It is pretty easy these days to initiate a conversation or more accurately an argument by simply bringing up the Syrian Refugee crisis. Very quickly there are two polar opposite camps that debate, why we should or why we should not. Some will contend that it is simply the right thing to do while others, will argue about the current economic times and the need to look after home first. Add the fear of terrorism into the equation and you have a full-out brawl of ideology!
But I want to take us back to a much simpler time before I deal with any side of the above argument. It is the time of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to rest in order for the birth of Christ. There was no room! Nobody offered a room for the birth of the Christ child. Nobody opened the door to give shelter to a pregnant woman into their midst. We would all like to believe that we would open the door but the question is would we?
It might be easy for us to respond as the good Samaritan when assisting a pregnant woman but what about the homeless, the addict, the imprisoned, or the disabled? Do we provide the corporal works of mercy to all or to those that fit our bill and satisfy our need? And do we just “give” during the Christmas season because it is on our mind or do we “give” year round? I'm quite sure that the corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; Clothe the naked; Shelter the homeless; Visit the sick; Visit the imprisoned; Bury the dead, have no time limit on them.
What would our world be like if we chose to offer mercy each and every day instead of when we feel the need? How would our world be if we gave what we had instead of out of our excess? How do we respond to the passage in Luke that says,
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
All of us should feel a little bit of shame knowing that we haven’t helped our neighbours near or far when we could. We’ve all (including myself) cut a wide path around the beggar or the drunk. How quick we are to point fingers at others when we should really be pointing fingers at ourselves.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
We all have poor and destitute in our communities who we’ve chosen to ignore long before this wave of refugees. We’ve justified our reasons for not helping and yet now, we use those same or new poor to say we can’t open our borders to refugees. This should not be a choice on whether to welcome the Syrian refugees or to help those in our country. Instead it should be a wakeup call to simply act with mercy for all who live in our homeland and abroad! Don’t make this an either/or debate, do both!
Chris Smeaton is the Superintendent for Holy Spirit Catholic Schools located in southwest Alberta.
Article originally posted on December 30, 2015 on The Superintendent's Blog - Holy Spirit Catholic Schools
When I was studying for my education degree I had the opportunity to spend four months teaching English in Chile. If you know much about the country you already know the connection to the title of this post. Chile is a land flowing with lots and lots of wine. They produce some pretty amazing stuff.
One of my travel companions happened to be studying to be a sommelier, which is a fancy word for professional alcoholic who likes to complain about wine, or something like that. In all seriousness, when I was asking her about the program she was studying, one of the things she mentioned was that it’s actually really hard to fully enjoy wine when you get to a certain level of education and experience, because you know what should be a part of it, and you start to pick up all of the little flaws. I’ve met a sommelier who carried around a set of $1000 worth of crystal glasses in the trunk of his car because it was the only way he could truly enjoy wine. As my friend was describing all of this to me, I couldn’t help but be a little thankful that I didn’t know that much about red wine (my criteria was less than $10 and with a religious symbol on the bottle… before you judge me too harshly, at that point $10 bought a pretty decent bottle of wine in Chile).
In contrast, many of the Chileans I hung out with, who were by no means the sort of people you are going to judge them as being in just a moment, tended to drink $4 a bottle Gato Negro in an unholy cocktail known as a jote. In English the most polite translation of it is a turkey vulture, but it’s also a bit of vulgar slang. The drink itself though… I’m really going for suspense here… was a mixture of 1 part cheap red wine (I guess you could use the good stuff, but I think there’s a special place in hell for you if you do) and 1 part Coke.
As a liturgy nerd, I actually understand what my friend was saying about the wine, because it became so easy, once I had a bit of education and some experiences of outstandingly prepared and ministered Masses, to become hyper critical of the experience in other places. You know, Mass was nice, but that second communion hymn just wasn’t quite solemn enough, and I could swear one of those stands of flowers were silk instead of fresh. I know it’s the Body of Christ, but everyone knelt instead of standing after they received it and that’s all I could think about. They could at least look at what the entrance antiphon is when the pick the hymn for the Entrance procession. And seriously, announcements from the Ambo? Ruined the whole experience for me.
