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Over Zealous?

My friends know that I am extremely passionate about my faith, family and beliefs; some consider me over zealous.  In fact Paslm 69:10 describes me to a ‘T’ “Because zeal for your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you”.  I initially joined Facebook because of an invitation from the National Right to Life, to stand up and defend the lives of the unborn.  Knowing that I can annoy people, I try to temper my zeal so that I am not so obnoxious.  Some people simply don’t want to hear what I have to say; I have probably been ‘unfriended’ more times than anyone else in the history of Facebook!

God bless all of you patient individuals who have stuck with me in spite of my outspoken rants, whether you agree with me or not.  Your opinions matter, and I am grateful for those spirited conversations.  Better to be passionate and zealous, than lukewarm, as we are warned in Revelation 3:15 “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”  

Whoa!  That is a bold warning!  So Jesus would rather have you fervent, than apathetic.  Unfortunately apathy is rampant, and it seems most Americans are more concerned about the chances of their baseball team winning the World Series, or their college team winning, than about the problems in the world.  It drives me crazy that so many people just don’t seem to care about their faith, or all that matters is getting promoted or advancing a career.  But I have to realize that everyone’s spiritual journey is their own.  My friend, Debra Kessinger and I inspire and support each other; she is even more passionate than I am!    Yesterday she told me in prayer that Jesus spoke to her and said “this (apathy) was My heaviest burden on the cross during My Passion. ”  Seeing the apathy in the world literally breaks my heart, so it brought me comfort knowing that I am sharing in Christ’s suffering.  Whenever I am discouraged or feel I’m wasting my time, Debra and other friends are there to offer me hope and encouragement.

Today is the feast day of John the Baptist, who was beheaded because he spoke the truth.  Herodias was married to King Herod’s brother, Philip, and John the Baptist brazenly proclaimed “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”. (Mark 6:17)   Furious, Herodias found her opportunity to silence this bold prophet when her daughter danced for the King.  Delighted, he granted the girl “whatever you wish”; she in turn asked her mom “What shall I ask for?”   And Herodias promptly replied “the head of John the Baptist”.  An executioner quickly brought back John the Baptist’s “head on a platter“.

Many times I have been told that I should be silent, that an issue is none of my business.  I have been called more names than I can count.  I would certainly never tell someone what to do, but I will always stand up for the truth.  Our country is so divided and polarized on so many different issues, from homosexual lifestyles, to abortion, to the economy, to whether women should be ordained priests, to caring for the poor.  There seem to be two sides to every issue.  Beware of ‘false prophets’, those politicians, actors and commentators who claim to know the truth.  Only one will lead you into truth, and that is Jesus, who is “the truth, the light and the way”.  The Holy Spirit promised in John 16:13 that he would “lead you into all truth”.  If you want the truth,  increase your prayer time, study, find confirmation in scripture and most important, be guided by the Church, which is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1st Timoothy 3:15).

So take a moment and pull yourself away from your computer or television screen; forget about the “Dogs” or “Gators” for a few minutes.  Does it matter that Jesus died on the cross for you, and you alone?  What upsets you the most about the problems in this world?  Some are outraged by our politicians’ propensity to go to unceasing war.  Whichever side you are on, do your research, especially into the problems in the Middle East.  Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Libya have all harbored or been governed by Muslim terrorists such as Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Al Jihad, ISIS and the plethora of such groups.  Invading and trying to subdue any country in this hotbed of Muslim unrest seems to be futile.

Whether your passion is to help the poor and hungry, or education, capital punishment or defending your faith, take time to learn all you can, pray and do what you can to make a difference.  One horrific problem here in Georgia and all over the world is sexual slavery of mostly women and children; tens of thousands of women and children are trapped in this degrading and perverted captivity.

The women are tricked into the promise of passage to America for exorbitant fees, sometimes more than $25,000.00.  The ‘generous’ smugglers offer to loan them the money, and then when they get here, they are forced to work in ‘massage parlors’ until their debt is paid.  The slavers take away the captives’ passports and identification, and then are charge them outrageous fees for ‘room and board’, so their debt is never repaid.  Often threats are made against the slaves’ children or other family back home, coercing them into obedience.  The women are often deliberately sleep deprived, and moved around often, to make them more ‘cooperative’.

And the plight of children is even worse.  Many children that are abused or just mixed up that run away from home gravitate to the big cities.  Here in Atlanta, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and most large cities, pimps hang out at bus stations ready to ‘help’ these children and young teens into prostitution.  The group StandUp for Kids works hard to reach these kids that slip through the cracks; most won’t go to the police, because the police are obligated to place them in the foster care program, which often is just as bad, with widespread abuse.  It is estimated that around 14,000 children and teens are living in the streets of Atlanta, prey to pimps and perverted adults.

So how in the world in a predominately Christian nation can this type of forced slavery exist?  If American men didn’t create the need, this kind of market couldn’t exist.  I have heard estimates that as many as one of every three girls, and one of every seven boys, has been molested, quite often by a family member.  Several years ago the Atlanta Journal and Constitution had a report about the large number of teachers in the local school systems that are serial child molesters.  Instead of being prosecuted, they are shifted from district to district.

I have learned more than I ever wanted to about child sexual abuse, and one important fact is that rarely does someone molest children, unless they were molested first (from the book Out of the Shadows, by Patrick J. Carnes).  If you have been molested, please, please, please get counseling.  As one brave soul told me “trying to live life normally is like trying to play ball with one arm tied behind your back”.  Being abused really scrambles your brains, causing pain, negative self-image, shame, guilt, addictions, post traumatic stress and gender confusion.  Quite often those who have been molested will be sexually active at a young age, with different partners.

If you regularly look at pornography, please, please get professional counseling and join support groups for sexual addiction.  There is a support group for addicts right at my local church (message me for info).  Go to confession weekly and pray.  When someone is addicted to pornography, the brain is rewired, and it will take more and more perverted and exotic images to get the same rush. Do you think it is a coincidence that virtually all rapists are sexual addicts?  Am I saying that just because you look at pornography you will turn into a child molester or rapist?  Of course not!  I am saying you are playing with an explosive  molotav cocktail.  (See the article below This is Your Brain on Porn).  I have read that sexual addiction is far worse and harder to break free from than cocaine.

So my challenge to men is to stand up and condemn ‘lusting in the heart’, pornography.  If you are Muslim, stand up and condemn the beheading of journalist James Foley, the oppression of women, and the torture, imprisonment and death of those Muslims in the Middle East who convert to Christianity.  If you encounter someone who is pregnant, but not married, give her a baby shower, take her to the Beacon of Hope or other center for unwed moms, and connect her with Catholic Charities or St. Vincent de Paul.  If you meet someone suffering from depression, be a friend and listen to them, encourage them to get counseling, and most of all, pray, pray, pray!!!

If your faith is last on the list or priorities, remember the First Commandment is to give God first place in our lives.  If you are a kindred spirit and passionate like me, God bless you.  If you are apathetic, get up and do something!

Related Articles:

Modern Day Slavery in America
http://www.alternet.org/story/146932/modern_day_slavery_in_america_–_over_300,000_u.s._children_fall_prey_to_sex_trafficking

StandUp for Kids

http://www.standupforkids.org/

Effects of Sexual Assault

https://www.rainn.org/get-information/effects-of-sexual-assault

This is Your Brain on Porn

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/29332-this-is-your-brain-on-porn

The latest current trend is to boisterously videotape splashing yourself with a bucket of ice cold water, and then challenge others by name to either donate $100.00 to ALS Research, or replicate the dousing and challenge.  Wild and wacky videos have been making the rounds, from the zany lady rapper dousers (my favorite and shown below), to the sexy Old Spice gorgeous hunk, to President George W. Bush, to Lady Gaga, to the Reno City Council, to Kermit the Frog.  Debonair actor Patrick Stewart gave his own twist to the challenge by writing a check, and instead of soaking himself, elegantly used the ice in his glass of Scotch.    One enterprising soul was so caught up in the popular fad that he posted a video of himself, forgetting he was wanted for parole violation.  He was quickly arrested by the local police.

So why has the ice bucket challenge turned into such a craze that it has turned your Facebook newsfeed into a solid stream of frozen water?  I believe the reason so many people are jumping on the icy bandwagon is that it simply feels good to do something that helps others, especially since it is done in such a fun way.  And we all want to be a part of the latest trend, filling the deep seated need to ‘belong’, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Many who ‘douse’ also send a small donation.

