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Archive for August, 2014


Sister Joan, is the author of more than 50 books. Often controversial among Catholics because of her progressive views, her spiritual writing has appealed to people of all faith traditions and deepened the  spiritual lives of millions.

Sister Joan, is the author of more than 50 books. Often controversial among Catholics because of her progressive views, her spiritual writing has appealed to people of all faith traditions and deepened the
spiritual lives of millions.

One of the best, most prolific and most provocative (i.e., always controversial) of Catholic spiritual writers, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, has yet another new book, this one called The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

Sister Joan has a knack for saying one thing after another that makes you go “Wow! What an insight!” Or, “Wow! What a turn of phrase!”

Such as this about our “headless society”:

    “Retirement can be the worst thing that happens to a person in this society, because we tell them, ‘Here’s your watch. Here’s the banquet. See you around.’ Except we don’t ever really care to see you again. In 24 hours, your name is off your door. The drawers are empty. Nobody ever calls to say, ‘You know, when you had this case, how did you decide it?’

    “Nobody sits them down and tries to tap into their experience. In our youth-centered society, experience is getting short shrift, and it’s showing in our decision-making. It’s showing in our whole attitude toward the corporate world.

    “How does it show? If it’s not new, it’s not newsworthy. And if it’s new, you have no criteria for comparison, no criteria for evaluation of any kind. We’ve become a headless society.”

Or this about the “commuter generation” ruts . . .

    “Given the nature of our industrialized society, we hear a lot about how we spend all our working lives earning money for when we don’t earn money, but then we don’t know what to do with it, because there’s nothing else we do except earn money during these years.

    “When you think of the old agricultural schedules, there were so many months a year that you just waited for the seed to lie fallow. It changed your life, too. Why did agricultural societies have all those feast days? They had them to bring people together; they had them to break life up for outreach.

    “We have moved so quickly from that kind of society to this ‘commuter generation’ society that there’s very little that fills those gaps. I argue that you just simply have to get yourself involved in other, life-giving things. Don’t get in that rut.”

Those are excerpts of an interview with Sister Joan in the August 2014 edition of “U.S. Catholic” that can be found here. Check it out.

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*The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

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Fearless Journalist and man of deep faith, James Foley

Fearless Journalist and man of deep faith, James Foley

A love letter, of sorts, that photojournalist James Foley* (killed at the hands of ISIL savages who will have to be stopped by some unfortunate but “necessary evil” in the form of serious force) wrote to his alma mater Marquette University about his first imprisonment as a hostage in Tripoli:

    Marquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.

    With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher. But Marquette was perhaps never a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist.

    Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

    I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

    I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

    Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

    Later we were taken to another prison where the regime kept hundreds of political prisoners. I was quickly welcomed by the other prisoners and treated well.

    One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

    I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

    “Jimmy, where are you?”

    “I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.”

    “Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest.

    “Are they making you say these things, Jim?”

    “No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?”

    “Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t.

    “They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

    “I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

    The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

    “We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

    I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

    My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

—————–

*A statement from Marquette today:

“Marquette University mourns the loss of James Foley. A prayer service planned for Tuesday. “The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist James Foley, Arts ’96. We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James’ family and friends during this very difficult time. James, who majored in history at Marquette, had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world – a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder.”

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In Christian discipleship, every day is Thanksgiving Day.

The “General Thanksgiving,” found in The Book of Common Prayer, is the first prayer I pray every morning to prepare my heart and mind for more prayer.

To begin a prayer life, or to enhance or jump-start your current prayer life, pray the “General Thanksgiving” first thing every morning, slowly, reflectively, faithfully.

Again, pray it every morning, and repeatedly during the day and night, as needed.

Daily, regular prayer will transform your heart, mind, body and spirit–and transformation is what the Christian life is all about.

It’s not about rewards for good behavior, or punishments for the other kind, but all about being transformed into the likeness of the one who is on the side of life.

Pray it . . . .

    “A General Thanksgiving,”
    From The Book of Common Prayer

    Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
    done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
    creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
    and for the mystery of love.

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    We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
    the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

    We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
    efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
    and delight us.
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    We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
    that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

    Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
    truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
    obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
    through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
    again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

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    Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
    make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
    places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

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The other side of "Paradise": Homeless man in a San Ignacio park in BZ

The other side of “Paradise”: Homeless man in a San Ignacio park in BZ

“Why treat that common nobody on the ground as if he is somebody? I shouldn’t judge poor peasants, men or women, by their surface appearance, nor by their apparent mental capacities. And this is hard to do, since very frequently they scarcely seem to have the semblance or the intelligence of reasonable beings, so gross and offensive are they. But, turn the coin, and you will see by the light of the faith that the Son of God, Whose will it was to be poor, is represented to us by these people.”

— ST. Vincent

    *St. Vincent de Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660) was a priest of the Catholic Church who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. De Paul was renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and is known as the “Great Apostle of Charity.”

St Vincent de Paul

St Vincent de Paul

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In a reflection on beauty and happiness in Atlantic Magazine, writer and historian Cody C. Delistraty, a writer I like a lot, calls attention to another writer I like, Alain de Botton, and deBotton’s wonderful take on McDonald’s and Westminster Cathedral.

