Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Is My Neighbor in the World of Today?


In the book of Luke, an expert in the law asks, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. His examples guide us through several encounters with an injured man - all with diverse responses. Jesus then turns to the lawyer and asks:

Which of these three, in thy opin ion, was neighbour to him that fell among the robbers? But he said: He that showed mercy to him. And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner.

Digging deeper into the basis of this story, I find myself wondering how many minute details are regularly missed when it comes to the coincidental encounters we all experience.

In Search Of Neighbor

Ever since my husband and I temporarily moved into a duplex while our tiny house was completed, the family across the way has intrigued me. Unlike the remote, pastoral surroundings of our new home, here we have close neighbors all around. We have become acquainted with some of them. Like us, the neighbor behind us also has a small dog, with a propensity for escaping her allowable geography, which has given us occasions for casual conversation. Next door, a precocious neighbor toddler is the same age as our youngest granddaughter and across the street, a neighbor dutifully cares for the needs of her aging mother. By chance encounters and common interests, I've found small familiarities with these families.

One neighbor, however, I have not met yet am intrigued by chance observations. Passively sitting in the driveway while the rest of our downsized belongings are loaded onto a small trailer, I ponder on the insight I have gained, just by reflective attention to a few details.

Physical Challenges

If we are willing, there is much to be discerned by a casual glance now and again. This particular neighbor suffers from some debilitating physical ailment. Handicap plates on the car, the glimpse of a wheelchair, and thoughtful placement of a strategically situated side table speaks of someone who loves the outdoors but is confined to the inside while looking out. Sometimes there is a game of chess visible on the little table in front of the gleaming glass door but even so, the preferred vantage point is always outdoors.

Love of Nature

There are robust hanging plants, thriving plants in pots, and a rainbow of vibrant flowerbeds all around the front yard. Their splendid garden features a riot of color. Nurture and care of this Eden are clearly evident.

This neighbor shares my love of animals. A chance glance in his direction gives a glimpse of not one but two cats, casually strolling past the glass door and then luxuriously perching on the sofa. At just about dusk each evening they head out to prowl and do what it is that our feline friends do under the cover of darkness. They quickly return to the welcoming arms of their humans, which indicates they feel loved.

Along with the array of blossoms, foliage, and pampered cats are several bird feeders - finches, robins, and humming birds all have their own specific feeding station. All of this appears to be easily viewable from the carefully arranged furnishings and the glass door.

Our Neighbor Is Tidy And Has Nothing to Hide

Despite the obvious physical challenges faced, the yard and drive are meticulously kept. No offensive litter, neatly clipped grass, and much attention to order are evident in their landscape. Our neighbor portrays a tidy habit.

Open blinds, windows, and doors speak of the candid nature of our neighbor - there is nothing superficial. As open as a book, this person is living a full life despite the burdensome hand they have been dealt. There is a pure appreciation of life evident here and a richness not provided by merely temporal goods. By all appearances this neighbor finds boundless joy, fulfillment, and peace in what he has been given. His cup seems to overflow with an almost enviable God-given plenitude of riches.

Interact With Neighbor

As I sit here today, our last day of inhabiting this bustling neighborhood, I can't help but wonder about the lives of the people we never came to know. Like us, they may be in transition. Some, like the elderly neighbor, are most likely here to stay – as their lives tranquility follow the setting of the sun.

I've spontaneously prayed for these people, as they appeared out of their doorways and enclosures and have marveled at how much God loves each of us no matter how different our lives have been or are destined to be.

Opportunities Missed?

What fruitful opportunities were missed and are now regrettably gone forever? Should I have crossed the street and struck up conversations? In retrospect, I inwardly answer, yes. Would I have found a receptive soul? Perhaps, I could have learned something of benefit to my own Eternity. What is done, is done, but a lesson to take away is to seek out opportunities and not blindly march through our days as single-minded, secluded souls.

The question I ponder now, is how will I present myself as a Godly witness to others? How will I show mercy to a mere acquaintance ? Not in search of worldly praise but as a spiritually positive example of what it means to be a neighbor who is obedient to Christ. Are others' casual impressions of me valid or negatively warped by a lack of transparency or some faulty perception? Even as we seek to live our lives in the best way possible, we are reminded that our lives give witness to neighbor, concerning who we are.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Painful Punishment of Silence

Silence, they say is golden, yet under some circumstances silence can also be a form of bullying. While the basic needs of mankind include sustenance and shelter God has also endowed us with an intrinsic need for love. That love often relies on communication. We live our lives yearning being heard and understood.

The Quiet Bullying of Silence

There is a healthy use of silence to compose our thoughts and calm anger which can be of great benefit but sometimes an extended period of punishing silence causes pain to the other. In one way or another, we have all used silence as a weapon against another. Showing a cold shoulder or ignoring someone because of some real or imagined indiscretion can be a pain inflicting tactic. Whether a school friend or significant other, sometimes our intent is to inflict the pain of denying the victim our company. In self-righteous fashion, we withhold ourselves from them and leave them with the pain of silence – of being shunned.

