Kindness & Politics

 

Politics. This election year we see and hear political discussions all the time and everywhere around us. Many of us may complain about the number of ads on tv and the “other guy’s” candidate, but if we’re really honest, we Americans love us some politics. And that’s a good thing, because political decisions and issues are how we live out the reality of our Republic in daily life. We’re blessed to live in a country in which every citizen, with few exceptions, can vote freely for the candidate of their choosing. Many millions of people around the world don’t share these freedoms. But sometimes we allow politics to become a source of angry or hurtful words. This is especially true in our online relationships. We feel so strongly sometimes that we allow our words to hurt others. Instead of debating our political differences, we attack the person with whom we’re engaging. What I find most disturbing is that I see fellow Christians saying or posting hurtful words about one another.  

It’s easy for us to get emotional about politics because, like religion, it speaks to our fundamental beliefs, to what we hold most dear. We tend to blur the lines between “debate” and “attack” when someone disagrees with our political views or our faith. After all, if we didn’t truly care about our politics and our faith, we wouldn’t get upset if someone disagreed with our views. And it’s good for us to care; good that we feel deeply about how we view the world and our place in it. What we can’t do is to allow our emotions to override our charity. When we do that, we’ve become like an unbeliever.  

To begin with, we accept that the person with whom we disagree is a fellow child of God, created in His image and loved by Him uniquely and for all eternity. Yes, even that supporter of our political foe, who stands for everything we don’t want in a President. There’s a wonderful quote by St. Josemaria Escriva to remember at times like this: “Don’t say, ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think, ‘That person sanctifies me.’” Ouch. What is it about that “other” person that grates on you enough to make you respond so harshly? Usually it’s because we see in them something in ourselves that we really dislike. They mirror back to us that most unlovely part of ourselves and, if we’re honest, we know it. And we can invite the Lord to heal us of that flaw.  

The next thing is to truly know what it is you believe and why it is that you believe it. And this applies to both your politics and your faith. When we can clearly lay out why we support Candidate X, it makes us take a close look at our beliefs and values and why we hold them. We have to be able to think logically and to state our positions with clarity and precision. We used to teach debate in our schools and for a good reason. It’s very instructive when you must defend a position with which you disagree. Try doing that with the political candidates from that “other” party. You’ll come to see pretty quickly why it is you support your favorite man or woman. And when you discuss them, you’ll be more able to speak from a well-thought-out position and not just from your emotions.  

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must accept that it’s unlikely that any of our political arguments will change anyone’s mind. But when we allow our politics to become a hurtful attack, we DO allow it to change our hearts—and in a bad way. We are, after all, called to love and respect the dignity of every person, even those with whom we disagree. Perhaps, most of all, with these folks. Because when the election is over, we’ll all have one President and one Congress. And we have so much that we need to come together for and work together to solve. We can all pray that the Lord will guide us to choose the best possible people to lead our nation. As St. Paul instructs us to pray:

“…for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

          —II Timothy 2:2 

A Grateful Heart

It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right. I got up late and the more I hurried, the less I seemed to get done. Traffic was awful with every stoplight turning red just as I approached it. Trains even timed their journeys to cross my path, too. I dropped things, forgot stuff and wasted time looking for keys and paperwork and schedules. By lunchtime, I was exhausted. I thought I could see the end of the rope that people always talk about. Just then I looked down to see that the “check engine” light on my dashboard was glowing brightly. I broke down and cried. I thought, “Lord, what have I done?” Surely I must had done something bad to be having so many trials in just one day. It seemed as if I was being punished and I wanted to know my offense. My answer came pretty quickly. I had planned my day carefully and had made a lot of assumptions about how it needed to unfold. I had my timetable ready to go. The more I sat there in my funk, the more I realized that my plans hadn’t included God.

I hadn’t started my day with gratitude. In a hurry, I’d skipped those precious waking moments spent lifting my heart to the Lord and giving Him thanks for the precious gift of another day. I was too busy thinking of all I needed to get done and adding items to my to-do list. I didn’t take the time to remember the Author of my life. After all, God has given me all that I have, including the work I was absorbed with just then. Without Him, what is there? Yet on that misbegotten day of problems and tangles and frustrations, I’d been trying to do it all myself. I hadn’t included God in my plans. Also, I was living in the future and not in the now. Gratitude is being thankful for the moment, not living in the “what’s next.”

