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Current Events Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

Becoming Salt and Light

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, there was a beautiful transition in our world from a “me” society to a “we” society. It was amazing to watch as people began to think outside of themselves and instead worried about others. True love and concern for neighbor ran rampant throughout our families, our cities, our countries- our world. Unfortunately, as the pandemic persisted and people began to feel weary of lockdowns, food shortages, masks, and being separated from those they loved, their patience with one another became noticeably short. Where salt and light surrounded us at one point, it now seems as if we struggle to be decent to one another again. As we continue to fight our way through the lingering effects and damage the lockdown caused, we may wonder how we can recapture this spirit that once infected everyone around us.

HOW ARE WE CALLED?

In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.” (Matt 5:13-16)

SALT

Christians are called to live our faith in a way that glorifies the Lord. Everything we say and do should lead others to God. Christ tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that we are the salt of the earth. Salt is one of the most important (if not the most important!) minerals for civilization. Historically it has been used for preservation, healing, and even as currency. Our bodies not only crave it, but need it to function properly. Wars have been fought, friendships have been made, civilizations built, and religious customs have flourished all because of salt. When salt is so vital, it’s no wonder that Christ would call His followers the salt of the earth!

As the salt of the earth, we are called to “flavor” the world with Christ. What we say, what we do, and who we are should all glorify God and inspire others to seek out the Lord. Our “saltiness” is vital to making sure that God’s presence is felt by others. Of course being “salty” in today’s terms means something completely different than what Christ calls us to be. Often it is easier to be “salty” than to be the “salt of the earth” and yet God still calls us to the task.

LIGHT

With this call to be the “salt of the earth”, Christ also calls us to be the “light of the world”. He tells us that we are not to hide the light which burns within us and which reflects God’s love and life under a bushel basket. I would venture to say that in today’s world we have many “bushel baskets” under which we hide His light. Perhaps we are embarrassed to share our faith.  Maybe we worry about persecution, ridicule, or rejection. It might be that we think we are not knowledgeable enough or even faithful enough to spread our faith. Maybe the timing is never right or we simply want to keep our faith private.

Whatever our reasons for hiding Christ’s light, we must come to realize that as Christians we are not just called but are expected to shine His light brightly for all to see. Christ’s light which lives inside of us is not simply for our own benefit, but instead is meant to “shine before others” so that they have a clear path to God through us!

ANSWERING THE CALL- BECOMING SALT AND LIGHT

What does it take to become salt and light? While we know that our good deeds are not what get us to heaven, we do know that God calls us to live out our faith through doing good works. These acts of love and hope help others to see our Christian faith being fully lived out as God has asked us. Christ modeled this life for us. He was a man of action. He fed the hungry, taught the masses, healed the sick, forgave the sinner, He died upon a cross, and rose from the dead. His actions were vital to His ministry. Likewise, our actions are vital to making Christ known and felt in the world. If we are to call ourselves Christians then we must be heavily involved in doing good works.

At the beginning of the pandemic we saw that “good works” became the norm for most people. People rushed to help one another to secure food, medicine, or other needs. These good works were not just corporal (taking care of one another’s physical needs), which is sometimes the easier work to do. They also encompassed the spiritual works of mercy as well. We saw people extend kindness, mercy, forgiveness and openness despite differences in political ideology, religious practices, economic status, or any other qualifier. People were comforting others in their sorrow, counseling them in their doubt, and praying like crazy for one another. Life was no longer “us” versus “them”; it was simply “us”.

This is what God desires for His people. He wants us to be united as one and He knows that the fastest way to achieve this is through good works. When we stop fighting and start loving one another it follows that God’s love and goodness can be more readily seen and felt by others.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

It is true that the pandemic has worn many of us down. It has broken spirits and for some contributed to hatefulness and anger towards others. There are still many people doing good in the world, but the last year and a half has also hardened many hearts that were open and giving at the beginning of the lockdown. If we are to follow Christ’s call to be salt and light in the world, we can’t allow our own hearts to be hardened by the overwhelming distress the virus and the lockdown have caused us. Instead we must continue to look out for the needs of others. We must attend to both the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors even when it is difficult.

The pandemic took so much away from all of us… but it can never take away Christ’s light shining through us. Only we can hide it away. God tells us that He desires good and holy work from us. Through these good works His light shines brightly and draws others into a relationship with Him. If we want to see a change in our world, if we want peace, we must be the salt and light that Christ has called us to be. By living out our Christian faith in love and good deeds, we can lead others to Him- the One who brings ultimate peace and healing.

