Mercy & Forgiveness 

“…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”(Matthew 6:12). The mercy of God is freely given to all who follow Christ and the words of this prayer which He taught us. God forgives us as we forgive others. We pray this at every Sunday Mass, letting the familiar words form in our mouths as we have done since childhood. We are confident in them. They have become a pillar of faith. And like the pillars that support the church, we often ignore them, or peer around them to see other, more interesting things. 

We forget that God’s mercy depends on our mercy to the people who have wronged us. We sing songs about His amazing grace, but rarely include themes of our own mercy in our hymns. Our forgiveness hinges on our willingness to forgive other people. If we hold onto grudges and slights, we condemn ourselves. Mercy is an exchange of God’s grace, like living water that flows into and out of a sacred pool. The Dead Sea collects all the water from a great and flourishing area of land, but it has no outlet. And because of that, it is lifeless and saline. We’re like that, too. If all we do is accept God’s mercy without sharing it with others, then our own spiritual life begins to die. Oh, but forgiving others is so hard. Yes, it’s hard. In fact, it’s impossible. Which is why we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit. Only God can help us to love like He does and to forgive like He forgives. We have to grow in humility so that our pride doesn’t interfere with His grace.  

Jesus teaches us about this when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). We have to know our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty in order to have a heart that is open to grace. You’ve got to know how very much you need the love of Christ and that, without Him, you’re lost. That realization can be hard for some folks. It goes against our modern ideas of self-sufficiency and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Spiritual growth isn’t like that at all. Becoming more like Jesus means becoming less self-reliant and more dependent on Him. It goes against the wisdom of the world.  

Forgiving others isn’t an emotion, it’s an act of the will; a decision that you make. You don’t have to “feel” forgiving to forgive. And it’s not forgetting what was done to you—that’s denial. You don’t become a doormat. Forgiving is letting go of your right to be right. It means letting go of your right to revenge. God is in charge of justice—not you. And forgiving doesn’t mean that the other person has to admit they’re wrong. You forgive, no matter how they act towards you. This is about your relationship with God. Jesus forgave people who hadn’t repented and maybe never would. And we have to do the same. Every time you think of that person who has wronged you, say, “I forgive you”—whether you mean it or not at that moment. And then pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pairing these two together reminds us how very much we need God’s forgiveness and how entwined that mercy is with our forgiveness of others. Our Lord never intended for us to live our faith in isolation. He lived His life in a family and a Church and He left us a Church in which we may journey together, forgive together, and learn to love together. And every Sunday Mass we stand together and pray,”…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.  

Dear Lord: Show me the way 

Most everyone knows St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her work with the poorest of the poor. But unless you’re Catholic, you might not know of another modern day saint named Josemaria Escriva. He was a Spanish priest who died in 1975 and he was recognized as a saint in 2002. He is called “the Saint of ordinary life.” He wrote extensively about living each moment in service and in holiness. He believed that every vocation in life was a path to sainthood and his writings are a challenge to each one of us to live our faith to the fullest. Because he lived in our time, he’s easy to read. One of his most famous quotes challenges me every day.  

“Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Ouch. That really hit homes for me. It makes me look too closely at my own heart and my own sins. And it feels so much like something Jesus would have said. Of course, that’s how saints work. They think so little of themselves that our Lord can speak through them. This quote gets to the core of our relationship with other people and reminds me of something the Alabama nun, Mother Angelica once said: “If it wasn’t for people, we’d all be saints.” That one always makes me laugh, but it also reveals a great truth about our faith and our struggle to live it each day. Christianity exists in relationships. The Holy Trinity itself is a relationship. Our salvation is a relationship. We live out the Kingdom of God in our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Reading the Gospels, we see how much of Jesus’ time and teaching was spent in healing broken relationships.. How we accept and love other people is the fruit of our faith journey.  

And that’s why that quote from St. Josemaria really speaks to me. “Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Rather than just getting annoyed by that tedious coworker or the teenager who never listens to you—we can use those moments as opportunities to grow in grace. Ask God to show you what part of yourself needs working on, as if the other person is a spotlight on your faults, pointing them out to us. How can I grow in humility? How can I let go of the times that person has hurt me? How can I use this moment to become more patient? Like we hear in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our relationships with other people are opportunities to grow in grace and to become more like Christ. But like every other aspect of life, we have to invite Jesus in to show us the way and to reveal to us how He wants us to grow.  

Every time someone “gets on your nerves,” it’s the whisper of the Holy Spirit inviting us to grow in our faith. Rather than an emotional knee-jerk reaction to being irritated or angry, recognize the moment as a chance to practice a virtue that you need to grow. You can’t do this without the help of the Holy Spirit. So pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened to see that part of you that’s being “sharpened” by the other person. This prayer by Thomas Merton is one of my favorites:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.  

