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Tread Softly, Pray Fiercely

Tread Softly Pray Fiercely

The past several months of this year have been exceptionally hard to watch, as friends and family seem to quickly and easily tear each other apart. Assassinations of character, name-calling, ad hominum attacks, and vitriol seem to be spewed with nary a thought of a backward glance. All across social media, the push to speak first, think after seems to be prevalent, and the share buttons seem to promote use of simply sharing what best suits our own narrative, rather than considering the point of view of friends who may not hold that same viewpoint.

We all seem to be in a rush to drown out the other person, without taking the time to not just hear the words of the other person, but to slow down and identify the true intent behind that person’s beliefs. Social media, of late, is simply a tool being used to air grievances, ills, snarkiness, and ugliness.

There used to be an unspoken social norm that said, whenever engaging in public discourse with someone outside your home, “Never discuss money, politics, sex, or religion.” Yet, in today’s world, it seems as though we have all waded into a hotbed of discussion, with no preparation in understanding the best way forward in a debate is to listen to the opponent’s argument – both spoken, and unspoken.

And, our relationships are suffering because of our inability to listen… to truly hear each other.

Left and right we are witnessing our friends and family on social media tout their message, while lambasting those who do not agree.

This lack of voice has left many feeling downtrodden, depressed, and silenced.

This is precisely where the devil wants us.

Matthew 7:19-20 reminds us, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.”

The uncomfortable question to ask ourselves is not where we stand on any given issue; rather, the question to ask is are our actions – spoken and unspoken, in real life or on social media – bearing good fruit?

What are these fruits? The list of bad fruit, or “works of the flesh,” is found in Galatians 5:19-21 and include, “… hatreds… jealously… outbursts of fury… dissensions, factions..” and more.

Yet, the good fruits, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is a time and a place to correct someone for their sins. After all, we are given the task as Catholics to perform Spiritual Works of Mercy, in addition to the Corporal Works of Mercy, which include admonishing sinners and instructing the ignorant.

However, many of us have forgotten the other Catholic Spiritual Works of Mercy: Bear patiently those who wrong us, forgive offences, and comfort the afflicted.

In an effort to prove our way is the best and most correct, we find ourselves speaking over, and forgetting the patience, the forgiveness, and the comfort to which we are called to share.

As faithful Christians, we are reminded blatantly in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

Going back to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, the guidance in 1 Corinthians is sound, but is also sometimes a hard pill to swallow.

How do we extend love to others, when we are interested in getting our own viewpoint heard, or even convince others of our approach to situations?

Quite simply:

We tread softly, gently and silently.

We assess the situation.

We determine which battle we want to choose to fight and champion.

We remember the adage that God gave us one mouth to speak, and two ears to listen, and we employ that saying as we approach the situation.

We employ the cardinal virtue of prudence, which challenges us to, “discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1806).

We recognize the bad fruit trying to sway our country toward further division, hatred, and violence. Satan operates under darkness, and in secrecy, to create division.

We call out the prince of darkness, not by casting blame at each other and hurling accusations at them, but by recognizing his sleight of hand in the strife.

We call to mind one of the last words of Christ, as He hung on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Finally, we pray… fiercely.

We ask God for prudence, but we also ask Him for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and for the ability to speak less and listen more.

We ask God for both the willingness to hear the spoken word of our opponent, and the grace to see beyond the spoken word to understand the unspoken, and perhaps even subconscious, motivation behind the words.

We pray, not just for the other person, but for humility to acknowledge when our own viewpoint may be both difficult to hear, and also at times, completely incorrect.

Simply put, as we continue to wade the waters of instant gratification on social media, and swim these waters of division in this world, we tread softly, but pray fiercely.

– AnnAliese Harry

We listen to the words spoken but listen harder to the underlying motivations and experiences of the other person.

We speak firmly, but with patience.

We love each other.

We pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

As we continue to move forward, let each of us visit, and re-visit, the uncomfortable question at hand – are our actions, both in real life and on social media, bearing good fruit?

Are we living with our collective and individual sight set on our eternal home?

Are we ready to squirm a little by taking accountability of our own actions, in an effort to live in a manner which is ultimately pleasing to God?

Are we being agents of love?