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Advent Anni Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Year of Mercy

Sacramentals, Mercy, Advent, Oh My!

Not long ago, I attended an event where an icebreaker game was played. The icebreaker was to count up how many Sacramentals we had on each of us, and whomever at the table had the most won a prize. I happened to be at the table with our chaplain, who gave us a run for our Sacramentals, until he was told he had his own gift set aside for him.

Before he had stepped out of winning the Sacramentals game, our chaplain posed to us, “Do you think each individual is a Sacramental? Because, I count all of you as a Sacramental,” as he tried to tally us up as some of the Sacramentals he brought to the table.

His question, while posed in jest, has stuck with me several months later.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in 1677,

Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

Every baby baptized into the Catholic Church has been anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, that child takes on a conscious decision to reaffirm the baptismal vows their parents typically, initially undertook on behalf of the child. And, the individual then becomes re-anointed and re-sealed with the Holy Spirit.

In essence, our chaplain was correct – we do become Sacramentals. We become a living, breathing, walking “sacred sign instituted by the Church,” to spread the Good News and the Joy of the Gospel.

Knowing we are sacred signs, what are we doing with that knowledge? Are we hiding our light under the bushel so as to not attract attention? If so, how do we get back on course?

I once confided to another Army chaplain that I wasn’t cut out for evangelizing. The “E word” scared me, and I was afraid I was too immature in my Faith to be able to defend it against questions. He chuckled at me, and asked me if I was a mother. I looked at him strangely, and answered in the affirmative because my oldest at the time was a year and a half old. He then shared that evangelization as a mother or father looks a little different than evangelization of others – by virtue of teaching our children their prayers, we are evangelizing. By ensuring our children go to church, we are evangelizing. By living and encouraging the Works of Mercy, as identified by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are evangelizing.

Being a sacred sign comes with responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to our neighbor – to the soul we see next to us… looking past the physical presence before us, to recognize the soul behind the eyes. The Works of Mercy are such a beautiful, powerful reminder of the stepping stones to living as the hands and feet of Christ.

The saints are prime examples of having the faith and trust in God to recognize God’s children in those suffering, destitute, and in need. St. Francis of Assisi embraced a leper shortly after his conversion, while amazed at how his former self would have been repulsed to see someone else do the same. St. Damien of Moloka’i, and St. Marianne Cope would go on to not just embrace lepers, but to live amongst them, and tenderly care for them. The list of saints who lived the Works of Mercy can go on for days!

Through Christ, we get the promise of entering Heaven. Yet, in order to truly pass through Him, we are challenged to meet Him on the road, to recognize Him in others, and to extend His reach through us, to another person.

And, the Church, in her infinite love and wisdom, has shown us how to do this through the Works of Mercy. While we may no longer be in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are still called to extend mercy to those in our lives – whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.

So, as we enter Advent this year, I encourage all of us to spend some time focusing on how we are a living Sacramental. Commit to a Work of Mercy each day during Advent, knowing you’ll repeat some several times. Don’t be afraid to take the Good News and Joy of the Season to those to whom you may initially be afraid to reach out.

Recognize Christ in your neighbor, and better yet, be Christ to others.

It is our duty and our sacred responsibility.

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Allen Ink Slingers Perspective from the Head Series You Did It To Me

You Did it To Me: Visiting Christ, Who is Sick

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!Visiting the Sick

Visiting the sick, it sounds easy enough, you visit someone who is sick, keep them company, Hospital, Tuskegee (LOC)bring them some food, take care of their kids, or bring them medicine.  My family has been the recipient of this corporal work of mercy, with each of our nine children.  Our friends and family would rise to the occasion and help us through these times of transition as we welcomed new life into our family and while my wife would recover from her C-Section surgeries.  I can tell you that being on the receiving end of corporal works of mercy is very humbling, and it has inspired us to do the same for others who were in need.  I can’t say I came by visiting the sick naturally.  In fact, I am not a very good sick person, when I get sick I generally don’t want to do anything, just sleep and have someone else wait on me.  When someone is sick in my family, I don’t automatically jump at the opportunity to be of service to them.  In most cases, my wife is much quicker to respond than I am and I am usually pretty happy with that. 

