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Monday, March 26, 2007

Live simply, to give more away

I've been preoccupied lately with thoughts of real estate. Namely, a lovely 2.65 acre plot with a dilapidated house listed for a song. The property showed up at a time when I was discussing with the Lord where He would like us to settle down. With your prayers dear readers, perhaps this lovely lot could be the base for something special. My husband and I certainly hope so. I'll keep you posted.
Between sketching out floor plans and figuring financing options, I did come across this interesting gentleman.
"Hal Taussig wears baggy jeans and fraying work shirts that Goodwill might reject. His shoes have been resoled three times. He bought his one suit from a thrift shop for $14. At age 81, he doesn't own a car. He performs errands and commutes to the office by bicycle. He lives on the outskirts of Media in a narrow wood-frame house that was built for mill and factory workers. And he has given away millions." [snip]
"A lot of people donate money to the less fortunate but live in high style themselves. Hal sacrifices in his own life by living very simply in order to have more money to give away."
Read the whole Inquirer article here.

Taussig makes millions through his travel company Untours yet he lives happily on Social Security and savings from his wife's income as a bookkeeper for the company years before. Rather than tithing to charity, he seems to give the poor a salary and keep a tenth for himself. He specializes in giving low income loans to help entrepreneurs out of poverty. (I know a Nobel peace prize laureate who could learn something from this guy.) Proof that you can be happier in the giving than receiving and joyful with the little you have. What a shame, how few people will see Taussig for the kind man he is and instead view him as an anomaly or tightwad or depression era penny pincher. Capitalism would be great if all successful businessmen shared their profits the way Taussig does. What did you do with your paycheck today?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

40 years later; substitute Iraq for Vietnam

"It is not just Vietnam, it is South Africa, it is Nigeria, the Congo, Indonesia, all of Latin America. It is not just the pictures of all the women and children who have been burnt alive in Vietnam, or the men who have been tortured, and died. It is not just the headless victims of the war in Colombia. It is not just the words of Cardinal Spellman and Archbishop Hannan. It is the fact that whether we like it or not, we are Americans. It is indeed our country, right or wrong, as the Cardinal said in another context. We are warm and fed and secure (aside from occasional muggings and murders amongst us). We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed and we are supplying arms and money to the rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. We are eating while there is famine in the world.

Scripture tells us that the picture of judgment presented to us by Jesus is of Dives sitting and feasting with his friends while Lazarus sat hungry at the gate, the dogs, the scavengers of the East, licking his sores. We are the Dives. Woe to the rich! We are the rich. The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war. We cannot repeat this enough." [snip]

"I have often thought it is a brave thing to do, these Christmas visits of Cardinal Spellman to the American troops all over the world, Europe, Korea, Vietnam. But oh, God what are all these Americans, so-called Christians doing all over the world so far from our own shores?

But what words are those he spoke -- going against even the Pope, calling for victory, total victory? Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm. How much the government counts on those words, pays for those words to exalt our own way of life, to build up fear of the enemy. Deliver us, Lord, from the fear of the enemy. That is one of the lines in the psalms, and we are not asking God to deliver us from enemies but from the fear of them. Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.

There is plenty to do, for each one of us, working on our own hearts, changing our own attitudes, in our own neighborhoods. If the just man falls seven times daily, we each one of us fall more than that in thought, word and deed. Prayer and fasting, taking up our own cross daily and following Him, doing penance, these are the hard words of the Gospel.

As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother. We should read the book of Hosea, which is a picture of Gods steadfast love not only for the Jews, His chosen people, but for His Church, of which we are every one of us members or potential members. Since there is no time with God, we are all one, all one body, Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese, and He has commanded us to love another."

"In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, January 1967

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mrs. Turpin and the Prodigal Son

Early Sunday morning, around 4 am-ish, I crawled out of bed and put EWTN on because I couldn't sleep and what other channel carries decent programming at that hour? I was able to watch the Pope's Laetare Mass live from Rome. Although I was tossing and turning on the sofa I caught the gospel and homily before falling into a fitful sleep.
The reading was on the prodigal son, Luke 15;1-3, 11-32, and the Pope talked about how the younger son's idea of freedom, leaving his father and doing whatever he wanted, actually made him a slave to sin while following the teachings of God frees you from those vices. It was an especially timely talk given that Pope Benedict was at a youth detention center.
I got to thinking about the older brother and I was reminded of a story I recently finished in 'Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories " entitled 'Revelation.' The main character Mrs. Turpin is assaulted in a doctors waiting room by a young woman who calls Mrs. Turpin a wart hog from hell. Mrs. Turpin asks God angrily why she would be singled out for this verbal and physical attack.
"What do you send me a message like that for?" she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. "How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?" [snip]
"Why me?"she rumbled. It's no trash around here, black or white, that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church."She appeared to be the right size woman to command the arena before her. "How am I a hog?" she demanded. "Exactly how am I like them," and she jabbed the stream of water at the shoats. "There was plenty of trash there. It didn't have to be me."

At the end of the story, Mrs. Turpin has a vision of souls entering heaven and at the head of the crowd are the white trash, followed by the blacks, then freaks and lunatics and finally those like herself.
"They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."

