Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do You Wanna Dance

A lifetime ago, when we were moving from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan, my sixth-grade teacher thought that Canadian schools were a step ahead. So as a parting gift, he “promoted” me to the seventh. Within two weeks of beginning classes in mid-year at Goodale Junior High, I was called into the principal’s office, who promptly announced, “You don’t belong in the seventh grade. We’re placing you in the eighth.”

Neither the studies nor the sports were too demanding, but there was more to school than that. Gym on Fridays, for example, was set aside for Music, Dance, and other social skills. On one such Friday, I was standing by the wall enjoying the music, when I spotted a classmate approaching me. As she got closer, my comfort level began to evaporate. Then it happened. She asked, “Do you wanna dance?” I think I was even too shy to respond.

In my last Blog, some of you wrote that forgiveness is the best response to abusive behavior. And so it is for many reasons, not the least of which is to free oneself from the poison that has entered our minds and bodies, and to begin the healing process. But, I believe we must distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is what we do NOT because the abuser has begun to change or we hope that they will. Forgiveness is given because we discover even more the best in us; the One who is within us. We do it because of WHO WE ARE, not because the other merits it or has asked for it.

One of the things I have learned is that what people think about us, say about us, or do to us, often says more about them than about us. The key is to know oneself and be true to oneself. We see this most clearly in Jesus on the Cross, as he forgives us not because we earned it, or changed from our sinful ways. He simply does it because of who he is and the great love within him.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, (whether with each other or with God) requires that both parties are in accord, both in sync to the same tune, as if dancing together. It is not easy to be attuned to the same music with all, for any number of reasons. Some are not ready for reconciliation. Some may have a low self-esteem, which skews their thinking and leads to anti-social and destructive actions, or they have developed bad, perhaps even violent and explosive, habits, and will need more time to mature in their development. Some simply have a different chemistry or outlook. We cannot force a change in them. Nor is it healthy to force ourselves on them by remaining in a relationship that is not life-giving.

Forgiveness is to love as reconciliation is to like. We can love all and desire the very best for them, while at the same time not necessarily like them because of their behavior, personality, etc. To forgive is to simply enjoy the music and be in harmony with ourselves (and with God). To reconcile is to dance with another, wherein both are moving (or at least want to step) to the same tune.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Question: What To Do In Abusive Relationships

*Good question. I would pray a lot in hope that the Lord would give me the answer. Some people are stronger than others; some learn from the abuse and become better than what they saw. Others become what they saw and experienced.

*During some of the most difficult of times with my husband and life partner, a friend sent me the book "The Power of a Praying Wife" written by Stormie O'Martian. It spoke to my heart. It helped me heal. I had to heal before I could forgive.

When struggling to forgive, and feeling quite badly that I just "couldn't" this same friend suggested that perhaps I should ask God to do the forgiving, because I could not. I felt great relief for the first time in a very, very long time. I began to feel less guilty, less sad, and less frustrated. Each day, many times during the day, and as I would lie down to sleep, I would ask God to forgive and love him, because I could not. It helped me to heal. It relieved me of the feelings of angst. For a very, very long time, God did what I could not. Eventually, I learned to let go of past moments and feelings. I was able to begin to love again. I began to see the love that was offered without holding on to the feelings of resentment and pain. Eventually, I was able to begin to forgive and trust. We began to build a new relationship based on the present rather than the past. It took years, but it did happen. He is a good man, a great partner and father. God helped us to make it. Truly a Sacrament. Perhaps that is what the lesson is .... to Let Go, and to Let God... when we are unable to do so. At that time I was reading/praying over daily meditations in the book "The Language Of Letting Go" by Melody Beattie. One particular meditation helped immensely, it was titled "Flack from Setting Boundaries"... loosely described it meant (to me) that it was ok for me to set reasonable limits for myself and others. It was also ok that others might give me flack for setting these boundaries. This particular passage spoke to me and offered me a sense of control in my life when I felt I had none. Forgiveness was easier once I felt like I had some control in my life. I felt less the victim. This feeling created a space for forgiveness within my heart.