I'm not saying we shouldn't know everything we can about our Liturgies. How we pray is a pretty big reflection of who we are, and if we don’t really appreciate and understand as much as we can about the source and summit of our faith we are missing something huge. What I'm saying is we can kind of get hooked on the type of physical experience Mass is, whether that’s the design of the Church, the choir, the homily, the postures, etc. Of course they are all important. They are how we give our best to God and honor the presence of Christ that we are blessed with in the Eucharist. They are how we connect to the 2000 year old history of our Church, join in the unending hymn of praise with the choir of angels, and immerse ourselves so fully in the presence of Christ.
So then what am I saying? Well, for that we need to go back to the liquid abomination that is jote. You see, no one drank jote just because it tastes awesome (it doesn't). Jote is a party drink. Jote was part of a celebration, a feast, a festival, or a gathering of close friends. The jote itself wasn’t the purpose of the celebration, nor the best part, or the part you were supposed to savor. Jote was what people without a lot to spare brought to enhance the celebration. At the end of the night the memories weren't of what a fine vintage the jote was, they were of spending time playing football with your nephews, or bringing in the avocado harvest (okay, I hung out a lot with avocado farmers… that might not be the best example), celebrating graduation or winning the regional dance festival. The comparison to liturgy is that even the best we can bring to Mass, the best music we can offer, the best flowers we can afford, the best architect or building materials, the best art on the walls, are only there to enhance the real meaning of our communal worship, that Christ is present among us in the Eucharist. In an era where many young Catholics are searching for something that sets us apart, and searching for a part of our history that we feel like we lost some of, it can be easy to miss this. Certainly we need to care about these things, but when the Word is read it is God speaking to us, and when the bread is broken it is God feeding us. If the choir isn’t quite in tune with the angels, it’s up to us to focus on what is most important, the presence of God.
Busy can look differently to different people, but it’s probably safe to say we are all busy. Parent busy, student busy, work busy…Maybe it’s something we are trying to work on, or maybe it is something that we don’t even realize is taking over our life until we are completely burnt out. In any case, if we are running on fumes, missing out on being present with our friends and family, or struggling to fit prayer in to our day, I imagine that God had something different in mind for us.
Here are three ways that I have learned can help…even though I may have learned the hard way and am still working on it daily!
1. Be Realistic
When you are planning things ahead of time, it can be easy to say yes to a lot, without being realistic about it. It might seem plausible a week or two away to book several things in one day, or to think you can sneak in a visit with someone before an appointment, but life can throw all sorts of things at you. It takes practice to not say yes to everything. I always fail to remember that an 18 month old can definitely throw a curveball into my plans. I need to realistically remember that I’m not getting as much sleep as I once did and so I need to adjust accordingly. I would rather do a few things well than feel that I can’t keep up and that I’m wasting people’s time by being late, or doing a half way job. God wants us to thrive, not just survive.
2. Be Intentional
When we finally do get some down time it always seems to fly by and we don’t come out on the other end feeling more rested or accomplished. Try to figure out what you really need. Narrow down your priorities. For myself, when my daughter is napping, sometimes I “rest” by binge watching Netflix when what I actually need is to take a nap too. I try tricks like making that important phone call or sending an email first thing in the morning, rather than have it be on the back of my mind all day. I also know that if I don’t look ahead at my calendar once in a while I will have no clue what is scheduled and will end up double booking myself, or filling up a week with more than I (or my little daughter) can realistically handle. (This may depend on your personality type, organization is a work in progress over here!) Basically, I need to be taking time to slow down and have a good grasp of the workings of my life, rather than flying by the seat of my pants day to day. God is found in the quiet, and in our day and age we really need to be intentional to find that quiet time. I know for myself when quiet time is carved out to pray and connect with God I have more clarity and direction. God brings so much peace and is just waiting for us to seek Him out.
