Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jesus Is The Answer

I've been away and if you've noticed I haven't posted an entry lately, it means you read my blog, at least sometimes. Thanks, I appreciate that. I'm not sure how many people read my blog and that doesn't really matter to me. I'm writing because I want to prevent Alzheimer's Disease (no kidding), stir up my creativity and keep it alive and share my deep faith. It's all about having dreams, and trying to realize them. I have deep faith and dreams and I believe that I have an advantage in life because of my relationship with God, because I study and pray with God's word and receive Eucharist frequently. I also listen carefully to homilies and lectures. I learn a lot from them as well as from my religious/spiritual books and articles, that are never far from me (even when I travel I select reading material for trips). The glue that holds it all together is my trust in God. Trusting in God, with confidence and perseverance is crucial on the spiritual journey, as Scripture suggests.
Good luck to people who live without faith. I don't know how they do it. Living in this uncertain world with faith, is hard enough. It seems like natural disasters are happening more frequently, there have certainly been strong earthquakes of late, in different parts of the world. That makes people anxious. I called my cousin in Hawaii last night to let her know I was praying for her at Mass on Saturday evening and she said, "We prayed down that tsunami!" Before the cancellation of the tsunami alert, it was pretty tense on the Hawaiian Islands. As my cousin explained to me, all the low-lying areas near the water were evacuated. Talk about uncertainty. How do you get through a tsunami warning without prayer? No clue.
I found an old article that I saved written by a well known Carmelite priest titled, "The Saving Role of the Human Christ For St. Teresa" by Rev. Eamon Carroll. It's the kind of article I read every few years. I like to be reminded that we should continually have our focus "fixed on Jesus." I don't think we can hear or read that enough. I know it always helps me to keep things in perspective. This is an excerpt from the article.......
Christianity has lived on the conviction that there is no true Christian prayer without Christ.... Teresa learned from the master teacher, Jesus himself. It is another depth to Teresa's Christology that she saw the achievement of full human potential in union with Jesus Christ. We become most properly human beings when in the center of our very selves, Christ is enthroned , the human Jesus who is the very Son of God, the revelation of God's kindness to us in the power of the Spirit. 
And so during Lent and in the midst of so much uncertainty, which is part of the times we are living through,  it is best to keep our focus on Jesus, because Christ is the answer, along with prayer, to all anxieties and problems. Life without Christ is a barren desert, life with Christ is filled with hope and possibility. It says that over and over again in the Bible and in varied ways throughout the New Testament. And in the Hebrew Scriptures it says over and over again, that God is faithful and true. 

Trust in the Lord and the Lord will help you.  (Proverbs 20:22)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Journey Towards God

Like the word, like Jesus in the flesh, we are invited to live our life here on Earth as a journey toward God...The ultimate truth of human life is that all our searching leads to God. In St. Augustine's timeless words, 'You have made us for yourself (O God) and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. This is something we know about every human being. He or she is made for God; there will always be an incompleteness until a person arrives at God....Opening ourselves to God is what makes us come alive (Towards God-The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer-Michael Casey).

Having faith, taking part in religious rituals and traditions, belonging to a faith community has always made me feel most alive, that's one of the reasons my faith is so important to me, why I couldn't imagine life without it.
In multi-cultural New York where I live, when you walk into a store on Ash Wednesday with ashes on your forehead as I did today, the clerk looks at you strangely and then asks, "What do you have on your forehead?" And so the explanation begins as I wait for my coffee, "For Catholics, today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Season of Lent, a time of sacrifice, deep prayer, penance and self-reflection.........This Lent I will give up cookies and cake as I always do, but I'm adding a few other things as well. I've added "skinny vanilla lattes" which I love. You know that I love God, if I'm giving up lattes for 40 days! 
The homilist at today's Mass gave a simple homily on the words of today's Scripture readings, which is always best. Ash Wednesday is a teachable moment, the Church is full, it's good for a homilist to make the most of it. "Go towards God and away from sin. Repent from all that keeps you from growing closer to God." From the Prophet Joel, "Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping......" Thankfully the first reading ended with these words, "Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people." And so once again, this Lent, we beg for God's mercy and love. Where would we be without God's mercy and love? No where. 
Pope Benedict wrote this about faith, "Faith actually looks to God with determination and thus impels us in turn to look to God and set out towards God." 
Setting out towards God with determination, seeking God's mercy, forgiveness and love is a good way to begin Lent.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Supremacy of Love

