Archive for January, 2014

Carrying On

Posted: January 31, 2014 in World On The Edge

file0001758663318Life is never without its problems. Things happen.
The beauty of the human spirit is that we are able to live through them. We are able to carry on.

How do we do this?

How do parents who’ve lost a child carry on? Or the person who’s lost a job, a livelihood his family depends upon? How do we get through injustice, lying stealing, cheating, killing?

Our world is full of these things–yet most of us carry on.

We carry on because we have Hope. Despite all of the above, and more, we believe there is goodness in the world, too. Goodness in our lives.

Oddly, the things that happen to us, often bring out our goodness, more than they bring out our hatred, or vengeance, or lack of forgiveness.

This is what Hope accomplishes–a conquering of self-pity. It stirs courage within us to go on with our lives and make the best we can out of them.

And where does it come from? We are born with it. We are created in its image. We will be guided from within, if only we let ourselves be.

So whenever the holes in our lives appear, remember the Hope we have inside to fill them. Stir that hope, and keep stirring it, through prayer, through positive people, through continuing to love others. Stir it until courage comes, to begin again.

Revenge!

Posted: January 30, 2014 in World On The Edge

file6231273266536Wrath,  also known as “rage,” is one of The Seven Deadly Sins. It may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Of course, we all get angry, but anger–when it is acted out–can lead to serious consequences

Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including revenge.

People cheat, lie, steal, and kill out of revenge.

Sometimes we take revenge on someone we say  we love. We see many disturbing  news stories about one jealous family  member killing  another he is supposed to love.  Revenge is the instigator.

But–out of revenge– we can also destroy a person with gossip–nasty words to kill his or her reputation. And that, too,  is serious stuff.

How and why does this happen?

True love never breeds Revenge. It breeds forgiveness. Getting revenge, holding a grudge and refusing to forgive are all born of anger. These seemingly little acts of anger grow up to be big acts of anger which have the potential to hurt many, including us.

An obsession with vengeance is about finding an object on which to pin all our anger and fear and rage. Revenge is the inability to understand that we can’t punish the natural world, and that Nature isn’t specifically malicious, just impersonally brutal at times.

Revenge can eat away at us until it becomes something separate from our own personality. We don’t think clearly, speak rationally or feel compassionately. We are not ourselves. In fact, we are destroying ourselves.

We may not have control over the things other people do which anger us, but we do have control over what we do when we feel angry.

When our “anger button” is pressed, our immediate reaction may be to strike out and “get back” at the person who hurt or offended us. A big challenge will be to take time out to cool down before we take any action. This step demands much self-discipline, self-control, prayer, and a strong desire to become a wholesome person.

When I’ve been so angry that I’m on the verge of revenge, I remember this old adage.

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” — Confucius

Swimming Against the Tide

Posted: January 29, 2014 in World On The Edge

DSC_0539We Americans think of ourselves as a compassionate people. And we are.

But we can also be self-absorbed– sometimes so concerned with ourselves that we don’t notice the suffering of others, even if it’s right under our nose. Still God, who has a plan for each of us, is calling us to make choices.

In the words of Pope Francis:
God calls you to make definitive choices, and He has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.

Many of you know that writers of Catholic Fiction, like me, strive to show Christ’s presence in the world, even in the middle of evil. This is what the movie, ‘Gimme Shelter,’  does as well.

Ronald Krauss, director and screen writer for ‘Gimme Shelter’ and Kathy DiFiore, the founder of Several Sources Shelters, the real-life person whose plight inspired the film, have brought Christ into the fringes of society with this movie. This is a prolife film, but also a film about addictions, parenthood, and the breakup of families–unfortunately, all that so prevalent in our world today.

I think this is an inspiring movie. It calls for us to Swim Against the Tide. It calls for action. It calls for us to dive into ourselves and decide what true compassion really is, and in doing so, what we as a people are capable of–on both sides.

Dark Night?

Posted: January 28, 2014 in World On The Edge

file3501291129123Have you experienced a  “dark night of the soul?”  Deep depression, a spiritual crisis, the collapse of meaning and purpose  in your life, the loss of something, or someone, who meant everything to you?

I have experienced something like that.  And I can tell you that it is temporary. You will come out of it.  And you may  be a better person because of it.  You may even be a totally different person than you thought you were.

So, hang on.

Trust in God.

