A letter to the editor and Brother Bruno’s excellent thoughts on Lent

 

 

Here is a letter I wrote to the editor of the National Catholic Reporter after receiving my second issue from them.  It is one issue that weighs heavily on my mind.

“I have been flummoxed by the change I have observed in church liturgy over the last 5 years.  This trend was finally named and addressed in the article “North Carolina ‘Church in Exile’ battles “restorationists.” I was both relieved to have it identified and sourced; and panicked that it is widespread. (please see ORIGINAL article from NCR 2-24-17—-3-9-17)

I started a Website to address the disrespect in our Catholic churches in dress, attitude and behavior after a noticeable shift by adults while attending Mass, and in children, who imitate what they see. I observed this in most of the parishes I have visited when I traveled across the country.  I addressed it forthrightly with pastors, only to find lackluster responses in understanding or lack of initiative in response.  I believe that this decline in behavior and the ”Restorationist” movement may be linked. 

 I often watch EWTN liturgies and they are liberal in use of incense, extol the virtues of Gregorian chant, use Latin throughout Mass and push the idea with long explanations that these ancient songs and rites are really useful and important.

 However well- intentioned these priests may be, they are creating more distance between priest and congregation, form and understanding, to a population just beginning to recover from priest scandals.  It only widens the distance, enhances division and leave the problem, at best, untouched. Does the Gospel passage about “widening their phylacteries” give no hint of what the Lord expects? 

Priests do need to stand up to the plate and provide true leadership.  We need homilies not about theology and abstract concepts but real issues which strengthen us to challenge the cultural dissonance we experience day to day.  We need to be drawn to more and better prayer in the language we understand.  My parish provides a Spanish language Mass, an Asian Mass and then an English Mass which is said mostly in Latin.  (Please help me make sense or logic out of that.) 

 We need to be challenged if we are rude and disrespectful in our behavior in church, when using cell phones or texting, dressing inappropriately, or allowing our children to disrupt prayer…… not by a notice in the church bulletin, but face- to- face. We need boundaries, empathy, enthusiasm and fervor from our priests…..for it will be contagious.”

(I want to add this thought.  I studied Latin in school.  It was required. I grew up with the Latin Mass.   I understand it a lot better than most Catholics.  But ….I do not THINK in this language and consequently, the words of the Mass slide by my brain like a mailman on an ice slick.  They are utterances spoken by a priest that are detached from my understanding and therefore from the action of the Mass.  Pope Francis understands this.  Why do his priests not listen to him?)

And Now:  Brother Bruno, OFM, who also goes by Daniel Heisey wrote this on Lent: I really recommend his blog.

At nearly every Christian monastery and convent is a bulletin board on which monks and nuns post prayer requests.  Those requests come to the religious community every day, often through friends or relatives of the religious or in the mail from complete strangers.  The latter are often anonymous, and the envelopes are addressed simply to the monastery in general.

Some monastic bulletin boards might be arranged in parallel columns according to what spiritual writers classify as the four kinds of prayer:  adoration, petition, praise, thanksgiving.  All four types of prayer occur during liturgies, but they can occur also during private prayer.

Adoration occurs best in silence, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and praise occurs often incognito, whenever in the Psalms or elsewhere one finds the Latin word Alleluia, or its Hebrew original, Hallelujah.  Both words mean “praise the Lord,” and prayers of praise can become verbal, if not verbose.  In contrast, adoration, like losing oneself while gazing into the eyes of one’s beloved, tends to be inarticulate.

Prayers of petition can be subdivided into prayers of contrition, asking to be forgiven, and prayers of intercession, often directed to a particular saint.  Best known, of course, is the Lord’s Prayer, containing petitions for our forgiveness, and for a spirit of forgiveness, and for our daily needs.

With petitions and intercessions, a danger arises when someone confuses prayer with magic.  At one time or another, we have all slipped into that dangerous confusion.  Sometimes one hears a kind of spiritual prescription, what sounds like a pious statement, but is really the opposite:  Say this prayer three times to, for example, Saint Paphnutius, because he never fails to give you what you want.  Say the magic word, get a special prize.

This form of piety reduces not only the saints but also prayers of petition and intercession to the level of a child asking Santa Claus for a new toy.  On the surface, such prayers seem like folk piety, admirable in itself, provided it conveys the truth.  However well-intended, when such piety veers into the land of lucky charms, it leads away from the truth.

As a result, this approach to prayer leads to disillusionment.  Despite thrice-daily repetition of the same never-fail prayer to Saint Paphnutius, nothing has happened.  It then becomes easy to conclude that prayer doesn’t work.  It is the same disappointment and frustration resulting from a certain kind of failed commercial transaction:  When you keep putting in coins, and nothing comes out of the vending machine, eventually you decide to give up.

Either you then reconcile yourself to not having the goody from the vending machine, or you turn to a different vending machine that seems to work.  Likewise, a Christian can become fatalistic, resigned to life being broken, or can look far and wide for just the right spiritual fix.  Alternatively, the disillusioned Christian decides that vending machines, like slot machines, are for gullible, and probably obsessive, fools who don’t realize that they are wasting their time and money.  Disillusionment leads to deciding that there is no Saint Paphnutius, no Santa Claus, and having outgrown such childish beliefs, the newly enlightened Christian finally decides that there is no God.

After many years in a monastic community, one pattern emerges from all these prayer requests:  All are prayers of petition.  They include prayers for a healthy pregnancy, for a successful operation, for healing a damaged relationship, for finding a job, for the repose of someone’s soul.  All are worthy concerns, and the monks are ready to pray for them.

However, never has there been a request for the monks to offer up prayers of thanksgiving.  No one has ever asked for prayers to be offered in thanks for a healthy baby, for a successful operation, for a healed relationship, for a new job, for the good example of the faithful departed.  Now and then the monks receive a note of thanks for having offered prayers of petition, but thanking the people doing the praying is not the same as asking them to give thanks in prayer.

As the Church prepares for Lent, here is an austere, some might say severe, penance to consider:  Outside the Our Father, where we have been instructed to ask also for what we need right now, give up asking in prayer for anything except that God’s will be done.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer, petitioning for God’s will to be done runs parallel to asking for God’s reign to govern events here on Earth, just as it does in Heaven.  Asking for God to be in control of everything in His creation is far removed from His creatures asking Him to give them the things and situations that they, that we, want.

After all, as has been often said, prayer does not change God, it changes us.  Praying for our daily bread does not provide God with new information; it makes us focus on what is important for us in this present moment.  Praying for God’s will to be done does not supply Him with a new idea for how to regard all things, visible and invisible.  If it happens that the atheists are right when they claim “Prayer is just talking to yourself,” what would be the harm in having spent a life daily desiring that the cosmos not be ordered around one’s own will?