And that’s why the day was such a mess. I hadn’t turned to Him, given thanks and offered all my works and sufferings of the day for His good use. I hadn’t asked Jesus what His plans were for my day. The Savior I daily claim to follow might just as well have been a forgotten bit of pocket lint. That may sound harsh, but any Christian whose life isn’t founded on, centered in, and consumed by Jesus Christ is just plain lost. St. Paul tells us that “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together”(Colossians 1:17). Things were definitely NOT holding together for me that day because of my own pridefulness. It’s a lesson I have to learn fairly frequently.

Some people teach a kind of Christianity that says God will give you earthly riches if you are following Him “in the right way.” I don’t remember reading that anywhere in the Bible. I believe that suffering is a part of living in this world and that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re magically protected from hard times. Remember that 11 of the 12 Apostles were martyred for their faith. Most of the saints suffered all sorts of difficulties in their lives and they claimed their suffering as joy because it united them to His Cross. Their lives make my silly little frustrations disappear.

So at the end of my tiresome, trying day, I heard Him call to me. “Let me into your day, Judy. Share your plans and fears and frustrations with me. Let me carry the burdens in your heart and when you’re tired, I’ll carry you, too. Don’t try to do it all yourself. I love you. Let’s walk this road together.” He quietens my restless heart and gives me peace in the midst of my troubles. He restores my soul. Problems and heartaches don’t disappear if you follow Jesus—but they take on eternal meaning and joy. I pray that He’ll keep reminding me of that and that His grace will conform my will to His own, in thanksgiving and gratitude.

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
—-G. K. Chesterton

New Year, New Choices

There’s a story that’s told about two uncles and their young nephew. Let’s call the nephew “John.” We’ll call the uncles “Bill” and “Howard.” This family had lots of money, but unluckily for the two uncles, their young nephew was the heir to all the wealth—-and he was only 8 years old. But in the event of John’s death, Bill and Howard would get the entire estate. Hmmmm…… So one day young John was left at home alone while his parents went out for the evening. You see this was in the days when an 8 year-old could be safely left at home alone. On that particular evening, Uncle Bill decided to drop in for a visit. When he did, he found little John at home alone, taking a leisurely bath. Bill thought how easy it would be to increase his finances if John was to drown in his bath. And so he took his nephew in his hands and, holding him under the water as he struggled, Uncle Bill killed John. Wealth at last, thought Uncle Bill.

Now imagine for a moment that a different story unfolded. On that same sort of evening when John had been left alone by his parents, he had decided to enjoy a leisurely bath. (What 8 year-old boy does this?…but I digress). Now on this evening it’s his Uncle Howard who decides to drop by for a visit. When he enters John’s room he notices the door to his nephew’s bathroom is open. Stepping inside, Howard sees that John has slipped under the water of his bath. Small bubbles are rising from John’s nostrils and Howard notices a large bump on John’s forehead. He concludes correctly that John has hit his head and become unconscious. The rising bubbles tell Howard that the accident has just happened and that John is still alive. For now. Howard could quite easily lift John’s head above the water and save his life. As he looks at the boy, Howard considers the great wealth that would be his if little John were to perish. Hmmm….And he does nothing to save his dying nephew.

In both stories, little John dies. In the first one he dies as the result of something his Uncle Bill did to him. In the second one he dies as the result of something his Uncle Howard failed to do. Who was the worse uncle? In the eyes of the law, Bill would be guilty of murder since he actively did something to cause John’s death. Howard might be guilty of negligent homicide since he failed to something that he could easily have done to save John’s life. But let’s put aside legal questions and look at the situation in terms of sin. Which uncle is guilty of the greater sin?

At the beginning of Mass, we Catholics pray an ancient prayer called “The Confiteor,” from the Latin phrase meaning “I confess.” In it we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for God’s mercy. We pray,”I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned; in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” In this prayer, we acknowledge that NOT doing something can be just as sinful as our actions, our thoughts, and our words. We call these “sins of omission.” It makes us take a closer look at all the choices we make each day.

