Monthly Archives: September 2014

Tony Lives!

Last week a good friend and professional colleague of many years died of pancreatic cancer. We began working together as attorneys for a large international oil company in 1974. He was such a good man – talented in his work, combining intellect and solid legal knowledge with practical application. He was always true to his word, even when the potential consequences could affect him negatively. Though our friendship was primarily professional, I loved him like a brother and we have remained friends beyond our professional lives.

When I reflect on all the reasons I respected him, very few had anything to do with his physical nature. His character and integrity; his sense of fairness and desire to do what was right; his sense of humor and willingness to have a good laugh, even at himself — all of these reflected his heart, that immaterial inner being that we struggle to define, using words like soul, spirit or inner self.

Cancer is an ugly disease. I, too, have struggled with it, but without fatal effect up to this point. While cancer can kill the body, it cannot kill the soul, or heart or whatever word we want to use to describe most of the things that make us who we truly are.

There have been several books published in recent years of people who have had “near death” experiences and later recover and tell about seeing relatives and friends who have died, hearing music and seeing sights they can’t find words to describe and in some cases meeting Jesus. The authors have included a couple of doctors, including a neurosurgeon, a minister, an airline pilot, and a 3 year old boy, among others. I grew up listening to my mother describe such an experience when she was in an auto accident and suffered near fatal head injuries before she was married.

Job asks, “If a man dies will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Jesus answers the question. We die to this physical world in the current age, but if we believe in him, the best part of us lives on, soul and spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life…he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Later he says to Martha before the raising of Lazarus, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25, 26)

I believe St. Paul has the most encouraging words on this subject when he says, “ No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) My friend has died physically to his family and to those of us who knew him, but the most important part of him still lives.

Work — Part of God’s Plan

Created in his image and likeness, God gives us an assignment. “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) Many people look on work as a curse resulting from the fall, but work was ordained before the fall, so work is a part of God’s divine plan for us. Our purpose is to take care of creation until God is “all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28)

Lester DeKoster, in his book, Work, the Meaning of Your Life, defines work as “the form in which we make ourselves useful to others and thus to God.” He explains, “Culture and civilization don’t just happen.  They are made to happen and keep happening by work—by God, the Holy Spirit, through our work.”  He poses the question of what would happen if everyone quit working and answers, “Civilized life quickly melts away.  Food vanishes from the store shelves, gas pumps dry up, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out.  Communication and transportation services end and utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around camp fires, sleeping in tents and clothed in rags.  The difference between barbarism and culture is, simply, work.  As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization.”

DeKoster supports his view of work by relying on the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. (Matthew 25:311-46)  While this parable is usually considered to be about the universal judgment of all people taking into account how they have loved and served others, DeKoster contends that Jesus is talking not only about specific people who are in need, but also about providing food, drink, clothing, shelter, healthcare and other needs to society [creation] at large. This involves all the basic occupations that make up civilization.  Farming, transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, public utilities, drilling, pipe-laying, plumbing, textiles, retailing, construction, medical services, health insurance, social services, education, communications, etc.  He says, “The fabric of civilization, like all fabrics is made up of countless tiny threads—each thread, the work of someone.”

All work that contributes to the production of goods and services for others, unless it is immoral, is part of God’s plan for creation.  As the parable says, our reward (inheriting the kingdom) was prepared for us “since the creation of the world.”  Thus, work has always been a part of God’s plan and his intention for his creation.  What surprises people in the parable is that in working at providing the basic necessities for others they are serving God himself.

Like the people in the parable, most us may be surprised that in doing our work we, too, are serving God. In working as an attorney for a large corporation for most of my career, I did not consider early on that my work was serving God, but it was indeed a “thread in the larger fabric of civilization” arising out of God’s creation. Even my summer jobs in high school and college of serving on a road asphalt crew and a laborer in a cement plant were “threads” making up the larger fabric of God’s creation.

Every day we have the opportunity to be the Father’s present-day incarnation by reflecting his love, integrity and service to the people and circumstances we encounter in our work, and move the civilization arising out of God’s creation forward until he is “all in all.” This is our mission.

Who is my Neighbor?