Be Informed & Vote 

Well, it’s election time again. If you’re like me, you’re worn out from the campaign ads and primaries and debates, and all the drama. But we should also remember to be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the election process. And (dare I say it?) proud to be an American, a citizen of the greatest republic in the world. For all the things we might dislike about the election process, we are blessed to be able to freely vote for the candidates of our choosing. So many have fought and died to give us this right and to protect this freedom for millions of others around the world.  

When we consider the candidates and platforms, we need to be informed about each person’s positions and opinions. Good citizens should be able to explain their choice and not just vote by party or emotion. Furthermore, Christians are called to vote with an informed conscience. After all, we’re meant to be bearers of the Light in a dark and hostile world. In other words, we should take our voting clues from the Gospel, not the media, or the pollsters. There are so many important issues, foreign and domestic, that we have to consider. Some are critical; others, not so much. 

Catholics teach and believe that there are some issues which are of ultimate importance when we enter the voting booth. These are sometimes called “the non-negotiables” meaning that it would be immoral for any Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports one of these positions. It’s not that cut and dried, of course. For example, someone running for a position on the local tax board who also supports abortion could still be a moral voting choice because local tax boards don’t usually make any decisions regarding abortion. But these five issues become more and more critical the “higher-up” you go in government. They are extremely important in the office of the President, of course. Here are the foundational issues which must inform our votes:

1) Abortion. Life is a gift of the Creator and all other rights are dependent on it. When we actively support candidates who vote to fund and uphold abortion, we bear the moral consequences of that action. If we believe that God truly formed us in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5) then we must vote for candidates who oppose abortion.

2) Euthanasia. It follows then that the gift of life is precious and we must do all that we can to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us. This includes the unborn, the sick, the elderly, and those nearing death. Just as God chose our birthdays, it is up to Him to call us home to Himself. We must vote to protect all life from conception until natural death.

3) Embryonic Stem Cell Research. This is a medical procedure which uses fertilized human eggs (babies) to conduct medical research. Any good which this might accomplish is negated because embryos are created and destroyed in the process. Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, doesn’t destroy life and has produced many promising medical treatments.  

4) Human Cloning. This is the attempt to manipulate human embryos to produce genetic copies. Fertilized embryos would be created and destroyed in the process.  

5) Same-sex “marriage.” Despite its legality, Catholics reject any notion of marriage which is not a sacramental union of one man and one woman. Gay “marriage” contradicts God’s plan for marriage as outlined in Holy Scripture and reflected in Christ’s relationship with His Church.  

So. Do your homework and know where your candidates stand on these vital issues. And vote. It’s a precious gift. Lastly, trust in God to see our country through these next four years.  

“In this world, you will have trouble. But take courage; I have conquered the world.”

      —–John 16:33

Prayers For Kathy 

I was in high school before I ever met a Catholic, at least that I knew. In those years, a Catholic family moved into our school district and the mom became our high school secretary. Three of their five daughters were close in age to me. Throughout those years I had been reading about and visiting a variety of Christian churches on my own faith search, trying to understand their beliefs and trying to find somewhere that I felt at home. A couple of my girlfriends and I attended a weekly evangelical Bible study which opened the Scriptures for me in a way I hadn’t known before. Still, the Bible study wasn’t a church and I wanted a church I could accept.  

I’d never visited a Catholic Church, but the more I read Scripture, the more I was interested in the history of the Bible and how it came to be written, compiled, and passed down to us. The more I read, the more I knew I had to learn about Catholicism. And one day, in my world history class, I had an opportunity to do that. We were studying European history and you can’t do that without studying the Catholic Church. In that class with me was one of “those new Catholic girls” named Kathy. Pretty and always smiling, she served as our Catholic expert and for several days she did a great job explaining the history and beliefs of her Catholic faith. I remember how she explained what a Rosary was and how the prayers for it came from the Gospels. She even brought in a small bottle of holy water, which our class full of Baptists and Methodists looked on as some rare and magical potion. Kathy was great and she answered our questions with grace.  

Fast forward a few years and I was enrolled in a Catholic university by then and I knew I was going to join the Church. I had never been baptized and my local priest led me in personal instruction to prepare me for the Sacraments. As the time for them came nearer, I realized I had a problem: I needed a Catholic godparent. So I called our high school secretary and she gladly agreed to serve in that role. She and Kathy came to my Baptism and Confirmation. I was so happy that the two of them were there that day to share my joy.  