God Had Other Plans

Last year I was unemployed for a number of months, long enough that we were starting to become concerned about our financial situation because we were about half way through our savings and no job was in sight.  The job search story will be the subject of a future blog article, but for our purposes here, it is important to know that through prayer, we decided that I should consider a job opportunity in my hometown which is three hours away from our home.  Almost all our extended family lives in our hometown.  We were the only ones to move away.  I was hired for a position and started my new job within two weeks of the first interview.  I didn’t need to find a new home to live in because I could stay with my Dad during the week.

TouchTEAMPart of the decision making process (in those two weeks before the offer came) was my Father’s health.  We had noticed for a year or so that my Dad was slowing down, having difficulty performing tasks that we would find very easy, and making some poor financial decision.  We knew that he had been diagnosed with an incurable illness that resulted in loss of muscular control, and the early onset of dementia which includes severe short term memory loss, extreme impulsiveness and a belief that there is nothing wrong.  By seeing him on a regular basis I could go to doctor’s appointments with him and see how I might be able to help him and his wife to deal with a gradual loss of ability and independence. 

Unfortunately, these symptoms had a devastating effect on his marriage and this relationship was coming to an end due to the changes in his personality that accompanied the progression of his illness.  I knew God directed me to take this job near my extended family for a reason, but I had no idea that my Father’s situation was so dire. 

Doing the Right Thing

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I always associated visiting the sick with taking care of people who had a temporary illness and were at least welcoming of the assistance being offered.  With my Dad’s illness, he believes that he is perfectly fine even if everyone else knows better.  To help him I had to make very difficult decisions to take away his ability to mismanage his money (which included credit card fraud) and his ability to drive.  As you may imagine, he was not happy about either of these and I am now accustomed to my Father telling me that he hates me and to get out of his home. 

This is where visiting the sick becomes a cross to bear and truly a corporal work of mercy.  Our whole family is united in the actions that we had to take for the protection of my Father and of others who may be impacted by his mental and physical impediments.  It would have been easier to act like everything was okay, but we all knew that it was not fair to him or anyone else that did business with him or was driving on the same road to let things continue as they were. 

As I have shared with others the struggles we have been going through with my Dad, it appears that I am not alone.  Almost everyone relates to me a similar situation that they had to deal with as their parents grew older and were no longer able to care for themselves.  As a son, I have a debt of gratitude to my Dad.  He sacrificed much for me as I was growing up. He coached my little league teams, sent me to the best private schools, gave me a job when I was way too young to work, provided guidance through all my difficult times as a teenager and to think about it, I wasn’t always too happy with what he decided was best for me either.  The roles have definitely reversed, it is now my time to be the not-so-popular one who has to make the best decisions for my Dad’s well being even if doesn’t always like them. 

Our Reward is in HeavenPathway to Heaven

Since my Dad’s illness will only get worse, I know he will never realize that these decisions were for the best, he will probably never thank me or the rest of my family for the many hours of work we have done for him and he will most likely continue to be rude and resentful when we make a decision that he doesn’t like.  But we must do it anyway.  I love my Dad, I also have a lot of empathy for him as his brain is overtaken by this illness and he becomes less and less in control of his emotions and his body.  I and the rest of my family, my brother and his family and my Dad’s brother and sister are committed to helping him live out the rest of his days with dignity and love.  We may not be thanked for our work, but we know it is the right thing to do. 

Christ tells us in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, that when you care for the sick in your life, you are caring for Jesus.  I pray that I see Jesus in my Dad and that I treat him accordingly.  I spend a lot of time in prayer these days, and I should probably spend more, because this work is difficult, but necessary and if I am visiting Christ who is sick, I should give it my best and ask for His help to be the best caregiver in the world.

Visiting-the-Sick-CWOM

Epilogue

My Father in Law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer during our time away from our home and he passed away earlier this year.  Ministering to him was quite a different experience and we wrote several articles about that experience.  Reflections by myself, my wife and one of our daughters can be found at the Your Holy Family website.

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Ink Slingers Mary S. You Did It To Me

You did it to me: Visit the Prisoner

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!

11021044_1457331471223989_325798669104677386_nA day after I agreed to write about this topic, I thought about it for a minute and part of my brain went “wait, what did I sign up for?!? What am I going to write about?” The closest I’ve ever come to visiting someone in prison was when I toured the local police station with my Moms club and got a picture of my two kids chilling with some friends in the cell there. My husband and I have talked about someone we know who regularly does prison ministry, but have never really considered doing it ourselves. So as I considered what to write, it was from a position of essentially zero experience or knowledge about actually visiting prisoners.

