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The One Thing You CAN Do To Dismantle Racism

The One Thing You CAN Do To Dismantle Racism

You’ll be surprised to learn that the one thing you can do to end racism is simple. Surprisingly simple. SHOCKINGLY simple, I would even wager.

I have some other earth-shattering news, too. Systemic racism isn’t defeated with causes or marches or protests (only) or campaigns or even hashtags and black squares, even IF those things are good in and of themselves. It will be defeated by one thing we can all do, but can’t execute perfectly.

THE ONE THING

Are you ready? The one thing that can be done to end racism starts with what YOU can do. 

Be Kind To Others.

That’s it. It’s not a flashy concept or movement or hashtag campaign. It’s a direct command from Jesus himself – John 13:34. The solution is simple, but the execution is difficult, so I’m going to pad the ONE THING with some things we can all do to better execute a shift in mindset.

WHY IT’S DIFFICULT TO EXECUTE

I could bore you with some diatribe about the following: people – collectively speaking – can’t execute this idea of kindness well at all or we would have had world peace ages ago. We’re sinful, mired by our sinful indulgences and lifestyles. Often we can’t see beyond the end of our noses and empathy is something we often struggle with.

We can’t put ourselves in others’ shoes if we won’t make the effort to get out of our own shoes.

IT’S A LOT LIKE PRAYER

People sometimes struggle with prayer life because it’s at perpetual odds with the culture and world we live in. We look to results to determine our actions. We are goals and results driven people. If we can’t at least see some results to bolster us in our pursuits, we may end up quitting. The basis for this seems reasonable. Why put effort into good practices if we have no tangible results?

It’s simple. Because doing good for its own sake should be its own reward. But like I said, we’re fallen and that clouds our ability to do what is right at every turn.

WAYS TO KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT

First, we need to cultivate an attitude that embraces others in healthy ways. Please note, I am not saying we should blindly accept others’ sinful actions or lifestyle choices. And I know some/many of us come from deeply damaged backgrounds and upbringings that it’s hard to see the good in others…heck, sometimes it’s hard to see the goodness in our own selves and that’s a topic that’s worth writing about all on its own.

START WITH THE FAITH

If we look to the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church), we can see how it expands upon our inherent dignity as children of God.

MAN’S VOCATION LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

CHAPTER ONE 

THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON 

1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity. 1 Lk 15:11-32

WAYS TO PRACTICE BEING KIND

Questions we can ask ourselves and things we can think about to see if we are practicing the ability to be kind.

  1. SELF. Start with yourself. Are you kind to yourself? It’s hard to extend kindness to others when we don’t like ourselves.
  2. FAMILY. How about our closest relationships? For many of us, this means our nuclear family: spouse and children. How do we treat our spouse? Our children? Are we modeling the virtues we want to see in the world?
  3. THINK. Before you say something to anyone, use the THINK model – is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and finally, Kind?
  4. CULTIVATE. Conversations are a great way to root out issues and change behaviors, habits, and attitudes that have overstayed their welcome. 
  5. SOCIAL MEDIA. Anger has a way of manifesting itself in some volatile ways, one of which is harboring and feeding frustrations until they bubble up into anger, and sometimes rage. Anger comes in the form of sarcasm, too. If you feel yourself making increasingly negative blanket statements against people or groups of people, step away from the keyboard. For more tips on social media, I invite you to read an article I wrote some years ago on the subject. 
  6. INFLUENCERS. If you are someone for whom you are blessed to have a platform and followers who you respect, use your voice responsibly. Take great care in the way you engage, what you write, and even what you allow to be posted to your accounts. At no time are we ever required to put up with any behavior that ridicules, mocks, or even lacks basic courtesy. There was a time when folks believed (myself included) that commenters had the right to say what they wanted under the guise of free speech. While this is true where it applies to our rights as Americans, I urge you to think of your platform as your living room. People can disagree and vigorously so, but when the arguments become ad hominem (meaning the argument itself is not attacked, but the character of the person saying it) or destructive, your platform can become an occasion of (if not an outright) sin. Set the bar high. Tell fans and lookie loos that basic Christian charity is to be extended towards one another and if someone fails to follow that simple request, you should hide the comment, delete the comment, and/or ban the follower should it come to that.

