Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

Do We Question a Generous God?

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

This week’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16a) tells of a vineyard owner hiring and paying his workers. Some workers work all day. Others come at noon. Still others start work at three in the afternoon. The last group comes at five in the afternoon. In the evening, much to everyone’s surprise, everyone is paid the same! When those who worked all day complain, the landowner replies, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

At this point, those of us who are being honest should probably nod in agreement. How many times have we complained to God, “That’s not fair!” We see someone else having success (whether that be related to family, work, or health concerns) that we feel should be rightfully ours, and we protest. “But God, I’ve worked and worked and prayed and prayed, and she did so little and got what I wanted!” How many times have we resented another’s supposedly undeserved good fortune? This Gospel tells us we have no reason to do so. God can do exactly as He wishes – His generosity knows no bounds.

Of course, this works on a spiritual level as well. Those of us who have been faithful Christians all of our lives can wonder about a God who rejoices in and welcomes the sinner who repents at the last moment of life. Think of the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus, whom Jesus informs, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Like the workers who labored all day, we complain, “That’s not fair! How can that person receive the same reward as someone who has lived a good life all of his days?” We can start by taking a hearty dose of humility and realize that none of us is without sin. Jesus died for all of us. He opened the doors of heaven for all of us. We are all in need of His mercy.

Does this mean we should live a hedonistic, selfish life, ignore the Ten Commandments, and plan to convert at the last moment? Of course not. We have heard the Gospel and are called to live it. Plus, death can come like the thief in the night. One can never be sure that one will have that opportunity to have that change of heart.

What it does mean is that we should rejoice when people change their ways, no matter how late in the day that conversion may come. There is hope for every living person, even the hardened sinner and the person who has hurt us most deeply. We should pray always for others to make it to heaven.

It also means that we should trust in God’s mercy and love. We have a generous God. We should not question His ways, but rather trust in them and be thankful for them.

A Parenting Question

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Usually, I use this column space to reflect on scripture or other spiritual reading. Other times, I share some hard earned wisdom culled from this school of life. Today, I am using it to ask for help from those of you farther on the parenting journey than I. How do you raise your children with a firm understanding that premarital sex is seriously wrong while remaining staunchly pro-life?

The national percentage of out-of-wedlock births is currently about 40%. In the city where I live, that rate is much higher. My children are growing up in a world where having children outside of marriage is considered normal. I try to impress upon them that this is not the way it should be.

At the same time, I am staunchly pro-life. I am thankful that these mothers chose to have these babies. I know that they could have made a different decision. Each child is a gift from God. A child born as a result of premarital sex is an instance of God bringing something good out of something wrong. Recently, we have faced this situation in my own family. My grandniece was recently born to my nephew and his girlfriend. The baby is beautiful and we love her. I still want my children to wait until they are married to have sex.

I grew up in a very authoritarian household. I knew that if I was ever unmarried and pregnant, I shouldn’t bother coming home. While fear of my parents wasn’t the only reason I waited to have sex, it was certainly part of the equation. Yet, I know the strength of emotions and hormones and that things very easily could have been different. I’d like to think that if I ever did find myself pregnant, I would have had the strength to carry the baby and not resort to abortion, but, honestly, I don’t know what I would have done. I know that I would have been very scared.

I don’t want my children to feel that way. I don’t want them to feel that if they have committed a sexual sin and are facing the consequences of that, that they are unwelcome or that I won’t love them anymore. I don’t want them ever to feel that abortion is the appropriate answer to that situation.

What is the answer to this? I can preach about self-respect and respect for members of the opposite sex. I can stress that premarital sex is a mortal sin and a one-way ticket to hell if they don’t have the opportunity to go to confession before they die (this was a fairly strong motivator for me). I can emphasize that having a child out of wedlock will dramatically alter the course of their lives – that they will be facing a responsibility that they are not ready for. And, they may still find themselves in a situation where they give in to their desires and face an unplanned pregnancy.

I’ve often heard the argument that you shouldn’t tell your children, “If you are going to have sex, I want you to protect yourself by using a condom,” because you are giving them permission to have sex. You are supposed to hold up the high standard and trust that your children can live up to that. Is saying, “If you ever find yourself in the situation where you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, you can come to us without fear,” the same thing? Do I simply tell them, “No matter what you do in life or what circumstances you find yourself, we will always love you?”

So, I turn to you, and ask you to share your wisdom. How have you walked this line of taking a strong stance against having sex before marriage while being pro-life and supporting those who have children out-of-wedlock?

