Last year, on December 6th, I shared on this Blog an appeal from a colleague of mine at the Seminary, Dr. Jennifer Miller. See it here. She was asking for prayers and donations on behalf of an eight year old girl she met at an orphanage in Uganda. The girl’s name is Jane Elizabeth.
Dr. Miller asked me to share her gratitude to all who prayed and offered financial assitance, and share an update. Feel free to email her if you wish any further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
In regard to Jane Elizabeth, here is the latest update!
“Due to the generous support and prayers of all those who accompanied us through youcaring and on Facebook, the money for Jane Elizabeth’s travel documents as well as for the travel itself was raised. Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, St. Padre Pio’s hospital, has secured the humanitarian aid to cover the medical expenses once she reaches the hospital, and Dr. Leonardo has scheduled her first medical exam for April 1!
At this point, we are working and praying to make sure that the passports and visas for Jane Elizabeth and the sister who will accompany her can be ready by this date. Sr. Mary Lunyolo is working on the details for the passports, and Fr. Zachary Oburu is securing the letters necessary for the consulate to issue a visa for medical care.
Please continue to accompany us with your prayers for a timely processing of all of these documents and for all those who are working to help Jane Elizabeth. May the Lord lead and guide them so that Jane will be able to receive the gift of improved health!
The day she sent me this update, someone emailed me this music video. I felt it was a beautiful overlay of themes!
[re-post from 2015 in honor of today’s Mass Gospel]
A man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God. — Abba Agathon
In Matthew 5:20-26, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, locating the root of murder in the passion of anger:
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…
Jesus is never about behavior modification alone, but about striking at the root of all desire from whence come our thoughts, words and deeds.
St. John of the Cross, master of religious psychology, reflects on the danger of a spiritualized form of anger that can emerge in those who have made significant progress in the spiritual life. He says,
Among these spiritual persons there are also those who fall into another kind of spiritual anger. Through a certain excess in zeal they become angry over the sins of others, reprove these others, and sometimes even feel the impulse to do so angrily, which in fact they occasionally do, setting themselves up as lords of virtue.
Still others, in becoming aware of their own imperfections, grow angry with themselves in an unhumble impatience. They become so impatient over these imperfections because they want to become saints in a day. Many of these beginners make numerous plans and great resolutions, but since they are not humble and have no healthy distrust of themselves, the more resolves they make the more they break, and the greater becomes their anger. They do not have the patience to wait until God gives them what they need, when he so desires.
What is key in his analysis is this: for these spiritually immature religious adepts, the life of faith remains self-centered, self-preserving, self-promoting, and has not yet made the commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” their rule of life. For to love the neighbor in this way is to see their welfare or woe as your own, and so whatever you seek for them you also seek for yourself. For these anger serves not love, but self-love.
Those whose religious or ethical zeal is fueled by a seething anger, bitterness and self-righteous fury are often the masters of sarcasm and snark, murmuring cynicism and biting wit. St. John says what is most insidious about these people is that, because their anger is clothed in spiritual, religious or moral language, they are easily blinded to the vice beneath the garb. They feel that the cause they espouse justifies the caustic rhetoric. But, John says, to place the highest things (like faith, truth, justice) in service to the most base things — by placing them in the service of pride, anger, greed, envy, etc. — is profoundly dangerous. The Old Testament prophets are unanimous on this point: the use of God, and the things of God, in service to sinful motives and behaviors, no matter how well-disguised they are, stands among the gravest of evils. Better to be an angry atheist.
God says to Isaiah:
Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression;
defend the fatherless, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:13-17).
Anger can be a natural and healthy response to any situation where things are not as they should be, to injustice and evil. Anger is both a defense-reflex and a powerful motive for facing hardship or resisting evil with courage in the pursuit of justice. This is often called just or righteous anger. However, detached from mercy, which is love encountering and overcoming evil and injustice, anger turns into wrath. And it is wrath that is called a deadly sin. Wrath, unlike mercy, seeks not to overcome, redeem and heal evil, but rather to retaliate and destroy evil, inflict retribution.