What if we don’t share our time, our talents, or our treasure with the poor and needy? What if we don’t love the Lord with all our hearts? What if we stop praying or stop going to Mass? What if we don’t go to confession anymore? What if we don’t take a stand against abortion? What if we fail to share the good news of the Gospel with the people in our lives? A kind word goes unspoken. An act of charity, not done. “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”(James 4:17). We all know the story of the Good Samaritan who stops to help the dying man. But do we also remember the priest and the Levite who could have helped, but chose to keep going? As we walk through these first days of the new year, may we all be more aware of the needs of those around us and may we respond in charity and generosity. Make each moment of your life an opportunity for the Lord’s love to bear good fruit for His kingdom.

“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

The House That Forgot Christmas

The little blue house at the end of the street looks different this winter. She has always kept a tidy home and garden, with windows washed, porches swept, and shrubs well-trimmed. The neat little cottage never lacked for maintenance or paint, the window boxes always had bright flowers, and when an errant leaf fell on the lawn, it was promptly removed. But not this year. The fall leaves are piled in windswept heaps underneath unkempt boxwoods. Frost-killed begonias are still in their pots on the porch. The whole house has a neglected, forgotten look about it. She’d always loved decorating for Christmas. Strands of sparkly white fairy lights were her favorite and she would drape them around every window and door frame. Candles would light each window and a huge evergreen wreath bedecked the front door. But this December there had been no Christmas lights or welcoming wreath. This year, Christmas came and went with the little blue house giving it no notice. Its blank windows stared out at the street, unblinking, not giving away any clue as to what’s happening inside.  

And inside the little blue house at the end of the street something incredible is happening. Something so amazing and completely other-worldly is happening there that every newspaper and television station on earth should be crowded into the quiet street out front, clambering for interviews and updates. Instead, only a few family members, a nurse, and a priest are there to bear witness. They come each day and gather around her bedside. Some bring food. Others, medicine. When the priest comes, the others meet him at the front door with a lighted candle (a Christmas candle?) and walk silently with him to her room. There they find a small table covered with a white cloth near her bedside. On it is a crucifix, two candles, a bottle of holy water an a few other items. The visitors kneel in reverence, not to the priest, but to the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, which he has brought with him. They join in prayer. She is anointed with oil and receives Holy Communion.  

As she had lived her life in the faith of Jesus Christ, she is meeting her death in that same steadfast love. Her family, in their charity, has made certain that her wishes are being followed. Her pastor was notified of her physical condition so that he could come to offer her the Sacraments of the Church she loved. Her family was prepared for his visits and had assembled everything the priest would need on the table in her room. Doing this is an act of charity and mercy for the woman they love and who is preparing to meet her Lord. 

And that meeting, whether later today or sometime in the days to come, is indeed a miracle. If you’re ever blessed to witness this sacred journey with someone you love, be truly grateful. We should never forget that the holy death of a faithful Christian is a triumph and not a tragedy. Yes, we cry for the loss of our loved one, but we also rejoice in the hope of our salvation in Christ, Who is victorious over death. When we kneel there, at the bedside of our loved one, we witness “as through a glass darkly”(I Corinthians 13:12) the unbearable beauty of the presence of God. Inside that little blue house at the end of the street is Bethlehem and Bethany, Calvary and Easter morning. Angels crowd the rooms, their holy wings brushing against the walls, infusing the house with the incense of heaven. So much grace that a mere earthly life can no longer contain it. And so, she flies free. And home. 

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants.”

         —-Psalm 116:15 

The Baby

She looked him over, from the top of his tiny head, to the soles of his wiggling little feet.  Ten fingers, ten toes—all parts accounted for.  Perfectly formed.  Perfectly normal.  She wrapped his wriggling body in a rough blanket.  So small.  She held him against her, feeling him struggle and whimper at this latest outrage.  Fists waving, eyes squinting and unfocused and then, the crying began.  His wails were out of proportion to his little body, piercing the cold midnight with their insistent “I am here!” declaration.  Was he hungry, she wondered?  Cold?  Wet?  She begins to learn about this new person in his first few minutes apart from her body.  This child may be helpless and dependent, she thinks, but he is certainly not passive.  She smiles and remembers his beginnings inside her, that moment of aching, unknowing hope that took root and grew within her.  Now, here he is—crying and demanding and separate from her.  And she wishes she could keep him safe forever.