3. Be Present
When we are so busy it is very hard to focus on what we are currently doing. Living in the moment is much easier said than done. It is so important to truly be present. Most of the time if we are on our phones it isn’t for something important or pressing anyways. Social media can wait. Have meaningful conversation, really listen to people. Help with the dishes. All things that I need to work on. But it needs to be said. This has become achingly real for me as I watch my daughter grow before my eyes and think of all the missed moments while looking into a screen. If I remember correctly, I missed her first roll over because of Instagram. But I am actively seeking to not have my phone around when she is awake, because children notice what you are putting first. I never, ever, want my daughter to think my phone comes before her. And for those without children, it helps to remember that we are somebody’s children, and our parents and grandparents crave our attention too!
In this brand New Year lets take some time to ourselves to be quiet and reflect, as well as spend some quality time with our friends and family, and most importantly Christ. There is a lot of busyness that we can’t avoid, especially with children, or when trying to finish school, but there are ways we can adjust our priorities to put first things first. It's never too late to bring peace and calm to your daily life!
"Be still, and know that I am God!" -Psalm 46:10
People are hung up on what we do rather than what we are. What are we looking for in a marriage? Life-long love and commitment? Or life-long fancy vehicles and designer hand bags? (Are we even looking for marriage?) It shouldn't matter what a person does. We might benefit from looking for a spouse that is going to treat us like gold, not one that will just make sure we get our monthly supply of it.
For myself, when it comes to measuring my self-worth I've realized that I see things much more clearly when I have my priorities straight. Sometimes I get discouraged if I can't afford the clothes that I would like to wear, or I get jealous when other people's circumstances seem more desirable. But if my happiness depends on "things" then I will always be waiting for the next best. I have found that my happiness very much depends on how I am living, not what I own.
I'm not trying to say that having nice things or having a well-paying job is bad. I've met people with big incomes who have very happy, loving, Christ-centred homes. But I have also witnessed families who have very little and are so full of joy it's contagious. As well, a few years back I travelled to India and saw poverty we can't imagine and those beautiful people sure opened my eyes to what you "need" to be happy. I saw more smiling faces in those slums than I have ever seen walking down a busy street in Canada.
I know from experience that I am so content when I am making time for God in my life.
I know from experience that I feel amazing if I'm exercising and eating things that are the colour green. (As opposed to my diet of various kinds of sugar, flour and cheesy things).
I also know from experience that 8 hours of sleep does wonders for my attitude and my energy. (Although this is relative to how many kids you have...sometimes 4 hours is a victory!)
And finally, time spent with people rather than things is so much more fulfilling, and life giving!
Personally, I would feel truly accomplished if I could simply master those 4 things. Heck, I would feel accomplished if I could do at least one of those on a daily basis! So, that is what I'm going to try to do! Sounds simple enough right?
I’m not sure which I love more, liturgy, or making bad analogies. Fortunately for me (maybe not as fortunately for you), I recently had an opportunity to connect these two loves! On September 21st, I was one of the lucky 60,000 or so folks who got to witness the spectacle of an AC/DC concert.
It was exactly what any AC/DC fan would expect from a concert. There were face melting guitar solos, Brian Johnson sounded… well exactly like Brian Johnson. The played thunderstruck and pretty much every other one of their classics. The cannons came out during ‘For Those About to Rock’, and you knew that was the last song. Brian Johnson was wearing his trademark wool cap, and Angus was wearing what I’m pretty sure was the exact same school uniform he’s worn at every concert and in every photo since the 6th day of creation.
Now, if you know much about the band, you’ll know one of the biggest criticisms they receive is that pretty much every song they've ever written sounds the same. This hasn't stopped them from release 17 studio albums in their career, and selling out shows around the world consistently for four decades though. You see, despite that criticism, despite the fact we all knew exactly what the show would be like, despite the fact that it pretty much felt like one song from start to finish, and despite the pouring rain, we all had a great time. It wasn't because we were treated to something new and fancy. There was no novelty really at all in fact. It was more because our expectations were pretty much perfectly fulfilled. How is this possible? Because we knew exactly who AC/DC is and what they do.