I believe the entire New Testament can be summed up in the word "love." "God is love" according to Scripture and God is truth and wisdom and so much more.  Jesus commanded us, "Love one another as I have loved you," and yet so often we fall short of that commandment. So often Catholics as well as others fail to love and yet at other times I'm overwhelmed by the generosity and compassion I see in the world. I guess we are still in the process of growing towards God and God's will for humankind.  
I was fascinated by an AOL article I read titled, "Millionaire is Giving Away His Entire Fortune," by Terence Neilan. Austrian millionaire, Karl Rabeder has decided to give away all his money saying that "My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing...Money is counterproductive-it prevents happiness to come." He intends to move into a small hut or studio and sell off his homes. The article tells why he's taking such drastic action. He went on a three week vacation with his wife and he had feelings of guilt and a sense that "there was a connection between his wealth and the poverty he saw." He was quoted as saying, "It was the biggest shock of my life when I realized how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five-star lifestyle is." 
He is giving his money to a non-profit organization that offers small loans to needy people in Central and South America to encourage development. He is offering the poor a way out of poverty. Very noble idea and action!  
This is the kind of love that Jesus spoke about. I'm not sure if this man and his wife are religious or spiritual, but they are following one of Jesus' commands literally "to sell everything and give it to the poor, if you would be a disciple."
I'm curious as to his wife's reaction to all this is. I would imagine she is supportive. 
I would like to hear more about this story in the future to learn about the people Mr. and Mrs. Rabeder help, the good that comes from their life-changing decision. 
In the end, it's all about love. As St. John of the Cross said, "In the evening of life you will be judged on how well you have loved." Perhaps the greatest lessons we can learn in this life have to do with love, generosity and compassion.  Happy Valentine's Day! Many blessings to you and an appreciation for God's immense love for you!!

I am united forever to God whom I have loved with all the strength of my heart. 
St. Therese of Lisieux

Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.  Thomas Aquinas

They do not love, that do not show their love.  
Shakespeare- Two Gentlemen of Verona

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Snowstorm and "Avatar" Thoughts

As I sit in my house, surrounded by a winter wonderland, I get to spend the day in quiet- there are no planes or helicopters flying overhead, just snowflakes quietly falling. I love these kinds of days (as long as I don't have to drive) and can enjoy the beauty of it all.  As I look out my windows, it's as beautiful as "Pandora" outside. The three snow-covered evergreen trees, in front, are a wonder to behold, drooping in thick snow.  
 I went to see "Avatar" over the weekend to see what all the hype was about and "Pandora" was a  beautiful place to "visit" with 3D glasses on.....but I think there are parts of our planet that are just as beautiful, if you are attentive. 
In an interesting article titled "The Avatar Effect," by Jacob Osterhout, he states, Sometimes a movie is more than just a movie. Sometimes a movie is so large in scale, so impressive in scope, so ahead of its time, that it becomes a cultural phenomenon. So it is with "Avatar", James Cameron's latest big budget blockbuster, for which he spent a sum nearly the size of Samoa's gross national product to make. Love it or hate it, the movie cannot be ignored.  That's why I had to see it. The cinematography was amazing, the natural beauty of "Pandora," was other- worldly but the plot was very familiar to me. We've heard that story before.....unfortunately. 
What I found fascinating, is something that my son told me about regarding the movie, that surprised me. Apparently, some fans of "Avatar" better known as "Avatards" "have become so immersed in the movie that they suffer from withdrawal when it ends. People actually get depressed after seeing the movie, some are even suicidal after seeing the film, "due to a longing for the beauty of the fictional planet Pandora." If someone feels "suicidal" definitely seek help, say your prayers and then I suggest you plan a trip to the Grand Canyon National Park, it's natural beauty rivals anything on Pandora, or Niagara Falls or Kauai, Hi.  The Swiss Alps were majestic the last time I saw them. But closer to home I'm pretty awe-struck when I walk on any one of the East Coast beaches, they are beautiful too. And I find the Catskill Mountain range pretty "Pandoraesque." 
There is so much beauty on our own planet, no need to be depressed. As a matter of fact, I'm going to get dressed in winter gear and head outside to clean the snow off my car, even though it's still snowing. I promised my husband I would at least help him with that part of the clean-up. By the way, there are a number of studies which show that people who spend time walking in the sunshine, spending time outside in a natural environment are less depressed and anxious. For all the "Avatards" out there, I suggest you start enjoying Planet Earth. It's a pretty impressive creation. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Interesting Tours For Travel Experiences

