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Archive for March, 2010

For our Holy Week, an uplifting story of a selfless conversion. Here is a story of a grandmother who has decided that 15 years of cancer treatment is enough, and that it’s time to distribute her wealth to those in need around her. 

After 15 years spent battling oral cancer, Washington resident Sonya Beard is giving up her fight — in order to give back to her community.

Fifteen years. That’s how long 74-year-old Sonya Beard has been fighting oral cancer. But now, after multiple surgeries and treatments, she says she has had enough. While her doctors wanted her to start radiation therapy, Beard is instead enjoying the time she has left, and making a huge difference in her community. She has already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars from her life savings to several organizations near her Mount Vernon, Wash., home, and she’s not done yet.

 Giving Back

A lifelong reader, Sonya’s first donation was $500,000 to the Mount Vernon City Library. In an exclusive interview with Tonic, she says that reading made her “the cornerstone of what I am today. I wouldn’t have been able to travel or do the things I have done without my love of books.”

As a child, Beard and family would go to the library on Saturday to get their books for the week. “I got to the point where I was obnoxious with my mother about trying to get my nose out of a book.” She has since instilled “a passion for books and reading” in her four grandchildren.

Beard couldn’t attend the library meeting when her donation was announced, but she finally made it down there on Monday. “I went this afternoon and I’m just thrilled to death with what they’re going to be able to do” with her donation, she says. The library is planning a major expansion that might not have been possible without Beard’s donation.

Thinking Forward

Beard has also donated $165,000 to Skagit Valley Hospital, also located in Mount Vernon, so they can purchase hyperbaric oxygen therapy equipment to help patients recover from surgeries like the ones Beard has endured. Until this, the closest hyperbaric equipment was in Seattle, more than 60 miles away.

“I found it necessary to undergo the treatment after one of my surgeries, but I was not able to travel,” she says. “I had to rent an apartment down there for six weeks. It’s a terrible handicap for a person to have to move themselves to another area. A lot of people in Mount Vernon don’t have the means to relocate themselves down there. I knew we had patients that needed it here and they couldn’t afford it.”

Beard has been pushing the hospital to get the new equipment up and running quickly. “I was just down there to see the progress on the oxygen chamber. They’re moving fast. They’re remodeling the wound center now, and we’re hoping for an opening in June.”

More to Come

Her battle with cancer has also inspired her to create a foundation, which will be established where she had her surgeries at the University of Washington Medical Center, after her death. “You may not know this,” she says, “but people with oral cancer are not reimbursed by insurance for dental prostheses. I set up in my will that they’ll have a foundation that will be able to pay for people who need these prostheses.”

Beard was able to purchase her own prosthesis, but it had to be removed just five months later when her doctors found more cancer. “I spent over $20,000 for a prosthesis I only had for five months. That was very discouraging to think that this might happen to someone else. It’s not right to say that this is cosmetic when it’s the only means you have for eating. There’s way too many people walking around without teeth because they won’t be able to pay for it.”

Beard’s charitable contributions don’t end there. She just paid off the mortgage at Bethany Convent Church, her church of the last ten years, and she is considering additional donations in her town. “My way is to help as many as I possibly can,” she says. “And if that helps future generations as well, that’s even better.”

A Positive Outlook

Despite her cancers, which also includes a battle with breast cancer eight years ago, Beard remains a positive person who enjoys her life. “It’s become a way of life,” she says of her cancer. “But really, other people have it worse. So we won’t dwell on that,” she laughs.

“I have been extremely fortunate with my life,” she says. “I never thought I would be in a position to do something like this. I don’t have the education, but somehow I did it.”

But Beard did learn from the people she met in her life. She learned how to invest when she worked as secretary for stockbrokers and bankers, a talent that has made these current donations possible.

In an interview with local KOMO News, Beard said, “I’m not a wealthy person, I’m not a famous person — but I feel like if I can stimulate one person to get the ball rolling then we can make a difference.”

