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Archive for July, 2014

Chain Reaction

One of my favorite books I have ever read is a book called Chain Reaction, by Darrell Scott.  Darrell’s daughter, Rachel, was killed at Columbine High School in a mass shooting spree on April 20, 1999.  Rachel was  an exceptional young lady and outspoken in her Christian values.  She committed her life to the belief that each person, by reaching out to others in compassion and kindness, could start a powerful chain reaction of goodness that just might change the world.  She was well aware that the world was a violent place, but she believed the only answer to violence was kindness.

Rachel reached out to kids at school, those who were new or disabled, those who were picked on by others. In fact, she had actually reached out to Eric and Dylan, the two troubled boys who were the shooters, but Rachel wasn’t a shrinking violet.  She was direct and outspoken and criticized the two boys for a video they made for a class project that was full of violence and bad language.  In a video on March 15, Eric spoke about the chain reaction of violence that he wanted to launch; he achieved his goal, and since then there have been many school shootings, leaving a long swath of horrific deaths and heart-rending grief.

God has given each person their own unique set of gifts and no matter who you are or what you do, in some way you start a ripple effect similar to a stone dropping in water.  We think of celebrities having the biggest impact, but the truth is that it’s the little pebbles that start most of the ripples impacting our lives.

Rachel wrote in an essay “I am sure that my codes of life may be different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live?  My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you.  You just may start a chain reaction.”

We know the two shooters, Eric and Dylan, were treated as outcasts and were bullied and harassed, humiliated, called faggots and were squirted with ketchup.  The harsh treatment they received fueled their fury and rage, triggering a violent explosion of  destructive anger.  In contrast, Rachel’s dad has written books and spoke to over a million people.  The message he shares about his daughter’s life and writings has positively changed the lives of countless young people all over the world.

Celebrities can certainly influence our culture, whether from immoral lifestyles or selfish materialism, or whether they genuinely try to help their fellow man, but I contend it is the ‘little’ people that have an even greater influence.  I went to a funeral yesterday for an extraordinary woman, Jeanne O’Neill.  Jeanne loved her family passionately and was an exemplary woman of faith.  I first met Jeanne at morning mass when the new chapel at St. Brigid was completed in 2002.  We all had our ‘spot’ in the chapel, and I usually sat directly behind her.

I was able to witness first hand her unwavering faith and her devotion to prayer; she always had her bag filled with missals, devotionals, bibles, novenas, prayer cards and other assorted sacramentals.  Unless she was sick or out of town, I don’t think Jeanne ever missed mass.  By the world’s standards Jeanne is ‘insignificant’; she wasn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she wasn’t a powerful politician.  She didn’t write a best selling novel, or design buildings, or ride the space shuttle.  Instead, she cooked meals, changed diapers, taught her children virtues and discipline, supported her husband in every way, and was a kind and loyal friend who kept Hallmark in business with the enormous amount of cards she sent.  And by doing so profoundly impacted the lives of everyone she encountered.

Jeanne was a remarkable woman who simply fulfilled her vocation to the best of her ability. She loved being a wedding coordinator and giving communion as an Extraordinary Minister, especially to the infirmed.  She participated in her faith community and prayed mightily for her family, friends, our country and anyone in need.  Jeanne was always there with her quiet presence, a rock for her family, ready to help her friends in difficult times.

Jeanne with her daughter Katie

From the time she was first diagnosed with the brain tumor, to the very end, she never complained or asked ‘why me?’  She just flashed her radiant smile and tried to give comfort and strength to her family.  This saintly woman will live on in the memories and hearts of her family and friends.  She lived out her faith in a concrete manner and left a legacy of love, kindness, faith, perseverance, commitment and joy.  Len once mentioned to me that he was so amazed at his wife’s indomitable devotion to her faith; she was and is still the inspiration for many.

There are millions of ordinary people who are transforming the world through their holiness and their devotion to their family and faith.  I think of Jeanne when I read Ezekiel 36:23 “Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord – oracle of the Lord God – when through you I show my holiness before their very eyes.”  God certainly showed his holiness through Jeanne.

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Singer Kathy Troccoli was once the representative for Life Teen in the Catholic Church, and around 1993 sang at a concert for teens at a local church.  At the end of the concert she sang her top number five song Everything Changes, and the reaction of some of the young adult leaders was quite comical.  They recognized the mainstream hit, but until that moment didn’t realize the singer before them was one and the same.  They kept asking if it was really her, and why would she be singing at this local church!