Even if you feel completely alone. Even if  you think no person  and no  thing can help you. Even if you’ve tried everything, but  there’s nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and you feel helpless. And even if you think you’re defeated—hang on.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.
………..two stanzas from Dark Night of the Soul, by Saint John of the Cross

No one can actually  see your dark night.  You can create an appearance that all is well, while inside your heart is breaking. At times, I even thought if I had a fatal disease, it would be better than what I was going through–at least it would be apparent to someone. But what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t alone.  Even if I couldn’t see where  I was going myself, someone was seeing me along the way.  I trusted I would be lead. And I was.

Dark nights are temporary. I can’t stress that enough.  On any  day— within a minute, or second— what was so dark can take on light again.

You are loved. Don’t give up. Surrender to divine guidance.  And Trust.

Self Esteem?

Posted: January 27, 2014 in World On The Edge

file0001993853011No question self esteem plays an important part in a person’s life. And acquiring it comes early. Psychologists believe that by the time a child is three years old, self-esteem–either positive or negative–is fairly well established. So it’s important that parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and babysitters show love, kindness, and respect to small children. If you’ve been treated this way, your self-esteem has grown.

But—

When a parent or teacher’s goal is to make self esteem more important than genuine accomplishment, a child becomes egotistic.

Me. Me. Me.  Not You.

He or she believes the world is created for them and that he can do no wrong. That leads to narcissism. And narcissism can be deadly. Because we are not here to love and serve ourselves alone, but to love and serve God.

The narcissist is incapable of love because he cannot see another as equal in dignity to himself. What he, or she, loves is a false image he has created of himself, and he needs to see that image reflected in the eyes and approval of others. A narcissist manipulates and uses others for his own personal gain.

Though it may sound harsh, well-meaning parents and school systems who give children the false expectation that they can never fail, can be breeding grounds for narcissistic personalities.

Our education system has practically removed the word “fail” from its vocabulary, believing it is harmful to self esteem. Today, the whole education system seems to be about getting only basic credits, and getting them in any way possible, even to the point of re-designing tests so many students as possible will pass. That way no one really fails.

But what happens? Children become arrogant, hard to correct and can’t deal with the failures that will surely come to them during their lives.

True self-esteem does not come from outside of us–with a trophy for something not so special. It comes from within us–when we have honestly worked to accomplish a task, a job, a talent. Most importantly,  it comes from the deep certainty that we are loved by  God who created us in His image, and who gives dignity, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

Christ’s own life was filled with sufferings and temptations. But His purpose on earth was before Him, a purpose He accomplished through His own blood, sweat, and tears. And then He was able to rejoice because He had done God’s will.

There will always be peaks and troughs in each of our lives, and in the lives of our children. We should not give them the false expectation that they can never fail. But what we should give them is genuine respect as a child of God, the knowledge that they are loved, and that they are made for more than this world–that they were made for eternity.

Run for your Life

Posted: January 24, 2014 in World On The Edge

file0001297925420Evil exists in the world. Who can deny that? We see it in the news every day. Often its inexplicable, and we are shocked when we see the ugliness of it.

The reason we are shocked is because evil goes against the grain of the image in which we are made, the image and likeness of God who is goodness itself. Because God created us in His image and likeness, He is within each of us here on Earth and we are meant to return to Him in Heaven.

Still he loved us enough to give us Free Will. We are free to love Him back, or not. When we do not love Him, when we ‘mess up,’ when we sin; we have chosen to do so by our Free Will. And the reverse is also true—when we recognize our faults and ‘clean up our act,’ that decision also comes from our Free Will.

But evil–Satan–doesn’t desire to give us a choice. “Cleaning up our act” is not something Satan wants us to do. He twists what is evil into an apparent good, making it seem sensible for us to choose wrongly. He is a liar and a charade.

Maybe you’re saying, I don’t believe in Satan. Well, then you’re just who he’s after. Don’t be manipulated.

Satan is real. That beautiful fallen angel once loved by God is real. And he is among us. Look at the state of our world, the demise of our culture, our disintegrating values. Look at the lying, stealing, killing, raping, selfishness, all around us.

Based on the teaching and example of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11; 12:22-30; Mk 1:34; Lk 10:18; 22:31; Jn 8:44), the Catholic Church has always held that the devil is real, not a mythical personification of evil.
Pope John Paul II, in his general audience of August 13, 1986, expounded at length on the fall of the angels and, in speaking on the origin of Satan, said:

When, by an act of his own free will, he rejected the truth that he knew about God, Satan became the cosmic “liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). For this reason, he lives in radical and irreversible denial of God and seeks to impose on creation–on the other beings created in the image of God and in particular on people–his own tragic “lie about the good” that is God.