Kathy and her family became a treasured memory of my journey to the Catholic faith, even though we lost touch over the years. Through Facebook, I knew that Kathy had married and had a family and that one of her daughters had entered religious life. The joy on their faces in the photos Kathy posted was obvious. Now here’s where you, my wonderful readers, come in. Kathy was in a very serious car accident last week. She’s been in ICU in a great deal of pain since then. She’s already undergone several surgeries and there will be more. Her sisters have kept us updated on her status, which is a blessing for everyone who knows and loves Kathy and her extended family. I’d like to ask each of you to pray for Kathy’s healing. Please ask the Great Physician to relieve her horrible pain and to allow her to get the rest she so desperately needs. I know that every family has someone who may be hurting right now, but please spare a few moments to include my friend Kathy in your prayers. I know without a doubt that she’d do the same for you. And I thank you for your charity.  

A Prayer For Kathy 

Lord, look upon my friend with eyes of mercy. May your healing hand rest upon her, soothing her pain and curing her injuries from her car accident. May your life-giving powers flow into every cell of her body and into the depths of her soul, cleansing, purifying, restoring her to wholeness and strength for service in your Kingdom. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Your Clear Conscience

There’s so much going on in the world today and it’s a lot to keep up with. Between television news on a 24-hour cycle and all that’s available online and in social media, it’s a real effort to stay on top of the latest. But you do your best, because you care what happens to people and you want to stay informed.  

You tuned in on September 11 just in time to see the plane hit the second tower. You still remember the horror and shock of that awful day. So many innocent people killed in just a few hours. Over the following months and years you watched us go to war and you saw many more Americans killed. You wondered if our country was on the right path. You hated seeing so many deaths. Because you care about people.  

When the recession hit America in 2008, you watched many people lose their jobs. Some people you knew even lost their homes. Qualified folks went so long without being able to find work. Even college graduates couldn’t find a job. Construction everywhere ground to a halt. And this went on for years, until it almost seemed like this was normal in our country. You felt so awful seeing friends and family struggle to make ends meet. Because you care about people.  

You’re worried about the environment, too. Maybe at first you weren’t too convinced when you heard folks talk about global warming. But now it seems pretty clear that things are heating up. Is it caused by people or is it another natural period of warming temperatures? Is there anything we can do to stop it? You worry. You recycle. You conserve. You’ve thought about buying a Prius. You see our weather changing with more heat, more drought and more extreme events. It’s enough to make you anxious for the generations to come. Because you care about people.  

You see friends and family struggling with understanding and accepting folks who are gay, lesbian, or transgender. You watched when the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal across our country. You’re trying to be supportive with those folks who are hurting or angry because of that ruling. But you also see the happiness unfolding in the lives of your LGBTQ friends as they marry and make families together. Sometimes you feel you’re caught in the middle of the whole thing. Because you care about people.  

You’ve watched our country debate immigration. Those pictures of babies and children suffering in Syria break your heart. You know that many families there just want to come here and be safe and have a normal life. But you’ve also seen terrorists attack innocent people here and in Paris and Brussels, and so many other places. You always put a flag on your Facebook profile when that happens. Part of you worries that immigrants might be a threat here if we aren’t carefully screening who we let come in. You think about it a lot. Because you care about people.  

And now the election is almost here and there’s so much to consider before voting. Jobs and security and education. There’s school loans and fracking and trade. What about the Supreme Court vacancy and the quality of our drinking water? We have to address Putin and his aggression don’t we? And somehow we need to get Congress out of the doldrums to focus on things like healthcare and tax reform. And there’s crime and violence in our streets like never before, right? It can be overwhelming when you think about it all. But you don’t have to think about abortion. That’s the law of the land, so you need not worry about it going away. It’s here to stay. You’ll spend your time working for other causes. Because you care about people. Well, people that are already born, anyway.

If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”

       —-St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta 

Ketchup and Butterflies

It’s been a long, hot summer here in north Georgia. And it was another stifling afternoon a couple of weeks ago as I waited for my older brother at our local cemetery. It was our late mother’s birthday and we were meeting at her gravesite to leave some flowers and do a bit of remembering. I sat in my car, grateful for the air conditioning and looked around. This is one of those old-fashioned places with lovely headstones and family memorials. I looked round at the familiar stones marking each person’s resting place. So many of them were names that I recognized. And on this September afternoon, the air was filled with butterflies.  

Little yellow butterflies are everywhere you look in our area every late summer day. They’re called “cloudless sulphur” butterflies and they migrate down the eastern U.S. this time of year. When you start seeing them, you know that summer is on the way out—even though, like this year, it may not feel like it. I sat in my cool car, watching dozens of them fluttering among the marble and the flowers, always heading south. Though it was a bittersweet day for me, I couldn’t help but smile at them, and remember. 