Silence as Pride

The sin of pride comes to mind. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “the root of all sins lies in man’s heart”. (CCC 1873) As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we recite words that ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In calling down the same judgment on ourselves that we hold against others, we should attempt to soften our hearts to the pain of others. Yet in building an artificial distance between ourselves and another, we erect a wall of pain and isolation, one that will cause another to suffer. Again, looking to our own experience we begin to realize that silence does cause pain. The pain of silence becomes apparent when we are the ones who are shunned, unable to plead our case, ask forgiveness, or perhaps even understand the perceived transgression.

Spreading the Pain

Calculated silence takes on a deeper, more hurtful dimension when others are pulled into participation. Emotional blackmail can cause group silence, thus increasing the pain of the one who is cut off. Again our Faith tells us not to err by leading others, or ourselves, into sin.

Refusing to Talk

Sometimes the harshest punishment for some deduced transgression is to say “I don’t want to talk about it”. The injustice of denying communication leaves injuries on both parties that may not even be justified. Allowing an explanation may find the faulty words were much more benign than they were perceived.

Perhaps, though, the words did intentionally inflict pain. After some thought, there was repentance and a desire for forgiveness. However, the barriers built by silence became impenetrable. In situations such as this the injury sustained by both parties, inflicted on their very souls, is harmful. As a recent radio host on Catholic radio explained, repressed emotion – especially anger – can have a harmful effect on both the mental and physical well-being of a person.

The Spiritual Cost

There is also a spiritual cost. Bullying silence can become sinful. If we are admonished to forgive “not just seven times, but seventy-seven times”, then are we not also bound to break the silence and allow another to speak his peace? Since the Lord confused man’s speech due to the Tower of Babel, mankind has struggled with inadequate communication. The least we can do for justice is to give a fair hearing to those who stand accused.

The Bible on Forgiveness

From the Beatitudes to the Lord’s Prayer, we are admonished to be merciful, to forgive, and that our own judgment depends on our judgment of others. Scripture is full of instances encouraging forgiveness but how can there be forgiveness if silence stands in the way?

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

This Lent presents an inspirational opportunity to put the hurt feelings and accusations behind us. As we focus on fasting, prayer, and alms giving, wouldn’t it be a merciful gift to fast from the bullying sin of silence?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Soldier or Saint – Leave No One Behind

In his book, Church Militant Field Manual, Father Richard Heilman relates the Soldier’s Creed of the United States Army.

"I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills."

Military discipline, that which aids these warriors in protecting their country, demands a dogged dedication to developing their strength in the service of others. Without total dedication to the mission of saving and protecting others, the mission of the soldier is destined to fail. That is why the Warrior Ethos practiced by military personnel states:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Soldier or Saint

In winning the battle against the Evil One, soldiers for Christ must employ a similar strategy. Whether soldier or saint, the necessary component is to go “all in”. This type of dedication and the necessary skill to pull it through are no accident. It is the result of intensive training. A soldier must pledge to advance his mission through self-restraint, commitment, and pride. Our pledge as soldiers in the Church Militant demands the same

As Catholics and members of the Church Militant, we are soldiers for Christ and our mission is clear – the advancement of His Word and the winning of souls. We are called to be our brother’s keeper in the clear sense of being members of the Body of Christ. Sinner or saint, rich or poor, strong or weak – we are all beloved children of God the Father. Our purpose, here on earth, is to bring souls – our own and those of others – to the Eternal Home with Jesus Himself. Being a child of God leaves no room for egocentric self-interest. The Word is there to be shared.

Mission One

Placing the mission first sets the tone for the importance of the goal – saving others. When we seek to participate in the New Evangelization to which Pope John Paul II called us, our focus must not be abandoned. Winning souls for Christ is the pinnacle to which we must be determined to ascend. This requires a dedication that may not come naturally for most of us. Therefore we should pray for strength and success. We must soldier on.

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13

Refuse Defeat

Yet bringing souls – even our own – to Jesus is no task for the weak. This mission requires a steadfastness and determination not come by naturally. In training for our mission our weapons come from the supernatural: grace, divine inspiration, and the Word of God. Often times we seek to share what we, ourselves, have learned but lack the perseverance to allow others to fully embrace the importance of the mission in their own time. The four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance play a key part in defying defeat and accompanying others gently into the Light.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57 

Never Quit

Discouragement can become our enemy as the Evil One places a lack of resolve onto our weary souls. In order to dig deep into our supernatural reserves we must avail ourselves to the weapons of the Church Militant. Holy Mass and the Eucharist, the Rosary and other devotions, and the examples of those warrior saints who have gone before us will help us in sustaining the fight. As in the Psalm of David we pray, “Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, Or I will become like those who go down to the pit.

Leave No One Behind

Sustained by the Word of God, fueled by His promise, and spurred by our Spirit-inspired commitment we are able to reject defeat. Imagine what would happen if all members of the Church Militant rose up, with a common purpose, and refused to leave behind any soul within their reach. What is keeping us from joining forces and completing this holy mission?

“We must learn the special operations (special ops) techniques and procedures for search and rescue missions of fallen comrades (those who have become weak in their faith). Although rarely wielded by the Catholics today, this supernatural strength and these techniques are truly authentic gifts of the Church that are field-tested and battle-hardened. We must commit ourselves to their restoration if we ever hope to stem the tide of evil and rescue our lost loved ones who may be destined for eternal damnation.” (Excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual).