Love Thy Neighbor or Mind Thy Own Business?

no-access-71233_1280You know how people usually compare  the journey of dieting and losing weight to the journey of faith?  Maybe it’s just me since I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing and my ears perk up when I hear anything related to food. But I swear ever since I started reading more about the saints and listening to Catholic speakers and reading Catholic books, it seems like desire and sin are always compared with our desire for food, and the  journey to sainthood and heaven is always linked to a weight loss goal.  It’s fascinating because, truthfully, it’s spot on!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

So I have a spiritual director (Hello Fr. Adam!) and what I’ve discovered is that SD’s are similar to Personal Trainers in a lot of ways (similar to any coach/counselor).

We give instruction, we give guidance, we ask questions. But ultimately, we can’t force you to lose weight/get stronger etc. That’s something you have to do on your own. My SD can’t force me to do anything but he does provide guidance, instruction, asks probing questions (that I sometimes hate to answer). “Did you workout like you planned?” similar to “Have you prayed using Lectio Divina?” to which I usually answer, “I plead the fifth Father!”

Most personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches will ask their client to record their workouts and their food intake in a journal. It’s more about self-reflection than anything else. Same is true for anyone seeking the “more” to life. I’ve always journaled but I go through periods of lulls where I just don’t feel like writing anything. And I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve attempted to log my food and kept failing because of laziness.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

And then there’s the gym. Clearly, the most obvious similarity is that to a Church, with the congregation being fellow gym-goers.

But I would say watching people work out is not like sitting in the pews. That’s probably more comparable to every day activity.

For example – I see people at the gym doing exercises improperly at least once or twice at each visit. Of course, no one is going to be perfect all of the time, but that’s why we have gyms – so people can exercise and work their way to their own version of the “perfect” body. (A whole other blog post)

But what about these gym people who seem to have terrible form and their breathing is off and they look like they might drop a dumbbell on their foot (or face!) any minute now?

Do I have an obligation to go up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that they might hurt themselves? If the potential to hurt themselves is imminent, I do and I have. (A dumbbell to the face is no something I would like to watch!) But usually, they’re just going to hurt themselves over time. Not right away.

Keep in mind these are people I have seen repeatedly throughout the week. It’s usually something as simple as improper form. Will it kill them? No. Will it hurt them? Most likely, over time. Will it be an injury they can’t recover from? No idea. But most likely not.

Do I now have an obligation to help them or to say something? What if I wasn’t a PT and just a regular knowledgable gym-goer? Do I interrupt their workout and say something or just let them figure it out on their own? I could just wait until they learn from someone else more qualified. But then, won’t they feel kind of silly or stupid for doing it “their way” for so long? Will they wonder – “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Why is it so hard for me to work up the nerve to say something, and offer a better way for them to achieve their exercise goal at that moment?


Won’t You Be My Nosy Neighbor?

As you ponder that, let’s take the guy out of the gym and put him in a real-life scenario. Let’s say it’s a neighbor. Like, literally, your next door neighbor.

You know he’s married with a kid. You’ve met his wife and daughter. They go to your church. But you don’t know them that well. Just well enough to wave hello and once in a while borrow a cup of sugar or something. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Let’s say over a period of time, you notice this guy talks down to his wife and daughter. But he seems to verbally abuse the wife more than the kid. You only notice this when you can overhear them if they’re outside. But let’s say it starts to become more frequent. And let’s say he starts to do it while you’re hanging out with him and his family at a cookout or something. Or at a church function.

Do you wait and not say anything? Do you pull her aside and say something? I mean, these people go to your church. But it’s not like he’s sinning right? He’s not hitting her because you’d be able to tell, right? You could always assume he’ll learn how to be a better communicator eventually from someone more qualified than you. You’re just a neighbor and you should probably just mind your own business…right?

The big dilemma is this: At what point do we go from casual observer to intervener?

Because I think that’s what’s happening in the world today but it’s being misinterpreted as being nosy and injecting your self into someone else’s life. Or the most popular argument: “You’re forcing your beliefs onto me!”

No, actually, no one can force you to believe anything. I can’t force you to lose weight, I can’t be forced to lose weight and I can’t force you or anyone to become a saint.

The Christian and Correct Response

It comes back to what I said in the beginning: We can guide. We can offer assistance. We can start the conversation.

And one thing I’d love for people to know, especially those who don’t quite get us Christians, is that we want to help people. I know some Christians are better at this than others. Some yell and scream (not good, seriously can we stop that please?) some calmly approach (better) and some literally offer to accompany and walk with that person on their journey (best). But even this approach may come across as hurting someone, because we are telling them bluntly, that they are hurting themselves by whatever sin they are committing. But even if we tell them the truth in love, I promise we really have their best interests at heart.