Beard’s husband passed away 11 years ago, leaving her with three step-sons she considers “her wonderful boys.” “They’ve given me four wonderful grandchildren,” she says. “My life is complete with them.”

I would be very interested to know how much faith played a role in this woman’s decision.  I bet alot.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t something the writer covered. 

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My parish priest, in addition to being a truly joyful servant, has a wealth of pithy sayings that cut right to the heart of the matter.  Here is what he said to me tonight during Reconciliation:

The Chinese have a saying – ‘There are two good times to plant a tree.  Twenty years ago, and today.’  ….Go, and plant a tree.”

Please pray for my tree!

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I heard this prayer this morning on the Sonrise Morning show and resolved to post it here.  It’s the Lenten Prayer of St. Augustine.

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry but to you?
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant from strange sins.
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

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“Annunciazione” by Pietro Perugino, ca 1489

We break from our Lenten fast to keep the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when Gabriel delivered God’s message to Mary and she said yes

 Visit Deacon Jim‘s weblog, Servant of the Word, for today’s liturgy and homily

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From Forbes magazine via Black Christian News:

Warren Buffett did it. Bill Gates did it. Now a little-known billionaire from Britain is doing it too.

 Albert Gubay has fulfilled a divine pact he made at the start of his entrepreneurial career and put his business empire, worth around 460 million pounds ($690 million) into a charitable trust.

The 82-year-old British retail entrepreneur made a “deal” with God several decades ago, when he barely had enough capital to get his business ideas off the ground, to share half his fortune with the almighty in return for some divine help with his finances.

Five decades later nearly all of his fortune is going into a trust from which half of all the funds will be spent on projects connected to the Roman Catholic Church. The other half will be given away to whomever the trustees deem appropriate. Gubay, a lifelong Catholic, will keep 10 million pounds ($15 million) to tide him over during his old age.

read more here

British Billionaire Fulfills a Pact with God; Pledges Most of his Fortune to Charity – BCNN1.

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Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton:

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

I quoted this in Bible study the other day as it seemed appropriate. The innocent have nothing to fear from a just God, while the guilty shrink from such justice. As we age, we hopefully gain self-awareness, insight and humility. We throw ourselves into the arms of our merciful Lord, knowing that a fully just God would condemn us for our faithlessness. But we can trust to God’s justice AND his mercy. We only have to ask for it with fully contrite hearts.

But watch out that you do not fall into the habit of wanting mercy for yourself, and justice for everyone else!

A great prayer of contrition is found in Psalms:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy. And according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me….Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from your face; and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust your ways: and the wicked shall be converted to you. Deliver me from blood, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol your justice. O Lord, you will open my lips: and my mouth shall declare your praise. For if you had desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings you will not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51

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The Gospel for today is another unique story, the story of the adulterous woman found only in John.  Scholars speculate that this story was a later edition to the text as it does not seem very Johannine, and may have been written by same author of Luke – Acts.  The Church believes it to be inspired scripture and it remains one of the most popular stories in all the Bible.

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.  They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?”  They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.   But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.  Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”   John 8:1-11

Our friend Fr. Jon at Redemptorist Preacher takes an in-depth look at the underlying drama to the story; after all, this was a trap being laid for Jesus, one of several instances in the Gospel in which he is challenged by Jewish leaders with a seemingly no-win situation (e.g. the question of paying Roman taxes).  Here the trap is that while Mosaic law (religious) required adulterers to be stoned to death, Roman law (civil) forbade any private capital punishment.  Should Jesus heed the Hebrew law of his ancestors or obey the might of the Roman authorities?   Either way he answers could lead to his own death.  The scribes and Pharisees chose a very visible, crowded venue to challenge him.  How fraught the situation, and how humiliating for this woman, who likely may have been dragged there immediately after being found in flagrante delicto. 