(yes, I know there are other ways of interpreting “the imprisoned” as meaning those imprisoned at home by infirmity, in their own minds by mental illness, or in a poor situation of life, for example. I also know that, depending on where you find a list of the Works of Mercy, sometimes this one is listed as “Free the Captives,” including the image made for this post by our awesome graphics gal! But I’ve always learned it as “Visit the Imprisoned”, and wanted to approach it from a more literal viewpoint of actual prisoners. Disclaimer over.)

I don't think this visit qualifies me to pontificate about visiting prisoners!!
I don’t think this visit qualifies me to pontificate about visiting prisoners!!

But then one day, right in the middle of Mass (far from pondering this post, I was focused on the fact my nephew was about to receive his First Communion!), some thoughts and ideas just hit me, and I admit I grabbed pen and paper from my purse and jotted down a few thoughts during the homily.

As I mentioned, my husband and I have discussed prison ministry several times, and most of the time our conversation only serves to illustrate the two main approaches to the imprisoned. The interior conflict I feel when I consider helping with prison ministry is really a struggle between these two “sides”:

  1. the very human urge to decide that these people did something terrible to deserve being placed in prison, and it doesn’t serve Justice well to seek them out to minister to, making their sentence even that small bit easier to bear. Especially when there are others in difficult situations, pointedly not due to their own actions and choices, who seem like much more worthy subjects of my concern and assistance.

  2. The knowledge that Christ would have given his life for even the basest of criminals, in hopes that that person would one day be in Heaven. God’s mercy overflows, and the whole point of mercy is that it is something we don’t deserve. Even when someone has made terrible choices and hurt others, the fact that Christ loves them enough to lay down his very life for them ought to move me to be willing to lay down our desire for Justice and even vengeance, and minister to these souls. And I do want to be a pathway for His mercy to reach anyone and everyone.

It can be so difficult to balance Justice and Mercy, especially when we read stories of people who were given a merciful early release from prison who then went on to hurt more people and land back in prison. Or when we see some people who are strongly called to prison ministry seeming to argue that if an individual repents and turns his life over to God, that perhaps his civil penalties ought to be lessened. It is natural to want a full and tough punishment (or vengeance) for the perpetrator when we hear about horrible crimes against children or the defenseless, and it is so difficult to get past that to the point of being able to offer them even the tiny mercies of a kind word or a smile, let alone the great graces and mercy God offers us all.

I could quote bible verses about vengeance being God’s, or about his Justice and Mercy. I could cite passage from the Catechism about how prisoners should be treated, or the value of every human being. Several ideas such as those came to me that day in Church, and I had several possible posts half-written in my head to choose from. But the final thought that hit me that day erased them all. Because I realized I had been lost. And not lost in any major way, but simply at a loss as to what to write for a blog post. Not exactly earth-shaking, and I had volunteered for it, after all. But God cared. He cared that I was afraid of looking foolish, and he helped me see several ways to intelligently and thoughtfully approach the topic.

He had Mercy on me.

And while I intellectually realize it is a tiny action of Mercy compared to the fact that he offers forgiveness for all my sinfs and eternal Joy in Heaven, this tiny Mercy was easier to wrap my brain around. And it dawned on me that visiting a prisoner was a similarly tiny act of Mercy. Prison ministry doesn’t require a laying down of my life, but perhaps only a few hours of time and a willingness to simply be a conduit for God’s love. It doesn’t mean breaking out that murderer or drug dealer or convincing myself or others that they are good men, but offering them the knowledge of the amazing invitation God offers to each of us, to be His. Helping them to find that greater freedom that God wants for every one of us.11008560_1457331431223993_4168276712896781398_n

How selfish of me to keep that to myself when we have been given so much Mercy, even to cover such minor needs as what to write in a post. While it is human to want Justice and punishment, God’s grace and Mercy can and should flow through us to others, regardless of whether we believe a person deserves even a kind word. And as the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are really all about sharing God’s Mercy with our fellow man (even though none of us deserve it), we must strive to offer that Mercy most especially with those who least deserve it.

Will I be joining the prison ministry in our area?? Probably not. I have other ministries that I feel much more called to. But I am much more open to it now, and have added prisoners and prison ministers to my daily prayer list. Even if it is only in context of a discussion with a friend or loved one, it always helps me to realize that I deserve death for my sin, but have received God’s Mercy. And that now I have a responsibility to offer that same Mercy to others.

What about you? Have you ever visited (or freed!) a prisoner?? What was it like? Do you agree with my thoughts on it??