 

As for the child, his world is a much smaller and much simpler place than hers, at least for now.  He wants warmth and food and human touch.  He shamelessly demands your attention to him.  A Jewish infant, he is completely unconcerned with the politics, religion, or ethnicity of his comforters.  His mother is an unmarried teenaged peasant, but he wouldn’t care if she’d been born a princess or a courtesan.  Some shepherds are coming to visit him, but their lowly vocation and social status are of no concern to him at all.  He’ll be visited soon by three pagan strangers from what is present-day Iraq, but their expensive gifts won’t impress him.  Everyone gathering to see him comes laden with their own complicated personal histories and predicaments.  Each one has questions and doubts about him, born of their own issues and weaknesses, their own personal sins and woundedness.  None of this concerns the child.  What he wants is their love.  Unquestioningly, he reaches out to each one in their turn, seeking out their humanity, desiring their touch.  A tiny hand seeking them right where they are.

 

Soon, he’ll grow up.  A king will try to kill him.  His family will have to become refugees on the run just to survive.  His parents will worry for him beyond our knowing.  He’ll grow up to quit the family business and hang out with an odd circle of friends.  His crowd will include a variety of shady characters, including prostitutes, radicals, tax collectors and drunkards.  He will get into big, big trouble.  He’ll confront those in power with an unyielding will, a fierce tongue, and a turn of the cheek.  In the end, his friends will desert him and his foes will seemingly destroy him.  In the more distant future, his life will inspire a faith that will transform the world.  His name will be a source of blessing and will also be used to wage wars.  But not tonight.  Tonight he’s a baby like all babies, innocent and a sign of hope.  Tonight he’s just like any other newborn—both nothing special and seven pounds of pure miracle.  The Word made flesh welcomes everyone at His manger.  He simply wants you to come as you are and to be there with Him.  Let your praises to Him be your deepest longings.  Let your prayers be your wholehearted attention.  Let your hymn be His lullaby.  And your Christmas gift to the King of Kings?  Yourself—whoever you happen to be, however you happen to be.  Love this Child as He reaches His tiny hand out to grip your finger.  The great I AM is looking up at you tonight.

Suddenly, a Child

This last week before Christmas is always a hectic one.  There’s shopping to be done, cards to be sent, cookies to be baked and delivered:  and the relatives to be picked up from the airport.  It’s great seeing our loved ones for this wonderful holiday.  Sharing Christmas with friends and family is one of God’s great blessings.  But anyone who has flown during Christmas week knows how frustrating it can sometimes be.  You need to pray for patience—and lots of it.  There will be long lines at the ticket counter and at the TSA checkpoint.  There could be delays in boarding and lengthy waits to take off.  And there might be other, more unexpected interruptions in our well-made plans as well.  For example, several years ago a young man was on his way home for Christmas.  Flying from Chicago to Miami, he had a layover in–where else?—Atlanta.  As he sat in a coffee shop eating a sandwich and waiting for his flight, a young woman came out of the ladies’ room carrying a tiny baby in her arms.  She walked up to him and asked, “Would you hold my baby for me?  I left my purse in the restroom.”  Surprised by her trust, he did as she asked.  But instead of retracing her steps to the bathroom, she darted out into the holiday-packed concourse and was immediately lost in the crowd.  The young man couldn’t believe his eyes.  He rushed out into the mass of people, calling after her but there was no sight of her anywhere.  Now what should he do?  Put the baby down and run?  He took a few deep breaths, looked down at the tiny face peering back at him from the blankets and went back inside the coffee shop.  The manager called the airport police and in a little while they’d found the baby’s real mother.  You see, the woman who’d left him holding the baby wasn’t the mother at all.  She’d snatched the child from the real mother less than an hour before.  Maybe it was to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child.  Maybe it was something else.  No one really knows.  But we do know that the young man breathed a huge sigh of relief when the real mother came to claim her child.  After all, what was he going to do with a baby?