My Sunday to Sunday nonsensical weekly just wanted to discuss the inherent sexual bias of the story and bemoan that women are still being kept down by The Man.  You know, the Church and the Pope and mean guys everywhere.  Blessedly, our Bible study leader decided to scrap the Gospel reflections from the Sunday to Sunday and instead spend the entire time leading our own discussion, which was enlightening and uplifting.  I confess that I disliked this story for a long time.  In my opinion, it was used in an anti-Christian way for far too long, and is the go-to verse for moral relativists everywhere.  But I am so glad that I had this week to study and reflect on it.  I have a whole new appreciation for the complexity of this Gospel.  

Our Bible study was wonderful, too.  We dwelt on Jesus’ silence, his remarkable silence.  In reflecting on our discussion, it occurs to me that this possibly throwaway story shows us the way to be Christians, as Jesus role models the virtues we should aspire to: 

  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Prudence
  • Courage
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love

Everyone discussing this Gospel account sooner or later uses it to point to Jesus’ non-judgment and that oftentimes becomes the sole takeaway from it.  “Jesus said he didn’t judge the woman and neither should we.”  This (I think) is an incorrect lesson for us, or at least not the sole lesson.  Jesus does not condemn the adulteress, but I think he does judge the woman.  In so doing, he actually shows us how to judge.  Never does Jesus tell her she is not a sinner and not guilty of her crime.  In fact, he forgives her and instructs her to turn from her path of sin – “go and sin no more.”   See that?  He did not simply say, “Go on, beat it!”  He did not say, “well then, clearly you are not guilty.” 

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”  

The condemnation of the crowd would have been her stoning, her loss of earthly life.  Jesus does not condemn her and in so doing, he presages our Reconciliation sacrament.  Jesus’ pardon refers to her eternal condemnation.  Jesus frees her; he is her savior just as we know he is ours.  He came to free us from our sins.  But inherent in this act of compassion, and mercy is his act of divine justice.  The woman must not sin anymore. 

And what does that mean, “sin no more”?  We know by the Catechism that we are all sinners and fall short of the grace of God.  Is the woman, and are we, required to “sin no more”?  How can we take on such a burden?  What is Jesus telling us?

In order to be absolved of our sins, in order for God’s merciful forgiveness to be ours, we must convert our hearts.  We must renounce the sin in which we find ourselves and we must earnestly intend to not persist in it.  How many of us understand that?  We ask for God’s forgiveness but have we truly renounced our sin within our heart of hearts?  Do we walk into our confession hardened to Jesus’ words?  We know from Revelation and from Pauline letters that we may not persist in our sins, and that Jesus WILL come again to judge the living and the dead.  Our acts on earth will be weighed in the balance.  So we must repent now, and that means to renounce our sins and promise to do better.

So how are we to judge if we should not condemn?  We know that only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and only He has perfect justice and mercy.  We must trust to His justice.  But as Christians, we are called upon to lead our fallen brothers and sisters back to the path, and correct one another in a spirit of love and gentleness.  In good faith, can we allow those entrusted to our care to persist in their sin?  I think we cannot.  Adultery, premarital sex, gossiping, sloth, illegal business practices, addictions, whatever the moral failing, this Gospel is not telling us it is none of our business.  It is showing us the way to intervene as a Christ follower should:  take time to reflect in silence and humility, maybe get down in the dirt a bit to fully understand the situation, see all sides, when finally necessary to speak, do so calmly, temperately and fairly, do not offer condemnation but rather love, forgiveness and a hope for reconciliation, make it clear to the sinner that Christ expects their metanoia.

Our sins are so hard to renounce, our hearts slow to convert.  Speaking the truth in charity and gentleness must be matched by our own humility, our understanding of our own failures.  We have a faith that goes beyond following an established set of rules.  Our faith requires us to devote our time, energy, intellect and spirit in a constant conversion away from ourselves and over to God.

Our God is so awesome!

Pray with me: 

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

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