I think it is wonderful that donations to ALS Research have risen by 80 million dollars in the last few weeks, but this soggy acrobatic challenge has stirred up quite a bit of controversy.  Some people object to the ALS challenge because of the use of embryonic stem-cell research, which destroys a human life.  Some of these objectors will take the challenge, but ask for donations instead to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute.  Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory accepted the chilly challenge and was doused by Catholic school students not once, but four times.  He also made a donation to the JP II Medical Institute.   Another friend took the challenge, but asked for an alternative donation to help an affected family, the Kim family, deal with the emotional and financial toll of living with someone with ALS.  (http://www.kimkimfight.com/donation.html).

Some object to the showmanship of the videos, and others object to the waste of clean water since there is such a vast shortage of clean water in third world countries.  Actor Matt Damon poured toilet water on his head to raise awareness of the lack of clean sanitation systems for 2.4 billion people. My niece, Michelle, had a similar idea to donate bottles of water to a local homeless family. Some wanted to bring attention to their favorite cause, as did my nephew, Johnny, who posted a ‘dry bucket challenge’ for alcohol awareness in honor of his father.

When I was issued the ice bucket challenge by my niece, Shannon, I figured enough ice cubes had already been dumped to sink the Titanic!  Inspired by both of my nieces, I challenged all of my family and friends to help my friend Dave Sloan serve the poor on Sunday, September 14 at 2:00 in Hurt Park, with his group Love and Serve Atlanta.  Although Mother Teresa advises us not to be overly worried about our donations being used in the wrong way, but to be more concerned with giving, I prefer to give donations to charities or groups that have low administrative fees.  I think it is a wise idea to research a charity or group before donating.  Some of my favorites are St. Vincent de Paul, Mustard Seed, Catholic Charities and Love and Serve Atlanta, which have low or non-existent administrative fees.  If you are concerned that the money you donate may be used inappropriately, the web page Charity Navigator, is a great way to easily research administrative fees. (http://www.charitynavigator.org/)

If you are Christian, tithing is extremely important, especially to your own church.  Tithing fulfills the First Commandment to give God first place in your lives.   By tithing you are reminding yourself that God owns everything, and is the source of everything, so giving helps us to be humble.  Tithing also helps us “store up treasure in heaven”; when we give to the Church the money goes to support buildings in which to gather, priests and ministers to guide us spiritually, evangelization and outreach, charities, religious education and a plethora of other ministries.

In the prayer of St. Francis we are told it is ‘in giving that we receive’.  This message is reiterated in Luke 6:38 “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”  If we want God to bless us, then we must be a blessing to others.

Most people have a cause dear to their heart, which is why I challenged friends and family to help the homeless, in honor of my brother, who was a Viet Nam veteran, and was homeless at different times in his life because of his addictions and mental issues.  My nephew, Johnny, gave the challenge to fight alcoholism, in honor of his father and a close friend.  I did have a friend who had ALS, and can attest to the agonizing, debilitating effects of this horrific disease.  ‘Mac’ MacDonald was in deaconite formation when he contracted the deadly disease, but he was far enough along in his studies, that Archbishop David John Francis Donoghue ordained him shortly before his death.  ‘Mac’ was a kind and loving man, and a powerful witness to his Catholic faith, right up until the very end.

My mother died from lung cancer, my dad from prostrate cancer, my mother-in-law from Schleroderma, my father-in-law from heart disease, but I tend to be concerned about giving for any medical ‘research’.  In the book The Truth About the Drug Companies, the author outlines that the National Institute of Health (NIH), which does most of the medical research in universities, allows the universities to patent and license the NIH discoveries.  Most medical research is carried out by the NIH, universities, and small biotech start-up companies, all of which receive royalties from discovery of new drugs.  Almost 77% of new drugs produced today are simply ‘me-to’ drugs, virtually identical to previous drugs, whose patent was about to run out.  When a patent runs out, other companies are free to market the drug, taking away huge profit from the original manufacturer.  The drug Nexium, for reflux, came out right when its predecessor, Prilosec, was about to have its patent run out.  Voila!  Virtually identical, now the pharmaceutical companies could charge $4.00 per ‘purple pill’.  The pharmaceutical companies spend about 2.4 billion on advertising annually; I believe those funds could be better spent on research.  In addition, I feel the pharmaceutical companies practice price gouging, by lying about the amount of research they do, and charging whatever the market will bear.  Even in Congressional hearings it has been difficult to determine the actual amount of ‘research and development’, since the drug companies use a convoluted method involving lost revenue from estimated future drug sales.