So, for Lent, give up an approach to prayer that treats it like a machine that responds to the right code; give up a spirituality that confuses prayer with rubbing a magic lamp and asking a genie to grant three wishes.  Instead, after forty days of wandering in the Lenten desert and saying Thy will be done, forget about making up for lost time by unfurling a pent up list of petitions rooted in one’s own will being done.  Rather, go into the dawning joy of Easter quietly praying “Thank you.”

 

 

More on Mercy

 

 

Reading the gospels throughout Lent as Jesus challenged the Pharisees

led me to some insight and clarity this year.

I  thought of the Pharisees as ignorant and rigid. How could they fail to

understand when faced with the real person of Jesus?  How could they not see

and understand what was right in front of their noses?

Yet, human kind’s capacity for rationalization and denial seems to know no limits.

Men construct laws as structures for their own safety and security.  

Surely, that must be good!

But Jesus responds …. “laws are for men, not men for the law!”

What does that mean in actuality? 

While these examples are not the most profound, they are, like much

of our day-to-day thinking, ordinary and mundane.

I receive a quarterly magazine from a very devoted group of Catholics on the East

Coast.  In recent correspondence from them, the author spoke of the Latin Mass four

different times in a page and a half article with such fervor that I felt bullied from afar,

as if I am deficient because I find that Latin does not help me pray better, despite my

familiarity with it at childhood Masses and because it was an educational

requirement rom youth.

Recently I have noticed that women feel more obliged to wear chapel caps. 

EWTN and my parish have incorporated more and more Latin into the Mass. 

Will I become more reverent because I pray in Latin or cover my head? 

Latin was once the “law” of the church as were chapel caps for women.

 I recall quietly tiptoeing into church after school as a very young girl to make a

visit to the Lord. I had nothing with me to cover my head. An adult saw me and

reproved me soundly because of my bare head.

I suspect that Jesus was very glad to see me with or without my cap!

We seek concrete solutions, often heralding back to another time and generation,

believing that structure or laws will make the difference, instead of responding to the

problem in present time with people who have changed because times have

changed. 

“I find no pleasure in burnt offerings.” 

Nothing intrinsically wrong with chapel caps, nor Latin, nor “burnt offerings”

but they are just structures.  In and of themselves, they do not provide

a pathway to Jesus. 

Jesus made this clear.  Love and mercy are what He wants of us; what He

requires of us;  to see through to the heart and the needs of others and relieve

 burdens, not to impose new (or former) ones. 

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

 I watched a segment on “60 minutes” last Sunday that discussed prisons in

Germany. 

The German prison model says it is about rehabilitation, not punishment and it really

is.   U.S. prison officials and our representatives in government and the media tell us

that prisons are a place of  “rehabilitation,” but in fact our country locks

up more people for longer periods of time in more inhumane and violent conditions

than few other places in the civilized world. 

Our prisons are institutions where the non- violent become violent because they fear

for their lives and safety.

Our prisons are the places mentally ill are warehoused because we are unwilling

to pay for humane housing to care for them.

Our prisons are places where countless souls, children of God, live without kindness,

without mercy, without hope.  

Prisons in Germany are based on MERCY.  Prisoners have relative freedom.

They have libraries, training, counseling to assist them.  The German

model challenges them to make good choices and demonstrate

responsibility;  to change their lives with the goal of release to society.  

Guards have no guns and treat prisoners with courtesy and respect, teaching conflict

resolution. Even murderers can earn their way out.  Recidivism is low. Germans

spend far less than the U.S. for the  humane treatment they provide versus the

barbarism we finance.

We talk rehabilitation but we exact punishment. 

U.S. prisoners have little chance to reform themselves nor become productive

citizens, if and when they are released.  

We are merciless and hypocritical in our approach.

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The day after Divine Mercy Sunday, I lost a very dear friend. 

As Elinor Dashwood said to Edward Farrar in Jane Austen’s book:  “Sense and Sensibility”:

“He (was) the kindest and best of men.” 

I have not stopped weeping since this priest entered Hospice. 

He was truly a holy man in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux. 

He did little things well. 

He offered his entire self in every Mass that he said, as if it was either his first or his last.

I smiled when he processed out to the altar.  There was an urgency in his step, as if he

was about to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the Philadelphia Philharmonic. 

He loved music and his deep baritone voice boomed through the church when He

sang.  He was the only priest I’ve known that sang liturgical music at the proper

pace…..he never let a song drag funereally when he sang acapella. 

He opened himself to others and exuded gifts of humor, kindliness, generosity

and tolerance.  His laugh was infectious.

He was in every sense of the word, a gentleman. 

 He loved the land, having been part of a large farming family, and never failed to

mention the earth, the crops and the needs of farmers when he prayed the petitions.

Having been raised in the city, my awareness of the land has been forever altered.

If you told him you needed help with something… anything… he was on it.  He took it

personally, and rolled out all the stops.

He always had something kindly to say about you and to you. 

He never forgot your name, your children’s names, nor your children’s children. 

He never judged. 

He gave of himself with a whole heart. He held nothing back.

I have lost a dear friend and I am unprepared to accept a world that does not have

him in it. 

 He earned his eternal reward.  I wish only that I could see him one more time and tell

him what a difference he made in my life and in the lives of many others.

A poem, memorized in childhood, by Edwin Markham comes to mind:

“He drew a circle to shut me out-

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win. 

We drew a circle that took him in!”

He never failed to draw a circle and take you in.

It is fitting that he should enter the arms of his maker in this YEAR of MERCY.

He was the personification of the words of Jesus:

 “The heart of the law…. is mercy.”

Monsignor Gerald J. Stessman

Born: March 13, 1933

Ordained: May 31 1959

Died: April 4, 2016

Msr Stessman

 

 

 

 

 

an OPENED book

A blessed 2016 to all of you! 

I was preparing a Catholic book by Peter Eymard to ship to a customer

and out of the book fell a copy of a “Meditation” by Blessed John Henry Newman.

Newman’s writings have always inspired me but I have never seen this particular

prayer.  It is for me an exquisite beginning to The Year of Mercy, 2016.

I share it with you. 

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission- I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good.  I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it– if I do but keep His Commandments.

Whatever, wherever I am , I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity my serve Him.  If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.

He does nothing in vain. He know what he is about.  He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, He may hide my future from me–still He knows what He is about.

Therefore I will trust Him.”

In a world that confounds me with its vice, and greed, and egregious injustices,

it is precisely what I needed this beginning 2016.

And all I had to do was open a book!

Hang in there dear ones!

 

G.N.

 

 

 

The pope, the priest and the pubescent

 

Recently, I have had several notable “incidents”  for reflection.

The first was the pope’s visit.  I was elated and touched by the pope’s impressive efforts to reach out to the people in America.  I had only intended to watch the highlights, but like popcorn, couldn’t pass it up.  I initially tuned into EWTN, but was resoundingly put- off by the negativity and cynicism expressed by commentators.  The papal visit gave them a platform to purvey political views and prejudices.  A true irony, given the tenor of the pope’s visit in which he highlighted acceptance and tolerance.

