Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My writer friend, Saint Augustine


A color print of Saint Augustine hangs on the wall above my computer monitor. It draws my gaze often as I lift my eyes from my own “small potato” writing and seek to write with the same spirit and posture as he. The rich expression of Augustine's life and calling and destiny are captured by Philippe de Champaigne on a canvas painted in the 17th century. I am honored to write in the shadow of this spiritual giant. 
In the framed print, Augustine is seen crushing a scroll and books under his feet on the floor possibly in disdain of some of the writings and errors and heresies he himself followed previously but which now paled in comparison to the Truth he found in Christ and the Catholic Church. On the buckle to his ornate cloak or bishop’s vestment is an image of Christ—his life focus. 

St. Augustine holds a burning heart in his left hand. It might depict the Sacred Heart of Jesus or Augustine's own heart in echo of the Scripture passage concerning the Road to Emmaus event, "Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked with us by the way and opened up the Scriptures?" The flames of the burning heart are directed toward Augustine’s head as if impacting his mind as he writes "with the mind of Christ" as Saint Paul bids us. 

The quill in his right hand is symbolic of Augustine’s writing gift—imagine how much more he could have written with a computer/word processor to “process The Word” that God was giving him to encourage and challenge and instruct the hearts of men and women for generations and centuries to come—even to me in this third millennium and at my late season of life! With his logistic communication limitations, it is amazing what a prolific writer he became. In translation, the surviving collection of his works comprises 48 volumes. The City of God alone is about 1,000 pages.

At the upper left of the painting is a brilliant, golden glow with beams radiating toward him with the word "Veritas" emblazoned on it signifying God and Jesus who said, "I am the Light of the world; I am the Truth.” Since Augustine lived in the era of 354-430, at the left might be depicted the newly compiled and authorized New Testament Canon of Sacred Scripture elevated and opened up on a pedestal under the golden light. Under the table lies a thick volume which might represent the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the one who is Veritas incarnate.

Under the burning heart he holds in his left hand might be the books that Augustine himself was writing as God enlightened and inspired him. His awed and reverent gaze and posture are inclined toward God, Veritas—humility and openness and contemplation and adoration are all reflected in his expression. 

Lord, help me emulate my friend Saint Augustine who is fully alive in Your eternal presence and continues age to age as an eminent intercessor of the Communion of Saints.
Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the ChurchPray for me, Saint Augustine of Hippo.

(Adapted from Leona Choy's book LIVING THE TREASURES IN THE LAND OF MORE, published 2012)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Looking backward and forward
to trace God's hand on my life

Leona Choy

THE WIND has blown through my life
from infancy through all the changing years
propelling me
along the paths of time.

Sometimes gently whispering
Sometimes urgently redirecting me
altering my self-planned course
to thrust me
along new paths of time.

THE WIND blew unrecognized
through my innocent childhood years.
In youth's impetuosity oft withstood
by the stubbornness of my self-will
as I stumbled
along my private paths of time.

In prime and senescent years
THE WIND continues to blow
lovingly, patiently
in spite of my resistant humanity.

Grant me the grace to live
this allotted span of earth-time
given me so munificently
to accomplish some small portion
of God's Kingdom destiny
bringing me ultimately
to behold His face
in Eternity.


* THE WIND=The Holy Spirit


After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus instructed His disciples to gather up what remained and put it into baskets. They might have been large woven baskets used to carry crops from neighboring fields. Obviously, no paper bags or plastic available. Jesus was surely frugal. What was left over was so much more in quantity than what they started out with. We aren't told for whose needs those particular leftovers were used. They were not stale and certainly were still nourishing.

Perhaps Jesus left that decision of their disposition to the disciples. They were accustomed to feeding the poor with some of the money that apparently passed through the hands of Jesus, which had been given to Him for their daily provisions by generous people. 

We don’t find it recorded in Scripture that Jesus and His disciples were wandering mendicants begging for food. We are told that a group of caring, benevolent women probably of financial means were part of his entourage. They followed Jesus not only to hear His life-giving teachings but to attend to their collective material needs. When they traveled on foot from village to village, the women probably helped set up camp for the group. We read that the disciples were instructed by Jesus to stop along the way and buy provisions at what would be some village market. We know that one of His disciples even held the position of treasurer for oversight of those funds—the one who eventually betrayed Him. The faithful women followers would probably cook, serve, and do the cleanup.

As we advance in years, it is inevitable that many of our friends and family die and we feel like “leftovers” too. We may feel marginalized and useless. But we can be sure that God still has His eye on us and His hand on our lives. He doesn't discard us because we are not as useful or productive in our own estimation or in the view of others. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We are His precious children from conception to natural death after which He brings us at last into the glorious presence of His full beatific vision. Immortal life is ahead of us. God has an eternal plan for both our bodies and our souls. The Scripture declares that all of our days and years are predestined by God before we have even lived them.

It follows that we have no right to terminate our own lives nor allow anyone else to take our lives from us, nor may we take the life of another. 

