Archive for the ‘Inspirational’ Category

With the mad rush on Black Friday, and the frenzy on Cyber Monday, I don’t think Americans have gotten the message that material things aren’t what matter most. From standing in line all night to purchase the latest Iphone, to getting the best deal possible on Ipads, Xboxes or flat screen TVs, Americans are driven by materialism. China has their equivalent busiest shopping day of the year called “Single’s Day”; single people celebrate their singleness by buying themself something extravagant.  I would call this the epitome of selfishness.

Americans want to look trendy and fashionable and many update their wardrobe every year to get the latest ‘look’.  So of course last year’s old fashioned outfits are donated, adding up to a whopping 4.7 billion pounds of clothing donated annually.  The amount of clothing is so astronomical that the global trade of used clothing has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry in Africa.  The problem is that so many used outfits flooding the market has stymied manufacturing in Africa, helping to stagnate the economy.

Our culture is so consumer driven that our faith is often pushed to the back burner.   Many don’t go to church, or if they do make the effort, they are often too busy to pray.  Take a spiritual checkup today – how much do you spend on stylish clothing, fancy electronics or expensive cars?  Are you generous in tithing to your church, or donating to charity?  How much time do you spend praying daily, compared to the amount of time you spend surfing the net or watching television?

Now look at your circumstances in life; is your life challenging?  Are you pedaling as fast as you can to keep up with work and your family, yet you get further and further behind?  Perhaps you are undergoing painful chemo or radiation, or recovering from knee surgery.  You might be struggling to make ends meet financially because your income has dropped, and of course the price of groceries and utilities has risen dramatically.  There might be tension between family members or friends.

If your spiritual life is lagging, God could be trying to get your attention by allowing obstacles to pop up.  Just as God punished the Israelites by making them wander in the desert for forty years, He may be allowing you to toil through the wilderness to “test you and know what is in your heart, to know whether you will keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  In Deuteronomy 8:3 God warned that He would “…let you be afflicted with hunger, and then feed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know it is not is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord”.  Echoing the phrase “seek first the Kingdom of God”, this verse means that everything is a gift from God, and if we draw closer to him every day, he will provide for our needs.

Perhaps you are faithful in your spiritual life, but are hanging on to anger or unforgiveness.  Perhaps pride and self reliance are impeding your relationship with God and you need to grow in trusting God’s providence.  Greed or avarice could be a problem and you might be obsessed with jewelry, stylish shoes or finally owning a Rolex.  If you are in the desert God may be trying to reveal those dead and barren areas in your heart, or He may simply be trying to strengthen your faith.

This advent is a great time to examine your heart for spots that need pruning or spiritual growth.  Take time to ponder your past and reflect on the ways God has been faithful in dark times.  Perhaps you were out of work and friends dropped by groceries or simply left a gift of a check; perhaps you were involved in a nasty lawsuit, which suddenly was resolved.  No matter how difficult the circumstances, God’s grace carried you through.  It is also a time to ponder the First Commandment and the importance of putting God first in your lives.

Related articles:

What Really Happens to Donated Clothing http://shannonwhitehead.com/what-really-happens-to-your-donated-clothing/

Bitter Roots http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2014/04/15/wild-onions-and-dandelions/

Faith Tested by Fire http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/10/14/faith-tested-by-fire/


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True Racism

On my way home from work the other night I was shocked to hear an extremely inflammatory campaign advertisement on the radio.  Negative attacks on the other candidate from both parties are nothing new before an important election, but with the Republicans poised to possibly overtake the Senate and House of Representatives, some Democratic candidates are getting desperate.  Knowing the black vote is crucial, their advertisements are turning particularly ugly and downright racist.  From linking Republican candidates to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, to painting Republicans as lynch mobs, and warning that unless African-Americans vote, local police departments won’t be accountable, as shown in Ferguson, and more innocent blacks will be killed.

As journalist Jeremy W. Peters explained in the New York Times “The images and words they are using are striking for how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression. And their source is surprising. The effort is being led by national Democrats and their state party organizations — not, in most instances, by the shadowy and often untraceable political action committees that typically employ such provocative messages.”

Republicans are accusing Democrats of race-baiting “They have been playing on this nerve in the black community that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican Party.

For decades Jesse Jackson has employed strong-arm tactics to force companies to hire more minorities, whether job applicants are qualified or not.   “When he speaks, white executives listen. For they know that he can make life very rough if they don’t ‘cooperate.’  Corporate leaders from Anheuser-Busch to Toyota have acceded to his demands, agreeing to earmark large sums of money for minority hiring and outreach. Moreover, they typically make sizable donations to Rainbow/PUSH, thus making possible future shakedowns. Often as well they set aside a certain portion of their contracting to minority-owned firms that pay Jackson for referrals. Jackson’s style can be called affirmative action with a clenched fist. And because of white executive timorousness, it gets results.” (From article Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown)

Racism is wrong; whether it is directed by Caucasians against African Americans or vice versa, it is offensive and should be condemned.  The Jim Crow laws were despicable, and I greatly admire Rosa Parks and others who courageously stood up and refused to accept the repression.  Rosa rode the bus daily in Montgomery, Alabama, and one day in 1955 the bus was almost full, so she was ordered to give up her seat in the colored section for a white person.  She defiantly refused, and was arrested by the police for civil disobedience.