On the other hand, for the first time that I can remember  a completely different tone was set by the secular press, MSNBC.  I was as elated by the respect and interest they showed  to our religion as I was  by the papal visit itself.  It was more than a breath of fresh air. It was a veritable tank of pure oxygen!  A serendipitous surprise. 

 I later wrote to the Board of EWTN regarding specific examples and received a personal acknowledgement by the President of the Board.  I am relieved that he took an interest and hope he extends that interest into a review of the footage. 

 I have experienced two other incidences  on my mission  to change our decidedly inappropriate behavior in church. 

 About a month ago, I sat in the 7th row of our church with just a few people sitting in between myself and the first row.  After Mass started, an older well-dressed Asian man walked in with 4 school age children, about 8 to 13 years in age, in tow and crammed into the small pew. 

 During Mass, the tallest and presumably eldest one punched and elbowed his brothers and they tried to defend themselves as best they could. At no time, did the older gentleman correct him or his brothers or friends.   I did not know if others in church found this disturbing or distracting. 

 I toyed with the idea of correcting him on the way back from receiving communion but it seemed such a rude and forward thing to do when his grandfather sat right there. My heart pounded with anxiety up until the time that I received  the Eucharist and only then did I decide that I would go for it.  I leaned over the front pew and grabbed the boys arm firmly and said “ not only are you distracting everyone behind you but you are being very unkind to your siblings, or friends.”  I gave the grandfather a respectful bow as we locked eyes.  The boy shrunk back into the seat and appeared embarrassed if not chastened. 

 I  had barely knelt down in my own pew,  when a young man of about 30 leaned over to me and said: “thank you very much for doing that!” 

 As I left church after Mass, another young man of the same age, came up to me and also thanked me and revealed that he had been very bothered by the boy’s behavior. 

 I did not realize that others were as concerned as I was, but I pondered the rest of that week about how we, as adults, have relinquished the powers of adulthood.  We cower in the face of challenges. ”Live and let live,” carried to an unhealthy extreme.

 The incident reminded me of my mother who had often said to me as I grew up: 

“You are just as culpable of wrongdoing as the person who is doing it, if you do nothing to stop it.” 

She was right.  As a child in a large suburban city, if I was doing anything wrong, even as inconsequential as bad manners, I was likely to get chewed out by a neighbor, a mailman, or any adult who had witnessed my misdemeanor!  I didn’t have to “know” them or they, me.  It was a given that adults had a right or obligation to expect and demand good behavior in children.

The second incident was one of those “foot in mouth” moments. On a visit to an eastern coastal town, where my sister lives, I attended Mass at a small parish, one of two in the town. The church has little of the beauty one expects in a church.  The ceiling is Styrofoam tiles.  The altar is simple and unadorned with only a few unimposing statues to break the monotony. I have attended the church several times over the years, and they have, hands down, the worst music I have ever heard in my life, and I have heard some pretty atrocious liturgical music. What this parish does have is a priest who knows how to give a homily and parishioners that are warm and congenial to one another. 

 As I entered the church, two men sitting along the back wall conversed loudly with one another.   The topics were mundane:  the weather, sports, etc. For some reason they crossed the aisle and sat down right next to me in the last row and continued their conversation.  That was the last straw!  I stood up, leaned over to the two of them,and said:  

I came here to pray and this is the noisiest church I have ever been in!” 

Both of them looked like deer in headlights, excused themselves and went to the vestibule in the back. 

 A short time later, as I read my meditations, a green chasuable swished past me and I looked up.  Yup.  It was one of the two men I had chastened and he is the pastor of the church.  “Lions, and Tiger and Bears…oh my.” 

When Mass was over, I beat it out of there like a fly in a tailwind.  The other noisy offender was opening the back doors; he grabbed my hand and apologized.   

I vowed to be more courageous than I have been in the past but the courage to be an adult also requires facing the consequences of my actions.  My mother also used to say:

You can do the right thing, or you can be liked.  You can’t do both.”

 In conclusion, I offer a link to a thought-provoking article sent to me recently by a friend. 

 http://www.churchpop.com/2015/06/16/dear-catholics-unsolicited-advice-from-an-evangelical-convert/

 Blessings and please shut up in church!  I might be sitting close by!

 G.N.

ADDENDUM: I sent a letter to the priest that I had corrected before mass in an attempt  to fill- in- the- blanks of my concerns.  Surprisingly I received a long letter in return from Fr. Ken.  He discussed his late -in- life vocation, his outlook on the church, and his concerns and hopes.  It was satisfying for me to stimulate some discussion.  I beg your prayers for this kind and caring pastor.   

 

 

 

Blessed Are the Merciful and other wishful thinking

It has been too long since I have written….  The act of pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard, seems to be the problem. I sure am getting a lot of visibility though.  Since I last wrote, some 5 months ago, 148 spams were in my mailbox!  Wow.  They tell me I’m quite the “blogger”  before they suggest that I buy designer sunglasses or expensive services for site.  I’m beyond flattery.

It is the second week of Lent, my most notoriously provocative liturgical season, and I have been out in the desert way more than 40 days! 

I have learned about another shocking aberration in our working world. There is a new class of postal workers that have been hired to “do the dirty work.”  They are a slave labor pool and have absolutely no rights.  They work 7 days a week and have no benefits.  You can thank Amazon for the seven days a week arrangement.  Before Amazon gave them a billion dollar contract to deliver on Sunday, they were still working these poor souls 6 days a week, including holidays as needed and often, 60 hours a week.  I guess the Amazon business model is contagious.  I suggest you go to the source and read the article “Amazon Is Killing Your Mailman: Why its Sunday Service Is a Labor Travesty” in Salon.com.

I did accomplish some writing lately.  I received a survey in our church bulletin.  It was in preparation for the “Ordinary Synod of Bishops” later this year.

The questions were as follows:

1) To what extent is current pastoral care oriented toward those families on the periphery?

2)  How can people be made to understand that Christian marriage corresponds to the original plan of God and thus one of fulfillment and not confinement.

3) How can an awareness of this missionary task of the family be fostered?

4) How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God?

5) Is the Christian community in a position to undertake the care of all wounded families so that they can experience the Father’s mercy?

6) How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies?

7) How can parents and the Christian family be made aware that the duty of transmitting the faith is an intrinsic aspect of being Christian?

God bless them, but committees and synods always seem to complicate the uncomplicated.  Pope Francis keeps telling us what we have to do and Christ told us before that.

LOVE….DON’T JUDGE.

Father Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk, addresses this quite well:

“We all have to grow out of our tribal image of God.  Too often when we assert that God is “our God” we are implicitly declaring that those who do not belong to our tribe are viewed by God with indifference or even hostility.  There is evidence of such an attitude in the Old Testament.  The New Testament, however, repeatedly states that God has no favorites (Gal2:6)

Gentiles and Jews are equally welcome.  Despite having heard this often, we cherish the belief that God is on the side of good people and against bad people, with the inevitable corollary that we try to prove ourselves good so that God will fight against our enemies.