In connection with the command to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself, an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus uses the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) to answer the question. After sharing the parable, Jesus asks the expert which of the three persons who passed by the man who fell into the hands of robbers was his neighbor, and the expert had to acknowledge that it was “the one who had mercy on him.” It was not the priest or the Levite, but a Samaritan, the person who would have been considered an outsider by the Jews of this time.

We face this same question whenever we encounter someone in need and have to make a decision how to respond. It could be a panhandler on the street, the person standing by a broken-down car on the side of the road, an intellectually disabled person having difficulty in the checkout line before us, a work colleague being treated unfairly by his or her boss, or a work subordinate who has violated company policy, to name just a few examples. It could also be someone as familiar and close to us as our spouse, one of our children or a close friend. There are no limitations in Jesus’ words on who we should love and show mercy.

At one point in my career I commuted on the trains to Grand Central Station in New York City and had to walk a block to my company’s headquarters at 42nd and Lexington. Nearly every day I would be confronted with people asking for money. Some could get pretty ugly, cursing at me if I looked at them or didn’t look at them, or if I did not respond to their entreaties for a dollar or two. Sometimes I would respond by offering to buy them a cup of coffee. Most of the time, I would just pass by quickly.

On one occasion, as I was entering St. Matthews Catholic Church, a block east of Grand Central, to attend a weekday mass, a much disheveled looking man asked me to help him. I blew right past him in my rush not to be late for mass. After getting inside, I thought to myself, “What did I just do? What was I thinking?” When I went back outside, he was bent over the bumper of a car, vomiting. “No way,” I thought and started to walk on to my office. But then something turned me around and I walked back and offered to buy him breakfast at a restaurant next to the church.

His name was Richard. He was from Hartford, Ct. He had been playing in a band, but was laid off and started drinking, was beaten up and robbed. He was a mess. We tried to get him connected up with the Salvation Army. A couple of days later I saw him again on the church steps. He was waiting for me. He was all cleaned up, had fresh clothes and was headed back to Hartford.   I was overjoyed, but my joy was short-lived. A few days later, there he was again on the church steps, his clothes all tattered; he had obviously been drinking again. I told him I was going to buy him a train ticket to Hartford and to meet me at 43rd and Lexington at 10 AM. He never showed and I never saw Richard again. Perhaps my response to Richard needed to be more aggressive, more like the Samaritan.

Upon further reflection, I believe the answer to the question of who is my neighbor is not so much a matter of trying to discern who our neighbor actually is, as it is striving to see people with God’s eyes and to hear them with God’s heart, whether they are strangers, work colleagues or our closest family and friends. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

A Peace the World Cannot Give

The world seeks peace among nations. Individuals seek peace in their lives, but peace seems to elude the world, and based on the number of prescriptions written for antidepressants each year, peace seems to elude many individuals as well.

Jesus’ first words to the disciples following his resurrection were, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:35; John 20:19) Three days earlier the disciples had seen him die a tortuous death. Their hopes and dreams that Jesus was the Messiah they were expecting were dashed. Since Jesus’ arrest, they feared for their own lives and hid behind locked doors. Their world had been turned upside down. The last thing they expected to see was a resurrected Jesus in their midst. So, Jesus’ first word to them was “peace.”

Jesus’ first word to us is also peace in the midst of the challenges and difficulties we face in our day to day lives. “My peace I give to you,” he says in John 15:27 – the peace of God – the ultimate gift!  Jesus says it is a peace the world cannot give.

What does this peace look like? A few years ago I heard those dreaded words, “You have an advanced and aggressive form of prostate cancer.” I was devastated. Yet within hours I began to experience the peace of Jesus. I was prompted to let friends and family know and ask for their prayers. As I started to receive the assurance of their prayers and concern, I began to experience God’s love and peace. Their prayers and love sustained me through my surgery and follow-up therapy that lasted three and a half years. Heartfelt prayers and good medical practice are a powerful combination for healing. See Sirach 38:1-2, 6, 12. It has been over seven years now, and I am at peace, a peace that the doctors and the world cannot give.

Like the disciples, I needed to realize that Jesus was in my midst in order to receive his peace. He was with me in the actions of my wife, my children, and my brothers and sisters in Christ through numerous acts of love. He was with me as a good brother led the doctors and nurses circled round my pre-op bed in prayer for the surgery. He was with me through children who left their families to spend time with me. He was with me through my wife who was a constant support, always present. He was with me in my quiet times as he whispered to my spirit.

Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”