But medical research has saved lives and extended the lives of many sick people; if you want to give to medical research, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute is a non-profit organization, and is the most ethical and cost-effective of all research facilities.  The JP Institute is a wonderful alternative to profit driven companies and agencies.  So whether you give to medical research, or give to charities, just be sure and give to whichever cause touches your heart the most.   If you are broke and can’t tithe financially, then practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy outlined in the related link below; pray, teach, give of your time.  The body of Christ is made up of many different personalties, with assorted talents and gifts; use yours to build up the Kingdom of Heaven!

Related Article:

Works Mercy, Works of Prayer

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/11/21/works-of-mercy-works-of-prayer/

Lady Rapper https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUwRqYifFXo

archdukeferdinand.jpg

Archduke Ferdinand

A seemingly insignificant assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo wound up triggering a catastrophic world war.  On June 28, 1914,  Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were  assassinated in Sarajevo by the Black Hand, a radical Serbian group.  The ringleader, Princip, most likely supplied information from Colonel Dimitrijevic-Apis, head of Serbian intelligence, who feared the Archduke would empower the Empire and block Serbian ambition to expand into Bosnia and Croatia.   Believing the Serbian government to be responsible for the assassination attempt, the Austrian council issued a 10-point ultimatum demanding the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers, organizations, teachers and officers.  Serbia, with Russian support, rejected the ultimatum.

Outraged at a personal attack against a member of the royal family, and backed by Germany, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia.  On August 1 Germany declared war on Russia, followed by the domino effect of Russia’s ally, France, declaring war on Germany, and vice versa, on August 3.  Germany’s planned invasion of Belgium on August 4, caused Britain to declare war on Germany.  In a few short days most of the major powers in the Western World were involved in cataclysmic World War I.  Eventually Italy and the United States of America were dragged into the fray.

One hundred years later almost to the day, the world still seems to be on the precarious brink of another world war.  Russia, now the Soviet Union, recently invaded and dominated the Ukraine, and a Malayasian jet was shot down a few weeks ago over the Ukraine, with both the Soviet Union and the Ukraine claiming it was the fault of the other.  Israelis and Palestinians, lead by the group known as Hamas, have been firing rockets at each other for three weeks; each claim the other broke the cease-fire.  We seem on the verge of World War III.

Every day we face crossroads; some small, some huge.  Recently there was a severe outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, and the CDC decided to fly two infected Americans to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.    The CDC assures us the Ebola virus will be contained, and there won’t be any ‘significant’ outbreaks.  This particular virus is especially contagious, and over 1,300 Africans have been infected; roughly half have died.  Did the CDC make the right decision?  Many Americans believe the patients should have been treated in Africa, rather than bringing them to the United States, as the deadly virus has the possibility of spreading rapidly in the United States.  Only time will tell if the decision will have disastrous consequences.

King Henry VIII

Granted, the political scene in Europe before World War I was volatile and complex; however, the Austrians and Serbs had no idea their declaration of war would have such far reaching repercussions.  Throughout history minor circumstances has affected millions.  Catherine of Aragon was married to King Henry VIII, and even though they had six children, only one, Queen Mary I, survived.  The King was desperate for a son to succeed him, and in 1527 Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn, one of the ladies attending Queen Catherine.  He spent the next five years petitioning the Roman Catholic Church for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, simultaneously romancing Anne Boleyn.  After resisting his overtures for years, Anne finally succumbed and became pregnant in 1532.   The Roman Catholic Church continued to refuse Henry his annulment, so in January, 1533 he married Anne Boleyn.

The Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed the marriage to Anne to be invalid, and the Church still refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine.  Until then, Henry had been devoutly Catholic, but his lust for his mistress and desire for a son became overpowering, and eventually he broke off from the Catholic Church, declaring himself to be head of the new Church of England.  One man’s lust lead to the fracturing of Christianity and the resulting division of millions of Christians.