There is a line in …the Gospel that overturns this assumption.  “God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and cause rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

God’s love for humanity is unconditional; ;his means it is non-preferential.  All alike bask in the sunshine of God’s acceptance and approval: God is ‘kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.’ (Luke 6:35)

God is not merely for us, but for all.  That is why we are commanded to love our enemies, no matter how vile they seem.  We may not reject those women God has accepted.  If we do not love those whom God loves as certainly as he loves us, then there is something wrong with us.  ‘It is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these least ones be lost.’ (Matt 18:14) nor may it be ours, for “God wills all men and  women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ (1Tim 2:4)”

 One only needs to experience one of the minorities that the Church does not favor…i.e. divorced, liberal, Gay, atheist, etc. to recognize that judging one another in light of Church rules is modus operandi.  An aversion to sin is a good thing but the problem is that we nurse an aversion to the sinner instead.  They become lepers and to be avoided.

The questions of the bishop speak to evangelizing.    Pope Francis is one of the few I have observed who understands and lives, not just preaches, mercy, inclusion, love.  It is why he makes some uncomfortable at times.

Only when we learn to think and behave inclusively, leaving judgment to God, as He asked us to, putting love before all else, will we be the Church, the people, we have been called to become.

The essential question in this survey is how to evangelize, especially those outside the fold. 

I propose that we must first change ourselves.

Pope Francis lives it but also shows us how to do this on a daily basis.

There can be no “other.”  I-Thou is at the heart of who we must be.

The church must focus less on sin, and more on loving the sinner.

In my response to this questionnaire, I encouraged “FRANCIS” groups.

Parishioners who come together,  first examine their own beliefs about “others” …then train to visit each person, who in the eyes of the Church, is ”other”:

the divorced,

single parents,

gays,

people living together outside marriage

handicapped

impoverished

as well as anyone in crisis

We say we care about those people, but in my experience THEY remain on the fringes of the parishes. We form a comfortable identify within our own comfort zones, where we stay…..comfortably….all the while professing the teachings of Jesus Christ and believing ourselves.

I worked a big garage sale in our parish twice a year for 15 years. In this parish, is a veteran who walks with a walker, is speech disable, and is married to a Phillipine woman, who also has halting English skills.  They have been working the garage sale for as long as I can remember and no one ever speaks to them.  We have lunch together, breaks together and they sit at the table unnoticed, no one engaging them in any way.

I began to think about this and realized  my own discomfort with them.  I forced myself to engage in a quick conversation with them, rather shamefacedly, since I was aware of what a jerk I had been.  They reciprocated.  The woman was very sweet and seemed very pleased to be acknowledged (duh). Each time it became easier.   I shudder  with shame to think that it took me 15 years to accomplish the obvious.

Why do we do this?   I can think of lots of reasons…..but none of them would be sufficient to my heavenly Father.

First.  we must recognize our own failings and then we can move on.  Lent is the perfect time to dwell on this and find ways to make it happen.

And remember … please shut up in church!

G.N. 

 

 

Going against the Grain

I have not written for 5 months because I have been preparing for the “ Christ Our Life” conference.  It has been held every other year for the last 8 years.  Each year, it has grown exponentially.  I have heard estimates that this year from 7000- 10000 souls attended.  I don’t know…. but I WAS astonished when I viewed the crowd which had easily doubled from the previous conference. 

 Most of the time during the day and half of the conference, I tend my little hobby in the hallway outside the stadium.  Morning Star Rosaries is my homespun “mom and pop” operation that morphed from rosary -making to selling old Catholic books, statues, medals etc.

 I don’t hear many of the speakers, but I am completely blessed and enveloped by the Spirit during the proceedings.  

On my main table, I sit and repair rosaries. It is surprising how many people carry broken rosaries in their purses or pockets because they are of deep sentimental value, and continue to pray on them. 

 I also add a “drop of blood” bead to their rosaries. The “drop of blood” bead is a tiny blood- red bead with a tiny brass cap which I assemble and attach to the top of the crucifix.  It signifies that “one drop of Christ’s blood is enough to cover the iniquities of the whole world.”  It is a visible reminder of His sacrifice as we pray.  Some might say it’s “corny.”  Corny or not, we Catholics love symbols and the beads disappear like hotcakes on a cold morning. 

 I place a basket of “freebies” on the table as well, chock full of holy cards, medals, rosaries. They disappear as fast I can replenish them. 

 I also display a shadow box of first class relics including St. Paul, St. Thomas, St. John,St. Martin de Porres, St. John Neumann, St. Maria Goretti, St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, St. Pope Pius X, and a splinter of the true cross….a veritable powerhouse.    People flock to this and love to touch their or medals rosaries to each one. 

 All of these things allow me to share with strangers and for them to share with me, the true bonus of setting up shop.  It is not money that I am paid for the countless hours of work assembling this, it is the shared faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Thanks to my dear family, who gave me a ton of help,  I was freed to spend more time talking and sharing with others.

 I met an older man who told me he works nights in a rather quiet job and it allows him to make rosaries of all types as he sits. His face weary with fatigue, he said that he wants to make fancier rosaries but for now he is content to make them out of rope or twine or plastic beads and send them to the missions.  He shared quite matter of factly that his wife is dying of cancer, and “when she is gone, I am going to make a rosary using some of her diamonds.” 

 Two sweet, fresh- faced little nuns who didn’t look old enough to have finished high school shared that they are training to be missionaries and pulled relics attached to chains from under their habits to share them with me.  They are permitted to wear relics(they told me in a hush) because they are going to the  foreign missions.  Their precious faces were radiant as they shared.

Young people, in their teens and younger,  came back again and again to touch the relics, bringing more friends with them each time.  My own son was astonished at their youth and their fervor.

 What feeds me most is the astonished look on people’s faces when you tell them that an item or a service doesn’t cost anything.  Some fumble in their purses pulling at bills attempting to force them upon me. Some can’t stand their discomfort and retreat to find some little thing to buy, as if they have to repay me.  Most look amazed…. as if I have healed a withered hand!

 What kind of world do we live in that the smallest act of kindness, especially related to money or business,  we find “remarkable”? 

 How can we go to a “Christian” conference and expect to find any less??

We have separated business from religion in our heads as if they have gotten a divorce due to “incompatibility.” 

 It does get complicated. There are those who think that what I do is taking advantage in some way.  One man glared at me when I told him a practically- new New Testament was $3.00.  He does not understand when all is said and done that it take two years of scrounging, finding, cleaning, organizing and storing books; scrounging, finding, cleaning and restoring old statues, etc. etc., buying supplies, packing, moving, setting up, two grueling days of little food and barely a bathroom break,  then taking down, moving and reorganizing, storing etc. It requires a full basement and a storage rental.