This is why, for the Christian, justice can never be parted from mercy. Justice, when joined to mercy and bridled by patience, becomes remedial, restorative. Justice identifies evil, anger sets justice in (e)motion, and mercy, overcome with love for the evildoer, expends itself, not to destroy or malign, but to rescue, redeem and overcome evil with good. That is the logic of “the word of the cross,” as Jesus on the cross faced the full fury of the world’s injustice and evil with an omnipotent, non-violent merciful love.
The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” They cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:33-34).
What a vicious scandal it is when people of faith in Christ wage their merciless, destructive and angry warfare out in the midst of the digital public square for all to see. Facebook becomes a space not for revealing the Face of Christ, but for defacing the Gospel. Such a witness! “See how they despise one another!” Indeed. God needs no such favors done for Him.
I recall a number of years ago attending a workshop entitled “Justice for the Poor in the Gospel of Luke,” given by an Anglican Scripture scholar. During his lecture, he addressed this issue of anger in ministry. He said something like this:
There’s a sad irony in the fact that, in my experience, so many of us who have professed allegiance to the “justice and peace” movement are too often driven by anger against our ideological opponents. This, it seems to me, is a bit at odds with the meekness required of the reconcilers and peacemakers Jesus calls ‘blessed’ in the Beatitudes. Who are called to love their enemies, to settle on the way to court. We are our own worst enemies, friends, when we abuse and caricature our debate partners. Come on, just say it out loud: “Blessed are the pissed peacemakers.” This is not what Jesus wanted.
He was very much a sympathizer with the peace and justice movement, and his comment was meant to offer an honest self-critique. Ironically, one of the participants in the workshop stood up and shouted at the speaker: “Bullshit!” He went on to say that this accusation was an insult to the peace-activists’ righteous anger and an unfair assessment of the many people who have faced so much hardship over the years. The burden of unrighteous anger, the man said, rested squarely on the shoulders of war-mongering conservatives.
The biblical scholar replied in a calm voice, “Sir, your demeanor and words do little service to our cause.”
Pope Paul VI, in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, argues that it is those who have been freed from sin’s grip by God’s liberating grace who are able to bear the force of joy. I will leave you with his words:
Let us therefore preserve our fervor of spirit. Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow. May it mean for us an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench. May it be the great joy of our consecrated lives. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world.
Single-parent families often result from the unwillingness of biological mothers or fathers to be part of a family; situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the children; the death of one of the parents; the abandonment of the family by one parent, and other situations. Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. — Pope Francis
A few weeks ago, I was blessed to hear the faith witness of a woman named Sharon Heno. She’s a remarkable woman. After hearing her speak, I asked, as is my habit, if she would allow me to share her story on my Blog. She immediately replied, “Absolutely.” As her witness was so vivid, gritty and powerful, and I didn’t want to risk misrepresenting her, I asked if she wouldn’t mind writing it out herself. She obliged. I am so grateful. Below is a personal introduction, her story of faith, hope and love, and the song she feels best captures her life’s meaning.
Who I am:
My name is Sharon A. Heno, I am by profession a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of the Counseling group, Behavioral Health Counseling and Consulting. Personally, I am a Mother and Survivor. I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools for my education. My elementary school was St. Clement of Rome then middle and high school Ursuline Academy. After a break in my academic journey I attended the University of Life. In all of this I survived violence, a stroke, among other health issues, financial troubles, being lost, and now single parenthood. I have survived many challenges in my life, but believe I have come out of each challenge with more awareness and insight into my life and my purpose. Eventually I returned to college and graduated from Loyola University. I went on to receive my Masters from the University of New Orleans and pursued my career in Counseling. Even now life is not free from challenges, I am ever changing and evolving to God’s calling. I openly share my story as I believe I am called to share my life’s ups and downs to encourage others facing obstacles.
I don’t believe that being a single parent is a calling from God. Becoming a single parent is a result of our free will. From the start, with Adam and Eve, we know the story of free will. God often uses our choices to teach us lessons. What an amazing God to use this love to teach us lessons of life and love. As a young adult, I frequently pushed limits, tested my independence and had little time for God or the church in my busy life.