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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Be Vigilant: The Slowing Down of the Spiritual Life

My car radio is usually tuned to my local Catholic radio station. On a normal work day I know when I get in the car what I can expect to hear. A nationally syndicated show in the morning on my drive to daycare and work and on the way home one of the local talk shows that discusses any number of Catholic and sports topics (yes, you read that right). Occasionally I have to leave work at lunchtime and when I get into my car the sound of the daily Mass at a local parish is what meets my ears.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of listening to Mass on the radio. Most of the time though I leave it on anyway and try to listen and get something out of the readings and the homily. Recently I left work early and when got in my car the mid-day Mass was just beginning. I almost turned the station but stopped instead as my ears listened carefully to the opening hymn being sung. I couldn’t help but notice that as each verse was sung the tempo got slower and slower. By the end of the hymn it was dreadfully slow compared to where it had started.

As a musician I can tell you exactly why this happened. And it is very common. I bet we’ve all experienced it at some point. I’ve experienced this phenomenon at churches, in processions, in parades and on the football field (think marching band), and in large groups of singers with no leader to keep the tempo. Sound actually travels pretty slowly. It’s why you see the lightning before you hear the thunder (unless the storm is right over you). Without a leader or some sort of tempo-keeper singers and musicians start listening to each other. Because sound travels slowly, things start to slow down.

Have you ever taken part in a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi Sunday? I remember taking part one time. We started singing in the church, everyone together, but of course as the procession heads out the door and starts its way around the block and down the street, you can start to hear the change. If you step out and listen, the people at the end of the procession will often be almost a whole verse off from those at the front.

Another time I was at a Mass at a church I was visiting while traveling away from home. It didn’t take long into Mass for me to recognize that despite the fact that there was an organ, the organist wasn’t leading the music. Each song and hymn done during Mass slowed in tempo very quickly. The organist was listening to the singers and the singers were listening to the organist. That’s just a recipe for disaster.

I thought of all this that day when I got in my car and listened to the people at Mass singing the entrance hymn over the radio. There was no piano or organ to lead everyone, no conductor or anyone to hold tempo. It’s a daily Mass at a small parish and it’s pretty typical in most places that there isn’t anyone to lead the singing at a daily Mass. So we get used to it.

But as I listened I couldn’t help but think of how this same principle can apply to our individual spiritual lives. I thought about my own sluggish spiritual life and how hard I find it at times. I want to continue to grow but I believe I listen too much to the world around me and have difficulties turning my focus to spiritual matters. I’m sure I’m not the only one. We live in a world that is very secular and at times we can feel that secular mindset creeping into our own lives.

It’s easy to not pray before a meal when you are out with co-workers or non-Christian friends. It draws attention to you, you’re the only one doing it. So sometimes it can just be easy to let it slip. “Just this once,” we tell ourselves. But then it happens again until, before we know it, we’ve created a habit. It’s just easier.

And we can’t talk about listening to our world and how it affects our spiritual lives without taking a look at our own families. Our families raised us and have a huge influence on us. When we make a decision that affects how we interact with our families it can cause stress in those relationships. Especially as it relates to our faith. For me using NFP was a point of concern for some members of my family. It could have been very easy for me to listen to those concerns and have it affect the decision my husband and I had made together. Luckily I did not or it could have seriously damaged my spiritual life. And I know there are other decisions I could make, based on my faith, that can be a struggle for my family to understand.

But what is truly better for us? Do we listen to the world around us and let it slow the progress of our spiritual lives just as a group of people singing together with no leader will progressively slow down in tempo? Or do we ignore the world and focus only on ourselves, our spiritual lives, and those of the souls entrusted to us? I don’t think we can realistically choose one over the other. But we have to balance them. I believe this is what it means to be in the world but not of the world.

We need to be out in the world, encountering people with different sets of beliefs, but we need to be strong in our own faith. We need to attend to our prayer lives and make sure we are always developing a relationship with Jesus. We need to understand our faith and be able to explain it to others whether they are asking us about or chastising us for our beliefs. But in all this we need to remember that while we are here in this world, we are not of the world. We are destined for a much greater place.

God has a home for us. We need to be careful that we don’t listen to the world around us too carefully but instead keep our attention focused on Christ. He is our conductor, our tempo-keeper, the One who will keep us on track if we find ourselves listening to others instead of focusing on Him. We must be vigilant and persevere, for “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

How does your spiritual life fall short sometimes from listening too much to the world around you?

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Silence in Music: God’s Lesson in Listening

Just this past Saturday I was chatting with a friend about the many distractions in our lives. The gist of the conversation was that we live in a society that does not place a high priority on “down time.” Time away from the every day. Time to rejuvenate ourselves. Time to relish silence.