Forgiveness takes time, sometimes a very long time. And so I pray. And pray. And pray. Being thankful seems to help me to be able to forgive. When I take time to Say Thank You to God for all of my blessings given the human being that I am, I am more likely to be forgiving and find a place in my heart to forgive others. I do better on some days than others. Having a grateful heart seems to help.

I am thankful God is with us each day as we share this journey. Acceptance of each other's ways is not always easy. Love is a choice. Forgiveness seems to follow, with God's abundant help time and time again....

*I have been really afraid to look deeper into your "Healing Our Family Trees." I continue to be on this horrible path of denial and hurt from the hidden secret of 23 years. When I try to come to terms and move on, I seem to return to all the hurt and anger. How do I help myself move forward by taking steps, and not go backwards. I continue to be in the same situation just different location.

*Sometimes it comes down to accepting that there are things you can't change. Leave yourself open to reconciliation, let the family member know you love them, no matter what, but that you can't deal with their actions, and then try to just let it go. One of the hardest things I've ever had to learn is that I can't fix everything, and sometimes you have to leave it in God's hands.

*Sometimes I think that until we recognize and admit our own failings we won't allow others the "freedom?" to make mistakes, especially hurtful ones. Since we are "perfect" why isn't everybody else??? Also, unless there's a common base of values, it's difficult to find common ground for reconciliation. If family relationships are based only on rivalry or jealousy, it's almost impossible for the heart to open to forgiveness. Your advice of finding the good rather than concentrating on the "bad" is exactly what one needs, but sometimes there's too much "trash" to wade through before one can even see the situation with any common sense.

A middle-o'-the-night thought about "wading through the trash", as I mentioned yesterday. 'Way back in the novitiate we used meditation books written by a Mother Fidelis (Notre Dame Sister, I believe). One thought I remember (and hopefully used effectively?) -- when she spoke of ridding ourselves of the "weeds" which were in our hearts -- pulling them one-by-one would take a life-time, but letting the FIRE of God's love burn them would accomplish the job quickly. That might solve the "wading" and "trash" problems, neither one of which is a pleasant pastime, and could get one bogged down or discouraged for a long time! One could carry the simile further and say it also destroys the trash more totally!

*Maybe one has to pray for conversion for that person; deliverance; freeing of any bondage, occult etc., from ancestors.

*Boy, this is tough for me to answer, and frankly I am honest enough to say that I am not the best person to answer this question. What I can do is reflect on what it is my wife must have gone through in terms of trying to deal with me, but also trying to not give up on the love that she had for me and the hope that she had for us. I can offer no advice, since most who would be aware of my circumstances or who had first hand experience of the circumstances probably would think or did think that my wife was nuts for even thinking of staying with me. That hurts me more deeply than anything ever has. I really KNEW inside of me that I loved her deeply and that I could be a great person, but I had severely damaged her trust, and quite frankly the trust of ALL of those around me. I am thankful that with each day that passes I can perhaps show those that are “in the know” how much I have changed, and not only that she and I have survived…..but that we have thrived! I suppose my only answer to your question that I can relate to would be patience, some distance, and faith. With the combination of those 3, at least in my specific case, one has the ability to take a step away, not lose the relationship altogether, and have time to reflect and perhaps pray to better understand what approach should be taken and if it is worth it. I am sorry I cannot offer much more here, but in truth I do not feel fairly qualified to answer the question, and am somewhat embarrassed to even try given that frankly I have been that very family member that you are asking about.

Thank you for the opportunity to have me reflect. It always brings back some degree of pain, but in the end I come away smiling, because I know I have overcome, and it truly is a reminder to me of how blessed I am, and how much there is for me to be thankful for.

*This has been such an incredibly difficult year for me and I am so disappointed that I have allowed myself to create distance between me and God. Please know that I am working on finding my way back.

I find it ironic that you are asking for input on when a family member has caused or is causing more abuse than one can take. As you know, I have been in this situation more times than I care to admit and if your email had come a week ago, I would have responded "you do everything you can to get out of that abusive situation." But a lot has changed in a week. I finally found the time to read "The Shack" and just finished it yesterday. The only thing I can say after reading this book is, WOW. I have a completely different perspective on so many things after reading this book. I realized how powerful and rewarding the gift of forgiveness can truly be and how hatred, anger and bitterness can eat you up inside. I have been walking around angry and bitter this past year and it has allowed me to become someone I don’t like very much. They are all such exhausting emotions. I have decided to relieve myself of these negative emotions and choose to forgive instead. I have chosen not to judge my abusers but to forgive them. And as in "The Shack," just because you choose to forgive does not mean you forget. I learned that I cannot change others but that perhaps leading by example may cause change. I learned that I should "practice what I preach."

