Turning The Other Cheek

“But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:3

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, once was confronted by a man while walking in town. The passer-by and the archbishop were on the same sidewalk heading toward one another with only room for one to pass at a time. They stood face to face with the man not willing to allow the archbishop to pass. The man’s comment was, “I don’t move for gorillas.” With that, Archbishop Tutu, stepped aside and replied, “I do;” as he made way for the man to pass.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India entered a local bakery with one of her starving children in her care. She approached the counter, tended by the owner, and asked if he could spare bread for the child. The owner, not enamored with Mother, promptly spit in her face. Mother Teresa’s responded with, “Thank you for your gift to me. Now, perhaps, some bread for the child.”

There was a man who was very good at his trade. That trade was training men to hate. At the end of the training program he felt he had accomplished his goal with ten recruits. For the final test he lined up the ten men shoulder to shoulder. He then viciously struck the first man in line across his face. Then commanded him to do the same to the man next to him. One after the other, with the same force received, each delivered an equal blow to the man next to him. When it was the sixth man’s turn he refused to carry out the command. That is when hate stops. (Archbishop Fulton K. Sheen)

“Love is rock; hatred is sand. Love is strong; hatred is weak. You can never build a relationship on hatred. Nothing is everlasting unless it is built on love.” – Fr. Leo Clifford

Did we witness here a strong response or a weak response? The answer is in what may have been gained. What appears as acquiescing is instead a courageous act. Each suffered a degrading attack, yet, by their response, opened themselves to possibly further abuse. But for what purpose? To make a point.

Anyone near enough to each event was witness to a moment of truth. All eyes turn from the attacker to the target to see how each would respond. If an argument ensued or a knock down drag out fight, all would have walked away with nothing but a bit of – par for the course – entertainment as they continued about their daily business. Yet in each case they would have witnessed the unusual, the unexpected. And that is cause for pause and pondering.

In the non-aggressive responses the eyes of those watching were opened. Opened to another means of handling hatred beyond an eye for an eye mentality. Giving the racist, the bakery owner and the trainer food for thought. For in attacking someone a second time when they did nothing to earn the first cannot be justified. With a firmness in their conviction to not inflict the abuse that they had received shows a strength that is all too often neglected. It is the strength that impels aggressors to look into their souls. And with what little remnant of conscience which is still possessed, that the world has not yet destroyed, one can then take an account of oneself with hope of seeing the truth. And having done so realizes that in every heart no matter how dark or hard there is always room enough for God’s grace to enter. Through that grace a heart can be healed and a soul saved by nurturing each through good thoughts, words and deeds.

Not all will see value in the turn the other cheek response. Nor will all who witness take with them a changed heart. But some will. And for that some, which may include the antagonist, an opportunity to change their attitudes for the better and renew their lives will not be if those who like Archbishop Tutu, Saint Mother Teresa and the trainee have not the courage and faith to stand their ground on a sound foundation of love against the evils of hatred.

Each case cited is an example of pride verses humility; vice verses virtue. Whenever selfishness and humility are found in the same company confrontation is inevitable. They are the incompatible oil and water of conflict.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34

 The only justifiable hatred is that which God has for evil.

 

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The Master’s Hand

“and he that shall humble himself

shall be exalted.” – Matthew 23:12

The Old Violin

by, Myra Brooks Welch

 ‘Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

 

“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,

“But, No
From the room far back a gray-bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its’ bow.

“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?”
Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”

“And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin.

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand.

As the old violin, many of us see ourselves with neither an appearance that would attract the attention and interest of others nor be held in any esteem. In humility all are clay awaiting the master potter’s hand to           turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. For the master potter knows the true value, purpose and beauty in clay and how to bring it forth. Through molding shapeless clay he gives it its form, that he has in mind, and then  forges permanently its being.     

 

 

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Why Life Is Precious

In light of the recent video evidence revealing the harvesting and sale of aborted baby organs by Planned Parenthood, I find it puzzling; not that so many find the practice abhorrent, but that it is found surprising. Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, an American birth control advocate and is regarded as the patron saint of abortionists. Ms. Sanger had found common cause with proponents of eugenics, believing that they both sought to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” Would any who have witnessed the earlier fervor over the use of stem cells taken from aborted babies for scientific research then not expect an even further reach by abortionists when the heat over that issue had subsided?

