Friday, November 16, 2012

Can you Spare a Dime?

Recently I received an email from a Jewish friend, which read: "I finally figured out that the rule of Gemilut Hasidim is you should always do what is right - even if others do not. Tradition holds that a Jew must give to a beggar in the street when asked. Equally important, Jewish commentary insists that a beggar or poor person be treated with dignity. There are many reasons for this, but two stand out. By performing Gemilut Hasidim, people cultivate the divine qualities within them. Also important within Judaism is the notion that anyone who suffers diminishes every member of the community."

"Brilliant!" I emailed back, and thought, "vaguely familiar." So I started reading. What I discovered upon digging deeper into this Jewish rule of 'loving kindness' was a heritage that we as Christians and Catholics draw richly upon as well.

First, we recognize God as the Master of Charity - that He sustains all creation through His acts of kindness and that as recipients of this kindness, we emulate Him when we act in a like manner to one another. If we recognize that we are totally dependent on this loving Creator, that everything we have is a gift from Him and we own nothing of ourselves, then pride and feelings of superiority are non-existant - we give, we share, with the same reckless and selfless abandon.

In Jewish philosophy: we are the middlemen, facilitating the process of delivering goods and services received from an infinite storehouse of kindness to the rightful owners - those in need. Our payment: the pleasure of experiencing a closeness to God.

In Christian philosophy, ala St Gregory the Great: "When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice." Or St Francis of Assisi: "Alms are an inheritance and a justice which is due to the poor, and which Jesus Christ has levied upon us."

A justice due - the same justice spoken of in Old Testament Proverbs: "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Prov 21:3); of which Isaiah wrote: "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow" (Isa. 1:10-17); and of what the Jews call, 'tsedakah', not a favor granted by the giver but a holy obligation, a duty to give - joyfully - with a true and rightful compassion for the recipient.

The more we have received from God," says St. John Eudes, "the more we are obliged to render to him." (See Matt 25:14-30)

Gemilut Hasidim equates giving to others with buying something for ourselves. When we give, we are 'buying' the opportunity to help another person. "Nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as to give alms" says St Francis de Sales. In a spiritual sense, we become wealthy beyond imagining; so, as my friend pointed out, we "cultivate the divine qualities" while satisfying temporal need. Wealth, therefore, exists only to provide an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of those without. "We must give alms," says St Angela Merici, "Charity wins souls and draws them to virtue." We might say, it forces the poor to place their trust in God while providing the wealthy the circumstances in which to serve Him in their fellow man. So, we treat the poor and the needy with dignity, in private (see Matt 6:2-4), so as to not bring attention to their plight, and they accept with humble thanks, from God's limitless bounty ...

Secondly, while the notion of a worldly (or other-worldly) unity with, or interdependence on, each and every member of a society is shared by many different ideologies and faiths (a Budhist friend once remarked that this belief has remarkable similarities to his understanding of nirvana!); while we all share in the dignity inherent as children created in the image and likeness of God himself - a brotherhood of man - how much more it is realized in the members of the Church He founded: "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor 12:13)

St. Paul explains our belief in this fashion: "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Rom 12:4-5) This bears repeating: "we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another." So, each time we act with compassion upon those in need, we build up one another - build up ourselves - as members of this same body, the Church. Jesus himself couldn't have made it much clearer when he said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me." (Matt 25:40)

It stands to reason then that there is no such thing as an unimportant or insignificant member in the Mystical Body of Christ, right? "God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." (1 Cor:24-26)

In a metaphysical sense, there is no such thing as a 'private' sin nor a truly private act of charity. Just as every good action affects the universe positively, every bad action conversely so - in ways only God can see and measure. The Church calls this a "supernatural solidarity." (Indulgentarium Doctrina, Ch II) How may we be impacting others we don't even know by our daily thoughts, words, and actions - or inactions? How too may we be of immeasureable service to the Church Suffering and Militant when we give alms or offer up our simple daily crosses? We can be assured from Matthew's gospel (Matt 24:41-45, 16:27), that we will be held accountable for all on the day of judgement. St. John of the Cross puts it plainly: "At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity."

"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main ... any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." Metaphysical poet, John Donne, reflected upon this oneness in death; but we as Catholics know it too in life, in eternity with the Communion of Saints, and in the love of Christ through neighbor as fellow members of His Mystical Body.

"We are all poor beggars," says St. Alphonsus Liguori, "The only hope of the poor is to ask alms from the rich. In our spiritual poverty our only recourse is to beg God, by prayer, for the graces of which we stand in need." We are taught by St. Francis and his order that there is a humble and quiet dignity in begging for the necessities of life. If we want to see true love, we look into the eyes of Lady Poverty who can in no other way return the love we share by giving alms.

Pray for the poor. Be generous - not only from our surplus, our want, but from our necessity. (See Mk 12:41-44) "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Matt 6:21) Not only with our financial resources, but with our time and talents, too. God knows what's in our hearts. He knows in what spirit we give. We pray for the cardinal virtue of Prudence ("right reason in action" writes St. Thomas Aquinas); we discern genuine need and then in justice, by His grace, act upon it. "He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed." (Prv 19:17)

"Give to the man who begs from you," Jesus says. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:42,48) And again: "If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." (Matt 19:21) So give - joyfully give - for it is not really ours to keep; and pray for those in need, place them in the loving hands of our heavenly Father: the Master of Charity.

Bill Rysavy
Holy Name Society
Archdiocese of St. Paul / Minneapolis

Monday, September 24, 2012

“Life Offers us Many Ways to Suffer..."

Regardless of whether it’s merited or not, whether a consequence of a conscious choice or a turn of an unfriendly card, suffering is part of our fallen human nature. There’s no escaping it in this life. We may try to fight it and we may not admit it, but ultimately, we all serve, we all sacrifice, and we all suffer.

There are questions we need to ask ourselves in the face of suffering: What do we do with it? What is our attitude towards it? Like tempering steel, it can be a source of great strength and growth if we let it. If it becomes more than merely something to endure or plow through, we (or someone else) may merit from it.

Even with God’s grace and the dignity brought about through endurance, sometimes the meaning of suffering can only be discerned by looking at it through the lens of time. “Misfortunes” may become blessings with the proper perspective. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote: “... suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Power of One

Watching the Olympic competitions presently underway in England, one observes the performances of awesome, world class athletes in competition with the best of the best. Whether in an individual or team sport, the winning participants often reach their goals measured in tenths or thousands of a second. These athletes draw on resources accessible to them from their extensive training, from their sacrifices and commitment to their sport, and from skills acquired through intensive training. Their performances are built on skills perfected over time to the point where excelling is natural, even taken for granted. They have acquired an exceptional power individually or as a member of a team.

A few days ago, we saw an extraordinary example of the power that individuals can have under the most horrendous of conditions. People across the country and around the world, watched newscasters recount the details of horrendous carnage that was perpetrated during a premier showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. The media pounced on this killing field for days recording and presenting the “story” from every accessible angle. However, what emerged, from at least some of these televised reports, was not only the detailing of the acts of the lone gunman, but also the reports of the awesome, heroic and powerful life-saving services rendered by some of these “Batman” movie fans. From this one incident many viewers were reminded of the “power of One.” From where does the courage arise to respond and do such brave deeds with such selfless disregard for themselves? Do we as average men and women of God have the same capacity to excel?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Christian Family - A Centripetal Force

The Christian Family - A Centripetal Force

A great deal of attention and much discussion has recently centered on a subject that should interest Holy Name Society members tremendously.  It is the state of the American family. The family is a microcosm of the Church; it has an important place in God’s plan for the salvation of individual souls throughout the world.

There is growing unrest today among Holy Name Society members on what is believed to be a decline in family values.  Family values can best be described as the values or beliefs that provide for a safe and secure environment for children to learn true moral values as taught to us by our Christian faith – values that keep a family in harmony and peace.

There seems to be a “centrifugal” force at work in our families. This describes the phenomenon that seems to pull our families apart, a force that should concern us greatly.   The word centrifugal means literally to flee the center or fly from the center.  A simple dictionary definition speaks of a force or action proceeding away from a center (see pictorial above).  Scientists speak of this as a force that an object moving along a circular path exerts on that object constraining the object and acts outwardly driving it away from the center of rotation.  An example would be a stone whirled on a string exerts centrifugal force on the string.  The opposite force is called "centripetal" force i.e. “seeking the center” and so proceeding in a direction to the center of rotation – a force directly opposed to centrifugal force.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For Ash Wednesday, Suffering, My Role in the Mystical Body of Christ

As a Catholic I have heard about suffering all of my life. I never gave it any real thought outside of Christ’s Passion until I was diagnosed with cancer and really started feeling the pain of this horrible disease.

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh and I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.” Col 1:24-26

Amazing to think of it in this context and much easier to understand when we are told to “offer up our sufferings” for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ok, now you will ask, “Offer it Up?” Yes, we offer it up in order to unite our sufferings to those of Jesus, in order to complete the salvation that he indeed fulfilled on Calvary over 2000 years ago. When we join our suffering to His it gives us a sense of being complete within the mystery of the Mass.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Freedom of Religion in America?

 There are many lessons we can learn from history if we pay attention to them. I would like to talk about these lessons. It shows how evil can triumph over a nation, if it is done gradually, and no one responds.
 In 1932 a man with a funny looking mustache was seen in many parts of Germany campaigning to be the leader of the nation. He talked about the “Jewish menace”. Many people thought he was goofy and they paid little attention to him.  No one did anything. As time went on this man formed a political party, the Nazis’. He encouraged them to persecute the Jewish people, and they listened to him.  No one stepped up to say or do anything. This man then came to power. He began to take away the rights of the Jewish people.  He would not allow them to teach in the Universities, or to practice their professions. He even forced them to leave the country. No one did anything. One night the persecution went a step farther. Jewish businesses were vandalized. No one did anything. Next he deported the Jewish people to concentration camps for slave labor. No one did anything.  Lastly, the “final step” took place - genocide. Over six million Jewish people were murdered, and along with them many Catholic Religious (e.g. Maximillian Kolbe)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Works of Mercy - Today

Many years ago when living out a very difficult few years of my life the Corporal Works of Mercy remained on my mind almost daily, today as I see society unravel at the seams I find myself floating back to those moments in time where I was the one in need of works of mercy….

The Bible is a constant companion in the life of many Christians, it is the guidepost many use along our journey of life but for me it is much, much more. In January of last year (2011) I found myself in the hospital on the receiving end of a diagnoses from a specialist in oncology, a cancer doctor. I was told that I had pancreatic cancer and that from this moment on my life would never be the same. Well those words were pretty accurate and indeed my life has not been the same. It has become better in so many ways it’s even hard for me to believe at times.

That day took me back to the times in my life when I felt truly alone and unsure of anything - that my life had been one big waste of time - with no meaning and no fruitfulness. For the next few days I sat in that hospital bed wondering just what would happen to me and what would people say. Most I was sure would simply say “Oh, I am so sorry to hear that” and go on about their business. But really, what had I done to cause people to take notice?