Throughout our lives we have times when we face a ‘fork in the road’, when we have to make decisions that could be life-changing, or eve world changing.  Walt Disney was fired by his editor at the Kansas City Star, because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.  If that editor had even a smidgen of vision, Disney could have had an exciting career as a journalist.  Instead the inventor used his energy to create the Disney Empire.  It is almost impossible to imagine a world without quirky Mickey Mouse, adorable Thumper and Bambi, mischievous Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, the irrepressible Mary Poppins and the host of other charming  characters.  The world would be a sad place without the beguiling Disney songs  Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, or I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, or the  mesmerizing new song  Let it Go, from Frozen, which has touched the hearts of millions of children.

At those decisive moments in our life we have two roads to choose. Sometimes the choice should be easy, but sin rears its ugly head, making a mockery of our integrity.  King Henry VIII surely knew as a devout Catholic to honor his marriage vows.  Yet he chose the “broad road that leads to destruction” described in Matthew 7:13 by having an affair with Anne Boleyn.  He compounded that bad decision with greed when he declared himself head of the Church of England, giving himself freedom to marry his mistress, as well as improving his coffers, since he no longer paid  taxes to the Roman Catholic Church.

Sometimes the fork comes in the form of temptation and we have to decide if we will take the  “narrow gate” and make good moral decisions, choosing not to cheat on our taxes, or lie to our boss.  Sometimes the fork in the road is a course of action, such as taking a chance on a new job with better pay, or instead staying with your current employer and comfortable working conditions.  The fork could be the decision to attend a retreat, or it could be financial, such as the decision to keep your older, high mileage vehicle that you own free and clear, or trade it in on a brand spanking new candy apple red convertible with a hefty loan!

The fork in the road may concern your faith; perhaps you have fallen away and you feel a pull to return to the faith of your childhood.  It may concern your health and the decision to take time to eat more nutritiously and exercise.  You may be at the crossroads with a family member or friend caught up in an addiction, trying to decide whether or not to end the destructive relationship.

You may have cancer and are facing the agonizing decision to have surgery, or radiation, or both.  My mother developed lung cancer and agreed to surgery to have the lung removed.  Unfortunately it was a deadly decision, as the cancer had already spread microscopically to the brain.  When the primary tumor in the lung was removed, the brain tumor grew ferociously, and even with radiation she died eight months later.  She probably would have lived several more years if she had chosen not to have surgery.

But it is impossible to know if your decision is the right one or not, and there is no point in fretting over it, like a dog with a bone.  When faced with difficult decisions, St. Faustina would try to discern whether her pride was influencing her, and which decision gave God the most glory.  Even then she would still be faced with indecision, so she would follow the strongest nudge, and ask God to change the course Himself, if she happened to be going in the wrong direction.  She had peace because by surrendering, she practiced humility and allowed God to act more freely in her soul.

No decision is foolproof, and we will fail or make mistakes.  But we can’t let our fear of failure cripple us by making us too cautious.  Remember His promise in Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”   Even if we discerned badly and tragedy results, we can trust that God will bring something good out of the mess we find ourself in, knowing that He can solve any crisis or problem.

When facing tough choices I pray for the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and guidance; I discuss the situation with my family and spiritual director, and then follow the path I believe is God’s will.  But since I can never fully know if my decision is the best one, I ask God to ‘hit me over the head with a two by four’ if I happen to be going in the wrong direction!

So when you face the ‘fork in the road’, pray for discernment with Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeanne with her daughter Katie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles:

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

Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

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

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

I belong to a community called the Marian Servants of the Blessed Trinity, and last Tuesday we had a delightful guest speaker by the name of Fr. Joseph Mendes, M.S.F.S.  (His biography is below).  Fr. Mendes gave an informative talk about holiness, and afterward we were able to ask him questions.  One of the ladies in our group asked about Jesus’ admonition to “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5: 43-48).  She was puzzled because the admonition doesn’t say to TRY to be perfect, it instructs us to BE perfect.

But as Fr. Mendes explained, Jesus is calling us to live our lives as perfectly as possible.  He went on to explain perfection as fulfilling the will of God as successfully as we can, and then illustrated his point with the image of a screwdriver fitting perfectly into the head of a screw.  Obviously a Philip’s head screwdriver won’t fit into a flat head screw, and vice versa.  Just so we should pour our lives into the mold of God’s plans.