Let me put it another way… if you had only ever heard Hayseed Dixie’s ‘A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC’ (that’s a real album by the way) then went to the show, your expectations would be too mismatched with what was going on around you to really appreciate and understand the experience. You might like it, you might not, but it wouldn’t be what you came to the stadium looking for. The same goes for Mass. If we don’t have enough of the right kind of exposure and education about it, then we can get in a microcosm of our own parish experience and experience some pretty significant barriers to the presence of Christ when we’re somewhere besides our home.
This is where the bad Catholic analogy comes in (If analogetics were a thing I’d be the Scott Hahn of them!). I’m not joking when I say this, but about 2/3 of the way through the concert I started thinking about how similar this was to going to Mass, especially for me as a liturgical musician. I honestly started thinking about how if we were as good at preparing for and ministering at our Sunday celebration as these guys were at preforming their music, there’d be no more arguing about things like whether OCP is an okay resource, or why any instrument that isn’t an organ is wrong, or when we should really be standing and kneeling despite what the Bishops say. I think something that’s happened with our Liturgy is that we stopped learning enough about what it really is and what it really means, and so we all end up showing up on Sunday with a set of expectations that might conflict with our pew mates, and that can’t possibly be met. I don’t mean necessarily the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but more the subtle things about our worship. Things like the difference between communal prayer and devotional prayer, what an antiphon is, what terms like ‘solemn’ and ‘reverence’ really mean, and how they all fit in to the big picture of the way we celebrate the Eucharist and the Word of God.
I really believe as Catholics we need to re-claim Liturgy, because we’ve lost some of the richness. When someone claims we need to jazz it up to attract more young people, or that people aren’t coming to church because of _________________ (pretty much any specific tradition in the Liturgy, you’ll find people claiming them all), I get the impression they are showing up on Sunday expecting Pizza Hut, and are surprised when they get a hand tossed, thin crust, forno baked Sicilian flatbread (Yes! Two bad analogies in one article!). Now please don’t interpret this to mean that I think we need to reverse everything done in Vatican II, smash all the guitars, and say everything in Latin all the time. I love a lot of the good, contemporary liturgical music out there and will go toe to toe with anyone who says it has no place. I also appreciate the history of chanting, and am transported by the beauty of a simple antiphon, sung harmoniously and ringing out over the congregation.
I guess what I’m saying is my appreciation of liturgy, my love for it, comes from a pretty deep understanding of it, specifically because some really brilliant people have shared it with me and taught me about it in the same way a jeweler might examine every facet of a precious stone (THREE BAD ANALOGIES!!! I think that’s a new record for me). I’ve been to liturgies where the whole congregation is like-minded people, just like the fans at an AC/DC concert, and in those times, regardless of the flavor of tradition we are celebrating through, the experience of Christ’s presence is almost overwhelming. Learning, teaching and sharing more passion for it can only serve to unite us as Catholics and deepen our relationship with Christ present in the Eucharist, the Word broken open for us, the congregation gathered, and the rich tradition of the Church. I think it’s exactly what we need to be… Wonderstruck. (I’m so, so sorry for that pun).
Have you had the opportunity to be in the presence of a Saint?
I mean an official acclaimed-by-the-Church, 'capital-S' Saint?
Can even a small experience, an experience shared with thousands of others
have the ability to change your life in a positive and deeply meaningful way?
I think we have all met someone, or have been in the presence of someone, who has remained embedded in our memory. This person might have inspired you or lent you hope, reached out to you, or lifted you up. This person might have taught you, or forgave you. This person may have had patience with you or protected you, or noticed you in a time of need. This person may have prayed with you and for you. This person loved you.
As I say this, people emerges from your memory right?
The reality that we remember people like this is why we are marking this Feast Day today. On this day we honour Pope Saint John Paul II, and give thanks to God for giving this man to the Church and to us. We remember him because we acknowledge his sanctity, his saintliness, and the impact that he has had in our lives (even fleetingly). We honour him because of how obviously he has called us towards sanctity ourselves.