 It is not an endeavor for the faint of heart NOR the mercenary. The cost of tables at the conference doubled this year. I figure I make 10 cents an hour.    

 I am not set up to take credit cards, so this year, I gave people who didn’t have cash or checks an envelope with my name and address and the amount they owed so that they could send me the amount when they return home.  

Only a few days later, I have received two of the three.  A sweet lady wrote in a faltering hand: “Thank you so much for trusting me.”

Some people might tell me “this is a crazy way to do business, Pollyanna!”

 NO DOUBT!

 Perhaps each of us might discern ways in which we can give ownership back to God:  to yield to faith instead of fear, letting go instead of squeezing tight.  Putting it in Christ’s hands instead of our own. 

The interrelationship between faith, hope and charity is what I have come to understand more deeply. Better late than never. 

I realize that every act of faith MUST feel like a leap into the dark, OTHERWISE IT IS NOT FAITH.  If it seems crazy to you or others tell you that it is, you are probably on the right track.  The culture of business in this country is generally antithetical to the culture of Christianity. 

That being said….. I am not going to do this anymore……too old….too tired. 

It’s been a great run. 

 Perhaps I’ll come back in two years and do nothing but add drop of blood beads, show my relics, and talk to kindly souls. 

The payment I receive for that is incalculable. 

And, dear ones, don’t forget to shut up in church!

Blessings,

G.N.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity and other resurrections

Little unexpected miracles illumine and affirm ones life.  Those “resurrections” that are sometimes prayed for, sometimes unsolicited, beyond ones expectation. 

 This Lent offered unexpected sufferings…..family surgeries nearly overlapping.  Fear.  anxiety.  The weight of unpredictability. Taxing my faith, my endurance. 

 Yet, God showered His blessings in serendipitous events, weaving pain into joy, opening up doors of hope and love.  Resurrection, indeed. 

 On Good Friday it has been my custom to spend the hours from 12pm to 3pm in church  with God.  It is the least I can do to honor the time He spent on the Cross. 

When I was a child, services were held during those hours.  I was expected to spend all three hours in church.  It seemed unendurable as a child and yet, its tedium morphed, over time, into understanding the significance of Our Lord’s bloody sacrifice.  Over time, the liturgies once held during those sacred hours disappeared and it is now common to have only the Stations of the Cross on that day. 

 I wrote about my experience in a blog last year. Volunteers entered the church and cleaned up the pews.  I was horrified.  This year,  I went to the church office and asked if those hours could be reserved for prayer.  The kindly secretary put a notice in the Palm Sunday bulletin that there should be no activity other than quiet prayer on Good Friday between 12 and 3. 

 Good Friday came, and instead of being alone in the church, a steady stream of souls came to pray, some for a few minutes and some for several hours.  In the decade that I have been praying in church on this day, I have not seen this happen.

 I believe the notice in the bulletin increased awareness of that very sacred time.

It was just a simple notice, not even an encouragement to pray or attend, noting only that this period is a sacred time.  Sometimes we just don’t think of things if they are outside our tradition, our experience. 

 Caryll Houselander is one of my favorite authors.  I bought her Stations of the Cross which is a marathonic 113 pages.

 Some years, I read it during the 3 hours on Good Friday.  This year I prayed Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Stations of the Cross, which is my all time favorite.  I then read just the Prayer from each of the Caryll Houselander’s stations.  It is a beautiful and inspiring combination. I never think that I will make it through the 3 hours, wimp that I am, but when the people begin to come to the church for the Stations of the Cross at 3pm, I am truly sorry that that  time is over. 

 Quite by chance, I found and read Caryll Houselander’s autobiography, “A Rocking Horse Catholic,” at a garage sale.  It is a tiny yet profound book.  I am tackling now “This War is the Passion,” published in 1941. 

 But back to her Stations of the Cross. 

 The prayer at the second station “Jesus Receives His Cross,” is worth sharing and particularly moving to me after a challenging Lent, in which I wanted nothing more than to abandon my cross. 

Lord,

Let me receive the cross gladly;

let me recognize Your cross in mine,

and that of the whole world in Yours.

 

Do not let me shut my eyes

to the magnitude of the world’s sorrow

or to the suffering of those nearest to me. 

Do not let me shrink from accepting my share

in that which is too big for me,

and do not let me fail in sympathy

for that which seem trivial.

 

Let me realize

that because You have made my suffering Yours

and given it the power of Your love,

it can reach everyone, everywhere -

those in my own home,

those who seem to be out of my reach -

it can reach them all

with Your healing and Your love.

 

Let me always remember

that those sufferings

known only to myself,

which seem to be without purpose

and without meaning,

are part of Your plan

to redeem the world.

 

Make me patient to bear the burdens

of those nearest at hand,

to welcome inconvenience for them,

frustration because of them. 

Let me accept their temperaments as they are,

nurse them in sickness,

share with them in poverty,

enter into their sorrows with them. 

 

Teach me to accept myself–my own temperament,

my temptations,

my limitations,

my failures,

the humiliation of being myself, as I am.

 

Allow me, Lord,

all my life long

to accept both small suffering

and great suffering,

certain that both,

through Your love are redeeming the world.

 

And in communion with all men,

and above all with You,

let me accept joyfully,

death and the fear of death-

my death and the deaths of those whom I love-

not with my will but with Yours,

knowing that you

have changed sorrow to joy

and that You have changed death to life.”

 

Lent is truly the trial run of life becoming LIFE.  I am grateful for the serendipitous holiness of this season, even as each year I move into it and through it reluctantly and irritably. 

 

And remember, do us all a favor and shut up in church!

Blessings of the Season,

G.N. 

 

 

  

Joan from Ark

“Be Perfect, specifically in love and kindness, excluding no one from your charity, but enlarging and expanding it for all both enemies and friends, and embrace all with it, both those from whom you expect nothing and those from whom you expect some return.” Father Cornelius a Lapide

 

Just recently another one of those light bulbs lit up my brain.  I’m always grateful when the dimness of my bulb takes a leap in wattage, generally illuminating the obvious.  

I have a background in psychology and mental health.  I know that humans are complicated. There are many factors, sometimes unseen and unknown, that affect behavior, emotions, reactions. 

 Despite my knowledge about behavior, I find it easy to rush to judgment about others. My mind runs, NO, gallops toward conclusions, logic, meaning; an easy explanation for what I  cannot define, nor understand.  Understanding is a good thing but it can lead me handily down false paths and offer false promises. 

 Some years ago I worked in a jail.

One late Winter morning, one of the jailors brought a young wisp of a woman down to my office, reporting:

Her roommates complained that she is acting weird.”

“Weird?” I said, sarcastically.

This is a jail….. not a polo party in the Hamptons.

The girl sat stiffly in the chair across from me, her sandy-colored hair frizzy and sticking out in all directions, a victim, no doubt, of poor quality jail shampoo and static electricity. 

Her eyes were vacuous and she stared straight head, without blinking. 

“What is your name, dear? I asked gently. 

“Joan, Joan from Ark.” she replied. 

“From Arkansas?” I queried. 

“No! No!  Joan from Ark!” she countered emphatically.

The sheriffs had picked her up, sans hat, sans coat, sans much- of- anything, walking down the center lane of Interstate- 235 in a drug- induced stupor. She was living with some pretty rough types. At first glance, I figured just another 20- something, most likely grown up hard and burning her bridges.  Something about her fragile wistfulness, however, gave me pause.  I began to search for family members (not easily because she did not know who she was or where she came from) to gather her history. 

 In fact, she had led a rather ordinary middle class existence. Good in school, no particular proclivity to trouble.  

On a hunch, also called the Holy Spirit,  I pestered a psychiatrist who was more inclined to diagnose “malingering” than prescribe anti psychotics.  I also beseeched a judge to delay her hearing until we could tell if the meds would work.

 A week later, she looked at me inquisitively,  and asked :

“Where am I?”

 “Where do you think you are?”

 She responded: “I don’t know.  I feel like I just woke up.”

 Joan from Ark  was really named Barbara. She  had been suffering from schizophrenia for at least 2 years, but never diagnosed.  She had wandered away from all she knew and wound up in the hands of those who drugged and exploited her.  The system was geared toward punishment and yet she was a victim.  With intervention in the courts, she wound up in a group home to recover, with the help of family, and get on with her life, rather than remain a faceless person, with no past, no present and no future.   

thJ2CVJ34EWhen I searched for pictures of St. Joan of Arc I found, ironically or otherwise, the spitting image of my “Joan from Ark.”

 Why do I find it so difficult to remember each day that we are all  ”Joan from Ark”:  sad, bewildered, oftentimes not in our “right” minds, and sometimes in our “wrong” minds.  And always, always, always needing kindness, succor and the healing medicine that LOVE is.

“The perfection of God consists in the most ample love of all people, both good and bad.  It consists in gentleness, patience, moderation and temperance of the appetites, and what follows therefrom:  the highest peace and tranquility of soul, so that no injury wrath, or revenge can affect it; so that one is imperturbable and without passions.”   St.Thomas Aquinas

Lent is upon us once again.  I’ve decided that this year I am going to do something different.  I am going to fast from anger instead of muffins.  I know it will be a challenge.

 Maybe next year, I will be brave enough to fast from judgments…

Lord give me the strength. 

 Well, dear ones, may we receive the graces we need this Lent to grow in the love of God and most especially, the love of all of our brothers and sisters. 

And don’t forget to shut up in church!

Blessings,

G.N.

where charity and love prevail…..

 

Christmas eve 1956.  I am engrossed in the cover of an ancient issue of “Ideals”
magazine:  the luxurious frost-tipped firs, billowing snow, smoke wafting from the brick chimney of a charming Cape Cod cottage so unlike the balmy ennui of southern California. 

 I diverge from this picturesque postcard of Americana to gather with my family
around our triple tree.  It is hardly surprising that the popularity of scintillating, rotating aluminum trees, enhanced by floodlights, as well as the practice of flocking trees with billowing foam began in California.  Nothing but the most minimalist
“Snoopy” trees are to be had. 

Since my parents grew up in New England, and in the absence of verdant greens, they resort to the practice of combining 3 emaciated trees, weaving the branches together, securing wire around the trunks to keep them together.  It produces
an enviable Christmas tree, one suitable for the Christmas annual of Ideals.
Ever penurious, my father would never have agreed to purchase 3 trees. 
This behooves my brother to “shop” the abandoned tree lots on the last days
before Christmas.. sometimes hauling off as many as 6.

 It also means that we decorate the tree on Christmas eve. 
I scan this lot of punctilious faces  December 24th, 1956, 
as Bing Crosby croons “Mele Kalikimaka” on the Hi Fi behind us. 

Christmas Fun

Clarence, called C.T.,  also called Clancy, the titular head of the household,  holds my youngest sister, Marian, 2 1/2 years old.  He peers cheerfully through the branches.  Earlier that day, I dutifully placed the aluminum reflectors behind each of the bulbs.  The heavy strands have been artfully placed on the branches, hiding each wire, securing this weighty illumination on the flimsiest of branches. 

 Our ornaments are mostly aged glass balls, a pitiable lot, having seen better days in other states where we have lived. Each must be placed so it hangs freely and does not rest on a lower branch.   I know each one by heart and am as fond of them as a ragged puppy.

 My brother Tom, an engineering student at Loyola, would much prefer to
spend his time in the corregated metal shack at the end of our
property.  His ham radio is set up there and we see his face only
when deemed necessary. Tonight he has emerged to the call of duty.

 Bob, a 6th year seminarian at Our Lady Queen of  Angels Seminary, is the family surrogate parent.   My mother  bestowed on him from birth the status of resident prince.  Perhaps it is his slick blondness and tall physique.  My eldest brother, Tom, dark-haired and stocky, was forced to abdicate his rights as first- born son and all rights and privileges therein. He retired to obscurity, spending his free time with air wave strangers in foreign lands. 

  My eldest sister, Carole, is missing as always.  She has been donated to an order of nuns 3000 miles away in New Jersey.  All four of my mother’s sisters are in the order.They too were “called” in childhood.  5 years older than I, Carole is only 13. She has been among the missing since the age of 9.  This Italian order takes young girls and moves them steadily to the religious life.   As implausible as it may seem in present day culture, it was common and acceptable practice. in the past.  In two more years, she will be 15 and teaching in a parochial school. 

 The oxymoronic cheer of Bing Crosby is interrupted by complaints. 

 Mary Ann, that last ornament is not on right.  It’s touching the branch below it,” Bob accuses disparagingly.

It is futile to protest his bossiness.   I remove the ornament and rehang it to his precise specifications.  If he is fusses during  hanging of the ornaments, the tinsel to follow will surely be hell.   

 Our tree is always adorned in copious tinsel. Tinsel-hanging in this family is as serious an endeavor as skinning a deer during a famine.   Each heavy foil strand must be smoothed as straight as a nail and then wrapped on the branch so that only an inch is wrapped over the end of the branch with the remainder draped like a steel ramrod….of course, NOT touching the lower branches.

An arduous task for one inclined to impulsivity and frequent flights of fancy.  Little time passes before I again fall prey to censure.   Mom, like an echo, reiterates my brother’s advice, snapping:

 Do as your brother tells you!”

 Mom’s face is drawn, pickled in unhappiness.  It often is.  Like a metronome, she fluctuates from morbid unhappiness to waves of ecstatic guffaws.  A complicated and extremely intelligent soul, it is clear to us that motherhood was not her calling.  As the mother of 5, married to a man who migrates according to the needs of the aerospace industry, this was not the dream she had when she married away from her tight Italian community. 

 We will never be on the Christmas cover of Ideal magazine.  Bringing levity to this occasion would be an act of God…..and He must be out shoppng for His Son’s birthday. 

The tree trimming tediously completed, we “settle down for a long winter’s nap.” 

I awaken  to the voice of my brother, Bob, who has hooked up a microphone to the HI FI and a placed a  speaker outside the house.

 “Wake up, southern California, he says….it’s Christmas morning and Santa is dead

HO HO HO!”

 His voice can surely be heard for several blocks.  We snicker at his bravado. No matter what his antics, my mother only laughs and seems to enjoy a moment of respite from her stern sense of decorum. We take pleasure in her amusement.

 In hopeful expectation, I turn my attention to the loot under the tree.  My parents, products of the depression, are more likely to wrap up needed socks rather than a radio, a doll, or a game.  This Christmas is no different. There are a few boxes under the tree. I peek at the gift cards:

To Bob, To Bob, To Bob, To Bob,

To Tom,

To Marian…

ah, finally to me! 

A disparity in the size and number of the gifts was always unacknowledged…..unquestioned.  We knew the answer:

Your brother is in the seminary devoting his life to God…..how greedy you are!  Shame on you.”

 No matter. I focus on a thin, long package, the size of game, addressed to me! 

“Oh, Jesus, please make this the game I wanted:  Go To the Head of the Class. Please, God, I’ll be good…I’ll do anything. ”

My posthumous prayer harkens of desperation.

 We have only two games in the house: Monopoly and Scrabble.  Oh, how I want this game, new on the market.  I know that my tormented curiousity was likely to go unsatisfied until late in the day….

There would be church, dinner….sometimes it was 8 o’clock at night before presents were unwrapped.

We were going to my Aunt Jane’s later in the day….so that was good news.  Aunt Jane and Uncle Al, my mother’s brother, live in Eagle Rock about 40 minutes away.  So not only would I would be likely to get a birthday cake this year …my birthday is after all Christmas day… and my aunt always made me a cake, but our presents would probably be opened before we left.  Oh joy! 

 Around 3 that afternoon came the great unveiling.  Bob received a typewriter, a radio, a pair of pants and a jacket.  Tom received a new coat and a book, Marian, a Chatty Cathy doll….as big as she is….

And I….yes, oh joy, yes…..Go to the Head of the Class.  Oh thank you God, and thanks to your Son and that other one….the Spirit….him too!  I am blissful with happiness!  I begin to take out the pieces one by one….the game board, question book, the markers….

 Mary, put those pieces back in the box and wrap it back up…..…”

Why? I just got them out,” I protest.

It’s too bad….do as I say.  I forgot to buy a present for your cousin Arthur and we are going to have to wrap that game up and give it to him. “

There is no point in protesting.  There is no point in saying…”why don’t you wrap up Bob’s radio?” 

 My mother’s word is law.   The Almighty wouldn’t argue with her.

So my precious game is wrapped up and forthwith handed over to my cousin Arthur a few hours later.  Arthur is the same age as I am, so we enjoy a few rounds of my precious game before I sorrowfully bid it farewell.  And so begins 5 years of lobbying to go to my Aunt Jane’s house in hopes of a few rounds of “Go to the Head of the Class. “ 

   I was confused about God all of my life.  Decades passed before I understood that “where charity and love prevail” is not just words.  No amount of religion, however profound, will reveal the heart of God in the absence of demonstrable love. 

 My eldest brother married a version of my mother and left the Catholic church.  He loved the Lord. He became an engineer, married and had 5 children. He taught engineering at a Catholic University, then left the Catholic Church. He was part of a team in private industry that designed the first digital medical equipment. He was a pilot instructor and at the age of 65 flew into a mountaintop in Wyoming with his 35 year old son in the cockpit. 

They both died instantly.

 My brother Bob became a teacher after leaving the priesthood and the faith.  He turned his attentions to becoming a successful capitalist.  He was married once for a year, divorced and has no children.

 My sister Carole became a nun, left the order in her twenties, married twice, the second time to her Jewish psychotherapist. 

 My sister Marian, became my mother’s surrogate husband after my father left her.  She still lives close to her childhood home, which was bulldozed after my mother died in 2007 at the age of 98.  She is married and has 2 children, one with Downs. 

 My father retired to the woods in Oregon after his early retirement and lived alone for the next 30 years. He came to live with us before he died and stayed in our home until his death at 97.  He left the Catholic church, but when he died,  the pages of his beloved Bible were completely threadbare.

 And I? 

 Some not invaluable lessons were learned in the midst of dysfunctional chaos. 

 Ideals magazine is just that….a magazine.

 Don’t put stock in stuff…..it may be here today, and gone tomorrow….or even less time.

 Find your fun and joy wherever you can….like the story of the pony hidden beneath the shit…..it’s there. Sometimes you just have to look harder. 

 Be resilient.

 When all else fails, tie 3 trees together. 

 Sometimes the people that love you are a pain- in- the- ass but you can choose to love them anyway.

 And most of all, thank God for every day whether the day brings suffering or ecstasy. He gives us a piece of His cross and then He gives a taste of heaven….either way, we win.

_____________________________________________________________

And on another subject, these are words of Pope Francis at Mass:

“Only silence guards the mystery of the journey that a person walks with God…

 May the Lord give us the grace to love the silence.

This shadow of God in our lives helps us to discover our own mystery: the mystery of our encounter with the Lord, our mystery of our life’s journey with the Lord.

Each of us knows how mysteriously the Lord works in our hearts, in our souls.

 …And what is the cloud, the power, the way the Holy Spirit covers our mystery?

This cloud in us, in our lives, is called silence: the silence is exactly the cloud that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord, of our holiness and of our sins.

 This mystery that we cannot explain.

 But when there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away.

 Guarding the mystery with silence! That is the cloud, that is the power of God for us, that is the strength of the Holy Spirit.”

___________________________________________________________________

God love you all in this most beautiful Season of JOY and LOVE.

 And remember to shut up in church….especially on Christmas!

Blessings,

GN 

 

 

 

 

WORSHIPING THE GOLD CALF

 

 

“Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”  Abraham Heschel

—————————————————————————————————————

I am adding this addendum to my blog as I had not read the popes words until after I had written it.

It is timely that our beloved Pope in the face of what is sure to anger and refuse many people has reaffirmed in no uncertain terms the true message of Christ regarding the poor and needy.  He has confronted the liars and the lies of our system and chided us all to see each other as one in Christ.

“Just as the commandment “Thou shalt no kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not:  to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.  We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading.  It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.

..some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market will inevitably succeed in bring about greater justice and inclusiveness…this opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the workings of the prevailing economic system.  …

‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.  It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs…the more forunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.’”

———————————————————————————————————————-

I remember reading the story of the Israelites when I was young.  With time on their hands, and Moses off visiting God on the mountain, they decided that melting down their trinkets to fashion a golden calf to worship was a good idea.  Back in 4th grade church history, I ruminated over the picture of their frenzied adoration of a block of gold.   Befuddled, I concluded  that these people were really boneheads out of the diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders: Boneheads 101; severe type!