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Series You Did It To Me

You Did It To Me: Admonish the Sinner

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!works of mercy series pic

Judge not, that you be not judged. Matthew 7:1

I think pretty much everyone has heard some reference to this scripture, or at least the sentiment of not being “judgmental” of others. Tolerance and avoidance of being judgmental seem to be almost a religion in and of themselves these days. But what about this verse:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

Or this:

Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; Luke 17:3

Ummmmmm, wait a second! I thought we weren’t supposed to judge each other!! And apparently it’s a “Spiritual act of Mercy” to tell someone they’re wrong?!?! While I could definitely get on board with the idea of telling people they’re wrong, don’t these verses contradict each other?? How can both ideas – “judge not” and “rebuke those who sin” – be correct??

Admonish sinnerThough it may not seem like it at first glance, they are actually on the same page. And yes, they’re both right. Let’s look at a “real-life-ish”, if not exactly realistic, example: Imagine you are driving on a one-way road, and see someone going the wrong way. Do you say to yourself that maybe that’s the “right way for them” and that you don’t want to be judgemental about their choices by saying they’re going the wrong way?? Or do you get their attention and let them know they’re going the wrong way?? You know there is danger in going the wrong way on the road; people could get hurt or even killed. So even if it’s a honk and a quick gesture, your actions are pretty clearly a merciful act, as you are acting to prevent the other driver from horrible consequences.

Okay, you say, I get how that shows the mercy side of it, but what about the “judge not” part??

Well, let’s look at what you’re doing in our example. Are you deciding that this driver is a total nincompoop who shouldn’t have a license to drive and should stick to walking and far away from public roads?? Well, maybe you are, but let’s say you took the other option and you have judged that this person’s actions (going the wrong way on a one-way road) are dangerous to them and others, without extending that judgment to their entire worth as a person and as a driver, and without neglecting your own faults (double-check that you’re going the right direction before honking that horn!). That is what we are called to do, to judge the actions of our brothers and sisters, while remembering that it is never our responsibility or right to judge their worth as a person or the direction their soul is headed after death. Only God can see our heart and properly judge our soul. So we, as imperfect humans, are told not to judge another’s soul but to stick to the things we can see and know: the outward signs, words, and actions of others, and to wisely warn those whose actions show they are headed the wrong direction. Not for the purpose of telling them how bad they are, but just as in the example above, to try to prevent their actions from causing pain and hurt.

Now that all that confusion is cleared up, we come to the hard part, how do we go about telling someone they’re “driving the wrong way” in their sins??

I’m a total pro at this. I build a relationship with the person, then gently broach the subject at a relaxed moment and calmly discuss it with no hesitation, in straightforward and loving terms, and my “admonishment” is always received with appreciation and the realization that I am right.

Oh wait, that’s just how it goes in my head.

In real life, the few times I’ve gathered the nerve to approach such a conversation, I tend to say “um” more than actual words, and twist myself in knots trying not to offend the person, so much so that oftentimes the point is lost. And when the point is understood, frequently the person still takes offense and either respond defensively about their actions or lashes out and attacks me for presuming to tell them they’re wrong. In real life, I’m a rank amateur when it comes to “admonishing the sinner”. So why should you listen to me?? Well, honestly, you shouldn’t. In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to do it!! Truly, don’t listen to me, but do listen to St. Paul:

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Or perhaps even more directly from the source, these lines from Jesus:

Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:4-5

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:24

What I take from these and other references to fraternal correction is that a few items are most important: gentleness/love, not being a hypocrite, and “judging rightly”. Being gentle and loving is easy to understand – being considerate of the needs and feelings of the person you’re talking to, while at the same time knowing that admonishing sinful behavior, in a way the recipient can truly hear and respond well to the admonishment, is truly an act of love. As for being a hypocrite, that means we don’t rail against sins we aren’t even tempted towards while ignoring our own temptations and failings. It means we acknowledge our own sinfulness before approaching our brother or sister about theirs. Finally, “judging rightly”. While we obviously can’t look into our friends’ or families’ heart to see the full truth of the matter, we can look with as much wisdom as we can at the information we do have (that we know to be true!) and make our judgment only from that, not our assumptions about what is happening.

Oh, and from my own experience, the most important key to the success of the whole thing is prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide you!

Won’t you join me in trying to lovingly warn those that we see are headed the wrong direction?? I promise I will try to practice this skill outside of my rosy mental image of myself!! What response have you received when you’ve reproved those you love who have sinned??