Who is that Blind Man?

I was reading in the book of John last week and came across the story that most of us know well. The one where Jesus comes across the Blind Man, and is asked whether it was the man who did something wrong, or his family, that caused his blindness. Jesus uses this occasion to share that people are NOT afflicted because of something they (or their families) did wrong, but rather his healing is to bear witness to the miracles of Jesus and to the power of God. I am paraphrasing, but that is what I have gotten out of the story every time I have read it- except for this time.

This time when I read it, I got to thinking about this man. He was born blind- and through his whole life he was living with this major affliction, why? So that we – all of the generations from that point forward- would be able to understand this miracle of Jesus, and also to understand that people ARE sometimes afflicted for the benefit of the people around them, to learn to know and love Jesus. Our afflictions are not to punish us, but they can be of service to the world. It feels like a huge burden, however it is also a tremendous opportunity.

Many years ago, I met a woman when I was pregnant for my second child. She was lived across the street from me, and I had just moved into the neighborhood with my husband and toddler. The day after I met her, my baby was born- prematurely and via C-section- and died shortly after he was born. As anyone who has experienced this knows, it is a deep grief. My neighbor heard about this and came to my house to offer to be there for me. She was the mother of two children that I had met – but what I didn’t know was that her first baby had also died a few days after birth. She understood my pain. I eagerly took her up on her offer to talk and to listen. She did more to help me heal through that process than almost anyone. Whats more- she was a Christian and I was not. She introduced me to Jesus, and that was a tremendous step forward in my faith journey.

My friend was the Blind Man to me. She suffered something that I would wish on no one- but through her suffering I came to know Jesus. The question for me is, how have I been able to use the suffering that I have experienced to be the Blind Man for someone else? If we could all take our suffering and turn it into something beautiful by not only helping to relieve someone’s earthly pain, but also to help them on their journey to salvation, what a gift that could be!

The Results are God’s

A friend told me a story today that was very different than anything I had heard before. She described it as her “Isaac” moment. Remember when God told Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain and kill him as a sacrifice? And how – almost unbelievably- Abraham was obedient to God, even though Isaac was the the promise of the future? It is a hard story for most of us, and certainly me, to fully get my head wrapped around. I get that it foreshadows that God DID sacrifice His only son for us, and that we need to be trusting and obedient in the way that Abraham was- but it is so hard to think about the possibility of murdering your own child.

In my friend’s case, it was a different “ask” that God had for her- but a hard one, nonetheless. She was a professional woman with a good career, a few years after graduating from a very prestigious University. She had been a runner in College, and she loved it – and was quite good at it. Once she started working, the running became something she did sporadically – time was much tighter. Her company relocated her to a new city, and although it was her “dream job” she was lonely, without any family or friends nearby. She decided to join a running club, with two goals in mind- one to make friends and one to participate in an overseas meet. She worked in the day, and enjoyed running with her new friends at night.

She made it to an overseas meet – and to her surprise, ran her personal lifetime best. She was spotted by a scout, and was asked to try out for the Olympic team, which she did. To her surprise, she made it. She competed in the Olympics – and then came back to work, and life went on. She felt, however, that God was telling her that this was a talent that He had given her- and like in the parable of the talents, He was asking that she give it back to Him with interest. After much prayer she concluded that God was asking her to really focus on running to prepare for the next Olympics, now a couple of years away.

She took a leave from her (very good) job, with no guarantee that there would be a job waiting for her when she came back. She moved to a new city to work with the coach she felt would best prepare her. She was again alone- but she believed that this was her “Isaac moment”- that God was asking her to give up what mattered to her (the job and friends- security and comfort) and do this for Him, and that is how she thought of it. The training went exceptionally well, and as the Olympics neared, it was clear that she would be a contender to medal. She was ready. But right before the day when she would get on the plane to compete, she had a major accident- and could no longer run in the Olympics.

Most people, I would venture to guess, would feel some combination of anger, bitterness and sadness. The “why me, God?” line of questions would begin. My friend said she had none of that- just peace. She said, “I always knew that my job was to deliver my best for God- but the results were His area, not mine”. She said that she felt great that she was obedient to God in the best way that she knew how to be, so she could regret nothing. The peace and joy with which she describes these events are almost impossible to imagine- but then, so is the story of Abraham and Isaac. As another friend said about this whole situation, “if you aren’t faithful to God, you end up with Ishmael, rather than Isaac” – filled with regret and remorse and “what if”. Knowing that my job is to focus on the process of doing my best, and leaving the result to God is a very freeing way to live life. It was inspiring to get this tangible example to follow.

Sharing our Faith

For some of us it feels awkward to discuss our faith outside of the small circle of people we know are on the “same page”. Whether at work or in other social settings, we know we are meant to be “salt and light” in the world- but how can we do that without sounding preachy, or without alienating people who are “anti-religious”, of which there seem to be more and more. We are meant to be beacons that help our fellow humans on the path to redemption and to heaven- but sometimes it is easier to “hide our light under a bushel”. Here are a few suggestions on how to witness in some pretty easy ways:

  1. “What did you do this weekend?”- that is a pretty stock question that you get when you speak with colleagues or friends. Before answering with whatever you binge watched on Netflix, or with the whatever else you may have done, frame the answer with “After Church, my family and I did…”. Just dropping it out there that you go to church can be the opening that a curious seeker may need to engage you in a discussion about faith.
  2. “How can I help?” – when someone comes to you with a problem, it is, of course important to have a listening and empathetic ear. Once into the discussion about their issue, asking them “can I pray for you?” is a wonderful way to introduce the presence of God into the equation. I have never had anyone say “no” in response to this. For the advanced version of this, you can actually pray for them right there on the spot, but I am not quite there yet.
  3. Sometimes what you wear (Miraculous Medal? Cross?) can be a witness, likewise what you are reading. I once had the book “Too Busy Not to Pray” in my office at work, and it created a wonderful and spontaneous discussion with a young Christian woman who had felt lonely and isolated because she believed she was the only person at work who was a believer. I didn’t have the book lying around to be a conversation starter, but after that encounter I was much more conscious of doing just that.
  4. Surprise people with your reactions. If you are at peace and filled with joy, it is contagious and people will want to know how to get some of what you have. We know we are called to return hate with love – but even not getting frustrated or frazzled at work is a positive witness. Seeing Jesus in everyone we encounter is our opportunity, and finding ways to demonstrate this love is a great way to share the love of Christ.
  5. Focus on listening – when someone comes to tell you their problems, or to vent about something- or even to share good news, give them your undivided attention. Show people by your focus how much they matter to you. It is so easy to get distracted with what is happening on our screens, or to be racing from one activity or meeting to another. Really pausing and listening is a gift that you can give someone- and it is a reflection of the love of Christ.

Those are some of my ideas, but I would love to hear yours. Comment if you have ways that you have found to share the love of Jesus with the world around you!

Stepping into Silence

I started reading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “The Power of Silence- Against the Dictatorship of Noise” before the COVID crisis began. Little did I know how much I needed silence- and that I would get it in a way that I had not anticipated.

Way back in March – what seems now like a lifetime ago- I (like many people) was glued to the news and to the daily reports of how many deaths, how many new cases – and how the world was shutting down. I live in New York City, which at that time felt bleak indeed. A few months after that, the world was stunned by the death of George Floyd and a new round of media broke out, alongside the unrest in the country. Again, New York City like many other parts of the world was embroiled in upheaval that hadn’t been seen for decades in this country.

The issues of health and social unrest and dislocation are real, but perspective on what is most important is also critical. The reality is that a focus on faith and on the God who controls the universe is far more important than the drama in the news and in the world. It isn’t that we are called to have our head in the sand – not at all. But we do not need to be like the Apostles in the boat trembling in fear and asking whether God sees all of what is going on and cares about us. Jesus is right there with us in the boat and He controls the seas of our lives.

Stepping away from the news, stepping away from the sound of my own voice (as in pausing on this blog for a time as I have) and being in silence has been a delight. Sometimes being in literal silence- in praying the daily rosary or in contemplation – is the renewal I need. Now that mass has started again, it is being in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Sometimes its just stepping away from electronics and enjoying a board game with loved ones- not really silent, but away from the noise of the world, and focusing on things that really matter. Jesus was very clear that there are really only two things we need to prioritize- the love of God and the love of neighbor. Easy to say, hard to do, but clarifying in deciding what we give our time to.

Silence helps us to see what we can do something about, and what we can’t. Through reflection and listening for the voice of God in our lives we can see where we should accept what is, and where we need God to strive harder- because “through Him all things are possible”.

Sin is the Problem

There is a lot happening in the US right now- and a lot of discussion about things that are wrong. I think it is good and healthy to take stock- and there is always room for improvement in any organization, be it a family a company or a country. One thing that I am beginning to hear more talk about is sin – and in particular sin as a root problem in our country. I wish it were a bigger discussion, but I am glad that there are at least some people who are willing to examine the role of sin in what ails us. To my way of thinking, and I think most believers in God, sin is actually THE problem.

