Monthly Archives: September 2012

3-Step Plan for Peace and Happiness in Difficult Encounters

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We all have to deal with those people who irritate, annoy, anger and perturb us. It could be someone we work with, the rude cashier at the grocery store, but more often it is our son, our daughter, our sister, our mother, our wife or our husband. In other words, the people we are with the most and with whom we are called to be the most self-giving.

As I study the teachings of my Catholic faith, I grow in understanding of the importance of witnessing to Jesus by becoming a self-giver. Many of my prayers center on asking for the grace to handle the tough relationships in my life. Often though, these difficult encounters occur with grace un-received.* I end up asking our Lord for forgiveness but also thinking to myself, “I could be holy if it wasn’t for all these jerks in my life!”

*I know that’s arrogant and note that I write “grace un-received,” because I am very aware it’s me at fault. God always gives us what we need; whether or not we accept it determines our holiness. In prayer and Scripture study I believe and accept Jesus’ love for me. Why does that peace not translate into my actions?

I have dealt with this for many years, so when Fr. Scott Traynor gave us women attending the ENDOW retreat in Denver a 3-Step Plan to overcome these difficult encounters AND remain happy and at peace, I quickly wrote down this pearl of practical faith. Here it is:

Fr. Scott Traynor’s 3-Step Plan for Peace and Happiness in Difficult Encounters:

  1. Ask God to come into the pain you are currently feeling and ask Him to set you free of it so that you can engage in the encounter.
  2. Forgive the person offending you. Make a conscious choice not to demand payment for this debt.
  3. Ask God to bless this person who is hurting you and pray for the spiritual blessings he or she needs. If you know the spiritual blessings, ask for them specifically. If not, ask God to provide the blessings He knows is needed.

PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Floating on my retreat cloud, I bask in the love of my husband and younger son hugging and kissing me at the airport. I walk into the house expecting a smile and welcome home but instead of my 16-year old son I find, Mr. Surly, his alter-ego. Not deterred thanks to two days of soul-stretching faith lessons, I attempt to engage him in conversation and love him out of his rotten mood only to be rebuffed with blank stares and grunts.

Okay, this is the moment when I would usually give a long lecture about how he is rude, he needs to shape up, we don’t need to be subjected to his moods, yada, yada, yada. My husband would come to my defense and the entire house would swirl into a hurricane of animosity as my retreat peace and joy is flooded in a toxic stew of anger.

Instead, I quietly go through each of the 3 steps.

I would love to tell you that my son immediately put his arms around me, apologized and told me how much he loves me . . . but that would be a lie. Instead, it is what happened to me that’s worth noting. You see, bringing God into that moment freed me from having to deal with the angry situation all by myself. I have no idea what God did with the anger I gave to Him, but the grace He gave to me in return enabled me to remain at peace and yes, happy. I learned that day the value in allowing God to work in us to affect change for the good of all; in this instance, my family.

I am happy to tell you that a short while later my son washed ashore from whatever hormone-induced wave he was riding and we finally got to have that reunion I was hoping for. I am sure that never would have happened if I tried to handle things on my own.

I cannot recommend enough the faith-enriching experience I had at the ENDOW retreat in Denver. Fortunately, the good women of ENDOW offer their studies around the globe. To learn more about ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) go to endowgroups.org. To hear more inspiring advice from Fr. Scott Traynor, listen to his 7-questions videos on YouTube. Here is one of them:

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5 Crucial Lessons for Us All, from Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Lebanon

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This past weekend, Pope Benedict XVI courageously journeyed to Lebanon—neighboring tumultuous Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran. Why wasn’t this historic visit covered by major news networks? In journalism, “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.” Personally, I’d rather not let mainstream media tell me which stories are important!

Contrary to the conflict in most news stories, Pope Benedict XVI came as “a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs.” Every human being, and especially us Catholics, should heed five important lessons from his various activities in Lebanon:

Youthful crowd meets Pope Benedict XVI in Lebanon (L’Osservatore Romano)

ONE: The World Must Not Forget Middle Eastern Christians

How often do you pray for the Christians in the Middle East? Westerners visiting that region may ask the native Christians, “When did you convert?” To which most Middle Eastern Christians would proudly respond: “Never! I am a descendant of the first Christians!” In our ignorance, we Westerners often forget that Our Lord chose the Middle East to be his homeland; he chose the Jewish and Arab peoples to be the his first disciples!

In Lebanon, our Holy Father expressed gratitude for their faithful 2,000-year witness: “How can we fail to thank God at every moment for all of you, dear Christians of the Middle East! How can we fail to praise him for your courage and faith? How can we fail to thank him for the flame of his infinite love which you continue to keep alive and burning in these places which were the first to welcome his incarnate  Son? How can we fail to praise and thank him for your efforts to build  ecclesial and fraternal communion, and for the human solidarity which you constantly show to all God’s children?”

We would do the Body of Christ a disservice if we failed to love and pray for Middle Eastern Christians.

TWO: In Times of Discord, Solidarity Has Power

Given all the violence that has recently developed in the Middle East, you’d think that the Holy Father would’ve at least thought about cancelling this trip to Lebanon. But his response? “I never took that idea into consideration, because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity.”

