Category: Nonfiction (Page 1 of 2)

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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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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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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Consecrated Virginity: The Obscure Glory

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Consecrated virgin: To many, the phrase sounds outlandish, not only unfamiliar but unsettlingly strange. To most of the world outside the Church, it means a crazy woman who has promised to renounce marriage for an unfathomable idea. Even to many Catholics, such a woman looks like a puzzling quasi-religious, taking vows but not entering an order. The subject evokes blank looks or dubious, fumbling responses, as I’ve found from my own experience. Some even suspect that such women may simply be too lazy to look for the right religious community, living their lives by a sort of half-measure.

Some of this confusion may be understandable. A consecrated virgin doesn’t look different from a laywoman, as a nun in a habit would. She lives in the world and supports herself; she wears ordinary clothes and is not called any special title like Sister. Her way, however, is based on a special calling. Her whole life is sacred to Christ, and she serves Him in a way that nuns cannot. Hers is a life of love for Him, and she follows Him wherever He asks her to be.

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Purgatory is Not an Insult

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

As All Souls’ Day approaches, homilists may find themselves tiptoeing around discussion of Purgatory. Advising people to pray for their deceased family or friends can be difficult. Many perceive this as an insult to the departed, contending that their loved ones are surely in Heaven already and need no prayers.

Much of this mindset is based on emotions rather than intellectual decisions, and so calls for a tactful, gentle response. Part of the problem, however, arises from misunderstandings about Purgatory. Those unfamiliar with Catholic theology often seem to confuse Purgatory with Hell. Even in Catholic circles, popular assumptions imply that genuinely good people always go straight to Heaven, while Purgatory is for the mediocre souls not quite bad enough for Hell. Another phrasing of this idea is that, to compare these states to school grades, Heaven is an A, Purgatory a C, and Hell an F.

None of this is even remotely true.

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Solomon, Aquinas, and Lilies

A reflection on 1 Kings 3:5-15

 

What do a king, a friar, and a flower have to do with each other? The question sounds like a very strange riddle. I unexpectedly discovered the answer while rereading 1 Kings 3:5-15, coming upon a sequence of thoughts that initially seemed both familiar and sobering, but ended on a fresh and deeply joyful note.

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Remembering the Basis of Human Dignity

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Several months ago, I happened to glance at the cover of America, and noticed something strange among the featured article descriptions: “Jesus, Please Don’t Fix My Disabled Daughter.” Curious, I flipped to the indicated page number, confident that the essay would not actually advance the idea suggested. To my astonishment, however, it did.

The author, a Heather Kirn Lanier, explained that she had recently begun reading the Gospels and generally liked Jesus, but was initially disappointed with His miracles of healing. As Mrs. Lanier said, “He reinforces the idea that the disabled body is broken, damaged. He treats the disabled body as something to fix.” She went on to protest that her disabled child was not worth less than anyone else, emphasizing, “She’s not damaged goods,” and that, therefore, the little one had no need of fixing. She also proceeded to give Jesus’ actions her own interpretation, one agreeable to her view that we should not demean the disabled by trying to cure them.

At first I didn’t know how to respond. Of course Mrs. Lanier’s little girl was as precious as a child without handicaps . . . but why would that lead the mother to regard potential healing as an insult?

Then I understood. From that essay’s perspective, any privation meant a degradation in value. There was no distinction between saying that a child’s body had been malformed and insinuating that that child was intrinsically inferior to other children. Suddenly I understood so much of the modern world’s anguish.

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The Problem with Poetry in Our Time

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Why talk about poetry? It might not seem an urgent concern. It certainly isn’t among the “hot-button issues” of our day. Our thoughts, however, would be impoverished if we devoted them only to the latest controversy over Pope Francis, the new dismaying scandal, or whether our country will collapse. Even in harsh times, the things that make human life full and sweet still deserve attention.

Art is part of what makes life human. The urge to create has always been a distinctive mark of humanity, and has been manifest wherever people have had time to draw, sculpt, or compose. God made us “making-creatures,” as Tolkien put it, reflecting the image of our Creator by becoming little creators ourselves. If you have no interest in poetry or arts generally, you probably aren’t still reading. But if you are, and if you’re interested in how language relates to human nature, keep going.

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Looking to the Future: A Balanced Vision

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

What will the future be like? Our inability to answer this question with certainty has never stopped us from wondering and guessing, both about our personal futures and the future of the world. During the past century, the speculations about the latter have grown more numerous, diverse and elaborate than ever. Stories set in some projected time after our own have created such powerful images of the future that they shape our culture in the present, for better or worse. Although no expert on futuristic stories, I find the ideas underlying them intriguing and sometimes troubling. What do our imaginings do for us—or to us—now?

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