Pope Saint John Paul II was many things during his life on earth. If I were to choose just one adjective to describe this great man, it would be to call him a loving-encourager. He stood up for 27 years, after 32 years of priesthood, as our Supreme Pontiff, the Shepherd of the Church, the Successor to St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ – with a strong voice and magnanimous heart that encouraged us through his teaching and prayer. He gave us so much, and all along continued to call us towards our own vocations of holiness.
For the past several weeks, I have had an image I found on the internet as my computer's desktop image. It is Saint John Paul II alongside his own quote:
"Real love is demanding.
I would fail in my mission if I did not tell you so.
Love demands a personal commitment to the will of God."
This wisdom, and realistic acknowledgement of the challenges of everyday life is a fruitful reminder for me in my own vocation. This call to love comes from a homily given in 1979, one year after his election as pope.
In 2002, on Thursday July 25th at 4pm, I had a personal encounter with this Saint during World Youth Day in Toronto. Immediately, I wrote this reaction in my sketchbook:
"THE POPE IS HERE!! JOHN PAUL II IS HERE! HIS HOLINESS IS HERE! He drove past, and I was 6 feet away! 6 FEET! Thank you God for this blessing and opportunity."
I then continued with a few of my own notes from his opening address to the giant crowds:
"Jesus did not proclaim the beatitudes, he lived them! The beatitudes are a picture of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. To those, Jesus speaks, calling them Blessed. If you look at Jesus, you see what it means to be meek & merciful, to be a peacemaker. Let us listen to this Voice...let us listen to the voice of Jesus. The church today looks to you with confidence to BE the Beatitudes. Only Jesus is the TRUE MASTER! He knows what is in each person! Today He calls you to be the salt and light of the world. Young people, answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts. He is counting on you – never forget! He needs you and your enthusiasm to be the bringers of Truth in the New Millennium."
This was arguably one of the strongest and most consistent messages of St. John Paul II – calling out to young people – teaching us, praying for us, pointing us to Jesus Christ and towards holiness, courage, and action.
As I sat listening to him and writing his words, I knew that he was making a papal address to thousands of people gathered around him, and to the whole world – but I also felt like he was speaking just to me. It was a profound experience, and one that made my eyes leak.
A Saint is not made in heaven.
A Saint is truly made on earth, as a person living his or her life in the place and time God has chosen them.
We can pray that we meet in our lives at least one person who we can call a 'living saint'.
These living saints are far more numerous than the number of officially canonized Saints recognised by the Church. All of our cherished 'capital-S' Saints were already recognised, long before their arrival in heaven or their canonization, by the people who knew them during their earthly life as holy and saintly people – as living saints.
A saint is someone who knows God's presence, and looks to Jesus Christ for life and hope. A saint follows in a humble way the path of God's will for them. A saint is one who is recognised by others as holy—in this life—through their choices, words, actions, and example.
A saint lives his or her life ready to respond to God's call. They are ready to serve, give, suffer, and pray, according to the circumstances they find themselves in, and the talents they have been given. A saint inspires others to follow their gaze, and to walk in the same direction as they are going – and that direction is towards Jesus Christ.
Using this description, it becomes clear that I was in the presence of a saint that day in 2002: a holy and blessed man who was given a huge responsibility in the world, and has lived his life in a way that has directed the gaze of hundreds of thousands towards Christ.
In some of his first words of substance as our pope, Saint John Paul II began his inaugural homily with these words
first of all:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." He continued,
"our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and, with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ."
In his turn, Saint John Paul II was given the same role Jesus gave Saint Peter – to be Shepherd of Christ's Flock. He also followed carefully the advice Saint Paul gave to the young Saint Timothy:
"Proclaim the message; be persistent in any case; teach, convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience; always be sober and alert, endure suffering; do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully."