Satan does all he can to get us to deny God and His commandments to us. And of course, it works.

Some of us deny God in what might be considered small ways. Others of us go whole hog. But any small chiseling away of the goodness God set within us is a danger–to ourselves, to others, and to our world.

God has a plan, a plan of goodness, and He’s showed us what it is. Satan has a plan for evil, enough evil to destroy us, and he disguises it as good because he understands our human nature. He understands that we choose what we perceive as good. So he makes evil appear as good.

How can we fight this? First, we have to be able recognize evil as evil, no matter how it is disguised. We do this by reading God’s word, by listening to truth from the mouths of those we know we can trust, and by being open to God’s grace.

And then we have to consciously make the decision–indeed thousands of little decisions throughout our lives– to reach for the goodness of God, to turn from evil and, quite honestly, run for our very lives away from it.

Courage

Posted: January 23, 2014 in World On The Edge

file0001331552939Every day we have the capability to be different—fresh opportunities to improve ourselves, and maybe, even become holy. Alternately, we also have the opportunity not to better ourselves by sinking into the bleakest parts of human life.

God’s Grace is ever-present, always here for us to take. It’s around us like the air we breathe. But, there are times when our own bodies obstruct our breathing. For example, when we are sick with some ailment, some disease, respiratory problems often occur. That’s what happens with sin. Sin is the disease that keeps us from taking advantage of Grace, and breathing in the daily presence of God.

If we want to better ourselves, God will show us the way to do it. Be still and listen. Be observant and watch. He will give us the car, the vehicle to use that will take us to a better place in our lives. He will provide the gas. He will show us a map for the trip.   But……
From then on, it’s up to us. We must be courageous.

Because unless we get into the driver’s seat and behind the wheel. Unless we turn on the ignition and step on the accelerator, we will go nowhere.

Sadly, many of us never turn on the ignition, never step on the gas.
We may hesitate out of laziness, or fear, or an intense desire to keep hold to something we know isn’t in our best interest.

How can we find our way out of those shadowy situations?

Luckily, every day also signifies a new beginning for us–no matter the shadows of the day before.

When the dawn comes and the sun begins to rise, let’s be courageous enough to look at our new day in a new way. Let’s honestly try to see in the slant of fresh sunlight, the possibility something different, something better. Let’s take notice of the highlights in its colors, the intensity of its brightness, and then put ourselves within it and let its light–the light of God’s grace–shine upon us.

Grace needs only our acceptance, and our courage.

Remember the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz?

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!

The Beauty of Life

Posted: January 22, 2014 in World On The Edge

file000683110228As human beings, we are drawn to beauty. Sometimes we yearn for it.

But what is beauty, really? What makes something beautiful?

Often, what is beautiful, and what is not beautiful, is defined for us through advertising: Beautiful people. Beautiful homes. Beautiful cars, etc.

Yet isn’t there something within us that realizes a deeper idea of what beauty is? And don’t we want that deeper idea as much, or more, than the beauty of superficial things?

Works of art–paintings, sculpture, literature and music–can be exceedingly beautiful. But before the art comes the artist’s desire to create a thing of beauty.  And along with that is the artist’s desire to share it.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.–Michelangelo

The greatest beauty in our human nature is our ability to love, and we share it by loving other people.

Except, maybe we’re living a difficult life with difficult people. It’s hard to find beauty then. So how do we do it? Can we create beauty for ourselves in our own lives, despite the circumstances?

We have that capability, and it comes directly from God. It comes as grace, and is present even in the ugliest aspects of life. A fire destroys the wood it is made of, yet the heat of the fire warms a room.

If we let go of our bitterness and look objectively at events in our lives–those tragic, or unfair, or hideously ugly events—we have the ability to see something changed within us because of the suffering we have endured, even if it has come close to destroying us. We may be stronger because of it. We may even reach out to help others going through similar situations because of what has happened to us. This is love. This is beauty that is not superficial. This is why a God who loves us permits suffering–and why He allowed His own son to suffer and die on a cross.

At times, life is a story of the Crucifixion—the ugly.
But life is also a story of the Resurrection–the beautiful.

Many prayers today for those on The March for Life in Washington, D.C.  You are beautiful!

The following video is a bit long, but worth every minute of your time.

Our Purpose Here

Posted: January 21, 2014 in World On The Edge

Fireman's CarryI’ve talked about this before. But it bears repeating because the question is so important:

When is the last time we asked ourselves,  “What is the purpose of my life?”