I was shocked recently to read an article about “Death-mobiles” in the Netherlands. As of March of 2012, if you are frail and disabled or elderly and feel like “a leftover” and want to end your life, the government makes it easier for you. If you are physically unable to get to a clinic to die, a mobile euthanasia van will be dispatched to your location to kill you. You don't have to inconvenience your neighbor, family, or relatives or ring up a taxi charge as one of your last actions on earth. The Netherlands estimates they will be able to kill about 1000 extra people per year with this unique service.

It took only 72 years for history to repeat itself. During the Nazi reign of terror, the Nazis dispatched “gas vans” to kill civilians who could not get into their “work camps” to die. How convenient! Now the Dutch have gone back in history and borrowed Hitler's ideas to rid society of the marginalized, the unwanted “leftovers,” the unproductive undesirables of human life.

Before we point fingers, let's look at our own country. Our laws permit and facilitate the killing of the unborn; some states have already legitimized euthanasia. However, as Blessed John Paul II stated in Evangelium Vitae, “So-called 'assisted suicide' means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize.”

Our lives from first breath to last breath are in God's hands alone. He has made no provision to eliminate his precious “leftover” children of any age until His perfect plan for each one of them is complete. And He decides!

Saturday, August 4, 2012



I see another meaning in the words of the classic hymn whose first line is, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.” “Ages past” can mean not only generations and centuries past in the chronological sense, but the different ages and periods of an individual's life cycle from birth to advanced age. Our Eternal God has a plan for each of us for all the seasons of our life. His plan is specific to each season.

Among the seasons of life is chronological maturity: aging, if you will. Even if you resist it, if you live long enough, you will come, albeit reluctantly, into the final phase of this mortal life on Planet Earth. Some call that stage of life your “sunset years.” I prefer to call them “sunrise years.” Since we are Christians, we don’t face growing darkness; instead we anticipate dawn and Eternal life with God. “The child is father of the man…The last of life for which the first was made,” wrote a famous poet.

I remember myself as a vacillating teenager always excited about something new or different, and my parents using the word “phase” in a disparaging way. “Oh, it’s just a phase that Leona is going through. She’ll get over it.” However, we don’t “get over” our seasons of life; we have to go through them, if God blesses us with long life. We don’t have the luxury of tripping lightly through the tulips through each chronological stage from youth to maturity. Human time is divided into seasons of life, and each period provides its own opportunities, responsibilities, temptations, joys, and challenges.

I’ve often used the term “seasoned saints” in my writing to refer to Christians who are maturing chronologically. The apostle Paul addressed all Christians as “saints” not because they wore halos, were sanctimonious above their fellow mortals, or had achieved perfection. The Bible simply uses the word to refer to believers in Christ living on earth or in heaven. Also, I don’t restrict the term to the departed who are canonized by the Catholic Church because of their heroic virtue or extraordinary holiness.

Let’s explore the treasures of that season of life that is finally approaching ripeness in wisdom, experience, and responsibility—and hopefully, holiness and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church which He established for our nurture. 

Delving into the dictionary meaning of being seasoned is like discovering a mother lode of gold. The word season is a derivative of the Middle English, sesoun, Old French, se(i)on, and Latin word sation meaning “a sowing time.” That root meaning in itself is significant to the chronologically mature period of our lives:

We are seasoned in the sense of being experienced. We have done a lot of living which we can generously share with others for their benefit. (But only when we are asked!)

Another meaning of seasoned is to be toughened by conditions, like wood that is hardened and rendered immune to shrinkage or warping. Likewise, we are durable because we have lived long enough to learn to endure the adversities of life through trust in God.

Seasoned also means heightened or improved in flavor by the addition of herbs, spices and the like. Good cooks add just the right seasoning in the proper amount to enhance the taste. God is seasoning us all the time, adding this and that to increase His joy in us and our pleasure in Him and our usefulness for His Kingdom. As we age we shouldn’t become like “salt that has lost its savor” which Jesus said was useless.

A season is, of course, a time of the year—four distinct seasons in certain parts of the globe. Normally, human beings experience four seasons of life although somewhat overlapping. God expects different things of us in different time periods of life. He intends that we should live fully in the present at whatever season we find ourselves. God has allowed some of us to see many seasons come and go; we have gained a perspective that as good stewards we should sow into our posterity.

“In due season we shall reap if we faint not” the Scripture promises. Due season always seems to be illusively off in the future somewhere, sometime other than right now. We spent a lifetime tilling, sowing, watering, and cultivating. In our latter season we tend to be in a greater hurry to reap because time does not seem to be on our side. However, God’s timing is not the same as our timing. Just as there is a due date for the birth of a baby that requires a prescribed sequence of growth to take place in the womb, so God has a due season for the fullness of some things He wants to do in us and through us in the lives and circumstances of others. Let’s be on the alert so we won’t miss our due season.

“To everything there is a season” the writer of Ecclesiastes declares. He proceeds to detail many of the milestone events of life with contrasts: “…a time to (this)…and also a time for (that)….” In our advanced years we acknowledge God’s wisdom to bring us through many of those opposites to balance our lives.

