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Posts Tagged ‘love’

I meant to post this closer to last weekend, but travel and illness kept me from it.  However, I am very happy that our namesake has been beatified.  Chiara “Luce” Badano was declared Blessed on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

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Young Chiara Luce Badano has been an inspiration to me for the way she wholely, unreservedly and intentionally chose to accept God’s plan for her life.  Her joy is palpable in her actions of her life, in her words passed down to us, and in the very photos of her life, especially her long terminal illness.

Blessed Chiara Luce, pray for us!

(Click here to see the very moving video on her life and cause which Rome Reports has posted.)

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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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Death and tragedy.  So common and yet, we are seemingly unprepared to handle it, or help others handle it.  How are we dealing with grief these days?   This news article from the Globe and Mail (reproduced below) raises questions about the predominance of ‘grief counseling’ in our modern world.  I think it is thought-provoking, or at least it was for me.  It brought to mind a couple experiences I’ve had, and I wanted to share the article with you.

Do you remember the Love is Kind article from Catholic Exchange that I made a page last fall?  Well, I was reminded of the story that author Christi Derr related about the shoe-shining minister’s wife in the article.   The story goes–when there was a death in a church family, the minister’s wife visited the house to shine the shoes for the grieving family to help them prepare for the funeral.  Her reasoning was that it probably needed to be done, but her ulterior motive was that it gave her an excuse to be on hand as a presence for the spouse and family in their grief. (Read Love is Kind is you haven’t–click the tab at the top of the blog!)
 
The Globe and Mail article on grief counseling also puts me in mind of one of the best movies I have seen in recent years, Lars and the Real Girl (a quirky independent movie that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but is the only movie I know in which the phrase “what would Jesus do?” is asked sincerely).  In a quiet scene showing the main character Lars dealing with tragedy, several older church women come over and sit with him.  They bring casseroles, place themselves around on the chairs, and calmly knit while quietly waiting with him.  He wants to do something for them but they assure him–this is what people do when tragedy strikes: they come over, and sit.  It’s a comforting thought, and a very touching scene, and like the whole movie makes important points about the meaning of community, Christian love,  acceptance and kindness.

In a wider sense, I believe modern Western people and especially Americans are losing our Christian values.  We are opting to be “nice” instead of choosing to be “kind.”  What is the difference? As individuals, we no longer reach out to people who need, are hurting, are poor or homeless.     Instead, we look to the government and say, you should be doing something about that!  We assume that the Red Cross, or FEMA, or Catholic Charities or the mental health community will “do something” for our hurting neighbors.  We are diffusing our responsibilities to each other by handing them off to the greater body.  Let’s reconnect with the our individual responsibility to alleviate sickness, poverty, and grief in the lives of the people around us; Christ calls us as his followers to do just that.

I am repeating myself but remember:  Jesus didn’t teach us to “go vote for the politicians who will go vote for projects to do good on your behalf with your tax dollars.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are weary and I will send you Social Security and Fair Labor laws. He didn’t say, when I was sick, you asked casually if I was seeing a mental health professional.  When I was hungry, you donated to a food bank from time to time.  When I was thirsty, you thought it was a real shame that the United Nations hadn’t gotten clean wells built in my part of the world.

There are people in each of our lives that is hurting.  Family, friends and neighbors.  What a shame it is that we do not see it.  What a sin that we do not respond personally.  Most likely our parents or grandparents did, at least in times of grief and tragedy, with casseroles and their comforting company.   If we can’t quite live up to WWJD?…why not try asking, What Would Grandma Have Done

January 15, 2010

Grief industry to the rescue

By Margaret Wente
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Not long ago, we had other ways to cope with loss: community and casseroles

Help is finally trickling into Haiti, the scene of such unfathomable suffering that the TV news reports are almost unbearable to watch. The people need everything – water, food, medicine, shelter, doctors, rescue specialists and, of course, psychologists. Many of the medical teams sent to Haiti include psychologists. Perhaps they plan to hold group counselling sessions so mothers who have lost five children will be facilitated to freely express their emotions in a safe and nurturing environment.

Psychologists everywhere are offering their insights into what Haitians are likely going through. “In every moment, the level of emotional anguish ratchets up,” says Russell Friedman, who ought to know. He is the director of the Grief Recovery Institute, a counselling organization in California that helps people deal with death and natural disasters. It offers “the highest level of training in the area of helping grievers complete the pain caused by significant emotional losses” – whatever that means.