It was thirty years ago, on another hot summer afternoon. Mother and I were making homemade ketchup with some of her abundant homegrown tomatoes. This is a long process of cooking and stirring, cooking and stirring. Each batch takes several hours to make. The kitchen was like a furnace and every few hours, we’d take some iced tea and sit outside on the shady deck at the back of the house for a break. I just wanted the day to be over so I could take a cool shower and be done with all those tomatoes. But Mother was in her element, enjoying every minute of the process and so proud of the end product. It was she who pointed out the little yellow butterflies flying around in the shade around us. “Summer’s almost over when those little things show up,” she said, raising her tea glass to the butterflies. She told me how they migrated through our part of the world each year, something I’d never noticed before.  

But in the 14 years since her death, not a September has gone by that I don’t look for them. When they show up, I remember that “ketchup day” with her and I’m so very grateful for it, and for her. Now that I’m a lot older, I appreciate her love of the homegrown and the homemade. I value the work that goes into making something of quality, no matter the effort it might take. And I’d give anything in the world to have another day like that with her again. 

I’d come to the cemetery that afternoon feeling blue and a little weepy, trying to keep it together on another sad anniversary. But there I was, smiling at butterflies and remembering a wonderful day in my mom’s company. It’s amazing how deeply we can be touched by something as small as a butterfly’s wing.  

God made our world beautiful for us. He made colors and smells and sounds and tastes for our pleasure, not for Himself. And all that beauty draws our hearts and minds to the beauty of the One Who made it for us. Whenever we need a reminder of all the wonders around us, He gives it to us. His timing is always perfect. Whether it’s a sunset or a bluebird or a snowflake, or a little yellow butterfly—we can know that He holds us in the palm of His hand. He knows what we need before we do and He knew I needed to feel my Mother’s love again that day in the cemetery. And so, at her grave, He sent me little yellow butterflies.  

Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people.”

              —Psalm 96:3 

A Touch of Evil

There were 3 of us in the college chapel that night. It was close to midnight but the chapel was always open and we’d often meet together there after the library closed to pray a Rosary. That night we were the only ones in the chapel and the low lighting and flickering candles made it a prayerful and quiet place. My friends and I had been praying for about 10 minutes when the double doors at the back of the small chapel slammed open loudly, startling us badly. We all turned around to see who had come in with such noise. It was 2 men dressed in black and standing side by side, staring down the aisle, not at us, but at the altar and the Tabernacle behind it. They weren’t students. In a small college like ours, we knew our classmates. It felt wrong, in a way I couldn’t really define. My friends and I kept praying softly and the two men stood without moving just inside the doorway. After a minute or so, my friends and I stood up and stepping into the aisle, turned to face them while we prayed. To this day, almost 40 years later, I don’t know how the 3 of us decided to do this, but we did. I just knew that I had to put myself between these people and the Eucharist. The moment we turned toward them, they left the chapel. We finished our Rosary and then one of my friends left to tell the chaplain what had happened. The priest came and locked the chapel doors that night. My friends and I talked often about that night and the men dressed all in black who seemed so interested in the Blessed Sacrament.  

Over the years since then, I’ve had several experiences that I’d consider a brush with an evil presence. There was the lady who had applied for a secretarial position. When she walked into my office for her interview I felt as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the room. I felt nauseous and couldn’t bear to look at her directly. Then there was the hotel room filled with a darkness that every light in the room couldn’t eliminate. When I lay down on the bed, I felt a heavy, unpleasant pressure on my legs and arms, as if the darkness itself was pinning me down. Needless to say, I didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes in both the interview and the hotel room.

Evil isn’t something we need to let terrify us though, since we are members of the family of God. But neither should we ignore it or tolerate its presence in our lives. Too often, people actually invite evil into their lives through the use of psychics or “innocent” things like ouija boards, tarot cards or seances. The Church teaches us that we should guard our souls against the power of evil, since it seeks our destruction. The grace of Baptism, Confirmation, and Confession is a powerful protection. Frequent Holy Communion is the most bountiful source of grace and goodness. And yet even the Saints often hand encounters with demons, despite their holiness. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Padre Pio wrote at length of these attacks on them. Neither of them ignored the evil sent to persecute them, but neither were they terrified. We should follow their examples. 

Recognize evil for what it is and call it by its true name. It’s not “new age” or “new world” or “seeking” or “channeling.” It’s evil. And it wants to destroy you. But evil’s power over us is limited. The devil isn’t the equal of God in any way, shape or form. He is a creature, made by God, who answers to the name and power of our Lord. And the grace and power of God shields and protects us from him. The Lord gave us a Church and the Sacraments to draw us to Him and enfold us in His love. If you think something or someone is evil, you’re probably right. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and pray for the Lord’s protection. Pray. Fast. Do good for others. Go to Confession and receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Let the devil know he has no place in your heart, your home, or your family.

“…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

        —- I John 4:4 

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