We CAN Make a Difference

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

There is a well-known story about a young man throwing starfish out into the ocean. An older man walked by and asked him what he was doing. The young man replied that he was throwing the starfish out into the ocean so that they would not die in the heat of the sun. At that, the old man replied, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

I thought of that story recently while reading an article on the Sisters of Life in Columbia Magazine (the magazine of the Knights of Columbus). They shared the story of a young woman named Mary who was pregnant with her abusive boyfriend’s child. Scared and with nowhere to turn, a mother’s center put her in contact with the Sisters of Life. They provided her with shelter, food, and prayer. She lived with them until her daughter was ten months old. During that time, she “found a job, reunited with her family, and allowed Jesus back into her life.” She now marvels at the blessing her daughter has been and the joy she has brought to her life.

This story could have had a far different ending had the Sisters of Life not been there to help. They made a difference for Mary and her daughter, and many others who find themselves in similar difficult circumstances.

The world’s problems are huge. It often seems that we are powerless in the face of them. Yet, we can make a difference for one person. We can’t feed all the hungry people in the world, but we can donate food to the local food bank. We can’t solve the problem of homelessness, but we can support our local shelter or provide money or food to the man or woman out on the street. We can’t keep every woman from aborting her child, but if we know someone who finds themselves unexpectedly pregnant, we can be supportive and kind and help her find the help she needs. We may not be able to make sure every child grows up loved, but we can certainly make sure our own children (and their friends!) do.

God puts opportunities in our paths every day to make a difference. They may be small acts of kindness or decisions that change the course of our lives, but we are called to respond and act with love. Mother Teresa who is known for the tremendous love and care that she brought to others offered these encouraging words: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier,” and, in keeping with the story at the beginning of this article, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

We can make a difference. We may never know the way we touched another person’s life, but if we do our part, we can trust that God will take care of the rest.

Finding God in the Housework

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

I do not enjoy housework. Not even a little bit. Just yesterday I was telling the young lady who lives next door to me that I wished I had a magic wand that I could simply wave and have a clean house! Alas, that is not the case and I do have to put things away and do the dishes and the laundry and clean the bathrooms and mop the floor and the list goes on and on in a seemingly never-ending cycle. This, despite the fact that my standards for cleanliness are not all that high. It’s really been bugging me lately. There are so many other things that I would much rather be doing with that time.

In the midst of my aggravation, what message did God send me regarding this? An email reminding me that housework is an opportunity to encounter God.
And, so it is. Every moment of our lives, if offered to God and done to serve Him, is holy. That includes the time spent with the laundry or scrubbing the floor.

First of all, we do these things because they are part of our vocation and one of our primary duties on this earth is to serve God by living our vocation to the best of our abilities. Secondly, we do our housework to serve those we love – so that they may have clean dishes and clean clothes and a healthy environment to live in. It may not seem that way as we are struggling to get it done, but doing the housework is actually an act of love.

The time spent on household chores can also offer a time to pray. These menial tasks usually do not require a great deal of brain power to accomplish. There are two ways to make them more meaningful. The first is to truly pay attention to them. Get off the auto-pilot and actually focus on the task at hand. Instead of simply rushing to get through them, live in the moment. Be thankful for the people you are doing these tasks for. Appreciate the fact that you have the physical ability to complete these chores.

Second, the time can be used to say the Rosary or some other memorized prayer or to simply talk to God. I would be willing to venture that when you are performing your household tasks your mind is usually elsewhere anyway – perhaps replaying conversations, turning over worries, or making future plans. Why not turn one’s mind toward God? Prayer and work can go hand in hand. While there are certainly times when we need to focus on one or the other more exclusively, manual labor and mental prayer are able to co-exist quite nicely.

I needed the gentle reminder that God gave me that my housework has value that goes beyond the short-term results. The dishes I washed today will once again be dirty tomorrow. The dog will shed again and somebody will definitely spill something on the floor that I mopped. The clean clothes will on again be dirty. But, if I do these tasks with a loving, prayerful heart rather than a grudging, complaining one, they will acquire a much deeper purpose. Perhaps, someday, I will even come to look forward to them!

Waiting on God

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

The first readings for the daily liturgies this week tell the story of Abram and his family. On Monday, God promises that Abram’s descendents will inherit the land he has brought him to. He was seventy-five years old at this point. Tuesday, God makes the promise again.” I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; if anyone could count the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted.” (Gen 13:16) Wednesday, Abram is getting impatient. “O Lord God, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” (Gen 15:2) Yet, he continued to trust in the Lord’s promise. By Thursday, his wife has had enough.