With this I often found my life in turmoil and crisis. I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
In early 2001 found myself back in crisis and my life reeling out of control. Discovering I was pregnant came as though I were diagnosed with a fatal illness. I was unable to receive the news as a gift, but rather as a curse. I went into damage control. I remember the feeling, fear and darkness took over, what was I going to do and how was I going to get out of this? My next steps were to reach out to the only other person who could understand, the only one who might have solutions. I contacted her biological father looking for support and comfort, I was met with something else. His fear was greater than my own and he too went into damage control. Our solution at this point was not to go further with this pregnancy. Looking back with no other intention but to cover up the shame we were feeling. He jumped into gear and took care of everything, setting the appointment, offering to pay and driving to the procedure.
Yes, he was in control and taking charge, this is what I thought I needed. And it was. Only at this moment I gave control to the wrong person, still believing we could change things and be in control of this situation. We had gotten in this, we could certainly take control to “fix” it. While at the clinic, I heard that inner voice louder than ever before. I couldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do this. I had heard that voice before, but often reasoned it away. Not today, I suddenly felt peace not in knowing what I would do, but in not going through with the abortion. I left that day alone, without human support, but at that moment decided I would begin my journey in obedience, letting go. I left alone from earthly supports, but with 100% support from what I know today was my Heavenly Father. The shame I felt lifted and I was no longer in damage control, but rather asking the Father to show me what he wanted me to do.
I was still considering putting my daughter up for adoption, and some even offered to buy her. As I prayed about these, none of these options were met with feelings of peace for me. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those that put their babies up for adoption and for the families that adopt them. At this point in my life, I did not feel this is what I was being called to do. This was confirmed when her biological father refused to sign adoption papers which prohibited me from placing her for adoption. It appeared to many I was losing control and being abandoned, but rather I was letting go.
I felt the most peace when I proclaimed that at 31 years old, I would keep and raise my baby. Not sure how, but at that moment it was almost as if I were reborn. I had to let go of the demons of my past and embrace my future. Was I scared? Yes! I did not want to be a statistic, nor create one. How would I provide for her? How would I even survive the pregnancy alone? I felt alone, but would later come to see I was not. Looking back, God was there all the time, making what seemed impossible, possible. A friend of mine shared a biblical passage: “Go by faith not by sight.” This became my mantra and remains so today.
With the delivery of my daughter many miracles and blessings began to come, and only hours after her birth healing came to my family. We had not spoken the duration of my pregnancy, but they arrived and healing began. We began to heal as a family and individually. So much has been a blessing, but the lessons and challenges are there. There are daily struggles and fears that I face every day. Facing the trials and tribulations alone, carrying the support on my own. Trying to console me for not having the companionship of a husband, many often say, “Well you don’t have a husband but you have your daughter.” I agree, but I don’t believe you should rely on your child to process your fears and struggles. She is a child, and the challenges that I as a parent face should not and will not be shared with her. Children need to be allowed to be children.
Another challenge I face is with friendships. Friends are hard enough to make, but as a single parent, unfortunately, I have found you are almost ousted, excluded, which can intensify those feelings of loneliness. One thing I have learned is people or things cannot take away that feeling. I truly feel peaceful when I spend time every day in prayer. This is a challenge, as like so many I am always short on time. I have become more disciplined in giving my time to God and this brings me a peace I cannot explain. When I’m feeling, lonely I turn to my Father. He has said he can be all things. When my earthly parents can’t comfort me the way I need, it is God that offers support. When friends are scarce, God is a constant. As for finding a loved one, well, I do believe God has already selected him but right now God needs me to continue to grow and to stay focused on my daughter.
Some of the lessons I have learned and continue to learn are patience, living in the moment and most importantly nothing is possible without God, but everything is possible through him. He has entrusted me with the joy and responsibility of raising this beautiful creation of his.
I am the master of (bad) puns, and frequently inflict them on my wife and children, inducing varying levels of groans, “Daaad,” and “Stooop.” I, however, laugh heartily at my own jokes. Gets me through the day.
But when my wife, Patti, reacts to them, I often sing to her the refrain of Anna Kendrick’s Cups. Here’s a fun rendition of it:
The church I was in. clangeblog.files.wordpress.com
We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No – when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence. — Pope Benedict at Auschwitz-Birkenau
A number of years ago, when I worked for a parish in Florida, I was in the church one day fixing some broken kneelers and a man walked in. I don’t think he saw me. He walked over into the sanctuary behind the altar, under the crucifix, threw himself face down on the ground and began to sob and wail aloud: “O God, please don’t take my wife. Please, God! No! I love her! The children need her! Please! Don’t! Why? Why? Dear God! Please! Oh please! No, God! My wife! My wife!”
