With Gratefulness

popeToday is a historic day for the Catholic Church.  It is the first time that a Pope has resigned since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.  Many will report on this event and many will share opinions about the causes, impacts, and conclusions that can be drawn from Pope Benedict XVI and his decision to step down.  The entire world is watching the event with fervor — much like last November’s election here in the United States.   Yes, this is an event of global significance, but few people have taken the time to even consider the spiritual nature, the Godly reasons, behind this humble action.

Pope Benedict’s decision to leave the Papacy was not a political one and most of the media cannot fathom why anyone would give up the power he held.  His decision was one made in peace, in solitude, and only after hours and days of prayer.  Yes, it did shock the world.  It’s not, however, for the reasons the media would have you believe.

The most shocking aspect of the Pope’s decision is that it was a decision made in love, with all humility.  It was the sacrificing of human will –power and fame — for Divine will.  Pope Benedict will leave St Peter’s and potentially never been seen again.  As one reporter put it, he has “acknowledged the frailty of the human condition.”  This gentle, loving man who has given his life to Christ is still choosing to humbly follow God’s will.  He is following the words he generously shared with us:

“Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.  Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!  It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory.  Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.  Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.  Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God.  To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.”

― Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love, Deus Caritas Est: Encyclical Letter

Pope Benedict understood, both when writing this amazing text and when deciding that he would step down from the Papacy, that to “practice the virtue of humility” means to accept God’s mystery and trust God in all circumstances.  We have faith and faith “gives rise to love.”

Today is a historic day for many reasons.

Today a client walked through our doors considering an abortion.   She is alone and doesn’t know how she could ever be a good mother and provide for the new life within her.  Embracing Pope Benedict’s words, we pray for her, serve her, and love her — and trust God.

Today a homeless youth in crisis came to the Drop-In at our shelter with only the clothes on his back.  Through his tears he told us the horrible story of his childhood and how he came to be on the streets.  He has nowhere to go and no one to turn to but our staff.  What can we do but pray, love, and serve in faith?

Today a couple came to us seeking counseling because their marriage was crumbling.  They don’t know if they love each other anymore and he has been unfaithful.  We must have faith, hope, and love as we embrace the courage which can only come from God and serve that couple in humility.

Perhaps closer to your world, tomorrow the United States Government begins sequestration.  Yet in light of all of the uncertainty about this process and how it will touch our lives, Pope Benedict’s words still ring true.  We trust God in all circumstances.  We patiently love and serve.

We are so grateful to Pope Benedict for allowing God to use him to teach us so many things.  To inspire us.  To help us understand that “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.”  We are blessed to be able to do this work and illuminate the darkness of the lives of those we serve.  We, like Pope Benedict, are not foolish enough to think we can do this work without God.  We know that God holds the world — and our lives, and our work — in His hands.  Pope Benedict helped us to have the courage to live and work with faith, hope, and charity.  He modeled love, courage, and humility both as Pope and in his decision to resign.

It’s Our Job To Be Disturbing!

imagesCAI7DW3NWe are deep in the throes of winter.  The snow keeps falling, the weather is cold, and most of us prefer to spend our evenings wrapped up in a blanket with something warm to drink and a good book (or a television remote) in our hands.  I was doing exactly that, snuggled with my children and watching the news last night, when I became completely overwhelmed with all of the negativity in our world.  Within a period of about 10 minutes we learned of several murders, a fire that took the lives of three young children, robberies, floods, and so on.

No matter where I go or what I do, I cannot escape the tragedies of this world.  Working at Catholic Charities I come face to face with need and pain and depression on a daily basis.  I come home and see my family and friends suffering with their own challenges.   Even when I go shopping at my local grocery store I overhear families in pain, in conflict, and dealing with poverty.

I know I am describing a familiar situation . . . we all live in the same world . . . and we all have a choice to make.

I read an amazing quote yesterday and it changed my whole mindset:

I think sometimes that instead of our turning the world upside down, the world is turning us upside down. Instead of us impacting our culture, our culture is impacting us. What we need more of today is a holy disturbance.  And if we are not making a disturbance, then something isn’t right.   — Greg Laurie

You and I . . . each of us . . . we are called to “make a disturbance.”  To look at the world we live in and the challenges we face and turn the world upside down with love.  A dear friend pointed out to me that  Miriam-Webster’s primary definition of “disturb” is “to interfere with.”   Every time we react to challenges and problems with love and compassion we are disturbing (interfering with) the world’s natural response.  Every time we reach out and feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and care for others we are disturbing societal norms and this most holy disturbance is our job . . . our duty!

The more peaceful and joyful we are in the face of adversity, the more we reflect God’s love to those who don’t know it.   I am not naive enough to think this is easy to do, but I do feel empowered just knowing that I’m not doing it alone!  I hear amazing stories of staff and volunteers at Catholic Charities  who join together to “create holy disturbances” for those in need every day.  I see the compassion and love and hope we strive to impart to those who need it the most.  We are called to stand out!  We are called to be different!  We are called to be the salt and the light in this world!  In so doing, we are creating a holy disturbance and turning our world upside down.

Choose the narrow path and reach out and make a difference in love!  What a blessed choice that is!

Tonight, instead of wrapping up in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa and watching television I think I’ll bake some chocolate muffins and take them to the older couple down the street.  Maybe my children and I will sit down with them and just listen to their stories.  They look so lonely when I walk by with the kids and our dog every evening.  Maybe I need to be the one — the person who reaches out in love and “disturbs them.”  This little disturbance of love, which takes so little effort in my part,  might be enough to change their world.

Will you join me?  Will you take part in this holy revolution?  If you need some ideas of how to create a disturbance in your community call Catholic Charities and we’ll help you find a great way!

The Tree of Life

Heart 1Today is a special day — not only is it Valentine’s Day, it’s also the second day of Lent. With that in mind, we thought we’d share a wonderful devotional from The Magnificat.  The devotional describes love in a unique way and we encourage you to read it thoughtfully and consider how your relationship with those you love might be impacted.  Enjoy the reading and may it inspire you to love others as Christ calls you to do.

Christ offers grace that redeems the broken vessel of our nature. Access to that grace comes by way of the cross, properly understood. Years ago an elderly woman came to see me. She was married to a miser who, when they were first married, made it known that it was HIS money. And so, over the years, she was careful about spending HIS money.

Her girlfriends took pity on her and would buy her a new dress; after all, this was her cross, they thought. However, Christ’s cross gives life. What she was really doing was running away from the cross, and indulging her weak and fallen nature. Her true cross would be to sit down with the miser and make it known, in a reasonable, responsible, and loving way, that since it was HIS house, his food, and his money . . . he could clean it, cook it, and bank it because she had needs of her own and would be finding a way to support herself.

That’s a denial of self that leads to life. The cross — properly understood — brings life out of death. In her case, death to the fear of her husband, death to her weakness. As a result, she would love herself more and love her husband properly, for love does not enable bad behavior.

Love . . . and the cross . . . gives life!

— Father Emmerich  Vogt, O.P.

Preparing for Lent: Choices to Transform

imagesWe are less than one week away from the beginning of Lent. This important season of the Christian’s life begins on February 13th (Ash Wednesday), and many of us will use the time to purposefully strive to get closer to God. According to most of the literature I’ve been reading about the season, there are three core elements to Lent: fasting (or giving up something), almsgiving (charity), and prayer.

Through the practice of these three spiritual disciplines, Lent is a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity.  Lent is often viewed as a “spiritual spring cleaning” or a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our  relationship with Jesus Christ and our service to him.

There is still some time to consider what commitments you would like to make this Lenten season.  Let’s look at each of the three major areas and see how the fit together to help us grow between now and Easter:

Fasting:

It’s common for an individual to select a food he or she loves (typically consumes on a daily basis) and “give it up” for Lent.  Examples include meat, caffeine, dessert or chocolate.  Other people limit or eliminate their television or media time — in recent years, some have even chosen to give up Facebook or social media during the Lenten season.  Some make changes to impact their budget, cutting out restaurant dining or other “extra” expenses.  When it comes to fasting, the most important part is that each individual chooses to give up something that typically interferes with his or her relationship to God, taking time and attention away from the more important task of developing and strengthening our spiritual lives and relationships.

Almsgiving:

While Lent is about giving something up (fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. After all, the best way to remove vice is to cultivate virtue.  Lent has traditionally been a time of helping the poor and doing acts of charity and mercy.  This is a year round calling for those of faith, but Lent is a good time to examine new ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them.  This can be done by partnering with an organization (like Catholic Charities) or by helping your family, friends, and neighbors who are living in difficult situations.  One of the best ways to give alms is by volunteering for a charity.  While Catholic Charities’ staff are more than happy to find a way to help you get connected (call us at 269-381-9800 or check out our website), there are many great local organizations and parishes who would love to have your service!

Prayer:

The spiritual discipline of prayer is much more than asking God to give you (or others) things.  It is about building a relationship.  After all, God knows your every thought and need even before you do!  It’s the time spent with Him, discerning His will, that makes prayer so powerful.  Lent is a time of confession, seeking God’s help to build better lives and there are many prayer resources to assist you (many of them available via a google search).  Prayer is a very personal action and we encourage you to spend some time in your room, on your knees this Lenten season.

As you prepare for this important season of Lent, we encourage you to take some time and be specific and intentional.  As Steven Clark likes to say: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, choose your Lenten disciplines with a focus on God’s glory and spiritual growth. It is important to remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Through living them during the season, we hope they will help us become more like Christ and more reliant on Him.