Some other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are the valiant “Little Rock Nine”, composed of nine daring black high school students chosen to integrate the all white Central High School in 1957, in Little Rock, Arizona.  On the appointed day, shamefully, around 1,000 white townspeople gathered and as the students tried entering the school the rowdy mob shouted racial slurs and threatened violence.  Some of the townspeople surrounded one terrified student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, and threatened to lynch her.

Little Rock’s mayor asked for the federal government to intervene, and President Eisenhower responded by deploying the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard.  The ‘guards’ stayed at the school for the next year, but the harassment continued; young Elizabeth was pushed down a flight of stairs, Melba Matilla had acid thrown in her eyes, and the three male students were regularly beaten.

These and other daring activists risked their lives to put an end to such blatant dicrimination and boldly implement the Civil Rights Movement.  But in spite of the efforts of these brave Americans, education for blacks in America currently seems to be lagging badly, in spite of the massive infusion of federal funds from the Department of Education, which was created in 1979.  The gap between whites and blacks in math and reading has increased by five points since 1992, resulting in a whopping 30 point gap.  Even though the black graduation rate has increased to 68%, it still lags way behind the white graduation rate of 85%.  MSNBC Trymaine Lee described the “abysmal state of achievement for near-college age students…Just about a quarter of high school seniors were proficient or above in math and 37% in reading…the stagnant achievement growth among high school students in general speaks to a broader population of young people largely unprepared for secondary education, the clearest path to high-paying, high-quality employment.”

Unemployment among blacks is twice that of whites, and although I am sure racism may contribute to the high numbers, many experts blame the lack of education and high incarceration rate as the leading factors.  High crime rates among black males lead policemen to stop them more often, leading to a vicious cycle of higher arrest rates.  Since many black families come from single parent homes, which are the largest group in poverty, many black teens can’t afford an attorney, and wind up with poor representation from understaffed public defenders.

Sadly tactics such as the shake-downs by Jesse Jackson, the provacative rhetoric of Al Sharpton and the heinous strategies of the Democratic Party, are increasing racial tension and division.  In spite of  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s  laudable efforts to keep juveniles and non-violent offenders out of the prison system, resulting in the biggest decrease of black incarceration since 1988, Democratic senate campaign ads for Michelle Nunn feature racially charged pictures of children holding up signs begging “don’t shoot”.

I find it unconscionable that Democrats are currying votes by deliberately stirring racial hatred and unrest. Democrats claim to be the ‘party of the minorities’, so why aren’t Democratic and black leaders addressing the main problem in the black culture of absent dads, which directly leads to poverty, abuse, addiction, and crime?  President Barack Obama challenged black men to set an example and become leaders when he addressed the graduating class of Morehouse College in 2013.  “Obama, who was raised by a single mother and grandparents, lamented the absence of his father in his life and urged the graduates to make family their top priority.   ‘Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important.'” (From USA article below)

The President is absolutely right.  Since poverty, addictions, abuse and crime are much higher for children from single parent homes, it seems the most important issue politicians and black leaders should be addressing is the problem of babies born out of wedlock in the black culture, which has reached the astronomical rate of 72%.  Especially since it is over double the rate for white unwed mothers.  Black fathers are too often completely absent from their children’s lives, with devastating consequences.

So instead of fanning the flames between whites and blacks, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other Democratic leaders should be concentrating on helping young women to have more respect for themselves, to carefully examine a man’s character before dating him, and to encourage the institution of marriage.  Before dating a man, a woman should ask whether he will treat her with dignity and respect.  Does he work hard and is he willing to support her and a child?  Does he have anger or addiction issues?  These leaders should be encouraging black men to finish high school and attend college or vocational schools, and they should teach young black males what it truly means to be a real man who takes his responsibilities seriously.

Part of the reason blacks have such low graduation rates is because black students experience more school suspensions than white students.  NPR recently reported that numbers compiled by the Department of Education showed  that starting in preschool (four year olds), black suspensions are three times the number of white suspensions, often for the same offenses.  The school system actually funnels students into the juvenile justice system, by having them arrested for such infractions as a  school fight, leading to the dismal “school-to-prison pipeline”.

Are black preschoolers and elementary students more prone to unacceptable behavior, or is it the ‘perception’ that black children misbehave more than white children?  This is another important issue black leaders and politicians should tackle.  Children who have experienced school suspensions generally tend to have lower self-esteem, lack motivation, are stigmatized and drop out of school at higher rates.  If this problem is properly addressed, it could vastly improve the lives of countless African-Americans.