I recently watched this discussion between Raymond Arroyo- the well known Catholic commentator, and Marc Little, pastor, author and lawyer- on the topic of racism and the current social unrest in America. Marc Little spoke eloquently about the problems of sin- racism is a sin, and so are other issues in our communities such as domestic violence, abortion and more. Fundamentally, people mistreating each other is a “heart problem” and heart problems can only be cured through faith in God. I saw another commentator speaking to a similar point, and he was wearing a shirt that said “Make America Godly Again”- recognizing that as a country we have gotten so far away from the biblical precepts of right and wrong- something that had previously connected much of the country.

There was a recent video of a High School football coach speaking to his players. The coach is black, the players looked to be about 50/50 white and black. The message that the coach was saying to the kids was that they were not going to let the hate of this world permeate their team. That they were going to love one another because God commanded us to do that. That we are all made in the image and likeness of God- and that to grow to be good men (which he said was the primary objective of being on the football team)- they were going to have to practice love in a very proactive way. Love is the opposite of sin. God is love. It was a beautiful thing to have someone so clearly articulate to this group of young men the imperative of acting in love towards one another. It was clear how much this man loves those kids- how great it would be if all of our kids around this country were being fed this message of love instead of hate.

The world seems to be divided right now, but I do believe that most people want to live in harmony with the rest of the world. They want to not have violence in their communities and they don’t want to live in hate. But we can’t ignore that there are people who are consumed by sin and whether that manifests in violence or in otherwise trying to tear each other down we have to make an effort to be the salt and light that God has asked us to be to stop the negativity. We need to pray with all the urgency we can for our country. Our Lady of Guadalupe – pray for us!!

A Few Reasons I Believe

Someone I love very much asked me recently why I believe in God, and why I believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Religion. Big questions, but I believe that this is a great opportunity to share what is most important to me. My belief in God came in my adulthood and my becoming a Catholic later, so this is a brief recounting of my thinking.

  • I remember seeing the movie “The Ninth Configuration” when I was a teen. It wasn’t a great movie but the over arching point was that the probability that the universe was created randomly is so much less likely than by intelligence- and it was a compelling argument. I later heard this articulated as “”if you toss a box of loose Legos in the air a million times, they will never land in the shape of a building” – basically the same argument. The world is so filled with beauty and order- and that has never come from chaos. The existence of God is therefore, to me, obvious.
  • So then the question is if you believe that God exists, why the God of Christianity? For me this was a long process to get to that conclusion- where for years I thought that all religions were pretty much the same, and all were just made up by people trying to understand God, and most of it was superstitious nonsense. But I came to understand a few things:
    • Christianity is available to all people – and I would think the God of creation would want all of His creation to know Him.
    • Christianity focuses on being peaceful, helping the poor and weak, loving your neighbors – things universally understand to be good
    • There is a moral law that is written on everyone’s heart. As C.S. Lewis discusses in “Mere Christianity“, people can argue that everything is relative and there are no “right and wrong” that is absolute- but those same people will appeal to “fairness” when they -are wronged.
    • Jesus was either a “Liar, a Lunatic or the Lord” as well articulated by Lee Strobel in his book “A Case for Christ”. Essentially non-Christians mostly agree that Jesus was some sort of a historical teacher and “good guy”. But He said he was the Son of God and part of the Trinity. So either he was lying- and why would he go to the point of being violently murdered to keep the lie going (as well as his followers being willing to be martyred for that cause)? Or, he was a lunatic, and there aren’t any instances of lunatics getting a following for 2000+ years, whose messages get stronger and transform the world. I agree with Mr. Strobel’s conclusion that Jesus must, therefore, be Lord. (Watch the Netflix movie A Case for Christ or read the book for an even better explanation).
    • Once I accepted that God is real, and that Christianity is the religion that He established (as the fulfillment of Judaism which He established prior), then which of the thousands of Christian groups is the “right one”? Here is a good summary, but essentially it was the Church established by Jesus and it was thousands of years of Christianity before any splinter groups formed. Why not go to the source? The Catholic Church gave the world the Bible- again, the source of God’s word. But there are other appealing things about the Catholic Church – such as the contributions to science– the Church has always recognized the need for consistency between faith and reason. Many people are surprised to know that it was a priest who was responsible for the formation of the Big Bang theory, for instance.
  • There are numerous – very well documented- miracles that have occurred. Over the years I have enjoyed reading more deeply about many of them. The key is the third party validation- of which there has been many. Miracles of healing, miracles of visions, Eucharistic miracles- there are so many. These are glimpses that God gives us of His presence and of His desires for our lives. One thing that I have heard many non-believers say “if God wanted to let us know He is there, why wouldn’t He be more direct about it to eliminate the confusion.” I would say that all of nature and God’s miracles shout His existence- but we need to be willing to listen.

