Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Life After Death

One of the most comforting beliefs of Christians is the belief that the soul is immortal and survives bodily death. We believe that even though our physical bodies die, our invisible, spiritual soul lives on. For people who have lost loved ones, this is a most comforting and hopeful belief to know that in a place we call "heaven" we will meet our loved ones again. Humans are made up of a visible, human body and an invisible soul. As human beings, beloved by our Creator and made in the image and likeness of God, we have been given souls. Eternal life is a gift from our Creator.
I've always been interested in near-death experiences. I read  a lot of them when I was in college as part of a psychology course I took. I found them to be fascinating and very believable. Many accounts are of a religious nature.  The near death experiences of children are fascinating as well. Interestingly, people who have near-death experiences are always changed by them and want to spend their lives doing good and meaningful work, especially for others. They are always transformed by the experience. 
In an online article I recently read titled, "Is There Such A Thing As Life After Death?" by Laura Fitzpatrick (Time Magazine in partnership with CNN), she wrote about a controversial new book by a radiation oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long. His book is titled, "Evidence of the Afterlife." The article begins with this intriguing and important question, which Christianity answered thousands of years ago, "Is there life after death?" According to the article, "Theologians can debate all they want, but radiation oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long says if you look at the scientific evidence, the answer is unequivocally yes. Drawing on a decade's worth of research on near-death experiences-work that includes cataloguing the stories of some 1,600 people who have gone through them-he makes the case for that controversial conclusion in his new book, Evidence of the Afterlife. Medicine, Long says, cannot account for the consistencies in the accounts reported by people all over the world."
A near death experience is described as an experience which happens in which a person is unconscious or often clinically dead, with an absence of heartbeat or breathing. They are revived and then many tell of an experience they've had which is "lucid and highly organized." They can (from my research) recall many fascinating details about their experience. 
Hundreds of scholarly articles have been written on this topic and they are very convincing. Dr. Long is interviewed for the article and a question he is asked is this, "Is life after death a scientific question or a theological one? This is his answer, "I think we have an interesting blend. This research directly addresses what religions have been telling us for millenniums to accept on faith: that there is an afterlife, that there is some order and purpose to this universe, that there's some reason and purpose for us being here in earthly life. We're finding verification, if you will, for what so many religions have been saying. It's an important step toward bringing science and religion together." Well said!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Generosity and Hope

I am greatly impressed by the goodness and generosity of people throughout the world who are coming to the aid of Haiti. There has been so much depressing news of late but the uplifting news is that nations, corporations, businesses and people of every race, nationality and religion, throughout the world, have come through for the people of Haiti. It's very encouraging. A special celebrity telethon on "Larry King Live," raised more than $8 million in disaster relief. There has been an outpouring from Americans. They have given hundreds of millions of dollars and money continues to be raised by charities. Text messaging and social media has made it easier for people to give. Celebrities who have a lot to be thankful for are continuing to make large donations. Leonardo DiCaprio recently donated $1 million to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. George Clooney has also donated $1 million to the Haiti relief. 
Tonight CNN's Anderson Cooper, (who has done a remarkable job reporting from Haiti, along with the other journalists who are there), will co-host a 'Hope for Haiti' charity telethon. It will be a commercial-free global telethon. George Clooney will host from LA and Wyclef Jean from NYC. There will be live performances by celebrities. I'm sure it will raise millions more for this important cause. 
The people of the world came together to support a good cause and to respond to the "poorest of the poor." They have a desire to help, to share and to give. It is showing the best of humanity. If only, it could always be this way, such a united response to the suffering of others. People helping other people in need, showing care and concern. "Loving thy neighbor as thyself "....  it would be the world as it was meant to be.
Besides the moving images of people being rescued from the rubble, the images that I found hopeful and compelling were the orphans who were being brought to the United States to be united with families who adopted them. What extraordinary people to open their hearts and homes to these children, who have nothing. These children are being given a chance to live a good life. The children were shown hugging tightly these generous people, who were adopting them. They were beautiful images of hope and goodness. Each child was being given the dignity and love each human being is entitled to.  This is the best of humanity, human beings doing God's work in the world, being the hands of Christ for others.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Apocalypse in Haiti