Instead, Al Sharpton has been inciting protests and riots, resulting in looting and unrest in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, where a young, unarmed black male was shot and killed by a white police officer.  On the surface the facts seem damning, but without waiting for the truth, Sharpton has been demanding justice and the prosecution of the police officer.  While the jury has been deliberating on the guilt or innocence of the accused officer, the autopsy report on Brown was leaked, and it does appear Brown grappled for the gun and had gun residue on his hands, was shot at close range, and blood in the police car reveals a significant altercation took place there.  So it is possible the shooting could have been justified, but it is impossible to know for sure until all the facts are known.

In his Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.”  Politicians need to stop making incendiary statements like Vice President Biden when he warned a crowd that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains”.  Before Richard Nixon became president, blacks often voted Republican, the party of their hero, Abraham Lincoln.  Then President Kennedy defied the racist Democratic politicians like Government Wallace of Alabama, and Senator Robert Byrd, and jumped into the fray with Martin Luther King, Jr. to further the Civil Rights movement.  President Lyndon Johnson was extremely shrewd and figured he could curry black votes by following in Kennedy’s footsteps.  He knew he would lose some white votes, but overall he believed the black vote was an untapped gold mine worth the risk.

Since Johnson was pursuing the black vote, President Richard Nixon decided on his “Southern Strategy” to woo white voters by championing ‘states rights’ and petitioning the courts to delay busing students.   Nixon was extremely racist and some of his atrocious comments were caught on tape.  Johnson was just as prejudiced and for the twenty years he was in Congress blocked any efforts to repeal the Jim Crow laws.  But Johnson was pragmatic, as well as ruthless, and would do anything to get elected; in spite of his bias against blacks, he saw them as a huge voting bloc.  Both men left a tragic legacy of racial slurs against Jews, blacks and Asians.

It is time for politicians to quit using Americans as pawns to garner votes and instead to treat them with dignity and respect and truly look out for their best interests.  The only way to combat such hypocrisy, greed and lust for power is for Christians to follow St. Paul’s advice and “…be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world”.  Work on growing in holiness and stand firm in the truth, condemning these shallow politicians and their manipulative, outrageous ploys to get elected.

Related Articles:

In Democratic Election Ads in the South

Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown

Education Racial Gap

Black Unemployment

1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison

Why Criminal Justice Reform

Obama: There’s No Longer Time for Excuses

The Child Abuse Crisis

Black Preschoolers Far More Likely to Be Suspended

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Recently actress Renee Zellweger unleashed a media ‘frenzy’ when she attended a gala with her new look; she had changed so much that many didn’t even recognize her.  Renee denies going under the knife cosmetically, and claims she is simply eating healthier and exercising more, but the only recognizable features now are her prominent apple cheeks.  These two pictures show her around three years ago (on left), and the one on the right from a few days ago.  It really isn’t our place to judge whether or not she has had a face lift, but since 14.6 million people had cosmetic surgery in 2013, I thought this was worth discussing.

Granted, some surgeries are necessary; if you have precancerous skin cells, a chemical peel will peel away the infected cells. Aging and drooping eyelids can impair vision, and must be lifted, reconstructive surgery for scar and tumor removal is vital, and breast reduction can save a woman from back problems.  So about one-third of plastic surgery is necessary for health reasons, leaving around nine million people undergoing surgery to improve their appearance.  The average procedure can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, so annually Americans spend the astronomical amount of 45 billion simply to look prettier or more handsome.  Ouch!

I certainly understand the desire to be as attractive as possible; I used to have gorgeous copper hair, but as I have aged, my hair has turned a drab brown.  I could spend a small fortune every few months maintaining my natural hair color, but it simply isn’t important enough to me to warrant that much time, energy and expense.  I do have compassion for  those that went gray prematurely,  it makes sense to color their hair, as gray hair ages a woman dramatically.

Aging is not for the faint of heart.  Aching joints, sagging wrinkles and muscles, bunions, failing eyesight and cataracts; the list is endless.  Some people vigorously fight the aging process with excessive exercise, working out hours every day.  We should absolutely eat healthy and exercise on a regular basis, but in all things balance is crucial.  In fact St. Paul warns in 1st Timothy 4:8 “…while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future”.  So while exercise is beneficial and key to staying healthy, prayer is twice as important, since it affects the hereafter, which is eternal.

The definition of ‘vanity’ from Dictionary.com is “excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.”  Vanity is tied in with narcissism, which is an “obsession with ourselves, to the exclusion of other people — both their needs, and their gifts which they want to share with us.” (From Trans4Mind, link below)  As we are warned in Ecclesiastes 1:3 “All things are vanity!  What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun?  One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.”  The only thing that lasts forever is our soul; eventually our bodies waste away and when we die our expensive jewelry, name-brand clothing and the rest of our cherished belongings are left behind.