These may seem like such hokey (ok, whatever) ways to live kindness, but let me put it to you this way. Peace and love towards self and others? It’s not a hippie concept, friends. This is what Christ calls us to for ourselves and to others. No exceptions.

I TRY BUT I CAN’T BE KIND – IT’S HARD

If this is how you are feeling, listen to that voice.

Disconnect from the things that are aggravators. If you don’t know what that is, pay attention to triggers that set you off.

Try journaling instead of commenting online.

Hold your tongue. Social media has conditioned us to think we should say and share all the things. I’m telling you it’s ok to hang onto those thoughts if it’s going to cause harm or division or hurt.

LASTLY

I just want to tell you if you are someone who has had to step away from social media or taken flack from those who call you friends for not speaking up for injustices because your heart is too filled with grief, anxiety, sadness, or massive stress over the growing tensions, I want to say I hear and see you. You are NOT bad, uncaring, racist, or otherwise. Self preservation is a real thing and we all have our limits. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your actions.

In fact, in the spirit of kindness, we should be assuming the best in others, especially friends (hello, that’s why we became friends to begin with!) and showing tenderness to each other when words defy us.

Undoing systemic racism isn’t going to happen overnight, but just like prayer we won’t always see the effects. It doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or that our efforts aren’t building a culture of respect and love for others. Think of it as building a cathedral. Cathedrals took sometimes hundreds of years to build. And most times the architect didn’t even see the completion in his lifetime. But here’s the thing, we have to do the things that build the foundation. For some of us, we are blessed to be building upon something our ancestors left us. For others, we are making the decision today to end the racism that took root in our families. You are foundational and God bless you for making the decision to change the mindset of your family.

Remember…we are the Body of Christ.

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Ink Slingers

Wordy Matter

I was mistreated. It happened while I was on the jam and jelly aisle looking for fig jam- it is fab-u-lous with brie cheese and crackers. So, there I was searching rows of jams and jellies, when around the corner swings a buggy full of groceries, pushed by two women in lively and quite audible conversation. I made eye contact with them and smiled as they passed by. When suddenly they hit me. It was a succession of f-bombs strung together with an assortment of curse words used with no shame nor recognition that these words were uttered in a public space. It was as if these gals were the only two people in the grocery store. Startled, I looked around for more victims. I spotted an older gentleman shuffling along seemingly unaware. I was unsettled and a bit put out by this verbal assault on my ears but managed to move on with my task. Unfortunately, these ladies seemed to be tracking along with me through the store. An aisle or two over we ran into a family with young children. Still, they carried on with their unrefined conversation without so much as a pause. Mortified, I gave this mom a sideways glance and apologetic smile. On my drive home, I ruminated on what it was about this incident that so offended me. Maybe I am much too sensitive? It is not as if I’ve never heard that kind of language or never used it. But I was bothered. A sharp chord had been struck. Words do matter. Courteous manners and thoughtfulness are not only important but necessary. And, the words we choose to use often convey more than we realize.

What do the words I use say about me? What about the way I speak those words? My poor word choices have created many a drama. My speech has at times unwittingly hurt feelings, caused embarrassment, angered, frustrated and sadly, created divisions. Delivery of my words, even if well-chosen, has caused untold scenes. My tone of voice is also relevant, especially in sensitive situations. There have been countless moments when I have stepped into it by being unintentional in my verbiage. Every time I’ve put my foot in my mouth, I have discovered how difficult it is to pull it out gracefully. How many hearts have I stepped? And, what about those I have upset because they were within earshot of my hurtful or course language? Perhaps I have not only offended them, but left them with an undesirable perception of me. And really, who could blame them?

I know, but often forget, as a wife and mother that my words have a huge impact on setting the tone in our family life and home. If it is love and patience I want to emphasize I must be particularly attuned to what is being said and how I choose to respond. This can be a burden, especially when I am tired; all used up and have little energy, let alone patience. But, the words that leave my mouth should as often as possible be phrases that uplift, praise and love. I need to pause before opening my mouth, and consider the value of what I am to say, in order that I not waste precious breaths uttering curses, condemnations or negativity. The world has more than enough of that! What is desperately needed is more light. We need more love, sincere hearts; not lip service. I am the first to admit the obstacles this presents. It forces me to face all my shortcomings, my glaring imperfections. It reveals my impatience, my quick temper. My hardness of heart which is so easily exposed with my thoughtlessness.

