The Internet and Faith

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For most of us the internet is a communications tool that allows us instant access to the world. We use it for business. We email our family and friends. We watch videos and listen to music. We shop. And we look for answers to the questions we have. Folks like me also use the internet to discuss our faith in God and answer questions from our readers. In that way, the internet can be a great tool for spreading the good news of the Gospel. This past week Pope Francis spoke at length about the internet and he offered some advice on using it as part of the Church’s “New Evangelization.”

To begin with, he said the internet is a good thing—even though some uses of it might be sinful. “The internet…is something truly good, a gift from God” (1/23/14). Like any of God’s gifts to us, it’s how we choose to use the internet that gives it meaning and purpose. If we spend our time online viewing pornography, then the internet is an occasion of sin for us and we should avoid it. But if our use of it fosters communication and dialogue, it can be a valuable resource in sharing the Gospel. The pope said,”By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach ‘to the ends of the earth’ ” (Acts 1:18). Can you imagine what St. Paul would have done with the internet? Here was a guy who preached, wrote, walked, sailed and sent forth converts in a hostile and dangerous world. Jail and shipwrecks couldn’t stop him. What if he’d had a website and a blog? How many followers would he have on Twitter? How many friends on Facebook? I think St. Paul would’ve loved using the internet to preach Christ.

Unfortunately some of the Christian message online today is obscure, ineffective, argumentative or just plain mean. There are some ways to share the Gospel that can bear good fruit and a few pointers can be good to remember:
1). Slow down. The written word needs reflection, both when doing the writing and when reading something written by someone else. Without face-to-face interaction, the written word can be open to misinterpretation and its meaning can be lost or muddied. We know this from our own text messages with others, don’t we? Take your time, ask questions and don’t jump to conclusions.

2). Intellectual arguments are usually pretty useless when it comes to faith. When was the last time someone changed your faith in Jesus by arguing with you? Trying to “one-up” someone about God just doesn’t work and usually causes bad feelings. When we’re arguing we aren’t truly listening and we aren’t engaged with the other person because we’re too busy formulating our next talking point. It’s far better to listen than to argue. “To dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say and to entertain his or her point of view or perspective” (Pope Francis, 1/23/14).

3). People looking for the Lord are hurting. We don’t look for answers if we think we already have them. Realize that seekers are going through a process that can be painful and scary and don’t add to that. Pope Francis said, “The digital highway is…a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope,”. Be kind.

As Christians, the internet and social media should call us to be reflective and deliberate in our interactions with others. We must be good listeners and respond with our hearts and our mercy, not with our egos and our need to be right. Sometimes the best response is silence. There’s a big difference between proselytizing and listening, between pedagogy and the simple human encounter of a shared conversation, a quiet time of hearing and reflection. Be truly present to that other person. Be kind and respectful. Remember that God most often enters through a broken heart and not a conquered intellect. Be tender and be mindful of what the other person might be going through. The internet is another way to reveal the love of Jesus to a broken culture.

The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; not of wires but of people.”
—Pope Francis, 1/23/14

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Our Lost Generations

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One of them might have cured cancer. Another one could have flown us to the stars. One of them might have helped the world find a way to peace in places that have known far too much war. They would have been doctors, farmers, mothers, fathers, teachers, firemen and priests. They might also have been burglars, layabouts, swindlers and yes, even murderers. But every one of them had been created in the image and likeness of God. They were known by Him before all ages and loved by Him beyond all knowing. Fifty-eight million Americans. Lost.

This week is the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision which effectively made abortion legal in this country. The justices based their decision on an understanding of a woman’s right to privacy. Abortion was found to be a private decision. But it is not. Many women are coerced or even forced by husbands, boyfriends, or parents into having an abortion. Many may have an abortion because they can’t see any other option for themselves. Every woman will remember the abortion they had. Most of them will come to say that they regretted their decision as the years went by. Abortion kills a child and it wounds everyone else. And it has wounded our culture as well.

Abortion allows us to see all human life as less sacred and more disposable. We begin to see assisted suicide as a right and we form groups to support legislation to make it legal. We hear talk about death panels and we’re no longer shocked. We begin to withhold food and water from the terminally-ill so as to hasten death. We abort babies we see as imperfect. China has murdered a generation of women through gender-based abortions. Minority women in America have a disproportionate number of abortions. Yet we condemn racism or sexism in other contexts. Abortion is anything but private.

And yet, there is hope. God’s mercy can heal the heart and soul of any woman who has chosen abortion. Anyone who has encouraged a woman to have an abortion, driven her to the clinic, assisted in the procedure, or promoted abortion—all are offered God’s mercy and forgiveness. No sin is beyond the reach of His love. There is hope for the unborn when their fathers accept their responsibilities and support the mother of their child. In many ways, the rise in abortions parallels the decline in faithful fatherhood.

As a Church we must welcome and support mothers in need. We can’t just shake our heads and preach about sin. We must be God’s mercy to them. We have to open our hands and help. We have to support pro-life programs that offer real help to moms in crisis. We have to support adoption. We must elect politicians at all levels of government who will protect life from the moment of conception until natural death.

As individuals we have to do all that we can to transform our culture, one person, one heart at a time. Pray. Vote. Protest. Fast. Offer sacrifices and perform works of mercy. When we do nothing in the face of evil, will we also be held accountable for it? Be a defender of life, a voice for the child who has no voice, a friend to the woman considering an abortion. Welcome her and her baby into your pew, your home, and your prayers.

“Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life,
And for the lives of all my brothers and sisters.
I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion.
Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death by the Resurrection of Your Son.
I am ready to do my part in ending abortion.
Today I commit myself
Never to be silent.
Never to be passive.
Never to be forgetful of the unborn.
I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement,
And never to stop defending life
Until all my brothers and sisters are protected,
And our nation once again becomes
A nation with liberty and justice
Not just for some, but for all.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Priests for Life

Finding The Lost

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Several years ago my sweet sister-in-law Kay gave me a beautiful pair of earrings. Made of silver, they have a gray freshwater pearl with a citrine on top. I love the unusual combination and I wear them a lot. Until last week. I’d worn the earrings and was undressing for bed when I realized one of the earrings was missing. My heart broke. I looked through the clothes I’d just taken off and then I got a flashlight and searched the bedroom floor. Nothing. I was so disappointed that I’d lost one of my absolute favorite things. I said a quick prayer to St. Anthony, who helps so many of us find lost things. Over the next couple of days whenever I’d walk through the house my eyes would search each floor, hoping I’d find my earring. But I was beginning to think it was gone for good. Had St. Anthony forgotten me this time?

Then one morning, as I was rushing to leave for work, I dropped my keys by the front door. When I stooped down to pick them up, I caught a glimpse of something shiny under a small bookshelf. When I looked closer I saw that it was my missing earring! Thanks be to God—and good St. Anthony. Finding my missing little treasure really made my day. It’s a great feeling to find something dear to your heart that you thought was gone. There’s no feeling quite like it.

Our Lord is in the business of finding the lost. He tells us this over and over again in Scripture. We hear of the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to search for the one sheep that is missing (Luke 15:3-7). We know about the woman who searched her house over for the coin she’d lost (Luke 15:8-10). Probably the tenderest story is the one of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This was one of the favorite stories of our late Pope John Paul II. He often used it to illustrate the depth of God’s love and mercy for His children. No one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiving embrace. Jesus tells us the angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents and returns to God (Luke 15:7).

It makes sense then, that every time one of us goes to confession, we cause the angels to rejoice. Think of that the next time you go. Repentance is that “turning back” to God. By acknowledging our sinfulness and our need of God’s forgiveness, we are enveloped in God’s loving embrace, just like the prodigal son who found love and mercy in his father’s arms. Despite whatever we’ve done and despite what we truly deserve, God receives us with love. This is important to remember: Jesus receives sinners. In fact, the Church He founded on St. Peter ONLY receives sinners. The words of the first pope to the earliest Christians are exactly what the Catholic Church still teaches: “Repent and be baptized..”(Acts 2:38). When you know you’re a sinner and you know that only Jesus can save you, that’s when you’ll seek Him in His Church. You don’t realize how lost you are on your own until you grasp that you’re a sinner in need of grace. That’s why God goes out of His way to tell us this, over and over again. Nothing gives Him more joy than to welcome us home to His love and mercy.

God rejoices along with His angels when we come to Him asking for forgiveness. That little earthly joy that we feel when we’ve found something that was lost is a tiny, pale, washed-out imitation of the joy that fills all of heaven when someone returns to God in repentance. Heaven’s door is open to anyone who turns from their sins and receives the grace of Baptism. Don’t think that you aren’t always welcome in your Father’s house.

“We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.”
—Anton Chekhov

Sins of Omission

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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.

Be kind. Now.

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Last January I decided I stink so badly at keeping New Year’s resolutions that I was only going to make ONE. I figured I might be able to do just one. For 2013, I was going to be kind. So many of the saints saw a connection between kindness and holiness. It seemed pretty simple. And beautiful. And do-able. How hard could it be (just) to be kind to people? Wasn’t I already (mostly) kind to (most) people (mostly) all the time already? But it turns out that being kind can be terrifically challenging, at least for me. I had to admit just how often I was failing to be kind and that turned out to be a lot.

Let me back up and explain a little. My unkindnesses are generally of the hidden variety. The quick, harsh judgment of someone’s appearance or behavior. The mind that jumps to conclusions making the heart take offense where none was meant. The tendency to put myself and my needs and wants above anyone else’s. Being selfish, in other words. And we know that pride–the father of all sins–is at the heart of selfishness. This makes it hard to be truly kind. And by “kind” I mean being charitable, patient and generous in spirit.

In the morning I’d pray that the Holy Spirit would fill me with kindness and patience and love. Then the day would begin and I’d soon find myself being impatient and angry and judgmental. I kept getting in God’s way. I realized that, like a recovering addict, I had to “do” kindness on a moment-by-moment basis. An alcoholic doesn’t stay in recovery by living in the future–he or she remains sober by living in the now. So I applied that same strategy to my addiction to selfishness. I would cooperate with God’s grace in each moment. Rather than praying, “Lord, help me to be kind today,” I pray, “Lord, help me to be kind at this moment.” If I can allow His kindness and charity live through me in this moment, perhaps I can be kind in this next minute, the next hour, this afternoon. The more I let go of the idea of a year-long resolution, the more I became able to be authentically kind right now.

Reflecting God’s charity in every moment of our lives is a way that we can participate with Him in building the kingdom of God. There is so much darkness in our world, yet every small act of kindness helps His light to grow. Like a ripple in a pond, kindness grows on kindness and sends out its effects into the world. In that sense, no act of kindness is “random”–each one works together for God’s good purpose.

St. Paul writes “…all things have been created through [Christ] and for Him. He Himself is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). One of the “things” that Jesus holds together is me. And you. And all of creation. We are all thoughts in the mind of God–at this very moment. Following Christ means allowing Him to live in our hearts moment-by-moment, in every situation, in every circumstance. Being kind is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and it marks us as His children. As another new year begins, a year made up of “moments,” may we allow the love of Christ to transform each “now” into a ripple of kindness in the world’s pond.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.”
—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta