Practicing Kindness in a Harsh World

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

In recent months, the Holy Spirit has shown me some things about kindness through two mostly-isolated elderly people.

One, a friend from my family’s parish, has been confined to a nursing home of late. My father, in his capacity as a deacon, has been bringing her Communion on weekends, and my mother and I usually accompany him. Despite her physical ailments, this dear lady invariably greets us with smiles and concludes the visit with, “Thank you so very, very much for coming, and God bless you.”

Needless to say, hearing those words makes me feel good about having come. It also reminds me of the importance of being personally present to the lonely and suffering, of spending time with those whom the world has forgotten.

The second person was a homeless man whom I began to see on walks through our neighborhood. Bundled in a thick coat and hat in all weather, he would sit on a bench with his bags or walk slowly with a cart. I began trying to talk to him, thinking that he must be lonely, and knowing the importance of being present to someone abandoned. He appeared glad enough for the company, though he quickly refused anything like an offer of help, and seemed reluctant to discuss his own life. From what he did say, I became increasingly sure that he was not quite in his right mind.

Then, one day, I came walking along as usual and saw the man sitting with his bags, hunched over a camera. I turned and approached, whereupon he jerked upright and exclaimed, “What’s wrong? Why are you here?”

Confused, I stammered, “I’m walking in the park, as usual.”

“All right, that’s great, take care,” he said abruptly, and went back to fiddling with his camera.

My homeless acquaintance had rejected my attempts to be kind. I had extended the same toward him that I had toward our friend in the nursing home—an attentive, caring presence—but with the opposite outcome. I will probably never know why, but for me, the episode shed a multifaceted light on the Christian practice of kindness.

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Five Suns Over the Void

I, Amata of Telraum, write what I have seen that others may know it. Let them make of it what they will, but I think it was not given for me alone. It seems only a dream, yet it must have been more than a dream, for things are different now than when I lay down last night.

I am nineteen years old, crippled in my legs, but able with my hands. I live by sewing, and stay in the upper room of the innkeeper at Telraum. I came here on my own many years ago, and have survived on my own through most of my life. But last night I learned what I could not do on my own. That was the price of joy.

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Queen of Peace

White ocean-star, of radiance serene,
Still pool all diamond-clear and filled with light,
Enclosed garden where fairer Eden’s seen,

Bright tower, mountain-firm, in every fight
Immovable by raging of the foe,
Who guard and guide God’s servants through the night,

O Lady, look with love on us below,
Amid the fierce insanity of earth;
Too little peace do we who dwell here know.

My heart, like a small whirlwind from my birth
Of longings, pains, impulses, follies, fears,
Has of sweet stillness a deep, hungry dearth.

Wild winds of turmoil and storms of tears
Beset my way, and all my brethren’s ways,
And none knows how long till the tempest clears.

And all around us fierce contentions blaze,
From vicious, cruel hearts the fires abound,
As if to swallow earth in blackened days.

And we, in struggling, ourselves confound;
Our shadowed minds can’t find what makes for peace;
We helpless sheep, our bleats to heaven sound.

O shining Mother! bring us God’s release,
His saving mercy and His gracious power,
That Heaven’s light on poor earth may increase.

O you, who in the long-appointed hour
Gave us the Prince of Peace, hope’s burning star,
And give us still His grace’s golden shower,

O you who felt His cross’ crushing bar,
But deep down kept that radiance serene,
O show us where that peace and sweetness are.

Your flaming heart all sunlike, blessed Queen,
Beams warmly round us with celestial glow,
Pierces our darkness with its fire-rays keen.

And out from it, a strong and golden flow
Pours round and floods all souls who linger near;
‘Tis peace, joy, love, and freedom that run so.

For you, filled with your Son, make wondrous clear
That those who let Him fill their empty space
Will have the only Light that guides men here.

I see Him as I gaze upon your face,
My Queen, my Mother, bright with peace and grace.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

What exactly makes Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople so much fun? I loved the film—based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress—long before I tried to puzzle out this question.

Perhaps it’s the premise, played out with such a wholehearted spirit of adventure: thirteen-year-old Ricky Baker, a de facto orphan under state supervision (Julian Dennison), and Hector Faulkner, the crotchety old man who’s ended up being responsible for him (Sam Neill), survive together for months in the New Zealand bush, on the run from authorities who want to relocate Ricky and believe Hector guilty of child abuse.

Perhaps it’s the lively dialogue, almost constantly snapping with wit. Perhaps it’s the gloriously rugged setting, the “majestical” New Zealand countryside—recognizably the same landscape where the Lord of the Rings films were shot. (Actually, that’s not the only connection, but . . . well, to say more would spoil a great moment.)

Perhaps it’s Ricky himself, full of quirky remarks, prone to mischief, but with a more sensitive side belying his tough, rebellious exterior—a sort of kindred spirit to the titular heroine of Lilo and Stitch. It may also be his developing relationship with his “Uncle” Hector, who initially wants nothing to do either with outlaw life or with Ricky, but finds an unexpected grace in the latter . . . and even the former.

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The Transformative Power of Memory

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

“When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it . . . What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”

Those words from C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet present a thought we may seldom consider. Memories are not merely records or images of things gone, like photos on a wall. They develop inside us and become parts of us; they can change our lives in the present and the future.

Why should that be? Of course years gone by were important as they happened, but how can they continue to affect us, in a real, tangible way, after they have passed? Do they matter enough to warrant thought and discussion? After all, the past is gone; we must live in the present.

While that statement is certainly true, we sometimes also find that we need to develop our understanding of our past to better live a whole, healthy life in the present. Each life is a story, and how we understand the previous chapters does much to determine how we see ourselves and our world.

Memories can do this in two main ways. They can preserve wholesome and precious times, treasures to enrich us in the future. They can also become dangerous when they store our experiences of darkness and injuries, in which case they require healing.

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To our Lady of Lourdes

High above earth’s wastes of mire,
‘Mid the scintillating stars,
You shine with the fairest fire,
Purest daughter born of ours;
Once a veiled light in our midst,
Now a beacon from the height,
Would you thin our murk and mist
From the heavens with your light?

No, your light is love’s warm flame,
Living, potent, surging out;
‘Twas on its account you came
Through the shadows round about:
To a hollow bare and bleak,
In the year’s gray, dreary time,
Sickened souls you came to seek
And heal with your light sublime.

By your humble messenger,
Frail flesh housing strength of grace,
You caused slumb’ring hearts to stir
From the night with piercing rays.
Those who hearkened and drew near
Found, at your feet, mercy’s spring,
Heav’nly water running clear,
Poured for flesh’s suffering.

But still more, your burning soul
Yearned to cure their spirits’ ills,
By love’s fire to make them whole,
Cleanse their hearts, make straight their wills.
Your bright hands reached down to pull
Men out from sin’s foul night,
Tear them free, and see them full
Of your Son’s celestial light!

Still you labor ceaselessly
For your children in the night,
O bright Queen, may I too be
Cleansed and healed and set aright!
So let me, like Bernadette,
Bear your blessed rays afar,
That all lost souls may come yet
Where your Son is, where you are!

The Home-lights

As wanderers in weary dark
Look up to see the glow
Of lamps in windows of their town
And feel its nearness so,

Or sailors on long voyages
Strain eyes for their own land,
And hail with joy the twinkling port
That tells them ‘tis at hand,

So I, when wand’ring weary as
Some soul on road or foam,
Look out into the evening sky
To see lights of my home.

For there it is, where I belong,
And where I look to be;
A worn traveler here, I lift
Eyes thither eagerly.

For wheresoever I go here,
‘Tis never truly far
From my true home; so I recall
When I behold a star.

No rolling dark of stormy clouds
Can stain or smear their glow.
Their fair power safeguards my heart
From ugliness below.

No dark of sorrow on the way
Can their beauty obscure,
And lights of joys inflame me to
Look upward more and more,

Up to the splendid lights of home,
The guiding glow sublime,
The fullness of all radiance,
Rest past the road of time.

For there—let it set me alight—
He is, Who fills my heart,
My great Beloved Lover Who
Is all my joy, my part.

There, too, my Mother sweet and fair,
Star-lily bright and pure,
And all my blessed brethren who
Have gone this way before.

All this I see when I look up
Into the evening sky,
And feel fresh strength to love and live,
For I live and know why.

When earthly sun veils o’er the lights,
I’ll hold them in my mind,
That they may light me from within,
Help me my way to find.

To reach my shining home at last
No toil will I spare,
Nor other wanderers to aid,
Till all reach fullness there.

I’ll See You Soon

When last I saw your face,

When last we spoke, and laughed, and sighed,

We told each other, “Yes, I’ll see you soon”—

But now the miles sprawl out wide,

The cruel dividing space.

 

Now Practicality,

From her unyielding lofty seat,

Stirs all our heartstrings in a bitter tune,

Decreeing that we may not meet,

For space bars you from me.

 

In sorrow now I look

Across the misty sea of Time,

Straining to see our next meeting ahead,

But from the ocean only climb

Dim phantoms tempest-shook.