“She opens her mouth in wisdom, kindly instruction is on her tongue.”
Proverbs 31:26. 

I aspire to be this woman. I ought to be a woman who doesn’t let whatever comes to mind spill out of her mouth. I should be a wife who doesn’t criticize or emasculate my husband with harsh words or unnecessary corrections. And, I especially need to restrain my criticism of him in front of others. I desire to be a mother who gently reprimands while assuring my children of my love of them is never contingent upon their behavior. I want my speech to be gracious in order to welcome, encourage and positively influence all those I encounter. Maybe what I need is a smaller mouth and bigger ears! Or perhaps, I need discipline in keeping my mouth closed, leaving room to hear not only with my ears but also with my heart. How much more perceptive to others would I be if I resisted the urge to instantly reply or solve a problem? In order to be a woman who speaks graciously, I have to look at the state of my interior life. My speech is often a reflection of my relationship with Christ. When I am walking closely with Him the Holy Spirit is ever more present in me, in my thoughts and words. What is flowing through me and out of me is what matters. Come Holy Spirit. May my words be sincere, filled with His love, compassion and forgiveness that I may bless all those I encounter.

“I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will render an account for
every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:36-37

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Ink Slingers Karen Prayer Priesthood Vocations

Praying for Our Priests

Recently two reports were made public by the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In one, the results of a survey are presented claiming a disparity between the realities that families face and the teaching of the Catholic Church. In another separate survey results report, it was discovered that an estimated 58% of priests in Germany pray every day and 54% go to confession no more than once per year.Pray for Our Priests

When I first read this, I was floored. It hadn’t honestly occurred to me that it could be a common thing for a priest to not go to confession frequently or not even pray every day. But as I thought about it, I wasn’t all too shocked. Priests are human too and in need of prayer like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, they have a responsibility to morally guide hundreds or thousands of individuals and the onslaught of cultural sins that can’t help but to seep into every individual’s life of which priests are not immune cannot help matters. They are perpetually hit with their own and everyone else’s sins daily. And yet, they are expected to keep on; faithful and strong, they must lead the flock. Can any of us do this?

There has been more than one study that linked the likelihood of success in religious formation and practice by children into adulthood with the faithfulness and encouragement of their mothers and fathers. It’s pretty simple- if your mom and dad pray every day and attend Mass, chances are you will too. The same goes for our priests- our spiritual fathers. If our priests are strong, faith filled, and practicing the sacraments, it will resonate in how their flock worships.

In the words of St. John Vianney, “Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption here on earth…What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods…Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest and they will end by worshiping the beasts there..The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”

Our parents who pray and go to Mass also go to their priests for guidance. But who do our priests have here on Earth to turn to for guidance, other than other priests? No one. As such it is no small wonder that they can become weary, complacent, or deal with spiritual dryness.  And when that happens, it seeps into the life and vitality of the church family they minister to.  Often people approach their parish priest for only two things: to get a sacrament or to get spiritual direction in a time of crisis. How often are they approached to be told what a blessing they are to their community? Or how they are appreciated for standing up for life or for having such a reverence for the Eucharist? How can we expect our parish priest to stay strong and resilient in spite of cultural norms and wayward and complaining parishioners without any encouragement or prayer on their behalf? It seems an unreasonably high expectation, and though they have taken on the vocation of the priesthood, and to some extent this situation is par for the course, it is good for the laity to charitably attempt to reduce some of those more bitter aspects.

So, what can we do for our priests to strengthen them, encourage them, and help remind them how what they do is for the greater glory of God and actually is accomplishing something?

Try doing some of the following to support your own parish priest:

-The priesthood is the love of the heartPray for your priest

Start a novena for the priesthood and seminarians

Invite your parish priest over for dinner

Compliment your priest after Mass about something they said during the homily that made you think

Praise your priest for standing up for life and Church teaching

Thank your priest for the reverence they have in the consecration and distribution of the Eucharist

Write them an anonymous card

Write a thank you note after getting helpful spiritual direction to let them know what a blessing their wisdom has been for you and your family

These are just a few things we as the faithful laity can do to support and encourage our priests!