Kathy is an amazing woman, and I was honored to be able to attend two of her concerts.  The second concert I attended was at a Women of Faith conference, where she was also a guest speaker.  Kathy spoke movingly about an abortion she previously had, which caused her so much pain that she wrote the song, A Baby’s Prayer, in honor of her child.  After she sang, she invited any women who had had an abortion to come up for healing prayer by one of the prayer teams.  I thought surely no one at a Christian conference would have had an abortion, but boy was I wrong.  About one-third of the women came for prayer, and the healing I witnessed was painful, but beautiful.  I have never seen such grief, guilt and shame as I witnessed that day.  The prayer team prayed for these women to accept God’s tender mercy and all encompassing forgiveness, and as they did, the love of God poured through that room into every heart.  Tears of repentance, sorrow and joy flowed by the bucket.

I felt privileged to pray for these women, and to witness their restoration in Christ.  As Christians we can’t condemn those who have had abortions; Jesus never condemned anyone.  Instead, his instructed his followers to “go and sin no more”.  Women who have had abortions need our compassion, prayers, kindness, but most of all, our love.

Kathy has certainly had her share of pain and change; besides the anguish of her abortion, she experienced the sorrow of losing her mother in 1991, shortly before the release of her song Everything Changes.  I for one, simply don’t like change.  My husband teases me that I only change the furniture around every twenty years or so, and I replied “I don’t think it is that often”!  I feel much more safe and secure when my life is constant; as much as I love to travel, I am thrilled to get back home to my own bed, my own routine and my own little Yorkies!

Unfortunately as Kathy Trocolli learned, everything in our passing world changes; nothing is static.  Growing up I had four brothers and sisters, but by the time I was nine, they had all left home, including my father.  Being left behind wasn’t easy.  Then I grew up and married a wonderful man, had two beautiful daughters, and was surrounded by a loving mother and step-dad, two sisters and many nieces and nephews.  When the girls were young, we did everything together; church, beach, games, even working together in our cafe.  But overnight our lives seemed to change; one daughter is now married with children of her own and lives in another town; both parents are gone, and my many nieces and nephews have children and busy lives of their own.

In years past every holiday with filled to overflowing at my mother or sister’s house with lots of food, games and fun.  Everything changes.  We still have family gatherings, but not often.  My husband works many holidays, as he did this past July 4.  Last Friday was quite different from years past; instead of riding the waves at the beach, or floating in the pool, I started the day with a rosary and mass at my church in the morning, with Fr. Dan reading the Declaration of Independence in place of a homily.  Then I spent the afternoon puttering in my garden, pruning my knock-out roses, watering my thirsty garden and filling the birdfeeders for my hungry and colorful visitors.  A friend came over and we lounged on the deck enjoying the cool breeze and listening to the gurgling of our new fountain; then we were entertained by two great movies; one was a CIA thriller and the other was a drama about the tragedy of Pompeii.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, but different from the past.  Even though the circumstances in our life will change, one thing never will. The one constant is God the Father; He is immovable, immutable, unchanging and steady.  As Evangelical Arthur W. Pink explains “His power is unabated, His wisdom undiminished, His holiness unsullied. The attributes of God can no more change than Deity can cease to be.”  He further explains that since God is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, He can’t change. God affirms this in Malachi 3:6 “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

What does God’s static nature mean for us?  Again, Pinker does a beautiful job explaining this comforting  fact “Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, His will stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: “Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken, my love shall never fall away from you, nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord.”  (Is. 54:10)

Whether you have had an abortion, been unfaithful to your husband, lied about someone else to get a promotion, or perhaps lost your job and are in danger of losing your home; even if the very foundation you are standing on is shaking like a leaf, you can always turn back to God.  No matter how far away you have been, no matter how many years you have been apart, He is your rock and will keep his promise that He will “never fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:8).  God loves you with an unchanging, everlasting, infinite love, and is ready to welcome you back with open arms.  In Isaiah 44 God reminds us “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

Especially painful for me is the loss of family members and friends, and today was particularly difficult upon hearing of a dear friend who passed away earlier in the day.  She was a faithful prayer warrior and never missed daily mass; she always had a smile on her face and a word of encouragement on her lips, and was a shining example of her faith.  I know my grief is only a fraction of the anguish of her family,  and it is reassuring to know the angels are bringing comfort and peace, and that God the Father, the rock of our salvation, is wrapping them all in his loving embrace.  Rest in peace dear Jeanne.  You will be sorely missed…

Related articles:

Song A Baby’s Prayer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ6cp_VDgmk

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Desire

Washington at Valley ForgeYesterday was the anniversary of the birth of our nation, July 4, 1776.  The first patriots were passionate in their desire to end the tyrannical and oppressive rule of Britain, and took every step possible to achieve their goal.  In their quest for liberty, they risked everything, including their very lives.  From George Washington, to Ethan Allen, to Patrick Henry, to Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere, to the simple blacksmith, and hard-working farmer, these patriots left their families for years, suffered relentless cold, ice storms, sweltering heat, hunger, disease and all the horrors that war can bring in order to attain “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

