Friday, July 25, 2014

Painful situations can bring us together

Isn’t it ironic how in a blink of an eye our whole life can change? We often have a hard time realizing how lucky and blessed we are when everything in our lives is running smoothly. In one second our life can hang by a thread, in a moment our life can come to an end but we go about our lives refusing to think about it. It is a subject we do not want to address. We hardly ever stop to think about the frailty of our lives and about how much we need God. We end up wasting time in meaningless things and vain pursuits precious time that could have been spent deepening our relationship with God, mending broken relationships, improving ourselves, loving more, sharing more, finding more reasons to be happy and fewer reasons to be sad.

            We do not like to think about these things, but perhaps we should because then we could be somewhat more prepared when hard times come. Oftentimes, it is when we go through hardships that we find out what we are made of. It is then that we are given an opportunity to draw on the grace God has given us, an opportunity to exercise our strength, wisdom, love, patience, kindness and faith. It is in distressing times that we really come to experience the protection and mercy of God. If we can be ready for these tough times, through prayer, then a tragedy, a catastrophe or a great tribulation can be the source of spiritual growth and some of the biggest blessings in our lives.

            Sometimes, no matter how much we have prayed and how ready we think we are to face anything, when a terrible situation comes our way, we feel like St. Augustine when he wrote in his Confessions that he was “appalled at a world that could go on as though our catastrophe had not happened.” We feel drained, we feel frozen, and only hope remains.

            Many valuable lessons can be learned about hope, faith, endurance and strength. One of the greatest lessons is that the driving force behind all of these qualities is love. God has given us human beings an amazing capacity to survive the most heartbreaking moments. The great love of God that unites and that pours out from family members, friends and even strangers becomes the solid foundation that sustains us when we most need it, that great love that many times gets forgotten in the rush of everyday life.

            There are many amazing stories about people who have survived adversity and found it has not only changed their lives but touched the lives of many others as well. These are people who have survived by holding on to hope. Sometimes hope is all we need in order to make it through one more day. And one more day is all we need in order to make it through the rest of our lives¾because each new day brings renewed hope and a renewed understanding that God has given us the strength to endure difficult times and the courage to go on.

            Hope gives us strength when adversity pushes us to the limit. In adversity, hope gives us the ability to open our eyes and see what is really of value in life. Many people’s lives change forever because in hope they find meaning to their suffering. Great difficulties can pull people together, and many times great difficulties can produce forgiveness. Difficult times and problems are part of life, but it is how we choose to see these moments and how we choose to act in these times that will determine if they are in vain or not.

Wisdom to contemplate:

 “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

“He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope (that) he will also rescue us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Is it about the Many Presents? Appreciating people for who they are.

            We must appreciate what we have for what it is and not for what we think it makes us look like. Things outside of us can never make up for defects in what we are inside.

If we are not satisfied with who we are, then we can make an effort to fix it¾to make ourselves a better person. If we can be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our defects, then we can start getting rid of them. The best way to get rid of a defect is to replace it with a virtue.

            Virtue means right conduct.[1] It comes through hard effort and, of course, through asking for God’s grace. A virtue becomes part of who we are as we develop good habits[2] such as thinking before we act, consciously trying to make the best choice in a particular situation, examining our motives/intentions and thinking about the consequences of our actions. We can learn virtue by reading the Bible, by listening to good advice from someone we know is wiser than we are or by reading a good book¾and then acting on what we learn. Thus, virtues are habits that give us the power to do what is right.[3]

On the other hand, if we look around and focus on the defects in the country we live in, the community we share, the institutions we want to belong to or the people we love, if we spend our time complaining about the things we want to change in these other people, we will end up unhappy and probably alone. Sometimes we might not be doing it on purpose. Unconsciously, we might feel better about ourselves if we take attention away from our shortcomings by focusing on the shortcomings of others. But if we continually act this way, we will always end up in conflict, scaring away and hurting those around us.

            Sometimes we think we have fallen in love with someone, and shortly afterward the person changes (gains weight, loses a job, gets a haircut, etc.). Suddenly, we no longer feel as in love as before. We start harassing our partner and blame it on the change. Without realizing it, we become cruel, and furiously we start trying to make our partner change back into the person we had chosen. The other person gets hurt. We might not realize why we are doing what we are doing, or even that we are doing it, but slowly we drive our partner away. Eventually, we find ourselves alone or in a relationship in which love is no longer present. And all of this is because we are looking for a “perfect person” who will surely show everyone how great we really are. We must be great, since we landed such a great catch! Right? Wrong! What a big mistake! In the end, with this attitude, everyone loses, everyone gets hurt.

            Sometimes we want to belong to an organization or a club or maybe even a church, but we don’t quite fit in. Then we go to great lengths to prove to the organization that the problem is theirs¾because, of course, we refuse to accept that the problem is ours. It is much easier to point fingers and accuse the outside world of how it has failed us than to look inside and face how we have failed ourselves. We would rather find a million excuses than come face to face with our “ugly side.”

We need to learn to come to terms with our “ugly side,” our defects. Instead of denying we have them, we need to overcome our defects and say goodbye to them. We need to be honest with ourselves and be able to analyze ourselves as if we were an onlooker. Then we can look at our defects and do something about them because we will realize our defects are only a temporary part of our personality. They are only ours as long as we decide to keep them. Our defects are nothing more than potential areas of improvement, and if we look at them as opportunities to change and grow then we will not get down and depressed about them.  They do not have any power over us, and they do not determine who we are unless we allow them to.

            We also need to understand that this holds true for others as well. We need to learn to dislike the defect, the bad action, the ugly behaviour but not the person. We need to see that the behaviour can change and that the bad action can serve to teach a great lesson to the person. It is the action we do not approve of, not the person. It is the defect we hate, not the person. If we all try to be more honest and gentle when we talk to each other, we can contribute to great changes in each other’s lives. We will help bring out the best in others and ourselves.

             We are imperfect beings seeking for perfection. We have lots of shortcomings, and until we accept this, we won’t be humble, and worse of all we won’t be able to accept others with their defects. We won’t be able to love them as they are and for who they are, without trying to change them.

Let’s pray so that we can appreciate what we have for what it is, not for what we think it makes us look like to others. Let us accept ourselves for who we really are. And let us accept and love others just as they are.

Wisdom to contemplate:

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:5-9)

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

[1] Peter Kreeft, “Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation: The Four Cardinal Virtues”, Back to Virtue (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1986), pp. 59-70.
[2] Iain T. Benson, “Values and Virtues: A modern Confusion”
[3] Tim Gray, “The Virtuous Life is Worth Living: Real Men Choose Virtue”, Catholic Education Resource Centre.