Normally, our human tendency in conflict is: Fight, or Flight. But Christ asks us to go beyond what is natural, to the supernatural. The Holy Father said: “Experiencing together moments of friendship and joy enables us to resist the onset of division, which must always be rejected! Brotherhood is a foretaste of heaven!”

The Pope and President of Lebanon (Vatican Television Center video)

THREE: Mutual Respect is Not Optional

We’re quick to identify enemies, especially in foreign policy and times of strife. Isn’t it easier to say, “Those people,” instead of “My brothers”?

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged tens of thousands of young Middle Easterners gathered with him to be examples of the mutual respect to which God calls us. “Christ asks you,” he said, “to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group.” The Pope reminded political leaders in the Middle East, “In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable,” made in God’s image and likeness. Therefore, we are commanded by Christ to love one another.

FOUR: Strengthening the Family Will Strengthen Society

Lebanon’s President was extremely impressed and moved by the Holy Father’s address to government and religious leaders. President Suleiman said, “All the people and the politicians of the Middle East should hear, read and meditate on this speech of the Pope.”

So, what did the Pope say? Fundamentally, he spoke about how to strengthen global society: “A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life.”

FIVE: True Religion Spreads Peace

Nowadays, we Americans are used to being engaged in war somewhere overseas—particularly in the Middle East. But as Catholics first and Americans second, we need to examine each war according to Catholic teaching before expressing our support. Pope Benedict XVI gave a counter-cultural message while in Lebanon: “We must promote all possible actions, including material ones, to support the end of war and violence so that all can contribute to the rebuilding of the country,” he said.

Even en route to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI asserted, “The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism,” emphasizing that religion “must be education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”

Who Do You Serve?

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“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Mary Jane and I would often see these famous words from Joshua at the doors of many homes as we went door to door throughout our parish boundaries over twenty years ago. I think Joshua would once again like to rally the people of this generation and ask us who we will decide to serve. However, today the gods are not “beyond the river;” they are in our midst. They are within our own ideas that are no longer faithful to the Word of God. We have seen the consequences of unfaithfulness to the Word of God in the Old Testament and we can see the consequences in our own time.

Who Is Our God?

We know of the powerful work of God in the Old Testament, but we also know of the powerful work of Jesus Christ. We know that he spoke with great authority and worked many miracles to show that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. We also know that he died on the cross for our sins so that we might have eternal life—and he made it possible for us to experience his love and mercy right now and have a personal relationship with him. At the same time, he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

In Saint Paul’s writings, we get a glimpse of what the love of God looks like.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present himself to the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy without blemish.

This is a supernatural, sacrificial love that is only possible if we love “the Lord Our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.” If we make God a priority in our lives, we will experience an abundance of His love and mercy and then share His love and mercy with others that we also might be “holy without blemish.” God can do this in us if it is the desire of our hearts.

In the Gospel, we see that many of Jesus’ disciples found his teaching on the Eucharist to difficult to accept and would no longer follow him. When he said to the twelve; “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words to eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” They did not understand the teaching of the Eucharist any more than those who left, but they remained because their faith in Jesus was stronger than their need to understand the mystery he had just taught them. We also are called to believe things we do not understand.

“Study, Christ on the Cross” by Matthias Grünewald (1504)

Do We Believe These Mysteries?

In Baptism we received the gifts that make it possible to believe the things we do not understand; the theological gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity. However, no matter how precious these gifts are, they only benefit us according to our use of them. What we believe right now about anything, especially the mysteries of our faith, is a consequence of the choices we have made throughout our life. Have we chosen to be formed in our faith; to become mature Christians? Less than 10 percent of Catholics read Catholic books or periodicals. Our Catholic faith is a “Pearl of Great Price,” but we must be invested in it if it is to produce good fruit in our lives.

Our Lord has given is everything we need to remain close to Him and to experience an abundance of his love and mercy. The Sacrament of Confession is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ through his minister the priest. We not only have our sins forgiven, we receive the grace necessary to make progress in overcoming sin so that we can love God, our neighbor and ourselves with supernatural, sacrificial love. During each Mass, we hear the Word of God which is the seed of life that wants to take root in our hearts and souls so that it will bear fruit. However, we must listen with a desire to believe.

After we profess our creed together, we begin the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word of God and the Holy Eucharist connect us to Calvary where Jesus shed his blood for us. By the power of God, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ are made present to us as we worship him along with the angels and saints. If we could truly comprehend the magnitude of this worship, we would have goose bumps right now. Through the prayers of the priest, Jesus Christ will change bread and wine into his own body and blood so that we may receive him in Holy Communion. We, for our part, must prepare ourselves for this holy encounter by being properly disposed and by going to confession if we have committed any serious sin.

Are We Willing?

Serving God is not a matter of convenience. It is a matter of being faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures. It is the same journey that saints have taken through the ages; there is no easier path. There is also no other path that brings so much peace, joy and happiness. Jesus not only wants to transform our hearts and souls when we receive him during Mass; in his humility he waits for us to visit him in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where we can rest in his presence.

We know what Jesus has done for us. What are we willing to do for him? The reality is: we cannot do something for him without him doing more for us. Try spending one hour a week in the chapel for a month and learn for yourself the value of spending time with Jesus. This is one of the best ways to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. After a while, like St. Peter we will say, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.