I loved the illustration, since my husband has been worrying over a broken light fixture in our kitchen for several weeks.  The fixture has been loose for at least a year, and even though he has laboriously gotten the ladder out and fiddled with it, he never could get it flush against the ceiling.  Then two weeks ago the fixture dropped and was hanging down about an inch.  Out came the ladder and tools, but he still couldn’t fix it.  So he removed the glass globe and puttered around some more.  Still unsuccessful, he waited several weeks until he had a free day to devote more time to the puzzle.

That free day came Tuesday afternoon, so out came the ladder and tools again.  He got the idea to take the entire box out the ceiling and reattach the light fixture with longer bolts, so he ran to the hardware store and bought some new bolts.  No dice.  They simply didn’t fit.  So after much complaining, and convinced he needed to call an electrician, he decided to try to get the right size bolts and drove back to the hardware store, purchasing smaller ones.  No dice.  Too small.  Much more frustration and ranting; meanwhile, all I could do was to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance!

Back to the hardware store for medium size bolts.  After some finagling, VICTORY!  My ‘fix-it man’ was finally able to properly clamp the glass globe flush against the ceiling.  Unless the bolts were the right size, the light fixture simply didn’t mesh together.  My husband’s experience seems to mirror our relationship with God; we try to fit God into OUR imperfect plans, rather than fitting ourselves into HIS perfect plans.  Have you heard the joke about someone laying out their plans to God?  And God laughs and says “that isn’t my plan”!  Whether your plans are to get the perfect job, or have a wonderful vacation, or to give an important presentation, sometimes the ‘best laid plans of mice and men go astray’.

I listen to Clark Howard, the expert on WSB about staying away from scams, and last week he warned about a new scam concerning vacation rentals.  Scam artists copy pictures of a vacation condo or home for rent, then place an ad requesting payment in advance, and when someone responds, the scammer disappears with all the money.  The duped vacationers get to their destination, and find out they don’t have a place to stay; their plans are ruined!  We work hard to plan for our future, but then God reveals a different plan.  A salesperson might get deathly sick right before an important presentation to a new client, giving the opportunity to another sales rep, causing the loss of an important commission.

It is infuriating when your careful plans fall apart, but remember that when God tells you no, or seems to slam the door shut, it is always because He has an even better plan ahead!  “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 3:20″).  We don’t know for sure if God allows our plans to fail because the path would be detrimental, or because he has an even better vacation or commission in mind.  But we do know God always has our best interests in mind.

Inspired by the example of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare became the abbess of a group of ladies who were followers of St. Francis, later being known as the ‘Poor Clares’.  St. Clare’s parents were of noble blood, and were adamantly opposed to her entering the religious life, and in fact were planning to join her in marriage to a wealthy young man.  With the help of St. Francis, Clare slipped away to join his merry group of penitents.  Francis helped her to shave her head, and when her parents came to reclaim her, she held on to the altar for dear life and refused to leave.  The shock of seeing her bald head convinced her parents of her sincerity, and they allowed her to follow the path of poverty.

God’s plan for their daughter was infinitely different than the path her parents had carefully planned, but look at the beautiful legacy St. Clare has given to millions.  Her order of Poor Clares now has over 20,000 nuns in over 75 countries; they are still faithful to their vow of poverty, and inspire many Christians with their lives of trust and courage.

You may be extremely successful in your career, but ask God daily if this is still His plan for you.  He might be calling you in a different direction by asking you to offer your marketing skills to help out a local charity, or perhaps by using your business acumen to help men and women on welfare acquire job skills.  So tune in daily to discern God’s will for you that day, praying Jesus’ words “thy will be done”.

Bio of Fr. Mendes:
In 1994, Fr. Joseph Mendes (from the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales) left the Nagpur Province and came to support the American Mission and joined the community at St. Patrick’s Church. He served the American Mission at St. Patrick’s Parish as parochial Vicar and at Villa Luyet as Novice Master.  In 2001, after seven years of service to the American Mission, he began his ministry as Chaplain to the Visitation sisters, chaplain to Mother Teresa’s sisters and parochial vicar at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville while being directly under the authority of his provincial.

 

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