Abram and Sarai have been living in Canaan for ten years at this point. Abram is in his mid-eighties and Sarai is an old woman – far too old to be having children. She believes in God, but she is also realistic. She can’t bear any children, but Abram is supposed to have some. She comes to the reasonable conclusion that some intervention was in order. So, she gives her husband her maidservant Hagar as a concubine. It is important to note that this was considered perfectly acceptable at the time – Sarai broke no moral code. As a result of their union, Hagar conceives and ultimately bears a son, Ishmael.

That is not the end of the story, however. God is faithful to his promises. Thirteen years later, he changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah and tells them they will conceive a son whom they should name Isaac. God will bless Ishmael as a son of Abraham and make him the father of a great nation (Gen 17:20), but the covenant will be with Isaac and his descendants (Gen 17:23).

Here Abraham and Sarah are, ninety-nine and ninety years old, respectively. They have been waiting over twenty years for God to keep his promise! Keep in mind, this was a promise that seemed absurd even at the beginning. Yet, God was coming through and keeping his word.

This story always makes me sympathize with Sarai’s predicament. In an era in which a woman’s worth was determined by her ability to have children, she had remained barren. This had no doubt caused her much pain, but after so many years, she had probably come to accept it. Then, she hears God’s promise and finds it to be laughable. After all, she is long past her child-bearing years. Her body has lost its life-giving capabilities. And the years continue to go by. So, after ten years, she takes matters into her own hands. Who can blame her? She has certainly been patient. God hasn’t come through, at least not in the way she expected.

God’s promises to us don’t come in such clear-cut messages as they did to Abram and Sarai (at least they don’t to me!). They come instead in promptings of the Spirit, in ideas put into our heads by our family and friends, and the longings in the deepest desires of our hearts. We pray for God’s guidance. We have dreams for our lives, plans that we make, and then . . . nothing. Did we misread the signs? Maybe God had something else in mind for us? Maybe, like Sarah, we get tired of waiting, take matters into our own hands and try to manipulate the outcome. It can be very hard to know when to act and when to continue waiting.

In these situations, what can we learn from Abraham and Sarah? First, if God wants something for our lives, He will find a way to make it happen even if it seems impossible. Second, God can bring good even out of our mistakes. If Sarah had waited patiently for God to come through, Ishmael would never have existed, but God created him and blessed him. His people, too, would be of Abraham’s line. Third, don’t give up on God. He rarely works on our timetable. He frequently makes us wait, sometimes a frustratingly long time. While waiting, our job is to be faithful to His teachings, to continue praying, and make the best decisions we can in light of our present circumstances. God will take care of the rest.

The School of the Family

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

It’s always painful to read a book that makes you feel like you have failed /are failing in every way that truly matters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. I felt that way after reading “School of the Family” by Chantal R. Howard.

Howard has had an eventful life. Although still only in her twenties, she was homeschooled from 4th through 12th grade, trained and competed as a high-level gymnast, lost her father as a young teenager, traveled many places, discerned a religious vocation, married theologian Peter Howard, S.T.D. , and has given birth to four children whom she is now homeschooling. Her story is truly fascinating and she tells it well and with an honest heart. She obviously experienced her share of challenges and heartache especially in the death of her father at such a young age. However, she also seems to have been greatly protected from many of the usual challenges most young people face. Her life was amazingly centered on God from a young age and she never deviated from the path. In that, she was truly blessed.

The purpose of “The School of the Family” is to emphasize the role of the family in the formation of children, especially their faith formation. While much of the book is about her own experiences and what they have taught her, the last chapter provides a “Family Rule” intended as a roadmap for how to live as a Catholic family. As Howard states, “My own experience has led me to the conclusion that adopting a rule of life is necessary to keep our lives ordered to the spiritual goals we wish to achieve. So, too, the family needs the support of such a rule of live in order to help fortify our efforts as we seek to live the school of the family. What follows is the apex of all that I have shared thus far, highlighting what such a rule should embody through the authority of the Church and the saints of our day.”

What Howard sets forth is truly the ideal. It presumes a family in which all members have a single minded purpose and focus on getting to heaven. It encourages frequent attendance at Mass as well as a weekly holy hour set aside for prayer and adoration, dedicating one’s life to Mary, saying a family rosary and reading the Word of God daily. It creates an environment in which prayer should be the first priority of daily life. It also requires simplicity and detachment from worldly goods.

Howard also provides special guidelines for husbands and wives and children. Her “Rule of Life for Children” is especially interesting. There is a tendency not to take children’s spiritual lives as seriously as we should. There have been several saints who were children and children are called to holiness just as much as those of us further along life’s journey. Howard emphasizes the need for obedience, daily prayer, penance, love of Scripture and of Mary, and adherence to the Ten Commandments.