When we see someone living their life a certain way that we believe to be wrong and that will hurt them, we have a moral obligation and a duty to help that person the best way we can. But, and this goes to my fellow Christians, once you try to help someone, you have to get out of the way and drop it. No amount of coercion or yelling or degrading will ever get anyone to change their ways.

So I end with a question, for myself and for you, to think about: If you see someone, your neighbor, your fellow parishioner, your friend, doing harm to their soul, will you work up the courage to provide a better way?  Or will you just walk on by? Is minding your own business really the loving thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of a Public Faith

“Authentic Christianity is meant for the world and will always be a challenge to the corruption of the world.” – Bishop Robert Barron

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The past few weeks I’ve heard and experienced a very clear message from several public figures in the Catholic world: Faith wasn’t meant to be privatized. Christianity is not a privatized religion. It must be shared publicly in order to fight the resistance of the world.

I think now, more than ever, it seems we need more public displays of Christianity.

Why?

Well, not only to fight off evil, which is a good enough reason of course. But more to dispel the myths of who Christians are and what they look like and how they act. To clear up the confusion! Because I gotta tell you, there are a LOT of confused people out there who have a warped idea of who an authentic Christian is.

Due to the rise of secularism and people identifying as being either non-religious or just plain old “spiritual,” a common assumption is that we are all just like the group of Westboro Baptists. I was astounded to hear this!  Not only is this completely FALSE but it’s also disgusting and hurtful to be associated with this very very small group of individuals. In doing research for my post today I actually went to their website just to confirm that this group has nothing good to say and I was right. Sadly, they are all very misguided. They preach hate. Plain and simple. It was sickening and most of all, discouraging.

I thought to myself, “This is what non-Christians think of us? That among the 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, we are all associated with these people who preach nothing but hate and make it their duty to protest funerals?”

Isn’t this even more of a reason to publicly express our faith and what we believe, in love and with compassion? It won’t do us much good to retreat to our cozy homes or stay inside our churches and just keep our faith to ourselves.

So it starts with us; with me and you.

But where to begin?

The smallest acts can go a long way

Something as simple as saying grace before every meal, even when you’re someplace like a fast food place or a restaurant can go a long way.  How? Well, because you are being SEEN. Others notice that kind of thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said grace before eating a meal and have gotten just a simple smile from across the room from folks. Almost like a nod of approval or a just a simple gesture to show that they respect it. And it serves as a reminder to others that may have stopped practicing this ritual.

I read somewhere recently to always pray before eating a meal at a restaurant and make sure to pray before the waiter/waitress leaves the table after placing the order. That way, you take that moment to ask him/her if you can offer up any prayers for them, too!

It could be something like just bringing your Bible somewhere. Or the Magnificat or the Liturgy of the Hours. Plenty of people are nosy, I have found. They’ll strike up a conversation with you just about anywhere. (Unless it’s just a friendly Midwestern USA thing?)

Take for example, reading a book. Any place that’s public like a beach, or park or commuting on the bus or at the airport is a place where you find many people are reading while waiting for something. I’m always curious what people are reading so I have no problem just asking someone, “What book is that and is it any good?” Fr. Tom of the TOB Institute mentioned that he brought his Breviary with him on a fishing boat recently and it always gets the locals talking and asking him, “What’s that? Is that a Bible? You some kind of holy man or something?” It’s a great icebreaker.

I will give just one small example from my own life that I thought was interesting. It took place at the car dealership where I was getting my oil changed. Of all the places, I ended up evangelizing to the service guy!  He initiated the conversation by asking, “So is it Sister Michelle? I noticed that book in your car when I went to move it.” The book in question was called A Vowed Life that one of my dear friends loaned to me.

I laughed and said “Oh no, it’s most definitely not Sister Michelle.  But funny you should mention that because I’m actually discerning consecrated life, which is different than religious life.” So he proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about that which was fantastic. Then I went to see my sales guy and he had heard from the service guy what we talked about and so then HE proceeded to ask me more questions about consecrated life and what that would look like, etc. So we had an awesome conversation about discerning one’s vocation. Both of these men had discerned married life so I explained how and why I discerned that married life is not my vocation and how I came to that conclusion. What a place to have this random encounter, at a car dealership of all places.

The point is that when out in public, and not just in the pew, we are being seen. We are being observed. Is our conduct in line with what our faith teaches us? Are our actions one of faith or one of what the culture tells us we should be doing? Are we going to let non-religious people stereotype us as “those hateful bigots?” Or are we going to stick up for what we believe while simultaneously preaching the love of Christ?

The public square is open. It’s up to us if we’re going to step into it and declare our faith to all who can hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: Being a Witness

caravaggio_-_the_incredulity_of_saint_thomas

This past Sunday we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. And the Gospel was the story of St. Thomas and how he doubted that Jesus was risen from the dead.