What have we come to in western civilization? Modernism has done all in its power to undermine, if not seek to, eliminate tradition, family and the supernatural; and has convinced many, by appealing to the weakest parts of human nature, that the disorderly environment in which they live is orderly. Proof of this is witnessed by the callous and cavalier manner in which two high level officials of Planned Parenthood, over lunch, discussed the disturbing abortion procedures performed on unborn babies, so as not to damage particular organs which were to be harvested for research. Then these same doctors of medicine, who have taken an oath to “do no harm,” casually sip wine and order entrees as they negotiate the sale price of those organs; thereby reducing the perception of the unborn to nothing more than lab rats. It is obvious that they have a selective view of life’s value. This same indifferent mentality, that can unceremoniously toss into a garbage bin the remnants of an organism that once possessed the potential to develop into a mature living human being with hopes and dreams, now snuffed out, will enthusiastically applaud a discovered possibility that a microbe may exist on some far away extra-terrestrial world.

The point is, that without life there is no occasion for the things that affect us most. Sorrow, regret, defeat, doubt, hate, joy, happiness, victory, hope and love would not be if not for the life in men and women. How can we employ the best of who we are when we put into practice the worst. This is not a matter of making progress toward some theorized good through trial and error, but rather making trials and errors unnecessary by immediate good acts of the will; simply because we can.

Can public opinion change? If one can change one’s view then all are capable of the same. But the change must be formed first in the heart. Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood administrator became pro-life after watching a 13-week-old baby fight for its life during an abortion. She watched the sonogram screen as the little boy pulled away from the instruments and pressed against the wall of his mother’s womb to escape harm. That experience permanently changed her, and led her to oppose abortion. Norma McCorvey was pro-choice on abortion, but is now a pro-life advocate. She says: “Back in 1973, I was a very confused twenty-one year old with one child and facing an unplanned pregnancy. At the time I fought to obtain a legal abortion.” This testimony is significant because Norma was the real woman behind “Roe” of the “Roe vs Wade” Supreme Court Decision to legalize abortion. She continues: “I think it’s safe to say that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie…I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.” In considering these two noteworthy conversions it is not impossible for one to believe that many others of right reason and good conscience can do the same. These two women came to see life not as selective but all-inclusive.

God willed all things into being. God is love and that love is inherent, in some manner, in all that He has made. Love is a thing that cannot be hoarded, but must be given away. As the lyrics of a song so ably states: “A bell is not a bell until its rung, a song is not a song until its sung. And love is not love until its given away.” All things in God’s creation have purpose. And only human life has the capacity to fulfill its primary purpose in returning that love to God and sharing it with others. That is why life is so precious. And as such should not be so flippantly debased.

For in Him we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17:28

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We Are Not Alone

footprints“And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” – Mark 16:20

We all, I believe, will admit that at one time or other have felt that we were alone. Not by our own choosing, but rather put upon us by circumstances from without or within.

Many years ago while lying in bed before what I hoped would be a good night’s sleep, I experienced a muscle tightening in my lower back. It stemmed from a chronic condition as a result of a spinal fusion to correct a curvature of the spine. The tightening quickly progressed to a full-blown spasm. So great was the pain that it felt as though an iron fist had me in its grip. I thought my lower ribs were about to fracture. There was nothing I myself could do to relieve it. I called to my mother, who immediately began to message the area. I had placed myself in a fetal position in an attempt to reduce the discomfort. I wished I could have left my body which had me in such agony. The very fact that I could conjure up the idea of leaving this painful body behind, to me, meant that one day I would when God so chose. Only to again, one day, be reunited with it in a most perfect state by His good grace. As I lay there resigned to let come what may, suddenly, the spasm  lessened and I was released from the most painful grasp that I would have thought that only death would have relieved. What I could not do for myself was accomplished with the help of another; that of my mother.