(2 Tim 4:1-5)
St. John Paul II lived this out, right to his last day on earth, all the while urging us to do the same. His last appearance in public was one of love and suffering – he did not speak a word. He just gave the world his blessing by tracing the Cross of Christ over us.
His last words were in Polish, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday 2005: "Let me go to the house of the Father."
Let us take a moment today to thank God heartily for the ways that this holy witness has inspired us, has given us example, and has urged us to follow his gaze to Jesus Christ.
Homily originally given in Calgary, Alberta on October 22, 2015 - The Feast of Pope Saint John Paul II
“I am in the Aleph, the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time. I'm at a window, looking out at the world and its secret places, poetry lost in time and words left hanging in space...sentences that are perfectly understood, even when left unspoken. Feelings that simultaneously exalt and suffocate.” –Paulo Coehlo
The “Aleph” for me is my daughter who has in 2 short weeks changed my entire perspective on meeting with others through grace and meeting gracefully with God. Aurea has enabled me to place an experience to the words that I teach in my classroom, “God must be intelligible to humans beings and must be wholly experienced in tangible ways- We need only to look at the example of doubting Thomas to know that human beings must experience Christ’s mystery versus it being solely an intellectual exercise- True faith must be experienced in the beauty of the world which points to its inherent goodness and the Truths about God that can be physically touched.” When we can begin to touch God in our lives tangibly everyday, Sunday becomes an everyday experience versus an event at the ends of our weeks.
Aurea, who depends on me for now, is also on loan to me to nurture and teach love to. I participate with her in Coehlo’s Aleph, and in small ways begin to participate in the Aleph with others as well. There is a power in the meeting of eyes that connects souls and allows humanity to experience the Kingdom here on earth now. There’s no reason to wait to find your Aleph, but rather create it through habits of care, nurture, and time for the glory of God and the purpose of the incarnate nature of Christ being placed within reach on earth through us.
When God dares us to taste and see the goodness of his love, this means to reach out to others who need our help, it means to invite strangers to our tables, and most of all it means looking deeply into the eyes of the people all around us and celebrating their joys as well as delicately participating in their suffering; just as Jesus did on his journey to Jerusalem.
The thing with Pope Francis, though, is he doesn't fit nicely into any of our political parties in Canada. With all of his emphasis on caring for the environment and for the poor and refugees, you’d think he’d vote Liberal or NDP. But then he’s pro life, which is a position that those parties won’t even allow their members to hold!
And it’s even worse in the States! Everyone I know praises Pope Francis- my atheist friends, my protestant friends, fallen away Catholics… my only friends who are critical of him are Conservative Catholic Americans. You’d think conservative Catholics would be the most firmly in the Pope’s camp! This is probably not representative of all conservative Catholic Americans, but I know several. They object to the Pope on the following grounds; he believes in Climate Change ( an ‘error’ they ascribe to his scientific community being misled), he’s critical of capitalism, he’s opposed to capital punishment, and he wants us to take in more refugees. Interestingly, I share the same faith with those guys, and yet I am with the Pope on every one of those topics! (Who I also share the faith with, I’d like to point out.)
Now to be clear, we are not required as Catholics to believe in climate change or to be opposed to capital punishment. All of the people I mentioned are well informed, and have done their research, and give their Ascent of Faith to the Church. But I want to suggest that what is happening is that we align ourselves so closely with our political ideologies that we sometimes confuse our ideologies with Church teaching. I want to challenge anyone who has done that to be open and ask the question- what is it the Pope is asking? We are so politicized in North America, that we have politicized our faith. The term “Religious Right” is used so commonly that it discredits both the political right and Christianity in one swipe!
Though the Pope is calling for some degree of change at the societal level, he is not calling for an overthrow of capitalism or for everyone to vote for leftist parties. I think his message is one that should challenge all of us, wherever we fall on the political spectrum. When he emphasizes the environment or love of the poor, he points at a root cause that I think our whole culture is guilty of- rampant consumerism. The call isn't to tax consumerism and so discourage it- a decidedly political solution to the problem. The call is for the transformation of hearts- to conversion. A decidedly Christian solution.