 

Naught’s certain on these waves;

On them I cannot rest my heart;

What floats on Chance too often sinks like lead.

And yet while we remain apart,

My pain still healing craves.

 

A heart must have a rock,

A solid place on which to rest.

Is there no cure for restless spirits’ ache,

No stay for hearts too sorely pressed

By wind’s rush and wave’s knock?

 

A voice I now hear call,

Not from the waves, but o’er them high:

“Recall you not that I too, on the lake,

Knew stormy waters rising high,

And bade the tempest fall?

 

“I know the storm you face,

The turbulence of chance and change,

Shaking and stealing what you hold so dear.

To Me your tears are nothing strange,

The state of all your race.

 

“A rock of rest you seek—

Know that you have this refuge sure.

I am the rock unchanged; the beacon clear

Is my Heart’s fire, burning for

The weary and the weak.

 

“Take courage; know you this:

Your voyage harsh will not be long,

One day’s brave sailing, and your coast you reach,

Splendors unshaken—o, be strong!—

And you’ll find those you miss.

 

“So while you ride the waves,

Keep near to Me, your rock, your light,

And I will keep you, bring you over each

High swell, mad gust, dark shade of night.

I am the One Who saves.”

 

One moment through the storm

I glimpse a flash, a piercing glow,

A gleam from high hills of eternity,

And Him Whom we need faith to know,

For we see not His form.

 

‘Tis fleeting, yet its ray

Burns like the lightning through my soul,

Not chasing sorrow’s dark away from me,

But firing me for a goal—

This, this will constant stay.

 

The sea remains the sea,

And fierce the voyage I must make,

But its tumult will not make me afraid.

Though wild swell may steal or break

All we know presently,

 

We are not of the sea,

But boldly press on toward the land,

Given to us by the great promise made

By Him Who could on water stand

And from it sets us free.

 

So storms of grief shall cease

Ere long, for it’s not long we sail;

My dear, I tell you—yes, I’ll see you soon.

Our blessed Beacon will not fail;

‘Tis He is our sure peace.

 

Then let our hearts be strong

Upon the course that forward lies,

Our gaze fixed on our homeland past the moon;

For when we look through Heaven’s eyes,

‘Tis never really long.

 

What Does It Really Mean to be Pro-Life?

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

The March for Life has just passed. The shouts, chantings, and ever-creative handmade signs are still vivid in many minds, images vibrant with pro-life passion. I’ve been to the March several times, and in other years have assisted spiritually from a distance. Every year, I see much that’s beautiful and inspiring—many souls full of dedication, courage, and love, giving me hope for the advancement of the “culture of life.” Of course, this kind of action isn’t limited to the penultimate week of January; it’s at work all year.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen much less encouraging things within the pro-life crowd. The desire to save the unborn, noble as it is, can become so consuming that it blinds one to other persons in need, who also deserve concern and help, and to evils in the world or in oneself. Furthermore, when passion is not purified and directed, it easily degenerates into hate and vitriol. Demonizing those who support abortion becomes too easy a temptation. Politics, ever a divisive and emotional subject, explodes into the discussions. Too often, it’s not long before those who should be friends or at least allies end up turning on each other.

Need this be so? Of course not. We are called to defend life—but not by doing the things just described. It’s not hard to see that this kind of behavior is really detrimental to the pro-life movement.

Thus, we might benefit from considering: what does it really mean to be pro-life?

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Don’t Miss the Magic of Childhood

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Every year around this time, I notice a widespread, often implicit idea that Christmas is a particularly special time for children. Of course, this attitude follows logically if the occasion consists only of emptying packages and stockings under an explosion of lights and tinsel. Decorations and presents generally become less exciting as we grow older.

On the other hand, if one understands Christmas as anything more substantial—certainly for Christians rejoicing in the newborn King, but even for those who view it simply as a day to celebrate values like kindness and family—one should be able to take joy in that as an adult, instead of regretting the diminished excitement of the sparkling wrapping paper.

While this problem seems especially pronounced at Christmastime, it exists all year. Adults talk about the “magic” of childhood, and wistfully remark on its fading as they mature. The ability to greet life with wonder and delight seems to be widely considered the exclusive property of the under-age-twelve crowd.

This line of thought may be understandable, but does not work long-term. Nature shows us that children are meant to become adults; this is fulfillment, not degeneration, for them. From the added perspective of faith, God made humans to grow up. Lamenting His design for us hardly makes sense.

To offer a more effective, helpful response to this issue, however, we should first consider: why do people feel this way, and need they feel so?

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