If you are obsessed with your appearance, you might be suffering from the sin of vanity or narcissism.  One rule-of-thumb is to look into your heart; does it send you into an emotional tailspin because your nose is too big, or because you are pear-shaped, rather than like an hourglass?  I have never liked the shape of my legs, which I inherited from my mother; they are just too scrawny!  We all have imperfections, but television distorts our view of ourselves.  When photographing models and actresses it is common for Hollywood and magazine photographers to air-brush the pictures to ‘brush out’ flaws and make the men and women appear more beautiful and perfect.  The result is a ‘Barbie-doll’ mentality that unless we look flawless physically, we have no worth or value.

Back in 2009 actress Jamie Lee Curtis got tired of the entire charade, and hired a photographer to show her jamie lee curtis before and after thighs imagewithout makeup, sagging muscles and all.  She wanted women to see the way she truly looked, instead of the white-washed pictures you usually see.  Jamie has become so passionate about women accepting themselves, warts and all, that she has written four children’s books sharing the message of affirmation, that “It’s okay to be you”.

Hollywood is particularly obsessed with physical appearance, and Jamie had to work through that attitude in order to accept her ‘thunder-thighs’ and puffy back.   In the article True Thighs, Jamie explains “To have a life beyond the movie business, you’ve got to find out who you are without the stylists, the Harry Winston jewels and the fancy borrowed outfits. You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror and recognize yourself. ”   Jamie is open and honest about her ‘nips and tucks’, “‘I’ve done it all,’ she says, breaking yet another unwritten Hollywood rule: Never fess up. ‘I’ve had a little plastic surgery. I’ve had a little lipo. I’ve had a little Botox. And you know what? None of it works. None of it.’”  She explained that all the surgeries caused her to look puffy under the camera.

Jamie’s message of accepting ourselves and our faults is crucial for young women today.  St. Paul again warned in 1st Peter 3:3 to focus on the beauty within, rather than on physical appearance.  “Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.”  Naturally many women take time with their hair and makeup to look as attractive as possible; just be careful not to spend more time primping than you do praying!  One double check is to weigh the amount of time and money you spend on your makeup regimen, having your hair styled, your nails done and your body toned.  If you are spending more improving your appearance than on your faith or on charity, you may have a problem with vanity.

To accept yourself and your flabby arms and knobby knees, focus more on increasing the beauty inside, becoming more kind and compassionate, caring and understanding.  One good measure to determine if you are self-absorbed is to examine the amount of time you spend helping others; do you babysit for young mothers with active children to give her a break?  Even if you aren’t a grandmother, there are plenty of young moms who would be delighted to have the help.  Do you volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul or help in homeless shelters?  One group, Love and Serve Atlanta, hands out shoes, toiletries, socks and bottled water once a month in Hurt Park in downtown Atlanta.  Perhaps you are called to donate your time as a volunteer at a hospital, or to lead a bible study.  Being involved is a great way to fight vanity.


Related Articles:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons


Jamie Lee Curtis:  True Thighs


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The word ‘pilgrim’, derived from the Latin peregrinum, describes someone on a journey seeking spiritual significance. The Catholic Church has designated many places holy and worthy to visit; some have importance because of the birth, death or spiritual awakening of certain saints. Others are apparition sites for the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal.  Some are important cathedrals or basilicas.

Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and other religious sites for various reasons. Some go wanting to increase their faith, while some go for healing or intercession for some other need.  Other pilgrims journey to honor God or give thanks for prayers answered.  Christian pilgrimages have their roots in the Jewish faith, as Jewish law required all men to visit the temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year.  (See Ascending to God below for more info)

Recently my good friend, Maryan Lerch,  shared her experience of going on pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James.  Pilgrims plod through rocky mountains and dusty fields to reach the Cathedral of St. James in the historic town of Santiago de Compostela.  The bones of St. James the Greater were miraculously found buried in a field in 811 AD, and a basilica was built over the holy saint.  Destroyed by Muslims in 997, a magnificent Romanesque Cathedral was built over the untouched tomb in the 11th century.  Between the 11th and 18th centuries the tomb of St. James became the most popular destination for pilgrimages in all of Europe.

Maryan compared her pilgrimage to our spiritual journey to heaven, with the same “challenges, hardships and sufferings, which are opportunities to come to know Jesus more deeply”.  She explained there is an etiquette on the Way and you are cautious in asking someone their reasons for making the trek.  Only after traveling together for some time is it proper to ask this question, and sometimes the answer might be short and trite, closing off further conversation.  Just as everyone’s journey on the Way is personal and to be respected, so everyone’s spiritual journey to God is unique and sacred.

My pilgrim friend stressed the importance of the yellow arrows guiding you in the right direction.  Sometimes the arrows were hidden down low to the ground in rocks, and sometimes they were on a wall, so the pilgrim had to watch carefully.  Otherwise they would get lost and go in circles, just as sometimes those on their spiritual journey flit from one religion to another, from Zen Buddhism, to Jehovah Witnesses, to Christianity.  They take a circuitous route confused about the right path, while others stride confidently toward their goal, surefooted and certain of their path.