Pope Francis has been Pope for over 2 years now, decrying the sins of consumerism and asking that we be a Church that is poor and for the poor. In that time, how many of us have actually changed our consumer habits to align them with the Pope’s values? I say it’s time we heeded the call, repented of our sins, and opened ourselves to the mercy that comes with repentance.
Peter van Kampen
I love it when Pope Francis speaks, or goes somewhere, because no matter what else, I'm going to:
Of course his latest trip was like that, but times a thousand because he went to the land of hyperbole and spin, the land of the free! (I’m just teasing, I love the US) Every presidential hopeful seemed to find some way to be able to say “SEE! He agrees with me! I should be president!” In the aftermath of all of this I read a lot of commentary from Catholics, and I heard two opinions come forth again and again. One on what the media would assign as the ‘left’ saying that Pope Francis is just sooooo progressive (never mind Pope Benedict XVI laid some key theological foundation and also did a lot of the really cool things that we see Pope Francis doing… Benedict looked like emperor Palpatine so he must be all evil and religious), and on the other, the folks the media would call the ‘right’ lamenting that he’s not firm enough in his condemnation of various cultural sins in the western world. I think the most extreme thing I read was that the papacy has ‘fully abandoned’ the pro-life movement to the wolves of modern liberalism and was destroying the family.
The thing I find so fascinating, is that if you look deep enough, both of these seemingly opposing positions come from the teachings of the same guy.
It seems like our religion is forced to split itself into camps. The people who hear the mercy side of the message, and the ones who answer the call to stamp out sin. I find folks who tend towards the first camp know the merciful stories like the woman caught in adultery, or Zaccheaus up in the tree, and the folks who tend towards the second camp love the stories like Jesus cleansing the temple. I actually read an article not long ago about that one that had a title along the lines of ‘5 times Jesus didn't act very Christlike’. Seriously… I'm not joking.
So then the question is how do we, in our daily lives, navigate these seemingly opposing ways of being, when we’re called to be loving and non-judgemental in a world that endorses all kinds of sin that we’re called to fight against? I'm not going to pretend my answers to these questions are perfect, but I think if we look at all of our role models together, starting with Jesus, and looking at Popes like Francis and Benedict XVI honestly, we can get a decent idea of how to proceed. And so with that in mind, please find below my checklist of how to show the love of Christ to someone, and still disagree with sin:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you in return” (emphasis mine)
I get chills reading that because all at once it demands I act with love and mercy, but still hold a high standard. I need to measure out my love in the standard of truth and courage because I need others to be truthful and courageous. But, I need to measure out mercy and pardon by the barrelful because over and over again, I've relied on the mercy and pardon of the people I love, and I'm sure as heck gonna need it from God when my judgement comes.
River guide, Engineer, Youth Minister, and now Teacher. The path God has given me is anything but straight. I’ve been blessed with an adventurous life and a wonder wife to share it with. I spend my days teaching math and physics, and my free time exploring the world’s rivers and mountains. Sharing the world through the lens of faith with my students is one of the coolest things I can imagine.
When I am in it, I am in it. I know it, my husband knows it, and my daughter, without really knowing what IT is, knows it.
It is a dark and lonely place. The old adage “you could be in a crowded room and still feel alone.” Yeah. That is somewhat true. It is lonely in the people sense. No one understands, no one gets me, my body is present but my mind is not. In that sense, yes it is extremely lonely. What makes depression a tad different is that you’re not truly alone, your inner monologue that plays over and over like a broken record keeps you company, and OH what company it keeps!
When you have lived over a decade with this voice in your head it can easily become the one you trust the most. These last few weeks this voice and I have had our regular love affair. The hard part is, just like any love affair you tend to tune everyone else out, have your blinders on and focus solely on that one object of all your affection.
This is getting weird, I can feel you shifting in your seat saying “what the heck is this? This chick is off her rocker”. You would be right sir. I am off my rocker.