So, then, what can those of us who fall far short of this ideal learn from Howard’s book? First of all, it is always good to have something to strive for. Yes, we are imperfect. We are going to come up short. Yet, the life Howard encourages is the one encouraged by the Church. I would suggest that the struggling Catholic family aim to incorporate one or two of her suggestions into their lives. Every step toward God is a step in the right direction. When those efforts become habits, then more steps can be added.

I think that it is also important to realize that, with the help of God, imperfect parents can still do a good job of bringing up their children. Howard’s parents were far from perfect, yet she obviously developed a deep love of God and her faith. She states that she learned from their mistakes. We do the best we can on this parenting journey, but it is a fact of life that we are going to screw up. We can hope and pray that God helps our children learn from our mistakes as well.

Our families are schools whether we ever thought of them in that way or not. Children learn much from how our lives are lived – both our actions and our words. They learn from our life of prayer or lack thereof, our commitment to, or disregard of Church teachings. What messages do we want to send our children? If our family school is not imparting the lessons we desire, “The School of the Family” by Chantal Howard can offer a starting point for some corrective action.
To learn more about “The School of the Family,” please visit www.schoolofthefamily.com.

Is Extreme Couponing Moral?

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

My sons and I have recently been watching “Extreme Couponing” on TLC. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it showcases people who have turned using coupons into a career. They save their families thousands of dollars each year via the use of coupons. Most of the episodes we have watched feature grocery totals of hundreds of dollars costing under fifty dollars (some were under ten)! The extreme couponers featured have stuffed their houses full of the items they have purchased in large numbers because there was a good deal.

I know money is tight right now. The economy has been struggling for quite a while and some of the families featured were in truly dire situations. They have made couponing into a full-time job and saved the equivalent of a good salary while being able to feed their families. I can only admire their resourcefulness.

But, what about the person who can afford the groceries but chooses to take up extreme couponing anyway? Is there a point when saving money becomes less about good sense and more about being unethical?

What is involved in extreme couponing? One must take advantage of multiple good deals. One must not only purchase only what is on sale but also must have a coupon for it. Double coupons and combining manufacturers coupons with store coupons are also used. Some extreme couponers actually make money on the products they buy!

Extreme couponers do nothing illegal. They do their research and make the best use of the offers and policies that are in place. They get around limits on the number of coupons or items purchased by making multiple transactions. My moral quandary comes in with the scale of the purchases and the fact that they are leaving one store with close to a thousand dollars worth of goods that they have paid less than ten percent of the purchase price for.

I have worked in retail. I know that there is a considerable mark-up on the goods sold. Yet, that mark-up is what pays for the workers’ salaries and the utilities and general upkeep of the store – all money that goes back into the economy and helps provide jobs for people. Obviously, one extreme couponer will not break a store’s bottom line, but one must realize that someone does need to pay for the goods that person is taking out of the store.

Yes, the store will be reimbursed for manufacturer coupons, but double coupons and store coupons are offers the store makes in order to get more people into the store so that they will spend money on other products while they are there. In the case of extreme couponing, the store is the one taking the hit, and by extension, the people who work for it. Stores may also need to change their coupon policies as a result, thereby hurting all those who used them the way they were intended.

I also question the appropriateness of the stockpiles of goods some of these extreme couponers amass. While some do donate their excess to charitable organizations, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Many of the products will expire before they ever have the chance to be used. One couponer bought 100 bottles of medicine because she was making money on each bottle. Is it morally appropriate to hoard products in this fashion?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but I think they are important to think about, especially if extreme couponing becomes more and more popular.

How to Plant a Mary Garden

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Spring has come at last! It is time to plant and tend a garden. Mary Gardens, gardens dedicated to our Blessed Mother, have been gaining popularity in recent years.

Many flowers and plants are associated with our Blessed Mother and various aspects of her life. These traditions hearken back to the Middle Ages, when religious devotion permeated almost every aspect of life. Some flowers are associated with Mary simply by virtue of their names. Others feature legends used as one means to instruct others about Jesus and Mary. It was one more way to teach the Gospel stories during a time when books and reading were not widespread.

While we may not need the stories about these flowers to teach us, we can nevertheless create a place of prayer and devotion by planting a garden with the intention of honoring Mary. Such a garden may be a lavish outdoor space or some simple indoor plantings. A Mary Garden also usually contains a statue or image of Mary.

This list of flowers and their meanings may help you get started:
Rose – Roses have been associated with Mary since the earliest days. They are a symbol of her glory and sorrow. Roses are often known as the queen of flowers. As such, they are also a sign of Mary’s queenship of heaven.