Receiving Help Cheerfully

I read about a saint once, I can’t remember who it was- but it really stuck with me. Apparently she had great plans for serving others in the Lenten season, but just when Lent began she became very ill. The result was that she had to be waited on – and accept being served rather than serving others. At first she was very unhappy about this, but eventually she realized that this was exactly the sacrifice that God had in mind for her- to allow others to serve her rather than being the one in service. This idea came up again recently- I was on a “virtual retreat” to Lourdes and there was a song that we sung to the “Malades”- the ill people that would, under normal circumstances, be brought to this place of pilgrimage and healing. Given that we can’t travel, we prayed for our blessed Malades- and in the song we thank them for allowing us to serve them, and we also say that we are thankful for people serving us too.

It is easy to get into the mindset that God always wants us to do for others- and He does. But sometimes what is best for others is for them to have an opportunity to serve us, and we need to allow for that. Sometimes our crosses are for us to grow in faith, but sometimes they are for the benefit of those around us, to give them opportunities to serve that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

I remember a friend telling me about her poor grandmother who was dying a very protracted death in the hospital. My friend would go very day after work and sit at her grandmother’s bedside. She told me she wondered why God didn’t take her grandmother sooner and take her out of her misery. But then one day she realized that perhaps her grandmother’s suffering was for the benefit of her roommate. The roommate had no visitors, and she was someone that my friend would speak with at length every evening. She saw that this difficult trial for her grandmother was, perhaps, to have someone come and care for the other woman in the room- bringing her companionship and joy. We won’t know what God has planned, but we can see that our suffering can be of service to others in a very tangible way, as in my friends case – or we can offer our suffering as a sacrifice for the intentions of our prayers, or to reduce the suffering for the poor souls in purgatory. Our suffering can be in service to others if they can help us through it.

Our Lord said in John 13:1-17 that we must be willing to have our feet washed, just as we must be willing to wash others- it is a two-way street. If we don’t allow others to do for us, we are depriving them of their blessing of doing for others. For some of us this can be really hard, but it is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and if we are being asked to be the one receiving rather than giving, that is something we can accept with joy, and it can reinvigorate our desire to serve others even more. God wants us to be cheerful receivers of help as well as givers!

Making Hard Decisions at Work

Sometimes the world is complicated. I was speaking with a Catholic business owner the other day, and she said that she regrettably had to fire some of her staff to keep the business afloat- given the state of the world today, that is a pretty common phenomenon. She did what I think was the right thing- first asking all the staff if there is anyone who plans to quit- letting all of them know that there would be a need to reduce the level of staffing, so letting people volunteer. Three people came forward and said they were planning on retiring or moving soon, so they worked out a pain-free resolution- good for everyone.

Unfortunately with the fourth person, the situation became trickier. A few months back that person had told the business owner that her husband was likely to change jobs requiring a family move. She had also said that she was not enjoying the work and would look forward to leaving. So when the time came to let some people go, the boss called her to ask what the situation was with the husband’s job etc. The woman became enraged before there was really a conversation to be had, starting with “how dare you consider firing me” etc. Ultimately it became so inflamed of a discussion, that it became clear that letting her go was for the best – and ultimately they worked out a separation agreement and parted ways. However in the course of all of this tension and drama, the fourth woman said to the business owner “How can you call yourself a Catholic when you would fire the people who work for you?” This really hurt the business owner- and this was the topic of our conversation.

What does it mean to be a Catholic business owner? It does mean that you act with honesty and integrity. It does not mean that you never fire someone. Of course that is easy to see if someone is not performing on the job. It is harder to see- at least for the person being fired- when they aren’t being fired for cause. As I said to the business owner, if she didn’t make the hard decision to let people go, ultimately the entire business would go under and everyone on the staff would be fired. Is it better to fire four people and keep many employed? I think it is. What is potentially even worse is that if the company went out of business, the people the business serves (in this case patients in a medical office) would not get their service.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel good to make the hard decisions- but being “nice” in this case (i.e. not firing anyone) would still result in those people losing their jobs- along with the rest of the staff. That is not nice- even though it may make people feel better in the short run. Sometimes it is hard to know what the right, hard choice is. This is when we can:

a) Look in the Catechism and see what the Church teaches on a certain subject, or

b) Talk to your priest and see if he can help shed some light on what a real Christian solution is, or

c) Look in your bible and see what the Word of God says. If you feel like it’s hard to understand, there are some great resources. One of my favorites is The Theology of Work Project, which was put together by some wonderful Christian people who wanted to create a resource for people wondering what the Bible says about work. You may not be surprised to know that the Bible says a TON about work- and our role in being workers.

d) Talk to other Christian business leaders. It is sometimes helpful to talk this through with a sounding board.

e) Pray really hard to be enlightened as to the right decision

It is never easy to run a business and this environment is making it harder. Following the path that Jesus laid out for us on how we should behave is always the right thing to do. It can be really hard, and not feel great- but we have to do what we know is right.