When a fruit is in season, it is ripe, mellow, fragrant, nutritious, and at the peak of its essence. Let's hope that can be said of us. We should not bemoan the fact that we are aging; instead we should revel in our opportunity to bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit according to Jesus’ desire and plan for the aging. The Psalmist compared the mature godly person with a palm tree that bears fruit into its hundredth year. “…They will flourish in the courts of our God; they will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:12-15)

Arriving at our “fullness of years” is no excuse to become slack in active witness for our Lord. The Scriptures exhort us to be available to speak up for Him anytime, anywhere, “in season and out of season.” despite increasing limitations perhaps of strength, health, finances, or opportunity. To be advanced in years does not give us license to retreat because of age. 

Youth and middle age have no monopoly on seeking new horizons. Let’s emulate seasoned Caleb in the Old Testament who, although well into his eighties, didn’t accept that he was “over the hill.” He asked God for another big hill (mountain) to possess. Let’s sprinkle seasoning on one another to encourage mountain climbing rather than slipping back down our already attained hills. 

God has equipped us with spiritual wings to lift us over our valleys of circumstances and limitations when they try to drag us down. Our advancing years can be the most creative and productive of our lives. Let’s expect our due season right around the next corner. “The best is yet to come” can become a reality instead of a pious platitude.

If we try to turn back the clock or get stuck in the rut of yesterday, we will miss the joy of passing on to the next generation the legacy of life’s richness in Christ. Let’s join the apostle Paul in declaring, ”My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me—life on high in Christ Jesus. All of us who are spiritually mature must have this attitude….It is important that we continue on our course no matter what stage [phase, season] we have reached.” (Philippians 3:14-16) 

After all, we’re in the SENIOR CLASS and we’re anticipating the exciting things we’re going to be doing after “Commencement” which some mistakenly call “The Finish Line!”

Friday, August 3, 2012


Avoiding the driftwood trajectory

DRIFTING can happen in music and in life. I had a gifted friend in our vocal music class in high school who would begin singing right on pitch but invariably drift off key. Part of her problem might have been that she was not listening to herself, or her hearing might have been slightly impaired. Drifting in our spiritual lives can happen in any season of life, but in our latter season it might be more common.

Scripture mentions drifting with a caution. “...We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it.(Hebrews 2:1)

Drifting in the natural world implies being carried along by wind or current or tide. We can visualize as the movement of a boat when loosened from an anchor. That implies an eventual deviation from its intended trajectory; it will vary from its set course. A gradual movement downstream can happen when a vessel loses power and floats aimlessly. It can occur quietly and unnoticed until suddenly the boat has drifted downriver a surprising distance.

Spiritually, drifting is what we used to call “backsliding” in the evangelical world. A person who was once fervent, strong, and bold in his beliefs and witness quietly seems to have become lukewarm and withdrawn. He seems to have lost his power and begins to deviate from God's purpose which formerly impelled him towards God's intended trajectory. Such persons have slipped away from God Who has been their Anchor and soon find themselves at a distance downstream.

Scripture uses several terms related to drifting: “falling away, being carried away, wandering, tossed here and there by waves, being led away, going astray, carried about by every wind of doctrine, driven and tossed.” In most cases those words are directed to believers, to Christians. Since God has created us with free will, we can decide to change course or unless we are careful, drift off course. If we stop pressing on spiritually, drift is inevitable because of the drag of the current of materialism and the secular culture around us.

In the book of Revelation Jesus Himself is recorded as calling such a drift 'losing your first love' and His command is to remember from where you have fallen and repent. Jesus declared He would rather that we be cold or hot than lukewarm, tepid, and half-hearted.

In the context of our mature years, what could possibly cause us to become spiritual driftwood washed up, as it were, on the shores of life after we have been faithfully fervent and effective in our Christian lives? Are any of us immune to such a possibility? The latter season of our lives carries its own special temptations and influences. We may have become physically tired, exhausted, weak and weary with the length of our journey. Our knees buckle and our arms hang limp both physically and spiritually. The pressure of circumstances, the loss of beloved relationships, loneliness, being forced to downsize our living situations—these and many other factors may contribute to discouragement and depression which leads to spiritual drifting. 

What is the remedy for drifting? A vessel drifts when it is cut loose from an anchor. Aside from any other adverse circumstances, we drift spiritually when we are not careful to maintain our connection with our Anchor, God, and subsequently with others in the community of faith. The New Testament letters are full of admonitions to “hold fast.” The term is repeated again and again. We need to continually “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” That intimate relationship keeps the fires of “first love” burning.

The instruction of Hebrews 2:1 is all the more pertinent to those of us in our older years. We must “pay much closer attention” even than we did in our younger and mid-years. Long time followers of the Lord for decades and scores of years dare not regard God's Truth as “same old-same old” that we have heard so many times before. That is a particular temptation. Perhaps we need new “hearing aids.” The Holy Spirit has fresh, new ways of speaking God's ancient truths to us in our advanced years. 

God wants us to keep singing wholeheartedly while we are at the summit of our life journey and not drift off key. This life is a dress rehearsal for our Life To Come. Let's sing our way Home in perfect pitch!