Before pilgrims undertake the path of the Way, they appoint a leader to determine the pace and monitor the limitations of each pilgrim.  The leader will make sure the group takes regular breaks so they don’t get too exhausted before they reach their daily goal.  In our spiritual life we all need a spiritual guide who will point us in the right direction when we get stuck in a valley or wander aimlessly in circles.  Whether you have an ‘official’ spiritual director, or whether your friend or spouse gives you guidance, they can help you stay balanced to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself by becoming over-involved in church ministry, or neglecting your prayer life.

Just as life can be trying with bouts of cancer, financial problems and family tension, so Maryan’s trek was arduous and painful.  I simply can’t imagine the agony of their feet as she and her husband plodded eight to ten hours a day on dirt paths filled with potholes, rocks and manure.  Maryan described their bone deep weariness at the end of each day, and the sheer relief when her husband rubbed and caressed her cracked and swollen feet with scented lotion.  At the end of their almost month long pilgrimage, when they reached the plaza in front of the Cathedral, Maryan described the power of the Holy Spirit that flowed over her like a fountain, filling her with the realization that only through God’s grace and power were they able to complete their strenuous quest.

Hiking the Way helped Maryan to live in the moment and not anticipate possible pitfalls ahead.  God calls Himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), not a God of yesterday or tomorrow, but a God of today, because He wants us to fully live each moment and not dwell in regrets over the past or fear of the future.  Just as pilgrims on the Way rest regularly, those on their spiritual journey should pray daily and annually attend some kind of retreat to renew and inspire their faith, and refresh their spiritual energy.

Some time ago I was blessed to go on pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Mother appeared to three children back in 1914 and asked for ‘her children’ to do penance and pray (full message below).  It was a profound experience and for the entire two weeks I felt securely wrapped in God’s loving embrace.  In the evenings the sick would be brought out on stretchers and wheelchairs, and everyone would light a candle while reciting the rosary.  It was a mystical moment when the veil between heaven and earth was opened, and you knew you were in the presence of angels and saints.

As Archbishop Raymond Burke explains, “It is important for the faithful to go on pilgrimage in order to rediscover the extraordinary nature of our ordinary Christian life. Being human, we easily forget the great mystery that is our life in Christ, the mystery that we live every day. When we leave our customary surroundings and make the effort to travel to a holy place, we receive the grace to look anew at our own life in Christ and see more clearly the extraordinary mystery of God’s merciful love in our lives.” (link below)

After we left Fatima we drove by bus to Santiago de Compostella and visited the hallowed shrine.  As I gazed at the sacred tomb containing the holy bones of St. James, it felt as though angels were lifting me up and whisking me to the throne of God.  Later, as I watched pilgrims wearily complete their journey and enter the Cathedral, I felt incredible bliss and had a beatific vision of God pouring out his spirit and approval on His children.  He recognized the physical and emotional cost of their journey and was blessing them in a special way.

Today is a good time to do a spiritual check-up; does God seem distant?  Is your prayer time lackluster?  Is there an area of sin that you are struggling with?  If so, perhaps it is time to expand or change your form of daily prayer; perhaps it is time to attend a conference about your faith or visit your local bookstore for an inspiring book.  Maybe you are called to go on pilgrimage to one of the many consecrated sites all over the world.  The possibilities are endless; from the fascinating Shroud of Turin in Italy, to historic Mont St. Michel in France, to the fabulous cliffs and beach of Nazare, Portugal.  Let’s get started!

Related Articles:
Why Go On Pilgrimage

Ascending to God

The Fatima Message

The Grace of Pilgrimage

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My husband and I recently attended a high school reunion in our home town in Florida a few weeks ago. We
both graduated from a high school named for a town that no longer exists. Eau Gallie High School, Florida was an unsophisticated, somewhat redneck town that merged with the larger town of Melbourne in 1969.  My husband and I met in the summer of 1972 in driver’s education class.  My friend, Cathy Bottari, and I weren’t crazy about Peter, the guy assigned to the same car with us.  So we cavalierly traded him for a handsome young man that I immediately fell head over heels in love with!

Located about 15 minutes from the beach, we have blissful memories of crabbing, shrimping, and fishing from the creaky old, wooden causeway across the Indian River, or speeding along in our dad’s boat. Carefree days were spent frolicking in the waves, building enormous sand castles, and getting burned to a crisp.  But growing up with dads that were violent and drunk much of their free time, we also have bitter, painful memories.

My husband and I moved away after our marriage in 1975, and have never gone back there to live. Many of our classmates left our hometown to foster their careers and to search for better opportunities, but several have gone back to their roots. They speak nostalgically about their hometown, and gleefully announce to their former classmates when they take the trip down memory lane and visit their old stomping grounds.