This kind of down time is a requirement of the human condition. We just can not go, go, go endlessly. Our minds and bodies need a break.

Afterwards, that conversation remained with me and I started thinking beyond just the rejuvenating aspect of having down time. Going a bit deeper, as Christians we need a regular prayer life to help us rejuvenate ourselves spiritually so we can face the secular world on a daily basis.

As a musician for more than twenty-five years I was able to relate the need for silence in our lives as Christians to the combination of musical notes and rests that together make up a musical composition. Thinking more deeply about the importance of silence in music I saw parallels to the relationship God wants to have with us.

Read the Rests

I was in the sixth grade when I started both piano lessons and learning a band instrument in school. One of the hardest music lessons to teach a room full of a hundred 11 and 12 years olds is to read the rests.

Music is made up of notes and rests. The musical notes you play will not make sense if you ignore the rests. And the lengths of the rests is very important as well. If you make it too short, you will start playing over someone else and potentially cause a clash of sounds that is unpleasant to the ear. Conversely, wait too long on the rests, come in late, and you stick out like a sore thumb while also causing a clash of sounds unpleasant to the ear. Get too many people not reading the rests properly and the result can sound rather chaotic.

It can be extremely hard to learn to read the rests as a young musician. You are anxious to get to your part, the rests are boring, the rests feel longer than they really are, and you just want to play the notes. That is where the fun is after all!

Just like in life, we often find the most fun in doing stuff. And it is all usually good stuff, just like the music notes are all good. But focusing on the notes to the detriment of the rests can create chaos and unpleasantness.

Good Music Can Still Be a Distraction

I was out of town recently and on the Sunday morning of that weekend, my husband and I attended Mass at a church in the area in which we were staying. We walked in about 10 minutes before the start of Mass. The praise and worship style band was practicing in the church and people were talking and chatting with those around them in normal speaking voices. I tried to pray before Mass and had a difficult time concentrating because of all the noise around me.

The Mass itself was fine, for the most part, but the music was very loud. It is a good sized church and we were not sitting particularly close to the musicians, but it still seemed louder than I am accustomed to. I left that Mass feeling like I had not really had a chance to focus on why I was there. Instead of adding to the reverence of the Mass, the music seemed to be a constant distraction.

There was nothing wrong with the music itself, it was good music, but it created a distraction because of the need (it seemed to me) to fill the silence with some sort of sound. Ultimately what I missed during that Mass was the reverence that is often accomplished from some degree of silence.

Finding The Silence towards a Fuller Relationship

Just this past Sunday I attended a Holy Hour and Benediction and finally had an opportunity to sit in silence. And it was hard. I’m so used to distractions that when given the opportunity to relish silence I do not know what to do with myself. I loved that I could pray without distraction. I loved sitting in the huge cathedral with about 20 other people in complete silence. I loved gazing upon Jesus in the Eucharist. And I loved the opportunity to pray and talk to him. And I had a lot to pray for.

While I sat there I also thought about the conversation I had just had the day before about silence in our world. We need down time to rejuvenate ourselves so we can be productive in our day to day work. We need time one on one with our husbands on a regular basis so we can continually rekindle the love we have for each other. And we also need time with Jesus. But we need to listen too. I tend to spend my prayer time talking to Jesus. I pray for the intentions on my heart, I pray for the intentions of friends, I thank Him for the many, many blessings in my life, and I offer Him praise just for being God and my creator. What I often do not do, forget to do, is listen. I do not sit in silence and give Jesus the opportunity to speak to me.

As I sat in the church the other day thinking about all this I tried to empty the thoughts from my mind, gaze upon Jesus sitting on the altar, and allow Him to speak to me.

I was not completely successful, but it was a step in the right direction. Just as I learned from spending over 20 years as a musician, practice makes perfect. I only need to remind myself of this lesson and keep practicing it and one day I will be able to relish that silence more completely and at least give Jesus the opportunity to speak to me.

I can speak to him all I want, but that will only create a one-sided relationship. I want a complete relationship with my Lord and my God. I am working on listening.

In Conclusion

Music is more than just the notes on a page that creates a beautiful sound for an audience. The music is also made up of rests. These moments of silence add to the drama and intrigue of the music; it is what makes the music interesting. The silence is just as important as the notes the musicians play. In the same way, we need silence in our life. Not only should we use those silent moments in our lives to lay our petitions before God, but we also need to stop talking, start listening, and allow God to use that silence to speak to us.