From the photographs and news coverage coming from parts of Haiti, it looks like what has been described as an apocalypse. If there was any truth to the end time scenarios that have been discussed, written about and "interpreted"  from some literal interpretations from the Bible, then this is what an apocalyptic event must look like. It seems to have happened in Haiti. Churches are destroyed and the much loved Archbishop Miot is dead. In one report I read, over 100 priests (I'm not sure if that includes the seminarians) are dead in the rubble as well as nuns, schoolchildren and thousands of innocent, faithful people. That sounds apocalyptic to me. 
I've tried hard not to watch the news, but I can't pull myself away. As disturbing as the news is, I've watched a lot of it. I watched in disbelief the other evening as doctors abandoned patients at a field hospital in Haiti. Apparently, someone gave the order for them to leave, though they didn't want to, but there were concerns for their safety. It was just one more surreal episode. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta made the noble decision to stay that evening to care for the patients, along with his staff and security people.  Thankfully, the doctors returned in the morning. I was very impressed with Dr. Gupta's decision, that he stayed through the night to care for the patients. I went to sleep that evening wondering if Dr. Gupta would stay, wondering who would care for those desperate people, some of them had just been operated on.  Though I didn't know them, they are all my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Body of Christ is suffering beyond comprehension. There is so much loss and suffering and yet amazingly there are signs of hope, signs of faith. On Sunday morning, people prayed throughout Haiti. Many newspapers, including the New York Times covered stories of the faith of the people. Unshaken faith as one pastor called it. Some Haitians went to pray near their destroyed Churches and they offered praise to God. That's the great thing about having faith, when all else fails, faith can be an anchor, a gift beyond measure. In one account I read, as Food for the Poor, a charitable organization, began to distribute food, people fell to their knees to thank God. Faith amidst ruin and disaster. It's one thing to have deep faith when nothing is seriously wrong, but to maintain faith in such an abysmal situation is courageous.
The faith of the people of Haiti is being tested. Can you blame some people for their anger, disappointment and anguish? I certainly can't. They need our prayers. Can we blame the parents who have lost children for saying, "There is no God." One woman in a fit of anger, threw her Bible into a fire. I pray that someday she can once again read the Bible with openness and faith. These distraught people are not suffering alone, God is suffering too.
The help is arriving, slowly, but the goodness and generosity of caring, good, decent people, throughout the world, is arriving. There is so much goodness in the world and the people of Haiti will soon see an abundance of an outpouring of that goodness, care and concern. 
The demolished Churches will be rebuilt. The homes and businesses will be rebuilt, in time. The Haitian people will rise from the ashes. But for those who have lost loved ones, the pain, the disappointment will linger on. Perhaps in time, they will be able to say (for this I pray), "We don't understand, but we do believe in God and God's mercy." For if we believe in eternal life, then we have to be confident in being with our deceased loved ones again. That is what we profess.

I have called to you, Lord; hasten to help me!
Hear my voice when I cry to you.
Let my prayer arise before you like incense,
the raising of my hands like an evening oblation.   (Ps.141)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Armageddon-Like Disaster in Haiti

As a believer and a person of deep faith, it's difficult at times like this, to understand why such horrific natural disasters happen in our world. We live in a fallen world, an imperfect world. When tectonic plates shift, collide or slide against each other earthquakes occur. Sometimes these temblors are minor and at other times they occur with catastrophic consequences, as unfortunately is the case in Haiti. And so my husband asks me a question that millions of others are asking, "Why?" "Why does God allow suffering of this magnitude?" "Why doesn't God prevent natural disasters?" Of course, I can't answer those questions, they can only be answered when we enter eternity. These poor Haitian people have endured so much suffering already, so many natural disasters, such poverty and so many are Catholic-80% of the population is Catholic. The Christmas Season just ended, some people still have their decorations up and an end-time scenario, of biblical proportions hit, out of no where. (Some scientists have been predicting a major earthquake would occur along that fault line.) No one knows the answer as to why it happened now. Even people of deep faith cannot make sense of this disaster or others like it. People of deep faith understand that there is mystery woven into our faith and some mysteries cannot be explained or understood. 
The Earth is a magnificent creation, but there are defects, obvious defects in weather and also in the geological make-up of our planet. I sometimes think that creation is so beautiful that it has to have some imperfections, that somehow we can't blame God for that. Perhaps total perfection was not possible, in the order and beauty that was created. Those are just some of my thoughts..............
I have difficulty watching television, the images are too devastating. Real people are living through this horror. How sad that the Archbishop of Haiti, Archbishop Miot died in the rubble. He died alongside his people. He shared their suffering and their fate. The seminarians, religious and priests who ministered in Haiti and who have died are the best of people to minister and serve in such a poor country. These are exemplary Christians and they too died doing Christ-like work. I pray each one is remembered for the sacrifice they made.
Just a couple of weeks ago, people wrote about having hope for the New Year and the new decade and now this. Hopefully, humankind will rise up and through humanitarian and relief efforts help rebuild the country with building materials that can withstand disasters (though we pray this never occurs again). 
I will soon begin receiving letters from organizations I contribute to asking for help for this crisis.  Catholic Relief Services has begun mobilizing, they already have a presence in Haiti and have pledged millions. They are an excellent organization. The Diocese of Richmond, Virginia also has a mission in Haiti. I will find out through their mission newsletter how it was affected. There will be second collections at Masses this weekend and Americans will be generous, as they always are.  I'm going to make a conscious effort in the coming weeks, not to spend money on unnecessary items,  so I can be generous.  And my prayers will continue to join the prayers of all the others being offered as well. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Great Idea Filled With Good Sense

A very inspiring article appeared on AOL News a few weeks ago about a priest who started a clothing company called Goods of Conscience. The article, "A Miracle on Main Street? This Man of the Cloth is Running a Clothing Company," by Geoff Williams, tells the story of a Catholic priest, Fr. Andrew More O'Connor from Holy Family Parish in the Bronx, who designs clothes and sells them through his company. His company is a nonprofit. Many are benefitting from his hard work and great idea.
He came up with the idea while traveling to Guatemala in 2005. He's helping to empower some of the people he met on that trip. "Everyone who buys clothing from the on-line retail store is helping to support Guatemalan workers who are skilled in the lost craft known as back-strap weaving." Handcrafted fabric from Guatemala is shipped to his Church and then the fabric is weaved by seamstresses in NY and turned into clothing which is sold on the Goods of Conscience website. The clothes are expensive but well made. I've already visited the site. Part of the proceeds from the sale of the clothing is used to make school uniforms, that are sent back to Guatemala to give children the advantage of getting an education in uniforms made from fabric from their country. He also uses part of the proceeds to help his Church and its school. "If more priests were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, O'Connor says there's no reason why we couldn't see more men of the cloth running their own mini-corporate empires. 'There are a lot of churches with unused space and talented people. Absolutely, this business model could work anywhere.'"
I love his idea. I often said at meetings that the Church should look for ways to utilize unused buildings and space, to make money to sustain their good works. I've read of other religions doing that successfully. It's an idea worth looking into. It could help Catholic schools which are struggling. When I read about Fr. O'Connor's work, I thought to myself, he has the right idea. He's helping the less fortunate, while also helping his parish and school. And I'm sure people are proud to say that the item of clothing they are wearing is from Goods of Conscience. Each piece of clothing they wear has a story and does good. Their clothing choice is making a statement and helping others. I hope in the future, Fr. O'Connor considers also producing a more reasonable line of clothing, then I would definitely order some pieces. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More on New Year's Resolutions