Setting the love affair analogy aside for a minute, let me describe the physical effects depression has. Have you ever run a full out marathon, like the full 26 miles? Yes? Well, look at you, aren’t you the epitome of health and fitness! I bet you like to casually bring it up in random conversation. Like, we could be talking about cheese and you say, “yes, this Gouda reminds me of the smooth pavement in the 26 mile marathon I ran last week.” And I would go on eating my cheese loathing you.
As you can guess, I have not run a full marathon, but I imagine the pure exhaustion I have is similar to that of having just run one. How would I know? Well, there was a study that said if you are pregnant, you use up as much energy as that of a marathon runner. At least I think there was, or maybe I just read that in PEOPLE, but I would like to believe it’s true. It makes me feel like a super hero. “OH, you ran a marathon? I grew a LEG!”
When I am in it, the very thought of anything exhausts me. It really is a true feat to just get my kids food. Every step throughout the day, from the moment I wake up, every decision, every movement, feels as though I am wading through 4 feet of thick goopy mud, and when it gets really bad, it’s 5 feet… and that‘s how tall I am. Yes, I am short. It gets hard to breath, and it gets hard to think of anyone else. With great difficulty, I will admit, a lot of those days, it is hard to think of my children first, and then not get annoyed that Ezzie needs a diaper change. This may seem selfish, this may seem like I am a terrible mom, or person. Trust me, that is what I am saying to myself already in those times.
My long term companion that I have been with for over a decade has convinced me that I am that. I am a terrible mother, I am a terrible spouse. What is the point? Why do I try? Why am I here? What good am I? You look awful! Why did you eat that slice of cheesecake? Oh dear GOD, why did you eat the WHOLE cheesecake?
I can hardly believe that anyone would say such things, but this is what the big D says to me. This is what I believe, for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time. So why then would I not just break up with this companion, why would I continue this abusive relationship?
Here is the simple and sad answer. It’s familiar. I know it so well. I know the ins and outs of this relationship; therefore, it can’t really disappoint me. Colm teases that I like to burrow. When I am cozy and tired. I burrow. That is what I do when I am in it. I burrow. Quite frankly, breaking up with someone you have lived most of your adult life with just can't be easily done. Have you tried it? There has been way too much investment of time. It is not a switch you turn off forever. Like any long term relationship you've had, there is a permanent imprint. Unlike a real relationship though, depression is lurking around a hidden corner trying to win you back. This relationship is one that will probably be on and off again for years, maybe my whole life. It is ingrained in every fibre of my being, and only those closest to me know when I am going through it….well now those I am closest to and all those who are reading this, in my head it’s thousands.
So, the truth is, I guess, between God, Colm, and depression, I am a polygamist...
Now my point. Where is the solace, the glimmer of hope, in an otherwise depressing post? My solace and my hope is when I break up with my companion, and get through the mud, come up for air, and see the light again, I think to myself, “how, how can anyone, how does anyone get through that without faith?” The same time that I am being told how awful I am, and how there is nothing but sorrow, I am screaming out “Where are you GOD?! Why is this happening?” Through the mud, through the dark, when I have doubt, by some miracle, I still fight with Him. Even when I become complacent and burrow in my depression, I can still take comfort that He hears me. My relationship with Him is just as pronounced as my relationship with Depression. When I am in love with depression I am fighting with God, and when I am in love with God, I am fighting depression. Whether you are fighting or loving, you are still in a relationship, at least that’s what my priest says.
Along with being the creator of Deep Thoughts Big Red Chair, in which she exploits her children for laughs, Sharon is also proud to be the co-creator and illustrator of the Saint of the Day for Kids app. Having attended film school, giving her life for two years with NET ministries, being a former parish and school youth minister, writing and playing music on the side, working for the Diocese of Saskatoon, and being a wife and mother, Sharon’s skill in NOT knowing what she wants to be when she grows up has allowed her to venture into exciting territory. She does not plan on changing that any time soon. With all of the gifts, projects, and talent, the main focus of it all has been evangelizing in a unique way.