Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Happiness = Downsizing

As you may know, Lent is right around the corner. From my childhood in Catholic School I was trained to “give something up for Lent”. But what? What should I give up now that would truly benefit me in my relationship to God and to other people? There are many things I could do to improve my health, my prayer life, and my mind. I could read more, exercise more, and spend more time in prayerful meditation but this year I KNOW I need to find something to GIVE UP. I found this parable by Fr Anthony de Mello that should help:

An American, on his last day of a trip to India, was idly shopping in the Bombay marketplace. As he strolled from stall to stall he noticed a beggar sitting on the ground with a few dust covered trinkets spread out on a blanket before him. Curious, the American walked over to get a closer look. He was quickly drawn to several dust covered, almond sized items that glimmered in the sun. The beggar motioned for him to pick them up and take a closer look. When he did his heart stopped. These were not worthless trinkets - they were diamonds!
“Don’t look to eager,” the tourist cautioned himself, but the shrewd beggar noticed his customer’s heightened tension instantly. So when the tourist feigned disinterest and casually offered $10 the beggar shook his head. He really wanted those diamonds but he did not want to pay too much so he finally said “Well, I’m not that sure I want them, but I’ll give you $25 - that’s my final price.” The beggar shook his head again and said “that’s way too low”. The tourist finally asked how much he would take. The beggar said, “I can see that you admire these stones very much. Please take them.” The tourist was stunned. “I can’t just take them from you”, he protested. The beggar insisted and the tourist finally relented, stuffing the diamonds in his coat pocket.
Hurriedly, he made a bee-line for his hotel. Suddenly, he was very aware of all of the pick-pockets who were staring at him from behind every corner. When he got to the hotel he was going to put the items in the safe but he knew he couldn’t trust the clerk. Finally in his room, the tourist double bolted the door. He looked frantically around the room for a place to hide his precious stones. The American finally decided to just keep them on his person - that would be the safest. As he laid on his bed he thought of all the things he could purchase when he sold these big rocks. His heart was pumping with anticipation but he was filled with fear because he was sure someone would break into his room and steal his stones.
After spending a sleepless night, he finally arose early in the morning to get ready for his trip back to America. He carefully packed all of his things and, after checking out of his hotel, went back to the market. He wandered, dazed and desperate, until he found what he was looking for. The beggar was sitting cross-legged on the ground in the same place he had been the day before.
“Hello, my friend!”, smiled the beggar.
The American anxiously dug into his pocket and took out the stones, handing them back to the humble Indian.
“But, my friend, you were so happy with these stones yesterday”, said the beggar evenly.
“Yes, yes, I was. But I have learned something. I have learned that the stones, as you call them, are not so important. I thought they would make me happy but instead they made me miserable. Now I realize that what would really make me happy is to have the power that YOU have within you - the power to give them up so effortlessly.”

The point is simple: you cannot add things to your life to make yourself happy. As I have added things to my own life they surely have NOT made me happier. Usually, it turns out a little like the tourist in the parable. Now that I have this new thing where will I keep it? How will I maintain it? How can I keep it safe and secure? Should I buy the extended warranty? Should I tell anyone I have it? - and on an on.
It seems that if I want to be truly happy I need to SUBTRACT things from my life. Simplifying, rather that complicating, is the key! And so that will be my Lenten journey this year - elimination, closet cleaning, tossing things out, donations to the St Vincent Store etc., etc.
What about you? Where do you see the need to downsize and simplify your life? Are there things that cause you stress, worry, too much space, etc.? Lent begins March 5th this year. Use it to exercise the virtue mentioned in the parable by having the power to give "valuable" things away effortlessly.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

National Marriage Week

This is National Marriage Week! The Catholic Church and other churches and agencies are asking us to pray for and to encourage married and engaged couples. I realize that our society does not value marriage as it once did but that doesn't mean that marriage is not important. Strong marriages have the power to change to world for the better. As they live out their vows to one another in love and in sacrifice the married couple blesses their community by raising good kids, supporting one-another fiscally, emotionally and physically, and by serving their community in beneficial ways.
On the other hand, a bad or broken marriage can change the world, too. Much emotional, financial and family damage can come from broken marriages. It is estimated that as many as 80% of the inmates in prisons come from broken families. I visit our Juvenile Detention Center every Monday evening and have been doing so for over four years. I have visited hundreds of kids and I can tell that less then 20 of them came from a home that had both biological parents.
If you are a person who likes a fiscally responsible government you should support, pray for and encourage strong marriages. When marriages end, the local, state, county, and federal governments are often called on to supplement the situation financially. But the real reason to support good marriages is because they are good for the couple, the children and the society. John Paul II is quoted as saying "the future of humanity depends on marriage and the family". WOW! Marriage is important.
What do we do? Encourage engaged couples to seek good pre-marriage preparation at their church or from a trained professional. Work for laws that support marriage and family. Discourage people from living together prior to marriage - the divorce rate is about 45% higher for those couples who do so. Pray, pray, pray that God's grace will be the glue the holds couples together through difficult and trying times.
Are you married or thinking about getting married? Check out this website: 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Eliminate destitution through poverty?

Yesterday (2/5), Pope Francis sent out his message for Lent, 2014. I have read it a couple of times and feel challenged and inspired by his thoughts. He challenges ALL persons to do whatever is possible to alleviate physical, moral, and spiritual destitution in our world. The challenge is this: he wants us to do it out of our poverty and not out of our wealth! That is inspiring since most us do not possess great wealth - but all of us can contribute sacrificially from our "poverty". He recommends we do that by imitating Jesus Christ who "though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich" (2Cor 8:9). If you think about it, God could have saved us out of His Divine Wealth but instead he brought us salvation by taking on our nature (becoming poor). Pope Francis says we need to imitate Jesus if our efforts in eliminating destitution are going to be effective. Here is a portion of his message:

In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.
 I recommend you read the whole thing (about 10 minutes worth) by clicking here.