And wouldn’t you know there’s a soul-deadening McDonalds “Restaurant”–if any quickie food joint can legitimately be called a restaurant–across the street from the great cathedral.

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Delistraty writes:

    In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton weighs the feeling of walking into an “ugly” McDonalds in the Westminster area of London compared to the feeling of entering the “beautiful” Westminster Cathedral across the street. He says that because of the harsh lighting, the plastic furniture, and the cacophonous color scheme (all those bright yellows and reds), one tends to feel immediately “anxious” in the McDonalds.

    What one feels in the Westminster Cathedral, however, is a calmness brought on by a series of architectural and artistic decisions: the muted colors (greys and bleak reds), the romantic yellow lighting that bursts out onto Victoria Street, the intricate mosaics, and the vaulted ceilings. Although the Westminster Cathedral has the same principle elements of architecture as the McDonald’s—windows, doors, floors, ceilings, and seats—the cathedral helps people to relax and reflect, where the fast food restaurant causes one to feel stressed and hurried.

    It seems part of humans’ appreciation of beauty is because it is able to conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope.

Click here for more of Delistraty’s stuff.

And here for more on de Botton.

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"Big Rock," the remote and spectacular waterfall and swimming hole where I broke my ankle. Can't wait to get back someday.

“Big Rock,” the remote and spectacular waterfall and swimming hole where I broke my ankle. Can’t wait to get back someday.

So two Fridays ago I had nothing to do on a hot afternoon and nature called, and I don’t mean the way nature calls when you have a full bladder.

Nature called me up to Mountain Pine Ridge, to my favorite place on earth, which is “Big Rock Falls,” one of the most interesting of the many spectacular waterfalls in Belize.

Getting to Big Rock requires a steep climb down a somewhat treacherous trail and I’ve made the climb up and down it a number of times, without incident or accident, by carefully watching every step I take, and taking every step consciously slow.

I was able to climb back to my truck and stopped off for a brewskie at the appropriately named "Malfunction Junction," where my friend Jim sells cold cerveza. He also iced down my swelling ankle.

I was able to climb back to my truck and stopped off for a brewskie at the appropriately named “Malfunction Junction,” where my friend Jim sells cold cerveza. He also iced down my swelling ankle.

On the aforementioned afternoon, however, I lost my Zen-like focus, briefly neglected to take it slow and slipped down, twisting my leg beneath my hindquarters, pretzel-like, before sliding down the steep and narrow trail a good 10 feet.

I have a right ankle broken in two places to show for this Friday afternoon outing.

Next time nature calls, I might just go to the bathroom and stay home.

But I probably won’t. I will be grounded at home for a number of weeks, but you can’t keep a good man down.

You can’t even keep a man like me down.

Great swimming holes down from the waterfall at Big Rock, one of my favorite places on earth.

Great swimming holes down from the waterfall at Big Rock, one of my favorite places on earth.

Then again, I think I’ll stay away from waterfalls and take up something safe, like . . . . this:

 

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“As one of my patients told me, ‘If I could give up my right arm–literally, have it amputated–to escape the pain of depression forever, I would take that deal in a heartbeat.'”

–Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D., in The Depression Cure

In March, veterans' groups planted almost 2,000 flags on the National Mall trying to call attention to the number of suicides by vets.

In March, veterans’ groups planted almost 2,000 flags on the National Mall trying to call attention to the number of suicides by vets.

Robin Williams was such a national treasure, who gave so many people around the world so much joy and pleasure (including U.S. troops and troubled vets), that maybe some of the ripple effects of his tragic end will be positive effects:

— Maybe it will heighten awareness once and for all about the severity of mental-health issues including severe depression and addiction too.

Maybe such awareness will go a long and much-needed way in removing the lingering stigmas associated with depression and related issues. As enlightened as we are in these times about physical illnesses and diseases, many people are still stuck in attitudes and beliefs about one step removed from the Dark Ages when it comes to mental and emotional issues.

— Maybe the national conversation about Robin’s tragedy will include discussion and a much-needed look at what we’re going to do as a nation about the suicide rate among veterans–22 vets kill themselves every day in America.

(Let that sink in–our veterans are killing themselves in astounding numbers in a military-related epidemic that nobody really wants to address.)

— Maybe the national conversation will include some talk about how to deal with all the addicts and mentally-ill people without homes on our streets.

Maybe we’ll stop criminalizing homelessness with draconian city ordinances and deal with the undertows (i.e., mental illness, addiction, etc.).

— Maybe we’ll drop some of the judgmentalism, biases and ignorance that are heaped upon people with mental-health issues, since it’s judgmentalism and bias and ignorance that aggravate the problems and deter people who desperately need help from seeking the help.

Mentally ill, suicidal and addicted people live in additional darkness of shame and even lower self-esteem that people with heart disease and diabetes and physical illnesses don’t have to cope with.

— We can only hope that the horror of such a gifted and talented icon’s suicide will jolt us into facing realities that we recoil from and try so hard to ignore, so that we can bring such realities out in the open, examine them, discuss them and figure out ways to deal them.

Maybe this will be just the wake-up call we have always so desperately needed as a nation when it comes to mental illness.

But then again, considering our short little span of national attention–driven by the latest hype in the latest news cycle–we’re a nation that’s not very good at dealing with unpleasantries for long.

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