I once received a thank you card from a loved one who had been struggling through a challenging trial that I, also, had in a similar way experienced. He occasionally came to me – as one who had walked a near identical path – for advice, direction, support or simply an understanding ear. Contained in his message was the following: “I was hanging from the edge of a precipice, which extended over the bowels of hell. And you reached in and pulled me out.” He, too, could not free himself. He needed help from without.

There will come a moment when the struggles and sufferings of life’s most difficult circumstances will bring us to the apex of our stamina. Whether it is our own pain and suffering that presses in on us or that of a loved one. We will find ourselves like the man who paints himself into a corner with no way out. We look to our left and right and find a wall blocking our way. It is folly to look forward into a future. For at that extreme trying instant none exists. We can only give attention to surviving the moment. We look down for some solace, only to find our feet firmly planted in a mortal world whose meager offer of support is that it sadly cannot yield to our pleas. We now know there is but one option left. So we look up for our last means of escape. When all hope seems gone, we find faith at the end of our rope. It is then that we are comfortably enfolded in a powerful yet gentle breeze. Not as one that cools the perspiring brow of a farmer who labors in the field under a blazing sun, but rather that which quenches the soul of one who has been thirsting for the assurance of absolute truth, perfect love and everlasting life.

All that is in this world is restricted to a certain hierarchy of life. Although each has the innate potential to advance in some way to the next level, it cannot do so in and of itself. Each needs a higher level of life above it to reach down and lift it up. Nutrients in soil have a purpose. That is to provide sustenance for plant life. Yet it is fixed at its level of existence. But if a seed is planted in soil it draws the nutrients up from its world into itself and becomes a flower. And in so doing has made the nutrients a part of itself. By lifting the nutrients to this greater good and allowing them to fulfill their purpose, they now have a share in a new and higher life.

We humans, too, have within us the ability and urge to move to a higher level. The proof is in our unquenchable thirst for that which the things of this world seemingly cannot satisfy. When trapped in that inescapable corner, as discussed above, we have but one alternative; to look up. Up to that higher level. That upper level of life that, like the nutrients, we cannot ascend to on our own. A child will find that adult conversation goes right over his head, until an adult descends to the child’s language level to bring understanding. We, also, need One from above who will come down to us to show us the way. And in His willingness to be lifted up on a cross, Christ has revealed the way by which we, too, are lifted to the ultimate hierarchy of life.

“He bowed the heavens, and came down.” – Psalm 27:9 

We rise to a higher life when we are born into this world. The human fetus matures into a human baby. Through that maturation we achieve the potential that we possessed at inception. But it is necessary that we be called forth from the womb to reach fulfillment in a new life. The new-born cries because he regrets leaving behind what we knew so well. But, the fear of an uncertain new environment soon leaves him as he gazes into the loving eyes of his mother. So it is as we enter the tomb, that rightly rhymes with womb. For the tomb, like the womb, is but a stopover in life’s journey. Likewise the tomb is meant to be left behind as is the womb. And the fear of losing a world that we once knew so well will, too, quickly fade as we gaze upon the beautiful loving face of our savior and creator.

“I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will not leave me to face my perils alone.”  – Thomas Merton

 

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Mending Of-fences

Each summer our Church runs a bazaar. It is a major fund-raiser and is quite elaborate. Those who attend, enjoy delicious foods, beverages, entertainment and a flea market that includes books and items that appeal to various interests. Exiting rides and games provide great fun for the children. The bazaar is truly a family event,  drawing many patrons from the surrounding towns.

Recently the deacon of our parish spoke about this summer’s upcoming bazaar. He expressed how successful it has been in the past and how important it is to the ongoing financial needs of the Church. He credits that success to the many parishioners, families and friends, both inside and outside the Church, who have volunteered their time, talent and energy.

In his homily at that Mass the deacon then shared a personal experience with the parishioners that had taken place during a past Bazaar. While setting up on the first day of the four-day event, he was approached by a man who asked if there was anything he could do to help. The deacon, on seeing the man’s appearance-which was quite disheveled-told him that there was nothing for him to do today, but maybe tomorrow. The deacon assumed that the man would not be back. Well, the next day, the gentleman returned and sought out the deacon and asked the same, “Can I Help?” And again the deacon replied; “Nothing today, but maybe tomorrow.” With that the man left. The next day arrived and the deacon, while repairing a tent before the opening of that day’s festivities, heard a familiar voice behind him, “Can I help today?” Without turning, the deacon replied as he did in the first two encounters. But, then he turned to look at the man; and when he did, he saw tears streaming down the man’s face. And turning away, the man left. The deacon said that he was then seized by overwhelming guilt and shame.