What else can you suggest we do to show our priests how important they are in our lives?

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Ink Slingers Series Shiela You Did It To Me

You Did It To Me: Feed the Hungry

Welcome to the series “You did it to me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!

Feed The Hungry Graphic

Feeding the poor is a politically correct thing to do. And feeding them in a way in which others know what you are doing will gain you bonus points in this world. But we are not just called to write a check, go to a fundraising gala, run charity miles, and coordinate canned food drives. While all of these activities have an important role to play in this world, they require nothing from us unless we are giving without the hope of worldly reward; praise, admiration, attention. By doing these things, we can pat each other on the back and tell ourselves, “Good job!” As Christians, we are called to do so much more. We are called to encounter the hungry in the flesh, speak to them, and help them recognize their dignity and worthiness.

Culture of Encounter

This is quickly becoming the catch phrase of Pope Francis. He has shown by example how to encounter the physically hungry in the flesh. And, more difficult, is for us to encounter the spiritually hungry. Pope Francis has shown that he is willing to risk chastisement by the reactionary Catholic media to encounter those who do not know the Good News of Christ. Are we willing to do that? One way to begin is to encounter the physically hungry in the flesh. Pope Francis reminds us that we are not only called to give to the hungry, but we are also called to give ourselves to the hungry.

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms giving

These are what I call the Trinity of Lent. And, when they work in unison, they reflect the working of Christ in our heart. For example, it is wonderful to give a homeless man $5. But any non-believer is capable of this act to assuage the guilt of their relative affluence. It is, however, holy to pray for him, encounter him, know his name and share yours, and to in turn deny yourself a $5 luxury; a custom made cup of coffee, for example. And, if you can afford a $5 cup of coffee and a $5 donation, then consider a $10, $20, $30 $100 gift to a stranger, and again, deny yourself the same. In silence. Cheerfully.

He is just going to buy drugs

God does not say, “Give only to those who have good character and can be trusted.” But, we often use this as an excuse to hold tight to our wallets. I have been guilty of this. I recall a time when a man approached my husband and I in a public place where our children were playing. He gave my husband, what I called at the time, “a sob story” and my husband turned over a generous amount of money. Cue my eye roll. The man asked for our address so he could repay us and I told my husband, “No!” I did not trust the man. I thought he and his thugs would go to our house and rob us. Another stranger approached my husband and chastised him for giving that derelict money. “He’s just going to buy drugs,” the man admonished.

After some silence during our drive on the way home, and some soul searching on my part, it was revealed to me that generosity is never wrong. I owed my husband an apology. So what if he bought more drugs? He also had a moment to witness the kindness of a man who would give himself without any strings and without judgment. My husband did not judge the man and he would be called a fool by the world for doing what he did. In fact, the other stranger did call him a fool, in so many words.

Another time, our car was broken into and our GPS was stolen. I really didn’t care about the GPS. And, I told my kids to pray for the guy who did this. And, I said to myself, “If he had just knocked on the door and asked for it, I would have given it to him.” God saw fit to test my thoughts on this and in the next week or two, I was approached by three beggars. I told the first one, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” The next one, I never saw clearly, but as I was getting out of my car, I heard a voice begging and the shadow of a person approaching. I got back in my car and moved to another parking space. Then, I went into a restaurant to meet my siblings, and I kid you not, a woman was going table to table begging! This never happens. I opened my wallet and gave her what I had. This experience caused me to examine what Christ meant when he said, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

Be Prepared to Give

Following the inspirations of friends of mine, I started carrying pre-loaded fast food cards set aside for the purpose of giving to strangers. Some cards have sat in my wallet for months. Funny how once I learned my lesson, those lacking found another path. But, my kids have helped me spot them. Sometimes, we have had to loop the block once or twice so we can pull up close enough to have a conversation with them. We once met a woman who was begging for herself and her four children. What a life lesson for my kids who think we are poor! They have no idea. But, they are learning. The best way for them to learn, nay, for us to learn, is to encounter the poor; to see them with the eyes of our soul.