The idea that crisis counsellors have anything to offer Haiti strikes me as the most astounding hubris. Yet, the underlying assumption of their trade – that anyone who goes through trauma needs a therapist – has become conventional wisdom. There’s even help for us. Are you traumatized by the news from Haiti? The American Psychological Association offers this advice: Maintain your daily routines. Get plenty of exercise and rest. And turn off the TV. If symptoms persist, consult a licensed health professional.

The grief industry is bigger than ever, even though it’s taken lots of knocks lately. A new study by researchers from Dalhousie University concludes that psychological debriefing after a traumatic event does little good and, in fact, can do harm. “When people are put into a situation and then asked to relive, remember and sometimes even re-enact their feelings and thoughts, it actually makes things worse for them,” says Stan Kutcher, co-author of the study.

Yet, the ethos of therapism is so embedded in our culture that psychological counselling is routinely recommended for disaster survivors, for students who have lost a classmate, even for people whose dogs have died. Psychologist Sally Satel says that, days after the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, U.S. mental health workers were dispatched to the scene. “Psychological scarring needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible,” one psychologist told The Washington Post. “The longer we wait, the more danger.” Sri Lankan health officials disagreed. “We believe the most important thing is to strengthen local coping mechanisms rather than imposing counselling,” said one.

The foundation of the grief industry is something called Critical Incident Stress Management, a technique that was developed in the early 1970s for paramedics, firefighters and other professionals who regularly witnessed traumatic events. It was thought that, if they talked out their feelings and reactions immediately after the event, they’d be less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder later on.

This thoroughly unscientific idea soon spread to ordinary people, including people who had only heard of (not witnessed) traumatic events. Soon the grief professionals began descending on schools any time a child died in some awful way. In the workplace, onsite debriefing services became a standard feature of employee assistance programs. Today, tens of thousands of people are trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and related techniques. Because of the spread of “war, terrorism, school shootings, and natural disasters,” says the CISM Foundation, “the need for trained crisis responders has never been greater.”

Obviously, some people are unhinged by trauma and loss, to the point where they permanently lose the ability to cope. But most of us are actually quite resilient. The grief industry is built on the premise that human beings are much frailer than they really are. On top of that, it assumes that trained professionals are much better than untrained ones – friends, neighbours, colleagues, family – at helping people cope with terrible events, including those that will eventually affect us all.

Here’s part of the career profile for a bereavement counsellor, a profession that now has its own academic degrees, associations, conferences and licensing bodies: “Often when people die, the feelings of grief, anger and dismay of those they have left behind become overwhelming. Individuals or whole families can fall apart as a result of a death, and it requires an outside party to come along and see them through this difficult time.”

Not long ago, we had other ways to cope with tragedy and loss. We had community and casseroles. We had friends to sit with through the night. They weren’t experts and they didn’t have degrees. They didn’t pester us to talk about how much it hurt, or how bad we felt. But they kept us company, and they allowed us to share what we wanted with people we knew and trusted.

“Tincture of time,” my grandma would counsel when someone had suffered a terrible loss. But what did she know anyway?

As British writer Frank Furedi has observed, the relentlessly expanding role of expertise into the private sphere conveys the message that individuals are unable to manage important aspects of their lives without professional guidance. This holds true not only for grief and trauma, but for parenting (especially parenting!) and relationships in general. “Today every aspect of life from birth [actually, from well before birth] through to school and career to marriage and mourning is subject to professional counselling,” he writes. “We live in an age of personal trainers, mentors and facilitators.” Some of what they tell us is nonsense, and some is painfully self-evident (see American Psychological Association). But we’re supposed to trust it all because it’s scientifically based.

A wonderful New Yorker cartoon from 10 years ago shows two cowboys gazing across a canyon, looking at some tiny dots in the distant sky. “Could be buzzards, could be grief counsellors,” says one. “Can’t tell from here.”

As we rush to help the Haitian people, perhaps we ought to keep in mind our limits. We can treat the trauma to their bodies. The trauma to their lives is another matter. Their pain and loss are unimaginable. Yet, despite their devastating losses, they may be more resilient than we think.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/grief-industry-to-the-rescue/article1433336/

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He nodded and went out ...and in a moment I heard Winnie-the-Pooh --bump, bump, bump--going up the stairs behind him.

It seems, doesn’t it, that sometimes in our lives we allow ourselves to  treat the people that we love–those most precious to us–rather carelessly, if not downright shabbily.  The puzzle, the paradox and the wonder is that those people–our friends, family or spouses–continue to love us despite our inconsideration, and even when we drag them along, bump, bump, bump. 

That’s unconditional love.

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