At this time of year people begin to think about their summer vacations. I recently read a fascinating article titled "Tours To Make You Scratch Your Head," by Libby Zay and thought it would be "fun" to write a blog about some unusual tours. For people who like to do something different and exciting while on vacation, they're worth looking into. For those of us who live in or near New York City there are plenty of free walking tours that you can do on your own. NYC neighborhoods are filled with interesting, culturally diverse, ethnically rich places to visit, great restaurants to eat in and beautiful Churches to explore and stop in to pray. People watching is great in NY too!  Everything combined is what makes New York one of the greatest cities in the world.  I'm partial, of course. Great neighborhoods to explore include: Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, Bay Ridge and Coney Island in Brooklyn to name a few and then there's Astoria, Forest Hills, Long Island City in Queens. In Manhattan there are endless neighborhoods to explore. Relatives of mine just moved to the Lower East Side- very trendy and also there's the Village, SoHo and many others. But for those of us who plan on traveling out of NY here are some fascinating tours to consider.....
Love for the Slums-Mumbai, India-I can't imagine anyone wanting to visit a slum on vacation but there are people who want to see how people live firsthand. There is a new trend called "poverty tourism." I was upset enough when I watched the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," if I ever visited the actual slum, I wouldn't sleep for a week. But in any event, whatever you think about this tour, 80% of the profits are donated to Mumbai's poor, so that's good. (By the way, I know an extraordinary Jesuit priest who is building a school outside one of the largest slums in the world in Nairobi, Kenya. That school will provide the children with a way out of that slum).
Tour de Sewer-Paris, France-Several tour companies allow tourists to visit underground arteries of Paris. There is even a museum called the Museum of the Sewers of Paris. Seeing drain pipes is a highlight of this tour. If I ever get to Paris, I want to see museums and Churches, not sewers but everyone's different.
When my sons were young, we would rent a house in the Pocono Mountains, PA, every summer, where there is a large population of black bears. So I've been in the situation where I was walking on a country road alone and a black bear walked right in front of me, turned around looked at me and continued walking. I was very relieved that he continued on his way. There are people who are interested in seeing bears in the wild and so the following tour would appeal to them. It's titled, "Hunt or Be Hunted"-British Columbia, Canada. "For over ten years, Great Bear Nature Tours has been taking tourists into the wilderness in search of Grizzlies. For 2 to 7 nights you can go into the wild with a biologist as a guide, searching for bears." As a person who came very close to a bear in the wild I can tell you, it's a frightening experience. Only the brave need apply for a brochure. By the way, Grizzlies are brown bears and they can be dangerous, it's rare for a black bear to attack a human being, but it does happen from time to time. 
As I told the two hundred Catholic parents that I spoke to today about deepening faith in their children, when on vacation always remember to visit a new Church and explore the architecture, stain glass and statues. We are blessed to have so many magnificent Churches all over the world.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creativity/ Catholic Missionaries Needed

In January, my blog-Brooklyn-Born-Believer was a year old. I remember a year ago, when a fellow employee where I worked, helped me get the blog going. When I mentioned to him that I enjoyed reading his blog and I would like to blog, in the future, he said, "It's easy to start a blog, I'll show you how to do" I wasn't too sure that I wanted to start a blog at that moment in life. But I put my concerns aside, after all I would be sharing my deep faith and that's important to me. Before long I was on my way. Well, it was easy enough to get the blog started, it's quite another story keeping it up. It takes effort generating new ideas for topics and work to keep it current and interesting and though I love to write, it's a time commitment and involves effort. 
When Pope Benedict recently suggested that more priests should blog (some already do), I thought to myself, that's a nice idea, but will they have time for it. Interestingly, the blogger who helped me get started recently closed his blog down, just saying he was going on to do other things. The comments that people left on his blog were interesting. People were sad to see his blog end, he obviously had many readers who liked his work. But more importantly they appreciated all the work he had put into his blog. I wish Patrick McNamara the best, in whatever he is going on to. 

On another note, in a recent AOL News article I read on the internet titled, "After Quake Evangelicals Find Opportunity," by Emily Schmall, it mentions a quote by an evangelical Christian pastor, Gersan Valcin, who has a congregation in a middle- class suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, "For a Christian, this is the best time to be alive. Out of tragedy, there is opportunity." So as the evangelicals see an opportunity to bolster faith and congregations in Haiti, while encouraging people to believe in God, God's mercy and the goodness of human beings, the Catholic Church has the opportunity to do the same. I'm sure they are but as mentioned in the article, the Church has been severely damaged (literally) with the "once-majestic Notre Dame Cathedral in ruins and parishioners continue to mourn the loss of the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Miot. 
Tim Dale, from Austin, Texas is part of an evangelical congregation in Texas that helps to finance Gersan Valcin's work in Haiti. He is quoted as saying, "Churches are kind of the infrastructure for getting the message out and getting things done....Evangelism underlies the mission of mercy." 
As an evangelizer for Christ, Gersan Valcin is seizing the moment, as he should. Likewise, it is a good opportunity for Catholic missionaries and religious orders to expand their programs and outreach in Haiti. It is my hope, that the Haitian people deepen their faith as they rebuild their small country, and they continue to move forward with hope, courage and a deep belief in God's abiding presence.