The vanity of our best efforts

From Tertullian: Malim nullum bonum quam vanum. “I would rather have nothing than have vanity.”
When we face the vanity of our best efforts, their triviality, their involvement in illusion, we become desperate. And then we are tempted to do anything as long as it seems to be good. We may abandon a better good with which we have become disillusioned and embrace a lesser good with a frenzy that prevents us from seeing the greater illusion.
So, through effort that may seem to be wasted, we must patiently go towards a good that is to be given to the patient and the disillusioned.
– Thomas Merton, Journal entry, May 29/30. 1962
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today and every day we have a need for…

a need for permanence in a civilization of transience;
a need for the absolute when all else has become relative;
a need for silence in the midst of noise;
a need for gratuitousness in the face of unbelievable greed;
a need for poverty amid the flaunting of wealth;
a need for contemplation in a century of action, for without
contemplation, action risks become mere agitation;
a need for communication in a universe content with
entertainment and sensationalism;
a need for peace amid today’s universal outbursts of violence;
a need for quality to counterbalance the increasingly prevalent
response to quantity;
a need for humility to counteract the arrogance of power and
science;
a need for human warmth when everything is being rationalized
or computerized;
a need to belong to a small group rather than to be part of a crowd;
a need for slowness to compensate the present eagerness for
speed;
a need for truth when the real meaning of words is distorted in
political speeches and sometimes even in religious
discourses;
a need for transparency when everything seems opaque.

  • J.P. Dumbois-Dumee

Prophets of a future not our own

17457748_10210863766403011_6326499814056609153_nMarch 24, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. This prayer, often attributed to Romero, was written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan.

It helps, now and then,
to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace
to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

surviving the great hours of our life

We cannot assert that someone who is well behaved, devout, and virtuous in ordinary life, is also already certain of surviving the great situations where it is a question of life or death. The grace of such endurance is a grace that no one can merit by good behavior in ordinary life. But ordinary life is indeed the way in which we must remain ready for the decisive situations; it can be the way in which God wants to give us the very grace—which we cannot demand—of surviving the great hours of our life. We must be faithful in little things in order to be permitted to hope that God in his grace will also send us faithfulness in great things. – Karl Rahner, Words of Faith

accept whatever befalls

Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and God will help you;
trust in [God], and [God] will direct your way;
keep [God’s] fear and grow old therein.
– Sirach 2:4-6

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through . . .

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity.
We will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.