After his story, he appealed to the parishioners to please volunteer for the upcoming bazaar. And assured them that, unlike that gentleman, all would be welcomed, if they so wished to help.

In defense of the good deacon, often we are cautious with those we don’t know. We are uncertain of others’ motives. And in today’s world it is understandable. The deacon had a responsibility to the Church for the reliability of the volunteers that he recruited. Yet I suppose that, as the man sadly walked away, the deacon may have wished he had given the man at least some time to prove himself, and had not so abruptly turned him aside.

“The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust him.” – Ernest Hemingway

Saint Peter denied Our Lord three times, as well. And he, too, bitterly regretted that he had succumbed to the fear and doubt which caused him to turn his back on Christ, as he ran and hid with his two companions; guilt and shame. Christ can make Himself known in any manner He wishes. Often he comes to us in those of meager means or under trial, giving us an opportunity to be Christ-like through charity. After all, He, Himself, was unceremoniously born into this world; not on it but beneath it, in a cave.

Christ never would ask us to blindly get involved, thereby putting us in harm’s way unknowingly. For He even warned His apostles: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” – Matthew 10:16 

Although we may not have the opportunity to make amends to the individual offended because he/she cannot be located or if prudence determines that a direct apology may not benefit but, instead, bring further harm to the offended; then another means must be employed. Meaning, an amendment can be accomplished indirectly through the next charitable opportunity that arises.

When God provides the next opportunity to offer atoning charity, accept it with thanks. For God’s grace through charity is dispensed both ways. He who offers it is as blessed as he who receives it. Two characters are strengthened, as also are the souls to whom they belong. The one who first suffered the wrong and received no official apology, receives grace as well. The injustice he suffered was not wasted. For the wrong he suffered so influenced the conscience of the offender, that the offender sought to right that wrong in another.

The deacon, if he has not already made amends, will, in time, have that chance. Saint Peter received his opportunity. After escaping certain death in Rome, Peter meets Jesus on the road. Jesus, however, is heading toward Rome, while Peter is leaving. Peter asks Him: Domine, quo vadis? (“Lord,where are you going?”)  Jesus replied: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter then turned around and re-entered Rome, where he would be put to death by crucifixion. He who once reneged on his oath to die with Christ, in denying Him, has now fulfilled the promise.

No injustice endured is ever in vain if another emerges all the better for it.

 

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Knowing

“To know God is to know self. The more we grow in the knowledge of God, the deeper our knowledge of self, and if we would attain to any knowledge of God, there must be some knowledge of self. To have no knowledge of God is to walk in darkness, to have no absolute standard by which to gauge and measure yourself. ” –  Basil W. Maturin (“Christian Self-Mastery”)

What is a friend? A friend is someone we can put some level of trust in. Someone with whom we share our joys, sorrows and confidence. Each in the relationship grows to know the other better than he knows himself. And in that knowledge of the other, he becomes aware of that which he knew not of himself.

I had dinner with two very close friends some years ago. As was regularly the case, the time shared was enjoyable. As the evening was coming to a close and we awaited the bill to arrive, one friend asked if we should get together to watch a football game that weekend. I had been experiencing new weakness due to post polio symptoms and knew the climb up the stairs to his apartment, which was not a problem to negotiate in the past, now presented an impossible task. I hesitated to commit, searching for an excuse to avoid the event. My friend as much surmised the reason behind my reluctance. He tried to reassure me that there would be ample help to get me up the stairs. Yet I persisted in my decline of the invitation. To my surprise, he left money for his portion of the bill before it arrived and after expressing his displeasure in my decision abruptly left. His response took me quite by surprise. The next day I received a call and an apology from him regarding his behavior. He was hurt in the thought that I did not think enough of our friendship to accept such a well-meaning gesture of help so that I could be a part of the gathering. I then accepted not only his apology but also his offer of help from the prior night. I, with the help of my friends, attended that event and others to follow.