For personal reasons, our high school years were some of the most traumatic years of our life, especially after my husband and his family moved to California his senior year of high school. After he left I robotically moved through my junior year, sobbing at the football games when I saw the marching band smartly prance onto the field at halftime.  My husband had played the trumpet in the Commodore Marching Band, and attending football games brought into sharp focus the throbbing ache of his absence.

My then ‘boyfriend’ graduated early and moved back to be with me.  We married six months after I graduated and we moved first to Orlando, then went to cosmopolitan West Palm Beach, eventually winding up in ‘Hotlanta’, land of ‘Tara’, Miss Confederate Memorial CarvingScarlett and the birthplace of Gone With the Wind.  I was thrilled to witness the authentic Civil War re-enactments on the rolling clay hills Margaret Mitchell described, and visit Stone Mountain and its carved monument of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, gallant Robert E. Lee, and heroic ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.  I fell in love with Atlanta that first fall when the leaves magically transformed, as if a famous artist painted a masterpiece of flame red, golden yellow and burnt orange leaves.

Our family grew with the addition of two lovely daughters, and we made a new life for ourselves, determined to take a different path from the arguments, raging and neglect of our past. We settled into an adorable Victorian home on a quaint street called Maple Lane.  We found happiness that eluded us in our childhood.  Whenever we visited my hometown I enjoyed seeing my family, paying my respects at my dad’s grave, and basking in the sun at the  gorgeous beaches, but if I had my way, I would prefer to vacation somewhere else.  Too many ghosts are there for me to ever move back again.

Coming home is always bittersweet, dredging up buried feelings of abandonment and pain. My father spent virtually all of his free time drinking endless rounds of beer to drown his sorrows at the local Moonlight Tavern. My mother had married when she was 18 and dove headfirst into motherhood with five screaming brats within nine years, so after she split with my father she kicked up her heels and square danced every night and weekend. I found myself spending entire days by myself at the tender age of nine.

The loneliness pierced deep into my heart, and haunted me for decades. An ache and yearning seemed to haunt me as I searched for ‘home’, where that restlessness would be vanquished once and for all.  Recently our dear high school friend, Louie, wrote a heart warming story about revisiting his hometown, and about the intense feeling he experienced of ‘coming home’.  His words touched me profoundly, and inspired me to ponder the meaning of ‘home’.

A gnawing ache in my heart for most of my life was eased by a devoted husband and my precious girls, but it wasn’t until my faith deepened in 1993 that I finally came ‘home’.  On July 9, 1993 the gospel reading at mass that Sunday was about the parable of the seed in Matthew 13. The sower was spreading seed and some seed “fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Then I heard the words explaining the seed among the thorns, and it felt as though a knife penetrated my heart; it was a huge wake up call. “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” Yup! That pretty much described me; busy and occupied with working full time and worrying about my family.  God was way down on my list of priorities, after my family and job, finances and even relaxing at the lake on Sunday instead of attending mass.

I made a decision that day that I would never allow my faith to get choked out again by “worldly anxiety”. Instead I made a conscious decision to make my faith a priority, and life has never been the same. Shortly after that we sang Amazing Grace, and an overwhelming sense of ‘coming home’ poured over me. The love of the Father washed over me in crashing waves of love and tenderness; a new found peace and joy bubbled through me, and I knew in a heartbeat the comforting sense of belonging, that I was a beloved daughter of the King.

At first I shocked my family by diving headlong into my faith by going to daily mass and praying several hours a day, keeping my rosary beads with me constantly. I held on to my faith with both hands, afraid this new found peace would slip from my grasp, which of course is nonsense, since Jesus promised “to be with us always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).  Gradually I relaxed in my faith, feeling safe and secure, knowing I could clasp the Father’s hand any moment of the day. After all, my heart is a ‘dwelling place for Christ’ (Ephesians 3:16) and I carry my ‘home’ everywhere I go.

Going to the reunion we reconnected with lifelong friends who share similar backgrounds of large families, strict parents, hard work and sacrifice.  We all remember the prophetic words to the song You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet; we skated together to the music of Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson; we enjoyed delicious hot dogs and frothy root beer floats at the local A&W; we partied all night long at Grad Night in Disney World.  Growing up in the shadow of Cape Canaveral, we grieved together when three astronauts were shockingly burned to death in their capsule during testing on January 27, 1967.

These shared experiences are a powerful bond that ties us together, and for me they magnificently demonstrate the mighty tie binding together the body of Christ.   Last year Cathy Millian and several other alumnae gathered to plan this reunion, but unfortunately  Cathy was diagnosed with cancer a short time later.  Whether they had ever met her or not, former classmates from different years poured out of the woodwork to be there for our sick friend; to bring care packages, comfort, love and most of all, the gift of their presence.  Cathy was involved in all the preparations for our gathering, and was making telephone calls several days before her death making sure gift baskets were being prepared, encouraging classmates to come.  Sadly our dear friend passed away on September 17, 2014, exactly one week before the reunion, but you can be sure she was there with us in spirit.