 Yet, here we are thousands of years later doing much the same thing: trading our integrity for little to nothing.  I suspect in fact we are worse than the Israelites.  They had hunger, and privation spurring their interest in diversion.  Most of us have relative comfort, know nothing of hunger nor privation.  Yet many leave the comforts of home and hearth, cut short the one day set aside to thank God for his blessings, to worship at the altar of materialism,courtesy of Wal Mart, K Mart, Target and the other lemmings who have decided that Black Thursday should proceed Black Friday.   

 Nor can those who stay home, but huddle hours over a computer in pursuit of big bargains and free shipping on Amazon, be exonerated.  Amazon is legion in absolute disregard for the common good, using the billions it has amassed to implement tax evasion and perpetrate human rights injustices. 

 You want your “thing” tomorrow and with free shipping…..how does that magic happens?  People in warehouses on low wages run all night to get your “thing” to you. Individual sellers trying to make a few extra dollars by selling on the site are undercut by Amazon itself,  forking over a disproportionate amount of their earnings, and always subject to Amazon’s next big ploy to draw more and more to their own bottom line. Meanwhile, buyers are always right with Amazon, whether they are or not.  If they want to return the item, returning it in poor shape ….that’s ok.  If they complain they didn’t receive it, even if they did, Amazon cares only that customers are “happy” and continue to purchase on Amazon. Sellers must return the money, regardless of circumstances. 

There is a website which I discovered where consumers share tips on how to take advantage of Amazon and the various businesses that use Amazon as another source of revenue in the manner just described. I  guess what goes around comes around. 

 ttp://www.zoklet.net/bbs/showthread.php?t=281753

 Amazon has now teamed up with the United States Post Office , so we more workers will be unable to rest or attend church so they can deliver Amazon packages on Sundays.   

Ask yourself:

When you are on the phone with a customer service person in India….does it matter to you that they may be awake all night so that they can talk to you in our time zone? 

Does it matter what they are paid? 

Does it matter where those clothes you buy are made and under what conditions these people make them?

Does it matter if these people are seduced into working for companies and effectively incarcerated in order to work like slaves for next to nothing? 

Does it matter if they are locked into their work places and sometimes die horrible deaths by fire or explosions…..or is it “just the cost of doing business”?

There is little use in debating whether these conditions exist.  They are extremely well documented.

 How can we do better? 

What can we do it make a difference?

Here are a few simple things that you can do that require little effort to demonstrate sympathy and concern for workers everywhere and behave morally in an amoral world.

These are just little things.  I am sure you will be able to think of better ones.

      1)      The next time you talk to a person in a foreign country, for whatever reason, ask them if they are using their real name. (They are told to use Americanized names).  If they tell you their real name, call them by their actual name,and use it frequently and respectfully.  I have found that these workers seem amazed and SO grateful at the slightest kindness.  They generally receive much the opposite. Thank them even if they are unable to help you (tech problems as a good example).  GET MAD at the company that employs them, instead of employing people in America. Write a letter or call headquarters about it….not to complain about their work, but the system in which they operate at the hands of BIG BUSINESS.   These workers are pawns in these too- big- to- fail companies.  Place your frustration where it belongs. 

2) Find some websites that advance worker’s rights and conditions and sign petitions against inhuman practices. 

 3)      Next time you want to buy something on Amazon, see if you can find a way to buy it directly from the company rather than Amazon.  Many companies are forced into selling on Amazon because of its size and access to consumers.  That makes them subject to Amazon’s greed and poor policies in order to survive.  Such a stranglehold on small business should not exist in a country that promotes justice and equality. 

  4)      If you buy on Amazon, consider buying that item not from a penny seller, but  choose to pay a fair price for that item.  Buy it for a dollar or two dollars, instead.  That way the seller is making a little on that item and you can feel good about the transaction.  Don’t allow yourself to fall into the current thinking….”yay, I got something for practically nothing!”  Chances are you DIDN’T get something for nothing.  That is an illusion. Your brother or sister in Christ is subsidizing your purchase. You have the heavy responsibility of contributing to someone else’s suffering. 

A heavy price indeed. 

5)  If a practice seems to good to be true….same day shipping, low cost shipping, price too low, assume that there is either an effort to eradicate competition, or creating conditions where someone, somewhere is forced to suffer. I remember buying some agate beads on Ebay  last year.  I wanted to use them to make rosaries. I offered a very low offer to the seller.  I could tell she was reluctant, but in the absence of other offers she took it.  We both knew they were worth much more.  I could have afforded to pay a fair price.  That transaction haunts me to this day. And it should

6) Buying online encourages depersonalization.  Most people don’t think of the person providing their item as having a face or feelings.  This encourages one to act in ways that they might not otherwise if they were buying something face to face.  It encourages rudeness, suspicion, demanding behavior.  I remember when I sold a book online to a nun. There was something she was not happy with and dealt with me as if I was not human, something I am sure she never would have done had I been selling the book over the counter.  Try to be conscience of your thoughts and expectations.  WE must try harder to remember that whether we can see them or not, they deserve our respect. 

 Ironically I have sold books for 4 years on Amazon.  I  tried to find another venue from and open my own separate website.  I concluded that I am too old and and techno-impaired to manage such a site. 

However, If I am put out-of- business by buyers’ sense of justice, it will be a happy trade off.   I have had the advantage of seeing from the inside what it means to be used and undermined by VBB.  (very big business)

 http://whyamazonisdangerous.blogspot.com/

http://www.iamrogue.com/news/movie-news/item/1817-hilarious-new-nsfw-scamazon-video.html

(warning this video is vulgar, but I include it as one example of Amazon’s effect)

 http://karlaschultz.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/amazon-coms-unethical-and-predatory-business-practices/

This is just a handful of the sites decrying Amazon.

 Sunday, DECEMBER 1,  “60 minutes” featured the founder of Amaon, Jeff Bezos.  Listening carefully to the interview, Bezos artfully dodged questions regarding the effect of his practices and business plan on other business, reframing his choices as “loyalty to my customers” by….keeping prices low and expectations high.

If Mr. Bezos chooses to ignore the high price of eradicating his competition, then consumers must look beyond the immediate price tag  and weigh the true cost and effect of such business practices. 

December 4, 2013, Robert Reich wrote an opinion piece describing Amazons systematical destruction of retail.  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20131204/OPINION01/312040026/Another-View-The-true-price-of-great-holiday-deals? Frontpage&nclick_check=1

 Each one of us must refuse to participate in evil.  Confronting evil is made more difficult when it is packaged so alluringly in a gilded “good.”

It has been so ever.

It will continue to be our Christian challenge to identify and refuse to worship the

golden calf”  of each generation. 

And remember in this blessed season, shut up in church!

Blessings,

G.N.