Lily of the Valley - Mary’s Tears – Legend holds that when Mary wept at the foot of the cross, her tears fell to the ground and these flowers blossomed. With its pure white flowers, it has also been associated with her Immaculate Conception.

Ox-Eye Daisy – Mary’s Star – This flower is associated with the Star of Bethlehem which led the Magi to the Christ child.

Fleur-de-lis – Yellow flag iris – A symbol of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to ask her to be the mother of God’s son.

Chrysanthemum – All Saint’s Flower – This flower is believed to have been present when Christ was laid in the tomb.

Snowdrop – Candlemas Bells – These are said to have bloomed at Candlemas, when Mary brought Jesus to the temple for his presentation.

Gladiolus – the name of this flower comes from the Latin word for “sword” and stands for the sword that would pierce Mary’s heart.

Violet – a symbol of Mary’s constancy, humility, and innocence

Marigold – Mary’s Gold – a symbol of Mary’s simplicity and domesticity. Sometimes also associated with her sorrows.

Carnations – their name reminds one of the Incarnation of Christ. They also are a symbol of the Crucifixion.

For more information on flowers and herbs associated with Mary, please visit: http://www.fisheaters.com/marygardens.html

The Appointed Season

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Every week as part of our homeschool program, I choose a Bible verse to post for my children. Sometimes it is from that week’s Gospel. Other times it is relevant to what may be going on in their lives. Still other times I simply pick a random verse.

This week, I am posting the first line of the above passage. It came to me as I was giving my sons a bit of a lecture on prayer. They are growing older and need to focus more on their prayer lives. I was explaining to them that during the next few years they will be making many important decisions for their lives and to do so without help from God was a recipe for disaster. To get that help, they need to pray. Their response: “But, Mom, we like to play!”

Yes, there is a time for play, but there is also a time for work and responsibility and prayer. The life lessons continue. I know it is not a one-time discussion. Even as adults, this balance of time and purpose can be something we struggle with – what we want to do versus what needs to be done or what God is calling us to do. As I reflected more on this passage, I realized that its message was just as important for me as for my children.

My life the past few months has been turned upside-down. I can’t publicly discuss the circumstances, but I can say that what I thought my future might look like was radically altered. I’ve turned to God in prayer and have had the help of many friends praying for me (I am so very blessed to have their love and support). I am taking life one day at a time.

On one level, I have peace. That is a great consolation. I know I am doing what God wants. I am acting out of love and service. I am doing my utmost to trust in God; that He knows the reason for all of this upheaval even if I do not fully understand. On another level, however, I am still mourning the loss of my dreams and my vision of my future.

Change, even positive change (and in many ways, this change falls under that category), is always difficult for me. This time is no different. I know I will dream new dreams. Perhaps, many years from now, I will even be able to dust off some old ones. I will embrace my new future and learn to love it. But that day is not today. Today, I continue to struggle.

This passage serves as a valuable reminder to me that life has its seasons. “There is an appointed time for everything.” God knows the timing. He knows my purpose in life at this moment, in this season, and in the seasons to come. May I serve Him faithfully and trust in His wisdom and goodness.

Do We Recognize Jesus?

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

This week’s Gospel (Lk 24:13-35) features Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them and talks with them and still, they do not realize who is in their midst until he breaks bread with them.

One thing the Resurrection appearances of Jesus have in common is that those who first see Him did not immediately recognize him. His glorified body was somehow different. Those who knew him best were not able to know who He was until he spoke to them or performed some action or showed them His wounds. Then they knew; they understood.

As we go through our daily lives, we often fail to recognize Jesus in our midst. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that whenever we care for our brothers and sisters in this world, we are caring for Jesus. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Yet, do we see it that way? When our children need our care, do we see Jesus? When our parents grow old and need our help, do we see Jesus? When our friends are hurting, do we see Jesus? When our neighbors are in need, do we see Jesus? When a homeless person begs on the street, do we see Jesus? When our enemies are suffering, do we see Jesus?

Jesus comes to us in all sorts of disguises and it can be very hard indeed into recognize Him. He can be rich or poor, clean or dirty, young or old, a person in our home, on our street, or a stranger on the other side of the world. He can be our best friend or the person who pushes all of our buttons the wrong way. He can be someone who we feel has it made or someone who we judge to have made all the wrong choices. Yes, Jesus comes hidden and we are called to serve. We are called to love.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is known for the service she gave to all those she met. She invited each of us to reach out in a personal way to those around us. She stated, “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” May we follow her example and reach out to Jesus in all His disguises in our world.