Embracing Suffering

I was reading in the book of Job this morning with a group of people, and we were discussing the topic of suffering- which seems so relevant in this time. A few thoughts that surfaced:

  1. We try to solve other people’s problems or to make sense of things- as Job’s friends, with undoubtedly the best of intentions, did. But somethings aren’t ever going to make sense to us, and sometimes as friends the best thing to do is to just accompany someone in silence. I started reading the book “The Power of Silence” the other day, by Cardinal Sarah. What a beautiful and profound book that is. I find I have to read it in small bits and just think about it. Much of it focuses on the noise that we live in – both externally and in our own heads, and the importance of silencing that noise to be able to hear God. So often we just talk too much, even with the best of intentions.
  2. We live in a culture that worships youth, but like so many things, we have that wrong too. The beauty of aging is that you see that suffering is the normal part of life in a fallen world. When I was young and had loss or tragedy hit me, I thought that was the unusual part of life. Now, like most other people of a certain age, I know that the abnormal part of life is when there are no problems- that is a blessing that we can relish, but the norm is tragedy because we live in a sin filled world. The next life is the one we can look forward to, to live in holiness and without the blemish of sin- not now.
  3. Suffering causes us to be purified. Most of us can look back over our lives and see that the growth came not when things are good, but when times were hard. That’s when we grow closer to God, or shed some behavior that isn’t serving us. The book “Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century” by Robert Royal is a sobering and uplifting look at the reality of suffering for those who are closest to God. We see that in the cross- if Jesus who was without sin suffered so greatly, why would we avoid it? And our suffering can bring us closer to our Lord, and can also be offered up as a sacrifice to help others such as the poor souls in purgatory.

Embracing suffering seems entirely counter to human nature, but it is what we are called to do. Like Job we can ask God about the purpose that the suffering is meant to serve in our lives (and we may not get an answer), but we need to make sure that our trials bring us closer to the Lord and not cause us to turn away. This life is short, and we can endure- and pray for our own strength and the strength of others- to finish the race well.

“What Do You Want?”

I had the pleasure of joining a virtual Bible study last night, hosted by my terrific parish priest. He was teaching on Matthew:20 – a chapter that we have heard so many times. As is almost always the case, however, upon rereading there is always something new to learn. What really struck me this time was that twice in this chapter, Jesus asks the people he comes across “What do you want?”, or “What do you want me to do?”.

Jesus obviously knows what they want- in one case the men he encounters are blind and unable to fend for themselves- so healing is clearly what they want. In the other instance the mother of the sons of Zebedee approaches Jesus to ask for special treatment in the kingdom of heaven for her sons. Again, it was well known to the Lord what she had come to ask of Him. But in both cases, He asks them to articulate what they want. Why?

What really struck me is that Jesus clearly wants us to ask for what we want. My experience is that I have heard so many sermons, and been in so many discussions where the message was “God is not your ATM”- with the implication being that we shouldn’t just ask for what we want all the time. While this is most certainly true, the result is that I had tended to overshoot and not ask God for anything- with my prayers being “Thy will be done.” What I learned is that God is way more gentle than my interpretation had allowed for. What I got from this scripture reading is that God DOES want us to ask for our wants and needs AND it is also still important to ask that His will be done. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I think it goes back to a relationship. The analogy of a parent to a child seems to hold here. As parents who love our children, we do want our kids to come to us with their wants and needs. And as a loving parent, we would say “no” if what our children asked for is detrimental to them. And there are things that we can ask for – such as the healing of someone ill, or the conversion of a non-believer- which are good things, but we have to trust in God’s timing and His providence, to make the right things happen in the right time. The two verses that come to mind are:

Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.d10For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.11What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?12Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?13If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit* to those who ask him?”

and

Romans 8:26-28: ...we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. 27And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. 28* We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.u

In the past 12 hours I have not hesitated to bring my desires and prayers to the Lord- and what a blessing it is!