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