So you ask, "what do you do when a family member has caused or is causing more abuse than one can take?" and my answer is "you forgive and you pray."

*Many times there are some cards, e.g. Blue Mountain, that, many times can say things that we cannot say. I frequently use them when I come across/confront/try to make peace with family/friends.

*I strongly believe that if one has tried to talk to that family member, has tried to truly to make peace and find out what really is the root of the problem. and that family member is still bent on causing harm, then I would detach myself completely from that person/problem. We cannot help someone who does not want to be helped or just wants to be in turmoil. But we do have a choice to not allow ourselves to be dragged down and continue to be surrounded by such negativity and abuse because of that family member's behavior. Life is too precious to be in turmoil and surrounded by such negativity. Like the saying goes, we can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family, but we can choose not to be surrounded by negativity and abuse.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Do You See

In this Sunday’s Gospel we find Jesus asking again, “What do you want?” The response, “That I may see.” Blessed are those who see. I have been especially blessed this week to see much beauty.

I visited Starved Rock State Park yesterday, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago. This may be the peak week for fall colors in our area, and yesterday was perfectly sunny and temperate. Even as I drove I-80 the occasional bright red of maples and flaming bushes captured my attention. At Starved Rock, I hiked numerous trails along 100 foot rock formations of St. Peter’s Lime - don’t know how it got its name - and lush canyons, canopied by clouds of yellow and orange yellow leaves, with some red splashed here and there. There were several falls, and cliff sites along the Illinois River, giving one pause to soak in the serenity and breathtaking vistas.

At each resting place, ladybugs swarmed by the dozens much like flies at a meat market in some third-world country. Their size and color varied, but there was one constant: they flew as if blind, nor without a sonar system, crashing (painfully at times) into one’s face and other parts of the body. One hiker was talking with his wife when one of the ladybugs flew into his mouth.

I had brought a book to sit, read, and reflect upon. But surrounded by all that majestic wonder, I saw no need to read. Indeed I wondered what is so important to write, when all we need to do is observe, breathe it in with eyes and nostrils, and simply appreciate and give thanks. I shared as much last night with Sr. Marcan, a dear friend in Assisi Heights, MN. She said, “Oh, no. You have to write to help us see.” That’s quite a challenge. But I’m pleased to share the blessings of this past week.

Earlier, while on assignment to Modesto, CA, I was blessed to visit nearby Yosemite National Park, one of our nation’s best. The serpentine roads led past giant sequoias whose birth may be older than our nation, as well as deep gorges and vistas of snow-capped peaks. At the basin, El Capitan, Half Dome, and other granite columns tower over the canyon. Some years earlier I was foolhardy enough to scale Half Dome. This time the highlight was a 12-point buck about five feet away. We simply gazed at each other in silence and continued on our respective paths.

On Tuesday, while at my ministry at UIC (University of Illinois – Chicago Circle), I was sitting at a picnic table marveling at the beauty of the fall colors on some of the maples that line the walks. I also observed the students as they marched from one building to the next – hundreds of them, all rushing like armies of ants on a mission. I noticed one girl with three-inch heels, and so began to look at the shoes of the students as they marched by. I did not see two pairs that matched. Not only are we unique, so, too, our attire. Watching the students in their mad rush, brought to mind a poem penned by a Colombian friend:

I walked away from you that morning as I went to work.
I walked as if still asleep, absorbed with my plans.
I robed and bundled myself with my excuses.
I walked past you lost in my own thoughts.

Why did I not believe it was you, though you had said so?
How could I believe it was you, if all I saw was a little boy?
I saw him naked. I saw him. I saw him beaten.
I saw him sleeping. I saw him. I say him crying.
But I did not see you, my brother, crying out to me.

What do YOU see?

