Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How's your luck?

Do you feel lucky?...
Luck is an interesting concept or word. Depending on who you talk to, luck can be supernatural, superstition,  or just random coincidence. According to Webster’s Dictionary luck is "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause" .
I read an article recently in Inc. Magazine that said luck is most certainly under your control. The gist of the article was that the events we see as simple good luck or coincidence were determined by the diligence and preparedness of the so-called ‘lucky one”. For example, the baseball player that makes the seemingly impossible (lucky) catch in the outfield was able to do so because of years of practice and discipline. You or I, without that same training, would NEVER be able to make that catch. Business success, according to the article, was not a matter of luck but of good preparedness and staying connected with many people. Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s famous, says that “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get”. Another wise person has said “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity”.
Each one of us can probably point at times or events in our lives when we were inexplicably lucky. Regardless of our efforts, sometimes things just turn out well. But the opposite can be true, too, can’t it? Sometimes bad things happen that we could not have avoided if we tried. For example, my mother has Parkinson’s Disease. There is no way she could have dodged it by her own effort or by changing one single thing in her life. Others get cancers or other diseases seemingly out of the blue. Or maybe you’re driving down the road following all of the rules of good, safe driving and someone runs into you anyway. All sorts of “random bad luck” can happen at any time.
As Christians, though, I think we are called to try and find God in our good luck and in our bad luck. Somehow, God can play a role in our life regardless of the circumstances - we simply need to stay open to God’s presence.
For example, I knew a person who had been arrested and put in jail for an extended period of time. I visited her regularly and encouraged her to do her best to see God - even in the jail. This young lady was able to assist two different people who attempted suicide. First, she found them during the attempt and stopped it, and second, she helped them spiritually afterwards in the way that she prayed with them and ministered to them. She marveled later on how these things would not have happened had she not been placed in jail.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie TenBoom recounts her time in a Nazi Concentration Camp. She, her sister, and her father had been placed there for trying to help their Jewish neighbors escape Holland during the German occupation.  They endured horrendous conditions in the camp but Corrie eventually found a blessing even in the worst of circumstances. She tells about a time when her section of the barracks was heavily infested with lice. Although she hated the lice, the fact that they were infested kept the guards away and they were able to have a Bible study and share the love of Jesus Christ with their fellow inmates.
And, for one last example, a man I know told me about his adult daughter who suffered for many years from a traumatic injury. She was bedridden and unable to get along in life as she once did. She eventually died from a series of infirmities and at her funeral her father told an interesting story. He said that, although he would have never chosen for his daughter to be in the condition she was, it had brought them much closer. They had been estranged for some time and when she got hurt he started visited her again and their relationship was eventually healed. He said this never would have happened had she not suffered this tragedy.
So there you have it. God can use even our worst days and our most trying experiences to bring hope, healing, and light to our lives. I try to remind myself of this each time I am frustrated by my own “bad luck”. How about you? How has God made you feel lucky even in tough times?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lesson's From Mom

Something my mother always taught me and my siblings was a patience and concern for others - especially those who were poor or “different” in any way. She grew up in a very poor family in the northeast corner of South Dakota and had to survive on very little most of the time. For long periods - sometimes months - she and her brothers and sisters would eat nothing but potatoes. She tells of one day when the only thing left in the house was a plate of butter and little bit of sugar so they split it up and ate that until their mother could get more spuds. Because of her experience and because she was a very loving person and strong Catholic, my mom never let us make fun of anyone because of their economic status. There were two very poor families that lived just one block north of us. The kids wore old clothes that didn’t fit well and were sometimes unable to bathe for long periods of time (the water in the house didn’t work). If we said anything derogatory about them my mom would threaten to give them our clothes, our bedroom, our bath privileges and we could have theirs’. We learned to accept them just the way they were. Now and then a pair of our pants or shoes would be “missing” and we would soon see one of the kids from up the block wearing them. Once I even saw their mother wearing a winter coat that once belonged to my mom.
Pope Francis has been a strong advocate for the poor of the world. Long before he was elected Pope, Cardinal (Bishop and Father before that) Bergoglio spent much time ministering to the poor of Argentina. He turned his back on the comforts he was offered as a high church official and lived a simple life instead. He used his own resources and the resources of the Church to bring comfort and aid to those who needed it most. He admonished the Argentine Catholics to take the Gospel to the streets of their cities and do so with love and joy.
Last Friday, I was at a seminar at St John’s School of Theology entitled “A Poor Church and a Church for the Poor?”. The presenter, Dr Shawn Colberg, did an excellent job of using Old and New Testament Scripture, quotes by Saints, and much of what Pope Francis has said to educate all of us in attendance about the urgency of our calling to assist the poor.
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, surely I will hear their plea” (see Exodus 22:15-24)
“This is the temple of the Lord! Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan and the widow...will I remain with you in this place?” (see Jeremiah 7:3-7)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3)
“A young man approached Jesus and said “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…. Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect - go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven then come, follow me”. The young man went away sad for he had many possessions. (See Mt 19: 16-26)
These are just a few quick examples of the plethora of instructions in the Bible to TEND TO THE POOR. Whether it is through direct service or service through an agency, we are called by God in Scripture to be mindful of those who are poor.
What does Pope Francis have to say about the poor? A great deal, indeed! Just after he was elected, Francis was giving a press conference and stated, “How I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor!” He also gave a homily in a Brazilian barrio (Varginha) and said “When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them … we are enriched. Doing this with love demonstrates that true riches consist not in material things, but in the heart.” (July 25, 2013 in Brazil)
“We are called to be poor, to strip ourselves of what is not essential and to do this we must learn how to be with the poor, to share with those who lack basic necessities, to touch the flesh of Christ! In this way we save ourselves from the shipwreck of the world.” (October 4, 2013)
I can only tell you that I left this conference feeling challenged. Pope Francis doesn’t just say these things, he lives them! We as a parish, each of as individuals, as families and neighborhoods are to encounter the poor and thereby touch the flesh of Christ. I need to remember this in all I do and in all I say in my own life. I thank my mom for teaching me the dignity of each and every human person and the call to assist those in need without stripping them of their pride. Like Pope Francis, she modeled this behavior in her life, sharing even the meager resources she had at her disposal. Happy Mother’s Day, mom - blessed are you!