“Wickedness is not always overt: the neglect of simple kindness, great or small, kills as surely as open violence.” ~Magnificat reflection on Proverbs 11:28

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Current Events Fruits of the Holy Spirit Ink Slingers Shiela Year of Faith

Come Holy Spirit, Give us Kindness

This is the fifth of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is Kindness. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with CHARITY and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of GOODNESS.

Jesus told us that if we love one another, we will be recognized as one of his disciples. As Catholics, we make it our daily business to walk in His ways and we know that we can only do that with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Today, on what would have been my father’s 75th birthday, I am going to examine the Holy Spirit’s fruit of kindness.

Certainly, kindness is one way that we show our love to one another. But, there is a distinction between saintly heroic acts of kindness and the godless social contracts that most of us honor with each other.  Additionally, there are two ways to express saintly kindness that comes from the Holy Spirit. One way may lead to martyrdom while the other way creates a life of constant little acts of love and kindness. Both ways will come at a cost and both will lead us to God.

What makes an act of kindness heroic? I ask this because as Catholics, we know we are called to be saints. And, to be a saint requires the practice of heroic virtues. Each of us is capable of expressing kindness but most of us dole out kindness like accountants. We keep a subconscious tally of who owes who what and whose turn it is to honor the social contract. These acts are not kind, but rather they are a price we pay to maintain polite coexistence with others. These acts are not indicative of the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but rather they are self-serving survival instincts.

How do we know when we are called to a heroic act of kindness? If we are asked to do something that will come at a great cost to our pride or our daily comfort, then we are being called to be a saint. If we do something for which there is little or no chance that we will get credit, acknowledgement or reward of any kind, then we are doing something that can only come from the Holy Spirit. The only way to practice these acts is to step aside. We need to get out of the way. And when we step aside and let the Holy Spirit work through us, it only makes sense that we would not desire acknowledgement or reward. For, after all, all we did was get out of the way.

How do we recognize the call of the Holy Spirit?  When a friend, neighbor, or family member asks for help of the most inconvenient kind, we are being called.  When we say yes with total self-abandonment, we are answering that call. When we see a homeless person holding a sign, we are being called.    When we give without fear or judgment, we are answering that call.

In some cases, not only will we not receive any payment, but also we will pay a great price. Usually, the cost is our time and personal comforts.  Sometimes, that price is our very life. An example of heroic kindness of this caliber is Saint Damien. “Not without fear and loathing,” Pope Benedict said, “Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered.” Few of us are called to such acts of total abandonment of self. Most of us are just asked to hold back the branches so that others may pass with ease.

My father was one who lived a life of holding back the branches for others in the style of Saint Therese. This lovely little saint desired to be close to God and wanted to serve him but knew that she was flawed and unable to express perfect love. We can all relate to this quandary. Her Little Way transformed the ordinary goodness of daily life into the extraordinary. She was one of my father’s favorite saints. And, the ripples from his Little Ways are still pulsing throughout the world today in the hearts of those he left behind.

Last Oct 2nd, on the feast of the Guardian Angels, my father spent his last evening on this earth cleaning his kitchen and preparing coffee for the next morning. He knew it was habit for one of his three local daughters or any one of his 22 grandchildren to stop in, have a snack or a cup of coffee and leave their crumbs or cocoa stained mugs lying around. He never complained. On the morning of his passing, we waited for the priest and the undertaker to arrive. Amid the relentless sobbing and quiet prayers and pleadings, my mother recalled that Dad had prepared the coffee. My brother-in-law pressed the start button and moments later, we shared a quiet cup of kindness.

How can you be extraordinary in your ordinary life today? Here is my top 10 list:

  1. Cancel a pedicure to watch your neighbor’s two-year-old.
  2. Decide to stop complaining.
  3. Do an anonymous favor for someone who can never repay you.
  4. Put your shyness aside and decide to smile at strangers and make conversations in long grocery lines.
  5. Risk being cut off from someone you know who often gossips and ask them to stop.
  6. Take a break from your important busy life and contact a friend who has a lonely life.
  7. Give of your precious free time to your local parish.
  8. Make a point of doing way more than half of your expected contribution to the household chores without complaining and without fanfare.
  9. Offer to watch your neighbor’s five kids so that she and her husband can have a weekend get away. And, clean her house, too. Okay, just dreaming here.
  10. Decide to be a joyful light filled with hope in the absence of any material evidence of what God has promised.