Friday, October 9, 2009

“Can you drink the cup…”

Jesus’ response to James and John when they asked for special treatment come judgment day was, “Can you drink from the cup that I drink?” (Mk 10:38). Now the question many may be wondering, and that I have been asked to address is, “Should we be drinking from the cup…given the fear of swine disease, etc.” Similarly, should we be holding hands at the Our Father and shaking hands at the Kiss of Peace, especially if the celebrant does not.

On Sunday, October 11, Blessed Damien of Molokai will be canonized. I cannot think of a more opportune moment to respond to the inquiry. St. Damien chose to risk his life, and ultimately lost it, to openly express his compassion and brotherhood for those who suffered leprosy. It is worth remembering that St. Francis of Assisi also feared this deadly disease and chose to stay away from its victims until his moment of conversion and then upon encountering a leper went to him and kissed him, free of all his fear.

There are accounts of indigenous people around the world drinking the blood or eating the heart of a valiant opponent so as to be made stronger themselves. As a child in Montelepre, Sicily, I remember standing for the first time in a long line as they slaughtered a cow and with cup in hand as I reached the front of the line, it was filled from the gushing blood. I was told it was good and healthy for us. When I took a sip, it was not what I expected, though I don't know what my expectations were. I only know that it was warm, and that it was not what I expected. I tossed it, and unfortunately a girl about the same age as I was standing next to me, and she was covered with the blood I tossed. To say she was not happy is an understatement. Thank God we soon thereafter moved to Canada, or she might have had her revenge.

I must say that as I travel the country each weekend I have observed that some parishes, and even some dioceses, have temporarily limited the distribution to the single species of the Body. However, most are still using both species. Also, I believe it has been the policy of the Church that no one has to extend their hands to others either at the Lord's Prayer or at the Kiss of Peace. It is an option, although so many do it that some may feel forced to participate. But I have observed some who choose not to participate, perhaps for health reasons.

Now as far the celebrant reaching out to others either at the Our Father or at the Kiss of Peace, I for one always try to, though I do not force the Deacon or altar servers if they are not inclined, and I generally go to those nearby to shake hands. Most willingly reach out even from a few pews back; a few give me their wrist instead of the hand. And that's fine with me.

I confess that I am one who strongly believes in the distribution of the Cup - even more than the Body, though by no means would I ever not distribute the Body. But the Cup has a special meaning. Jesus’ response to his apostles (and to us) implies that in receiving the Precious Blood we, too, are willing to give our own. We, too, are willing to take whatever risk to reveal our love for one another, our brotherhood and sisterhood. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t that what being a disciple…a saint is all about? More importantly, do we really believe it is the Blood of Christ? Do we really believe in his presence in the one next to us? in us?

During the beatification homily of Blessed Damien in 1995, Pope John Paul II said: "Holiness is not perfection according to human criteria; it is not reserved for a small number of exceptional persons. It is for everyone; it is the Lord who brings us to holiness, when we are willing to collaborate” despite the inherent fears and risks. Peace and joy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Of Words and Heart

Feast Our Lady of the Rosary ~ I was asked to celebrate Mass with the grade school children at St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna today on this feast day. I asked the kids where they would go if they won a free trip to anywhere in the world. Of course, Disney World was number one with many. And I asked them who they would bring with them if they could take any and as many as they would like. Not surprisingly, Mom, Dad, the family, and friends was the list of choice.

I said that the Rosary is the journey of a lifetime that Jesus and Mary invite ALL of us to take with them. Sometimes the journey is sad and sorrowful; sometimes it is joyful and full of life; sometimes it is so glorious it is beyond our wildest expectations; and sometimes it is like a light that helps us to see more clearly who we are and where we are going. Each of these are called the Mysteries of the Rosary – Sorrowful, Joyful, Glorious, and Luminous - that reveal the life of Jesus and Mary.

But the Rosary not only invites us to accompany Jesus and Mary on the mysteries of their life, it tells us that Jesus and Mary are with us, every step of the way, in the mysteries - the ups and downs - of our life. We are never alone.

