be very filling for him); (2) go to Mass and ignore the man; (3) go back and get a gift card (probably would take too long, having to wait through line and all); or (4) invite the man in and blow off Mass.

Mass or man? The verse where we are told that what we do "for the least" among us is what we do for Jesus kept coming to mind. Was I being given some direction? I took a step back and looked at the real choices: (1) do something for myself -- going to Mass was at some level for me, to allow me the opportunity to worship, to continue to develop my relationship with God, or (2) do something for God -- feed one of His children. Seeing it in that light made everything clear. So much for Mass, I thought, and headed toward the man. When I reached him, I explained that I had no cash on me but would be happy to take him inside and buy him a meal. He responded that he was not really hungry at the moment but that he would love to be able to eat later and would appreciate a gift card. OK, that would be option #3.

I headed back to McDonald's, parked, and walked inside. Amazingly, there was no one in line. I quickly purchased a gift card, returned to the car, and handed it to the man.

Happy that I had done what seemed to be the right thing but somewhat saddened at the loss of opportunity to attend Mass ("daily" Mass is offered only twice a week at this chapel, and it is the only church near where I work), I headed back to my office. As I drove, I noticed the time: 11:48. Not quite enough time to make it all the way back, or was it? As I came to the intersection where I needed to go straight to the chapel or make a left to my office, I looked at the clock in the car: 11:58. How could that be? It was like time had stood still for for a few minutes. Since the intersection is only a minute or two from the chapel, I drove straight, arriving at the chapel exactly at noon.

Sometimes discernment comes slowly, but when it is right, it is obvious. And, often, I have found, when right, it gets rewarded. After all, I got both options: helping a child of God (something for God) and attending Mass (something for me). Lunch never tasted so good!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Morning Meditation #124: Ask!

How did Monday morning arrive so quickly? Last week is still a blur. I spent the beginning of the week at home, as in the first day of the week. Then I was off and running, first via redeye  to a conference in Maryland that my boss asked me to attend in his stead, (He is on vacation. Mashaallah, as the Arabs say.), then on a more normal evening flight to Kentucky via the Nashville airport, returning very late Friday evening, as in arriving in San Francisco at midnight and then wending my way back to San Ignatio through empty roads. Nonetheless, it was good to be home! This weekend, though, was no less busy. I was helping a friend with the PR for his newly published novel -- took all day both days, except for some time squeezed out for Mass. (I will put up some information here as soon as I get a chance. It is an interesting book.)

This week, I continued to read Matthew 7. I think I shall be spending a lot of time on this particular chapter; it is so rich. The next set of verses are ones about which I have always have some question, so I will share my opinion and would love to hear the opinion of readers. Here are the verses; I am sure they are equally familiar to you, too:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 
For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Reading: Matthew7:7-11

Meditation: I have seen people take these verses to mean that God will give you anything that you ask for. In practice, though, it seems that many people do not get what they ask for even if they ask for it repeatedly. The parallel to a parent responding to a child's request is helpful here. Clearly, if your child asks for something that is not good for him or her, you would not accede to the request. So, it makes sense that neither would God accede to a request that is not in our best interest. The most obvious example that comes to mind is when the kids in my catechism class say that God did not answer their prayer because they prayed for an A on a test but got a D. When I ask if they studied, they say no, they prayed instead. That one is pretty much a no-brainer, but what about the requests for health or for the stricken mother of a family of young children to live. When the latter kind of prayer appears unanswered, it causes confusion as to why we are told ask and we shall receive. (Of course, there are times that prayers are answered but we do not see the answer because we were expecting one thing, but God gave something better.)

In short, I have only partial answers for my religious education students -- and for myself although I am wont to assume that I am not smart enough to ask for what I should be asking and therefore God, being smarter than I, is likely to deflect and defer where appropriate. Actually, there is little I have personally asked for that has not been answered, often in a different and better way, nonetheless there have been times when the answer was not forthcoming or unclear, particularly when I was praying at the request of someone else for someone else; of course, I usually do not know all the details in these cases, so maybe I am unaware of what God has done, is doing, or did differently.

In any event, I would love to hear others' take on this.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to praise God for knowing what we need even without our asking. I will, of course, also ask God to help me see where my prayers may have been answered differently than I expected, and I will repent for each time I have failed to ask because we are told to ask. As always,  I will thank God for all the petitions I have been granted; they have been many.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.