To celebrate our independence, we joyfully spend time with our families by frolicking at the lake or beach, boating, barbequing, setting off rockets and firecrackers, and watching spectacular fireworks.  These are wonderful ways to celebrate this special day, but let’s not ever forget the sacrifices of those early patriots.  Our current culture seems to value fun and pleasure more and more, especially on the social media sites, where it seems to be a race to outdo each other.  Hedonism is the belief  that “…feelings of pleasure or happiness are the highest and final aim of conduct; that, consequently those actions which increase the sum of pleasure are thereby constituted right, and, conversely, what increases pain is wrong.” (From the Catholic Encyclopedia)

The First Commandment tells us that we shall have no other gods before our Lord, that God should be first in our lives.  Yet many Christians get caught up in the cares and concerns of the daily grind, and put God on the back burner.  They flee madly at the prospect of suffering, and the search for pleasure has taken on a life of its own.  So where does our desire for God fit in?

To achieve faith in God, obviously there has to be some kind of desire.  In Matthew 13:44 we’re told “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person find and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys  it.”  The person described in this verse found some kind of treasure in a field, so he buried it so no one else could find it, and went out and sold virtually everything he owned, in order to obtain the priceless buried treasure.  God is calling us to desire the kingdom of heaven in just the same way.

Take some time to examine the goals in your life; are you trying to save up for an adequate retirement so that you can retire with a certain standard of living?  Is your goal to drive nice cars, travel the globe, buy a lake home?  Or perhaps it is to become a bum in the Keys, spending your time fishing and boating?  These are admirable goals, but how does the kingdom of heaven factor in?  When the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do “to gain everlasting life” (Matthew 19:16), Jesus told him he must “keep the commandments”.  The young man replied that he had, and then Jesus told him to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Some Christians have been called to give up everything and follow Christ; St. Katherine Drexel used her entire 20 million dollar inheritance to found her order and help the American Indians and blacks.  St. Elizabeth of Hungary devoted her entire fortune and all her time to help the poor and sick after her husband, King Louis died.  St. Anthony too gave up his inheritance to become a Franciscan friar.  But for most of us this verse means to be detached from our belongings, and to desire above all the kingdom of heaven.  It means wanting the kingdom of heaven more than any position of power or amount of wealth.  It means being willing to accept God’s will and to be detached from your savings, even in the event the market collapses and your retirement is worthless.  It means desiring to grow in holiness, being conformed in the image of Christ, even when you are suffering cancer, or you just lost your job as CEO of an important corporation.

Some of you may be atheist or agnostic, and have little or no belief in the divine.  I am a logical person and in high school convinced myself that God didn’t exist.  But I still remember those faint stirrings in my heart when I attended a Christmas party for the Campus Crusade for Christ and saw the radiant faces of my friends as they discussed their faith.  Years later I felt that little nudge to attend mass on Christmas and Easter, that slight desire to reconnect with a divine presence more immense than myself.

Many times when we suffer trials God is able to pierce the hard shell around our hearts, as explained in the article More Than a Feeling “… God is able to reach us because our defenses are lowered. You are not less rational. You are more open. Vulnerability can awaken your innate desires for God, which have been buried under layers of resistance. ”  In times of hardship the gentle prod can grow into a profound quest.

Sometimes it is the “restless longing” spoken of by St. Augustine. You may achieved all your goals; money, career, family, but sometimes a persistent longing for something more invades your peace.  I joined the Catholic Church in 1987, and shortly before the Easter Vigil, I attended an RCIA day-long retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  The retreat center was blocked off with signs on all the doors that said “Private Retreat”, so our group spent the day by the nearby scenic lake.  I remember the unusual longing that shot through me at the sight of those closed doors to remain there the rest of the weekend, to be part of the ‘Private Retreat’.  Years later that longing was fulfilled tenfold when I attended a Cursillo weekend retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in 1993.

So be attentive to those little stirrings in your heart; whether it is to allow God into the crack in your heart, or to give him control over every aspect of your life, it all begins with desire.  One effective way to increase this desire and longing, is to meditate on the “Hungry Heart Scriptures” listed below.  One beautiful verse is Psalm 63 “O God, you are my God – it is you I seek!  For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts.  In a land parched, lifeless, and without water, I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.”

The song As the Deer Longs, based on Psalm 42, is another excellent way to meditate.

Related Articles:

More than a Feeling http://www.uscatholic.org/life/2010/06/more-feeling-desire-god#sthash.2nSsXqKg.dpuf

How Big is the Container of Your Heart http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/07/costello-how-big-is-your-heart/

Hungry Heart Scriptures http://www.soulshepherding.org/2006/07/hungry-heart-scriptures/

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