I gained some self-knowledge as a result of that confrontation. I became aware that the reluctance to accept the assistance was due, in part, to a discomfort with, and fear of, my ever-growing loss of independence. An independence that I strove to secure for years in my struggle with polio. Becoming even more apparent, was the pride that motivated the reluctance to accept that help. A pride that was hindering my growth, through the challenge of change, that was being brought about by the new weakness. That knowledge which existed between two friends provided an opportunity for one to gain a deeper knowledge of self, revealing a vice that was not so readily apparent and needed correcting. Our bias toward ourselves often blinds us to inconsistencies which we soon find have been quite deep-seated; hindering growth of self-knowledge.

On the feast of St. Nicholas ( in 1273), Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was named the Angelic Doctor by the Catholic Church, was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologica unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) strong disapproval he replied, “The end of my labors has come. I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” Saint Thomas Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.

St. Thomas Aquinas, as all saints, was as devoted in his pursuit of God, as God is in His pursuit of us. Through his writings, teaching, celebration of Mass and spiritual warfare encountered in defense of Holy Mother Church, Thomas has procured  a knowledge of God, that only one who had given his life to could. The more he knew of God, the more he knew of himself. We cannot know ourselves in-depth through self-analysis, because of our prejudice toward ourselves. God, however, possesses no such prejudice. And in knowing Him in the light of His perfect truth, what becomes apparent, is how unknowingly contradictory we have been in contrast to Him. Our growing self-knowledge establishes our task of conformity to God’s image through reconciliation and amending. Saint Thomas Aquinas confirms this in his cessation of writing. He realized that his writing could only reveal so much and no more. His incompleteness became self-evident when assessed in the illuminating light of God, through Christ, whom he came to know so well.

In knowing God we are guided to the deepest levels of our souls, where no earthy knowing friend can lead. And, there, uproot those discrepancies that keep us from rising to the highest level. The light of God reveals to each of us, who seek Him, the source of those disconcerting stirring specters, unbeknownst to us, that hopefully can be dispelled before they stain our souls with such vices the likes of which were found on the picture of Dorian Gray.

Knowing God is like examining a painting by the penetrating rays of the sun, rather than the dim light of a candle. One reveals the most imperceptible flaws, while the other, only those easily discernible blemishes. He allows us to see ourselves truthfully and completely, no matter what that vision may be. And only then can we begin to advance in self-knowledge, spiritual growth and a closer friendship with God.

I can now presume that those who condemned Our Lord to death in not knowing Him, were equally unknowing of themselves. This presumption very likely is the reason why, while in the throes of crucifixion, Christ offered the following divinely merciful plea on their behalf and ours:

“Father forgive them,  for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

 

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Christ’s Church Will Survive

It is no surprise that a recent Pew Poll of adults has shown a near 8% decline of Christianity in America between 2007-2014. With Catholic numbers alone showing a 3.1% drop. In applying common sense, one has to note a curious correlation between the verifiable state of American societal decline and the Pew findings. Secular relativism has viewed Christ’s Church as a solely institutional ideal born of the subjective views of men, rather than the omnipotent idea of the living God.

History has recorded the Church’s ebbs and flows. It’s ebbs are found in scandals created by its custodians’ own making, or by attacks from outside heresies. On the other hand, the flows are seen in the early Church’s establishment of the first hospitals and universities, promoting and preserving the sculpture and art of the Renaissance greats, and historically has often been a patron of science. The Church’s influence, as has just been shown, has played a most significant role in the formation of Western society. Yet after 2000 years, despite the challenges to the Church’s existence; She still stands.

The Church asks much because it offers everything; and it is as alive as is its founder. G.K. Chesterton best affirms these two points, in the order in which they appear, by saying: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” And, “The Church has survived its own death, because it had a God who knew His way out of the grave.”

It is quite ironic that the findings of the Pew Poll should in truth validate Christianity; simply by the poll’s practice of one of the Church’s main doctrines: “free will.” The 35,000 choices tallied in the poll is an act of free will. And through free will we can either do what we should or what we want. Eventually, we all make our own beds; don’t we?

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