 

In a way, each one of us is in the same situation as the young man.  Each Christmas, God Himself walks up to us and asks, “Would you hold My baby for Me, please?”  And then He thrusts the Christ Child into our arms.  And we’re left with the question “What am I doing to do with this baby?”  How can we hold Him?  With these poor hands?  With these weak arms?  Against our own sinful heart?”  Exactly.  Just as the Child was born into the humble manger in Bethlehem, He finds His home in our own humble embrace.  That’s why He came into the world—to feel our arms around Him, to find a home in our hearts––to be with us.  We call Him “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.”  So what are we to do with this Baby?  But maybe I’ve gotten the question wrong.  Maybe it’s not about us at all.  Maybe it’s all about Him and what He will do with us, if we only allow Him.  After all, who can help but be transformed when holding a baby?  So imagine for a few moments, in the middle of this hectic week, that you are holding the Christ Child in your arms right now.  Feel His warmth against your heart.  Smell the top of His tiny head–that delicious baby smell that they all share.  Listen to His breathing, His gurgles and coos.  Now, look at Him.  Look into His face.  Small.  Perfect.  Look into His eyes.  Brown and blinking and looking back at you.  Seeing you as no one else could see you.  Loving you as no one else can love you.  The Christ Child came to save the world, but right now, at this moment, in your arms, He is saving you.  And that is the dearest Christmas gift of all.

 

 

“Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” 

                                           2 Corinthians 9:15

The Light of Christmas

It’s the middle of another December and the darkness of the winter season is all around us.  The oak leaves are brown and crunchy underfoot on the cold ground.  Frost has burnt the leaves of the rose bush.  The nights are long and the blue-white stars shine with a steely cold light.  And yet we know that after the depths of winter, spring will come again.  At the root of that empty oak tree is the spark of life that will force the green leaves in just a few months.  Inside the frost-bitten bush is the sleeping rose bud that will awaken in the warmth of spring.  Memory consoles us in winter with the hope of new life.  We remember summer’s warmth of long days and soft nights; the abundance of our sun-kissed gardens and the green lushness of field and valley.  Even in winter’s darkness, we carry in our hearts the light of summer.

 

God formed our remembering hearts to seek Him and to long for the light of His love.  He knows how very much we need Him and yearn for the Truth which only He can give us.  And so He chose to come to us in the darkest days of winter, when His light would shine the brightest and when the consolation of His coming would be most welcome.  Heaven came  to earth in the Blessed Virgin’s holy womb; her sacred “yes” inviting the Infinite to make His home among us.  But this King of all Kings didn’t come to rule, but to serve.  He doesn’t demand homage, but seeks to be in a relationship with each one of us.  The great “I AM” comes to us as a shivering baby in a backwater manger.  That very night, the winter skies were filled with angels and the light of heaven used a star to shine forth the way to Him. The light of that singular star is reflected today in every twinkling bulb on our Christmas trees, and in every candle flickering on our altar.  The sanctuary lamp burns brightly near the Tabernacle of every Catholic church in the world and proclaims that Christ is here!  Just as He was in the manger, or the Upper Room, or on the Cross, or arising from the tomb.  The uncreated Light that rolled away the stone and banished darkness forever, that made the earth and hung the moon in place, that raised Lazarus from the dead and cured the sick and walked on the water—that same Light comes to us at every Mass.  And the angels that dance around His heavenly throne, and who heralded His birth to the shepherds, kneel with us around the altar in loving adoration.

 

And so in these darkest days of winter, again He comes to us.  In the darkness of our lost and sinful world, again He comes to us.  In the sinful, secret corners of our guilty hearts, He comes to us.  “The Light of the world” (John 8:12) comes to love us, to know us, and to save us.  He comes to bring us to Himself in all-embracing Light.  He comes to heal our broken souls and bind up all our wounds.  In the winter darkness of our sins and failings, our addictions and our weakness, when we can see nothing before us but cold, barren ground and the loneliness of doubt, He comes to bring us new life and hope.  Christ, our Light, conquers darkness forevermore.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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