So this got me thinking “What do mercy and the story of St. Thomas have in common?”

What I came up with was this: We have to show mercy to those who doubt us. Those who doubt our faith. Those who doubt the existence of Jesus, they doubt His love. They doubt not only His existence…they doubt His existence within us.

That’s probably why we take it personally (okay I take it personally, speaking for myself) when people say they are skeptics or doubters or unbelievers. It’s like they are saying they don’t believe in us. And we are sitting right in front of them and talking to them yet they say “I don’t believe.”

I’m actually quite hurt by four simple words – “I don’t believe you.”

It’s one thing for people to say they don’t believe in God. Okay, I get it. Well, actually I don’t get it but I’ll accept that you believe that.

But what I’ve noticed is that when you try to explain to a non-believer how God has shaped and completely changed your life only to hear them say they still don’t believe – that’s crushing and really devastating.

If I may be completely honest, this is what causes me sleepless nights. I know there’s doubters among us. And some of them I’m very close to. But they doubt any existence of God, causing a huge (and unspoken) rift in our friendship.

But then we come back to mercy. How would I begin to try to help untwist their “unbelief” while still showing them mercy?

I would need the same kind of reaction Jesus got from Thomas. I would need my Thomas’ to take notice and say, “Wow, this person went through something. This person lived through something. I might not relate to it directly but I believe they experienced something profound.”

There’s a name for this. It’s called being a witness.

We can all be a witness, actually.  One way to is through the spoken word, usually the most common and most popular, in my opinion.


 

I never heard a witness talk until 3 years ago on a young adult retreat. I hadn’t even been on a retreat since maybe 8th grade. I was long overdue.

The first witness speaker on this particular retreat had quite the story. She told an incredible story that although it wasn’t directly relate-able to my life, it was a human experience that all of us in that room found very moving. It was incredibly sad and touching and left not a dry eye among us after it was over.

I have since been on numerous retreats and made Renewal at my parish where I heard more witness talks. And just last fall I had the privilege of being one of those witness speakers.

I cannot even begin to tell you how healing it is to share your journey with others. With total strangers! It was scary at first, but I was SO ready to get back up and share it all over again as soon as I was finished. Ever since, I have felt a calling of sorts to speak my story.

I have gone back and forth with myself if I should share my story here but it really truly is best HEARD and not READ. (Reminds me of my Spiritual Director who gives such great homilies but was hesitant to share them on his blog for the same reason. “Homilies are meant to be heard, to be proclaimed, not read.”)

Another priest mentioned in a homily recently on the same topic of witness talks:

“I couldn’t help but think what a different place the world would be if each of us had the opportunity, the desire, the incentive to tell and share these stories of faith or be attentive to other’s stories. How God’s presence would be irrefutable, overwhelming and certain for those who don’t believe or struggle to see God near…This is the message we are called to live – with our words and in our actions – so that others who say, “Show me” will be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”


 

So the challenge is how can I, how can anyone for that matter, share their witness with others who are open to hearing it? We can’t just blurt it out. We can’t just tell people our messy problems and expect them to understand us better than ourselves. But what we can do is invite them in to our mess.  And they can see how Jesus cleans it up!

Because, you know, Jesus didn’t force Thomas to touch Him. He invited Thomas to touch His wounds. So…wouldn’t that suggest to us that we invite people into our mess?  Our brokenness? Our struggles?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer yep! (Finally after years of going to mass I think I’m finally getting this whole “applying the Gospel to your life” thing).

So consider this your formal invitation into my broken world.

Hopefully, if you ever have the chance to hear my witness story, you can say “Truly, the Lord has been at work in this woman’s life!”

From there, maybe you can find Him at work in your life too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year In Review – A Yearly Examen

Catholic blogger Philip Kosloski wrote a cool little article about making a Yearly Examen. Most people are familiar with the Daily Examen which is a part of Ignatian Spirituality.  I try to make an effort to do a nightly examen but I admit, I fail a lot at this.

But a Yearly Examen – Brilliant and doable. As much as we are inclined to make New Years Resolutions, how often do we actually review the year that was in order to learn how we can improve ourselves for the coming year?

Here’s Kosloski’s adaptation for his Yearly Examen:

  1. First, give thanks to God for all the many blessings received over the past year. Go through each month, dwelling upon the good and thanking God for it.
  2. Second, ask for the grace to know your sins and failings and renounce them. Go through each month and do this. 
  3. Third, review your year again, month-by-month, and recognize your feelings, thoughts and movements of the heart. There will be certain people and events that strike a chord (for good or for ill). Bring those people or events to God and ask Him why they stand out. Ask God for the grace to see His providence in all things. Nothing happens by chance.
  4. Fourth, ask pardon of God for any sins. Also, do not only ask God for forgiveness, but also ask God for the grace to forgive yourself.
  5. Fifth, look forward to the next year and ask God for the grace to amend your life.