I sat motionless. His sounds echoed in the church.
It was brutal to listen to. He continued in this way for about five minutes, quieted, sat up and knelt, and then after a period of silence spoke softly in an almost relieved tone, “Thank you.” Then he got up and left. I ducked and hid on the floor between the pews for a minute or so because I did not want him to see me and feel I had violated his privacy.
I realized, as I lay there waiting for him to leave, to hear someone pray like that was so intimate. It was like being allowed to walk into the center of their soul, into their holy of holies. After I got up and sat in the pew I was paralyzed, and cried myself for a bit as I was shaken by the depth of his pain and desperate plea. I wondered how God could have received that prayer without weeping.
Step forward to today. A friend of mine texted me and introduced me yesterday to the singer and composer, Liz Longley. Whoa. How have I missed her? This lady can sing and write music. And though I don’t sense, from the little research I did on her, that she writes her music from a faith perspective, her articulation of the human desire for redemption and love is exquisitely beautiful, to me.
This song he texted me, called Rescue My Heart, is especially attuned to a very Jewish form of plaintive longing for God to rescue His people. The psalms are filled with her cry, her words of pain carved “out of the depths” (130:1). Soundings of Isaiah’s “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1). Even our Creed retains this yearning:
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
I sent Longley’s song yesterday during the day to someone I know who is suffering from a recent terrifying betrayal. She said: “This is totally balm to my heart. It helped me pray when I can’t these days. Thanks for sending it.”
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. ― Henry David Thoreau
Deep down, we know our souls need something wild, something dangerous, something that makes us feel alive. — Peter Kreeft
A dear friend of mine emailed me the other day after she saw La La Land. A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief reflection on this movie and encouraged people to see it. Subsequently, quite a number of people wrote, told or texted me to share their thoughts and experience of the film. But this particular woman’s reflection on the movie was so moving to me that I asked her if I could post it here. She graciously agreed.
She’s a beautiful person, a feminine incarnation of fire and spirit, a mother to the core and, as my wife says it, “she’s just so real.” Yes, and she’s the kind of person who leaves you wanting to live life more fully after you’ve spent time with her. I am always so grateful for people like that in the world.
And so of her reference to the song, The Fools Who Dream, I would say she can also count me among those who can trace a deepened inspiration back to her influence.
Enjoy, and I will include the La La Land song, The Fools Who Dream, below her email:
After reading your blog I decided to go see La La Land and was able to go tonight alone (I tend to go to the movies alone quite often and very much enjoy doing so). I wanted so much to thank you for sharing your gift of writing. I am often unable to put into words the intensity of emotion I feel and am so grateful when I read something like your blog that helps to shine a light on the jumble of feelings going on in my head and heart.
This movie touched something deep in me as well, it brought to mind a myriad of events in my life where I dared to live the moment to the fullest despite the consequences. Climbing in the Swiss Alps alone at 18 and getting fogged in on a tiny point surrounded on 3 sides by sheer drop offs…the joy of being alone in the fog. Dancing alone at low tide on the sand at Myrtle Beach with the moonlight reflecting on the wet sand giving the illusion of an ice rink. Jumping off the waterfalls in Bosnia/Herzegovinia into the freezing waters. Falling madly in love with an artist while pursuing photography alone in the Carolinas, then driving along a dark mountain road in an intense rain storm, lost and not knowing where I would find shelter after choosing to leave him.
I am so grateful that I had a mother that encouraged me to adventure out on my own and fill my life with so many adventures. I find myself hoping that my children will live life to the fullest, love passionately and risk heart ache and that perhaps someone may say of me that “I trace it all back to that, Her and the snow and the Seine, Smiling through it she said she’d do it, Again”
What a beautiful journey this life has been and what a gift this movie was to help me to glimpse some of it in a new light.
At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will ask, How much love did you put into what you did?” ― Mother Teresa
As I have felt deeply moved these last days to write on Mother Teresa, let me end this series with a quote from Pope Francis’ homily at Mother’s canonization, and a song by the British electropop band, Ooberfüse. I believe it captures well the heart of Mother’s magnificent mission to shine light into the darkness and bring charity alive in the Church and in the world.
Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”.
She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.