Maybe we’ve never asked it—-although we wouldn’t begin a task or a trip, consider a movie or read a book, without asking what those things were about.

Our life is the most personal and important thing we possess. Shouldn’t we wonder about why we have it? Why are we, each one of us individually, here on Earth? There has to be some reason for our being here, some meaning to our existence.

Maybe you’ll say it just happened that I’m here; some fluke of nature that caused a very particular ME.

Except, in itself, nature is orderly. Things that happen in nature are purposeful. A bee flies to a flower to pollinate it and to make honey. Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe. The Earth has an ozone layer to protect it from UV light. Even hurricanes have a purpose, the same purpose as winter storms, they vent off heat from the lower levels of the atmosphere. Each segment of nature is programed to accomplish a purpose.

As human beings, we have a purpose, too. I would suggest that our purpose is to love, in the fullest sense of the word.

Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The wrinkle is, though our purpose is ‘intended,’ we do have a choice in whether we carry it out. We can choose to love, or not.

Those of you who’ve read my novel, A Hunger in the Heart, know it’s about a hunger for love. Each main character strives for love. Often, they don’t put a label on it, but nonetheless the urge to have it is within them, pricking at their hearts.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the novel. You know the characters. Maybe you even live, or have lived, with people like them.

You may have been the child of an alcoholic mother whose attention you desperately needed, but didn’t get. Or you may be that mother, a woman who at her core, wants to love, but uses an addiction to get through great sorrow and disappointment in her life.  If so, can the child love the mother? Can the mother love the child?

You may know a father, a soldier,  who  fights in a war that forever changes him and the lives of those around him. Or a family patriarch, an aging old man,  who uses his position to manipulate the ones in his care.  Which of these does not deserve love?

You may have been unfortunate enough to see and experience evil in a person so shallow that he would defame goodness itself just to satisfy his own desires. Is this person worth loving?

Or you may know the personification of integrity in a man who has suffered by the hands of others—for others. Could we suffer for others if that’s what it takes?

Yes, our purpose in life is to love. And love can be prickly as a cactus. It can hurt. It is painful to be vulnerable, to allow ourselves to suffer for another. After all, we might be crucified for it.

But the bee on a flower might be swatted to death. The tree producing oxygen might be cut down. The ozone layer and the hurricane might be impeded by climate conditions. No matter, their purpose remains; it is not changed.

So even if we live in a world that is often unloving, even if we must go through some fire in order to love another; our purpose as human beings is not changed. It remains. The reason we are here, the reason we exist, is to love. To be a signpost for others. To be there for others.

Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. –John 15:13

When another  needs our help, can we overlook our own  fear that involvement might hurt us?

Can we set aside our pettiness, especially if that same person has hurt us in the past?

Can we  call out to someone who needs us and say, “I’m coming. Here I am–for you.”

Forgiving the Unforgiveable

Posted: January 20, 2014 in World On The Edge

file1801281015946Can we do it—forgive what we consider indefensible, or deplorable? Do you know anyone who has done that?

What about a child, a young adult or teen, who tells you point blank that he hates you? What if he or she stole from you, did everything possible to make your life miserable? How would you react? Remember, this is your child, after all.

What if your spouse cheats on you, right under your nose. You’ve trusted him or her. You don’t suspect—until you discover it, maybe by chance. How do you react?

What if a friend whom you considered loyal, maybe your best friend—turns on you, talks behind your back, spreads lies or maybe some truth you’ve trusted to him or her and no one else? What would you do about it?

The fact is these things can easily happen to us, and often do–and most of the time, the situation is out of our control, not even our fault, and deeply hurtful—because these are people that we love. Can you forgive them?

Well, let’s turn it around. What if you are the perpetrator, not the victim, in one of those same situations? Each of us are capable of wrongdoing. Can you admit it? Can you ask for forgiveness?

What does it take to forgive someone who’s hurt you? What does it take to ask for forgiveness when you’ve hurt someone else?

I would posture that we cannot forgive–or ask for forgiveness–without help. And the assistance we need comes from our relationship with the God who created us. If we don’t have a dedicated relationship with God, these two very difficult tasks are impossible. If we do, they are not only possible, they are a certainty.

Forgiveness, and asking to be forgiven are not tangible things. They are not things we can touch. They are possibilities. We can chose them, but we don’t have to. It’s our decision. A decision that we come to because of the beliefs we hold.

If we believe in God, if we say we follow God. If we say we are Christians, we must forgive. And if need be, we must ask for forgiveness. It’s not a request. It’s a commandment.