A new year lies ahead, with more opportunities to fulfill one's dreams, to hope and be more optimistic. Do you want to be happier? You could try journaling, or thinking about or writing down what you are grateful for. That makes people happier. Finding more time for peaceful reflection and prayer always makes me feel better. Or you could move to Costa Rica. According to a column in the New York Times titled, "The Happiest People," by Nicholas Kristof, the happiest people in the world live in Costa Rica. Perhaps its the beautiful beaches or the magnificent rain forests that are there.  Being surrounded by spectacular scenery and unspoiled nature does reduce stress. When I visited Hawaii last Spring, which has beautiful scenery, I wondered what it would be like to live in a place like that, all the time. While there, I met people from the East Coast who made drastic lifestyle changes and moved to Hawaii. More and more people can do that in modern times, because of the internet. I could never make such a drastic change, but I'm always impressed by people who do that. For all the craziness in New York City and its suburbs, it's an amazing place to live. I loved visiting Rockefeller Center, with my family during Advent, to see the Christmas tree. We always stop into St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray and experience the awe-inspiring cathedral.  It's truly a treasure in NYC. 
But getting back to New Year's resolutions, according to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, professor of psychology at Yale University, "Gradual small steps motivate people toward change...write down the steps you want to take in a notebook to make it concrete and reward yourself for making individual changes... For instance, if you want to be more optimistic then you have to imagine what you would be like if you were optimistic. Imagine yourself going through a day at work if you were optimistic and confident, then write that down in great detail." (From CNN.com-"Ten Ways To Get Motivated for Change in 2010.") 
Also interesting..if you want to read the top ten New Year's resolutions go to-- http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/holidays/tp/resolutions.htm
Hoping you can follow through on your resolutions, if you've made any.  I'm trying to be disciplined and stay focused on mine.

The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Hopes, New Resolutions

Change is on the minds of a lot of people at this time of year. It's the beginning of January, a new year and a new decade lies ahead. As Christians, time is always filled with hope. I once read the following quote that I never forgot, "Hope is not an option for Christians, it is essential to our faith." A new year offers new beginnings, challenges, resolutions for positive growth and change and hope that all will be well. Abraham Lincoln said, "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other."
Edith Pierce said this, "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."
Those two quotes and others appeared in an online article of words of inspiration for the New Year in The Huffington Post-http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/31/new-years-quotes-sayings_n_408147.html
I loved the quotes, I love quotes in general and so I got a little inspiration by looking online for others. I like this one too by Oprah Winfrey-"Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right."
The first Sunday of January of the New Year, was a frigid, windy morning in the Northeast. But it was also Epiphany and a morning to share with children what the feast means. For me, there is no better way to share the meaning of Epiphany than with children. So after the readings for the children, I asked the children sitting in front of me, "Who wants to be Mary, the Mother of God?" I had borrowed a few statues from the Church creche, with permission, of course. The baby Jesus and the Three Kings were in the small chapel where we gathered. And so I needed a child to kneel in front of the crib to act as Mary and a child to "play" Joseph. Two children came forward and I threw a fringed beige shawl that I had, over the little girl who knelt beside the statue of the baby Jesus. She was a perfect little Mary. And Joseph knelt on the other side. The statues of the Three Kings, bearing gifts, were behind them. I had also wrapped up gifts of "gold, frankincense and myrrh," so other children could bring those gifts and place them in front of Jesus. I told the children that the best gift they had given to the baby Jesus that morning, was coming to Church, in spite of the very cold weather. That was a sacrifice, leaving their warm, comfortable beds to get up for Church. And so on Epiphany Sunday, their presence was the best gift of all. Presence-wide-eyed presence and alertness is a great gift to God. 
I always make New Year's resolutions as most people do. Apparently about 40% of people make resolutions each year. According to experts, resolutions are good, because you're more likely to reach a goal, if you make a resolution. My resolutions are usually a combination of goals to improve my health alongside goals and resolutions to grow spiritually. Improving my health means exercising more and eating mindfully. My resolution to grow spiritually is to "keep focused on Jesus" and to "look to the Lord" for everything. That's it. Keep my gaze on Jesus....on where the Lord is leading me, what God's will is for me, praying to stay focused and that is enough. Living with the knowledge and hope that God is with me, guiding me and bringing my plans to fruition. If I keep up with my prayer disciplines, and keep focused on what's important then the year will unfold with many blessings and surprises. Hope is a beautiful thing. 

Epiphany is not only about "seeing" the light of Christ, but also about being changed by it.  (Msgr. Joe DeGrocco)