There are two main prayers in the Rosary: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. The Hail Mary not only honors Mary as the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, it also reminds us that she is our mother and our model of faith. We know that God went to Mary, through the angel Gabriel, and asked her, “Mary will you do me a favor? I want to take on your flesh.” Of course, she said, “Yes”, and the greatest miracle happened. She gave birth to baby Jesus, who was God. At each Mass, God comes to us in the Eucharist and asks us, “Will you do me a favor? I want to take on your flesh.” And we say, “Amen”, which means “let it be”... let us become what we receive. If we say it with faith, a miracle begins to happen in us, too. We do become what we receive – the body of Christ.

Now the Our Father is very special because Jesus himself taught it to us. And the essence of the Our Father is that we want to do God’s will and to forgive each other. Each of the words is very important. But even more important than the words is whether we have truly opened our hearts and are aware of the one to whom we are praying.

Let me tell you a story. A bishop was traveling by ship when he saw an island in the distance. He asked the captain if anyone lived on the island and was told that only three holy men lived there. So the bishop became curious and asked to be taken there because he wanted to meet them. When he arrived, the three old men were there to welcome him. He asked if they were the holy men, and they said, “Oh, no. Not us. We are just simple people.” The bishop asked them if they prayed, and they said, “Yes.” When he asked them how they prayed, they said, “Oh Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are three and we are three. Have mercy on us.” The bishop said, “No, you cannot pray that way. Let me teach you how to pray.” So he taught them the Our Father, but they kept forgetting a word here and there. Finally, they had memorized the prayer, and the bishop felt proud of his work. He left them and went back to the ship. A few hours later as the ship was moving away they saw what looked like a white cloud or tornado coming at them. They could not make out what it was. As the cloud got closer they saw that it was the three old men running over the waves. When they got close enough they yelled to the bishop, “We forgot the words. Teach us again.” But he humbly said to them, “Go back and pray as you were doing. God already hears you.”

It’s good to pray the Rosary, with the Our Father and Hail Mary that we have been taught, but more important than the words is to open our hearts and to know that God is listening to our prayer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Healing Our Family Trees

Peace and joy to all. I was asked to share some thoughts on “Healing Our Family Trees.” As a lover of nature, one of the wonders of creation that has always amazed me is the great variety of plants and flowers, and the peace and harmony that I feel whenever I am blessed to be surrounded by its beauty. It connects me in a special way with our Creator. So much variety; each plant, each leaf, each petal unique. No two are alike, ever have been, or ever will be. God certainly loves variety.

I believe there is much we can learn from our extended family of creation – our brother trees and sister flowers, to paraphrase an expression of St. Francis of Assisi. I remember early one morning outside Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, GA, as I greeted folks coming to the 7:00 a.m. Mass, with my red suspenders and a cup of coffee in hand – I was not the celebrant at that Mass - I could not fail to see the tall trees across the parking lot swaying in the breeze, as if with arms raised praising God. I was reminded of a line from Henry David Thoreau’s, “Walden”, which says, “The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted, but few are the ears that hear it.” God’s presence is forever made manifest, though we often fail to take notice.

Years earlier at John 23rd Center, a retreat house in Hartford City, IN, I had learned to pay attention and to give thanks. We were instructed to look at the trees and flowers outside any window, then to take a step forward and expand our focus of attention, then to do it again. At each stop to see, appreciate, and give thanks for the wonder of that “masterpiece” of God framed by the window.

If we could only do the same with each other. All too often we only focus on some negative aspect of someone (even, or especially, a family member…even ourselves), something that gets under our skin and so penetrates our senses that it blinds us from seeing the goodness that also exists in that person. It’s as if we are looking at a tree in full blossom at springtime or radiant with fall colors, but only focus on a particular branch that seems dead. We fail to see and appreciate the greater beauty, that would blow us away if we but noticed.

Moreover, I saw a program on experiments that were done with plants, whereby words of kindness and love were spoken to the plants and they seemed to thrive and be more vibrant. The opposite reaction was observed when the words were of anger and hate; the plants began to die. They even did these experiments without speaking the words but merely writing them on cards and placing them next to the plants. Amazing, isn’t it?

So how do we heal our family trees? Perhaps by taking notice of ALL the aspects of another’s personality (their gifts as well as their apparent defects), by appreciating them and giving thanks, and by showering them with words of kindness and love (especially when we are with them), whether spoken or merely in our thoughts.