All these beautiful classmates contributed to help me feel that I ‘belonged’, and were an incredible reflection of Christian love and being part of the family of God.  Even though I graduated in 1975, and this reunion was for my husband’s class of ’74, I couldn’t have felt more welcome!

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Warped Minds

It is so hard to believe that a woman who has been slapped, punched and knocked down, slamming her head on a handrail and renray rice janay rice presserdered unconscious, and dragged her back to their room, could ‘stand by her man’.  But that is exactly what Janay Palmer did when she posted this on Instagram about the indefinite suspension of her husband, Ray Rice, from the NFL:

“To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his [butt] off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!”

Real love?  Knocking someone unconscious is real love?  Of course we know Janay is furious; after all Rice’s 35 million dollar income is gone.  Gone are the lavish houses, exotic vacations, private jets, expensive sport cars…all gone, just because she got knocked around a little.  Beyond the obvious loss of all their “happiness”, why would a woman stay Stone Mansionwith a man that is abusive to her?

Abuse is way too prevalent; millions of women have been hurt.  I once had an aunt who claimed women must “like the abuse” if they stayed with their abuser.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  My father was physically abusive toward my mother and older siblings, but thankfully my mother couldn’t stand the alcoholism and violence any more, and left him when I was nine years old.  Many women never break away and stay trapped in the vicious cycle of agony, apologies and fervent promises that it “will never happen again”.  But of course it does.

When my husband and I owned a small cafe, we had a waitress who would occasionally call in sick because her boyfriend would beat her senseless.  We offered to assist her in any way possible to break free, but she simply couldn’t disconnect from their turbulent, codependent relationship.  So why in the world does a woman stay with her abuser?  First, realize that most abusers have severe emotional issues; they suffer from insecurity, wild mood swings, negative self-image, are manipulative and controlling, fear rejection, have problems with anger and rage, and with drugs or alcohol, are excessively jealous, and most come from a family background of violence or abandonment.

Most, but not all abusers are men, and will play mind games with their spouse by constantly belittling them, taunting them that they are ugly and unwanted, criticizing and insulting them, desperately trying to tear down their self-image and isolate them.  When a woman or man lives with someone so emotionally sick, the emotional and physical battery simply wears them down, causing their minds to become warped.

If you are a single young man or woman, before you seriously date someone, get to know them, and their family background.  Was there abuse?  Addictions?  Violence?  Does the person have a violent temper, or rage when something goes wrong?  Take time to get to know the person before you let the relationship get serious.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.Do you have a loved one in your family that is a victim of domestic violence?   Try to get them professional help, financial assistance or anything they need to break free.  But realize the abused person is the only one that can make that decision to end the brutality.  And sadly when someone has been in a long term relationship of abuse, the chaos and daily drama can become addictive and even ‘normal’, making it even harder to escape the volatile relationship.  They simply lose the ability to live calm and peaceful lives.

It can be heartrending when a family member stays locked in an abusive situation.  As painful as it is, try to maintain contact.  After all, the abuser would like nothing more than to isolate them from you.  If your loved one does finally decide to leave their abuser, make sure they get professional help, as this can be a critically dangerous time.  Many abusers threaten to kill their spouse if they leave, and too often that threat IS carried out.  Just four weeks ago one of the ladies in my own church decided to leave her abusive husband, and moved in with her mother.  One morning her maddened husband came in and shot her multiple times, then pulled the trigger on himself, leaving their teenage daughter an orphan.

Of course there is an enormous spiritual element in this kind of explosive violence, and I will refer you to the link below, Antidote to Evil, which I wrote after a neighbor on our street shockingly tried to kill his wife; she was able to escape, but her husband then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

Most abusive relationships are codependent; the rules of codependency are that you “don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel’; you NEVER talk about the assaults.  Instead, everyone tiptoes around the huge elephant in the living room and pretends it isn’t there.  So break the rules!  If you are abused, or have a family member suffering, bring it out in the open and talk about it.  Don’t let shame make you keep the violence a ‘dirty little secret’.  Discuss it with your pastor, get professional counseling; tell someone.  Only by letting the light into the darkness can we helped abused men and women break free of those ugly chains!

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Common Sense

Has common sense completely disappeared from our culture?  There seems to be emotional, knee-jerk reactions to anything and everything. The latest tempest in a teapot was a complaint filed by an atheist family against a volunteer coach at Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida.  The Head Coach, Kerry Wiggins, is a pastor, and even though he isn’t a chaplain, the atheist family claimed the coach lead the team in prayer when his son, one of the players, was injured on the field.  Heavens to Betsy!  As my mom used to say when she was extremely stressed.