While 2015 is still fresh in your mind, you should make a point to do your own yearly examen. It looks a little daunting but it shouldn’t take you too long.  In the meantime, here are my own little thoughts on this exercise:

As for me, personally, Step number 1 is the easiest part. I made a point this past year to try and remain positive and always be grateful for the littlest things. Someone got me a “Grateful Journal”  where you write something every day that you’re thankful for/something good that happened to you. or an answered prayer for someone else. When you read that every day, it’s hard to remain bitter and depressed.

The second step – A little difficult, I mean who wants to face their sins and failings head on like that? But, I understand why it’s a necessary step. We aren’t perfect, as much as we try to be.

The third step – By far my favorite step. Certain events that “struck a chord” for good were plentiful this year. Pretty sure TOB is at the top of the list. But there were a few that still make me feel sick to my stomach every time I think about them (friendships ending, death of loved ones, betrayal of people I trusted).

The most difficult step though, for me, has to be the 4th. The grace to forgive yourself is far more difficult, I think, than asking God for forgiveness.  Pretty sure this has a lot to do with my self-deprecating humor I adopted a few years ago. It’s easier to make fun of yourself and downplay your successes than to actually believe you’re good at something or are a good person. And when that happens you tend to dwell on your faults a lot more than give yourself some credit for your improvements. Sigh…

The fifth step – Hallelujah!  I AM looking forward to a new year, especially since I have thing for even numbers. 2015 always sounded strange to me. Twenty-sixeteen has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? 😉

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Sunday after Easter has been declared as Divine Mercy Sunday, based on Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus. But what exactly is mercy?

We certainly read the word mercy in the Bible over and over. Here’s a small sample from part of Psalm 118.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

Let Israel say:

his mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Aaron say,

his mercy endures forever.

Let those who fear the LORD say,

his mercy endures forever.

Mercy, according to definition is a suffering of the heart. God’s mercy in the Psalm above can be interpreted as “I suffer with.” A deep loving identification with people in their suffering. Because as we know, God is love.

Pope Francis keeps stressing the divine mercy and just announced a year-long Jubilee of Mercy. According to America Magazine: For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” He wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

How did Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel show mercy? As he entered the room where his disciples were hiding in fear, he said, “Peace be with you.” Even after He showed them his hands and his side, he again said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is when he breathed on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit and forgive the sins of people everywhere, as He had forgiven theirs.

What a gift these men received! And what a relief to them. Jesus didn’t appear to them to inflict revenge for what had happened to Him on the cross. No, he showed them mercy and then instructed them to show mercy to others.

Fit In Your Faith Today: As Pope Francis declares a Jubilee of Mercy, so too should we show mercy to others. But we can start off on the right foot by using a sacrament that has gone into “disuse” according to Father Robert Barron in recent years: Reconciliation. Even our Pope has gone to confession and describes himself as a sinner. What better way to “celebrate” this special day than to repent and be healed by His powerful mercy.

 

 

A Forgiving Spirit

Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
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.”

The amount that we give will determine the amount given back to us in return. How much do you give? For those who give of their time and their hearts and their abilities, this is great news. For all that we give, we’ll be given back in return! And isn’t that usually the case? Sometimes it’s not right away – most times we have to wait patiently for it to come back to us. Some call it karma. I like to think it’s God. 🙂

But what about those times when we don’t do much good? What about those times that maybe we didn’t treat that stranger with respect. Or maybe that time we passed the donation basket down the pew when we knew we had a few bucks to spare? Or, that time we judged someone we just met based on their background or their accent or their clothing. We probably wish we could go back and do differently.

The good news is, it’s never too late. We can put some money in the basket at the next mass, we can give that stranger a smile next time we see them, or we can re-introduce ourselves to that person we misjudged. And for those “bigger” sins? We can confess and ask God to forgive us and the peace to move on.

Fit In Your Faith Today: As Lent continues, take stock of what you’re doing right now that is good. Are you shining your light on to others? Or are you still in the darkness of contempt or disappointment or shame? It’s time to be compassionate just as our Father is compassionate and merciful. Be merciful to others but also to yourself!

The Lord Has Told You…Will You Listen?

Micah 6:8

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:

to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Good News Translation:

No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this:

to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.

From the New Life Study Bible: People have tried all ways to please God, but God has made his wishes clear; He wants his people to do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. In your efforts to please God, examine these areas on a regular basis. Are you fair in your dealings with people? Do you show mercy to those who wrong you? Are you learning humility?

Fit In Your Faith Today: Take one aspect of today’s passage that you need the most help with and work it into your day: Stand up for what is right, or correct a mistake you made in your past. Exhibit mercy to someone whom you have looked down upon or have held a grudge against for too long. Perform an act of kindness anonymously in order to learn humility.