How dare a dad pray for his son out loud after an accident!  Except the team says he didn’t.  They claim they just spontaneously prayed, which certainly wouldn’t surprise me.  Sanford is a midsize town boasting of over a hundred Christian churches, with a fairly large Evangelical population.  Spontaneous prayer when someone is injured is a natural response for an Evangelical, even though nearby Orange County, Florida has banned chaplains from leading students in prayer.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation was outraged and fired off a letter of complaint to the Seminole County School Superintendent, claiming Wiggins was secretly the chaplain of the team, not just Head Coach.  With such extreme reactions to any display of faith, is it any wonder our teens are so lost emotionally, and that suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds.  How shocking that a teen might have to listen to other teens pray, or even GASP!, have to hear the name of Jesus spoken!

The age old question is why can the rights of atheists take precedence and steamroll over the rights of Christians?  The First Amendment gives us freedom of speech in regard to religion, and the ‘free exercise thereof’.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It seems pretty clear neither the coach nor the boys on the high school football team were ‘establishing a religion’, but it does sound as though their ‘free exercise thereof’ was limited.

The Zero Tolerance toward weapons has also been taken to extremes.  Several kindergartners at an elementary school in New Jersey, were playing ‘cops and robbers’ during recess, using their fingers as guns.  For this grievous crime, the children were suspended for three days.  There have been many other instances of children being suspended because of shouting “pow, pow”, or from accidently leaving an empty shotgun shell in their pocket. A butter knife was found in a teen’s car that had fallen out of box being taken to Goodwill, and one little boy brought home a plastic knife from lunch so he could show his mother that he could butter bread.  For their heinous crimes, all of these otherwise well behaved children were disciplined severely, some being placed in alternative schools.

Whenever something tragic occurs, or if there is a problem, there is a tendency to over correct causing what I call the ‘rubber band effect’.  Religious education in the forties and fifties contained a lot of rote memorization. If you asked any child why God created them, the response would be “to love and serve the Lord”.  Did they fully understand what that meant? Probably not, but at least they could articulate an answer.

Currently the majority of children attend public school, and have religious education weekly, or PSR, as it is called in the Atlanta area. Usually the year is shorter than public school, and unfortunately if there is a school holiday that week, PSR classes are cancelled.  Some children don’t attend PSR every year, so there are huge gaps in the religious formation of many children.

Consequently when these Catholic children reach the age for Confirmation, many are absolutely clueless about their faith. Most have no idea what the Trinity is all about, have no concept of the Eucharist, confession, Mary or anything else about their faith. Those that attend Catholic schools have had a much better formation and generally have a far better grasp of their faith.

So what is the answer to restore common sense to a paranoid, politically correct world? The definition from Wikipedia for common sense is “a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”

How do we interject rational thinking into a culture that seems to be more divided and polarized by the day, on every issue.  From politics, to the national debt,  to same sex marriage and sex before marriage, to abortion, to the violence the Middle East,  to even whether suicide is a choice, Americans are becoming more fractured than ever.

The virtue ‘good judgment’, also known as prudence, is a cardinal virtue that is formed by good habits and through sanctifying grace.  “As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, “right reason applied to practice.” The emphasis on “right” is important. We cannot simply make a decision and then describe it as a “prudential judgment.”  Prudence requires us to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Thus, as Father Hardon writes, “It is the intellectual virtue whereby a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil.” If we mistake the evil for the good, we are not exercising prudence—in fact, we are showing our lack of it.”  (From the Blog About Religion).

So apparently in our secular culture we have difficulty in simply discerning between right and wrong! If you are trying to restore prudence and reason to your neighborhood or city, keep praying and don’t give up.  Stand firm and proclaim the truth; teach others how to discern between good and bad, and help them to consider and calculate long term repercussions of an action.  In Luke 14:28 we are warned to be prudent in any undertaking. “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.”

Since prudence can have a supernatural element that comes from grace, we should listen carefully to the opinions of our popes and other spiritual leaders.  On the question of going to war, we should consider the Pope’s pronouncement on whether a war is ‘just’ or ‘unjust’.  We should value the advice of a spiritual leader far more than the opinion of a politician or someone who might profit financially from the war.

Just as on the safety and morality of using the birth control pill; do you listen to the pharmaceutical companies and doctors, who profit substantially from selling the pill?  Or to Hollywood and their message of ‘total sexual freedom’ and the money they make from sexually explicit movies?  Instead, you should give more weight to the Pope, such as when Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 that widespread use of the birth control pill would result in “a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”  How amazingly prophetic…

In Proverbs 8:12 we are told that wisdom goes hand in hand with prudence.  Refusing to consider the warnings of those whose opinion differs from ours is a sign of imprudence.  Of course the other person may be wrong, but then again, they might be right.  Use prudence to examine the moral character of the person whose judgment is the opposite of yours; are they upright?  Is their judgment generally morally sound?  Have they had good spiritual formation?  Examining these questions can help you gain some ‘common sense’ and practice the virtue of prudence!

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