Mrs. Turpin, like the older brother, like many of us, live good lives, thanking the Lord we're not like white trash or our younger brothers or whomever we look down upon. We're good people who expect to be in good company once we enter the pearly gates; an eternal country club of sorts. But we are in for a rude awakening if we cannot learn to love all men and hope for their salvation regardless of color, background or pass misdeeds. The Lord is merciful, like the father of the prodigal son, and accepts all those who want to return to or enter his kingdom. We can stand like the older brother and wish for the younger brother to be rejected or treated as less thereby saving all the glory and praise for ourselves, or we can celebrate.
'The father said, 'My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.'' Luke15: 31-32

Some early disciples couldn't believe that Jesus had been sent to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. But He did come to save us all. Do not gloss over your faults because they seem insignificant compared to the sins of others lest pride poison your soul. Mrs. Turpin's comments and thoughts in the waiting room could best be compared to the prayer of the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray, and we know what Jesus said about him. Humble yourself, or allow God to do it for you.
"He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despiesed everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to hiimself, 'O God, I think you that I am not like the rest of humanity-greedy, dishonest, adulterous-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breat and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himsself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Guilty, quiet moments

This is the point in Lent where either I've given things up and I don't miss them, or I've long since returned to old habits. While some old habits die hard, I'm surprised to find I don't miss reading blogs anymore. Even though I allowed myself time in the evenings to browse, fatigue usually prevented me. Or the overwhelming amount of posts that had accumulated. I'm just back from a visit out of town and the thought of catching up on everyone on my blogroll makes me want to turn in early.
In general I find, I've pulled back from most media. I love reading a Sunday paper but less than before. I don't even turn the TV onto the news or EWTN anymore. I still read the headlines online through out the day but they don't hold my attention the way blogs used to.
I remember as a teenager gawking in disbelief at a friend who had no TV. I was proud of my pop culture trivia knowledge gleaned from hours in front of MTV and I couldn't imagine carrying on an intelligent conversation about the issues of the day without television. Now, I can't imagine carrying on an intelligent conversation about anything that's on TV.
I think society needs more of a buffer from the media. Even in my self imposed cocoon, information sneaks in and crowds my thoughts, stealing time from more important matters. I mingle with people whose lives revolve around the gossip of the day and fictional characters. If it's not on TV or splashed across a magazine in the supermarket checkout, some people will never hear about it, which is sad since most of what matters is never mentioned in either location. Blogs are great for spreading information that never makes it in the mainstream media but it is easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of information.
There is a place for all types of media but to live fully in God's world, we must experience life directly, not through the printed word, photo, video or website. We cannot focus on the Lord's work when our thoughts, and conversations, are filled with gossip, violence and sex, because really what else do you see on TV everyday? Those PBS specials are few and far between. Even the nightly news is broadcast as entertainment more than hard journalism anymore. If a worthy subject is found, it is either beaten to death so people become sick of hearing of it or it isn't given enough coverage so people remain ignorant of the extent of the problem. Plus, you're hard pressed to find news that doesn't spin a story to suit someone's agenda.
I'm happy to have given most of it up. I almost feel guilty, like it's not really a Lenten sacrifice now. I would recommend to anyone to give up TV, newspapers, blogs, news, etc. for a week and see how you feel. Slowly introduce those mediums you missed the most back into your daily life. You're head might feel clearer and you might have some free time to read a good book, attend daily mass, pray or play outside with your kids. See if the Lord doesn't make you more productive or speak to you in those quiet moments when you are alone with your thoughts.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Finding my special ministry

"Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love." -St. Therese of Lisieux
As usual, my husband offers the best analysis of my current slump. After reading my last post and commenting on how 'down' I sound. I drone on to him about how I feel so compelled to help people, to do more. To feed the hungry in Camden, care for the unwanted and neglected children, in short become Dorothy Day-tomorrow, if possible. I don't feel that I'm doing enough, I must be lazy and that our suburban life is holding me back from all the really great things I should be doing in the Lord's name. My inability to reach my full potential now or in the foreseeable future depresses me. (I actually asked if he thought I would wind up in purgatory for longer because I do so little charity for others.) He turns to face me, stares me right in the eyes and says, "Maybe you need to be happy where you're at. You feed our children and me, you keep house, you're homeschooling. You *are* helping people. Maybe this is what God wants you to do now and you need to accept it. Maybe your feelings of inadequacy are keeping you from fulfilling your mission."
I think he's right. In my desire to become a Worker or perform the works of mercy I have overlooked my vocation of motherhood as unworthy or less important than someone living in a Worker House. I've been dreaming so vividly of the day when my family will live the Maurin agrarian dream (growing organic plants and serving them to the poor) that I fail to see the moments I've been given today to raise my children in the faith.
I admire Dorothy Day and all the Workers who everyday give 100 percent of their time and effort into serving the poorest of God's children and maybe someday, that will be me and my family. I just can't be that person right now and I can't feel bad that I'm not. While my concern and prayers extend to all persons, my day needs to be spent on the souls in my household.
Maybe I can get more out of Lent this year if I stop focusing on all my failures and instead focus on all the opportunities I get during the day to serve Him. The day after our conversation, this message appeared in my inbox via a Yahoo! group post. Enough said.
I was a young bride in search of a special calling from God.
"Dear Lord," I said, "let me be a disciple of yours; show me where to go and
what to do. I yearn to clothe the naked and to feed the hungry. I'm ready,
Lord, I'm ready."

I didn't think He was listening. No special call came. But,
the Lord promised me that the rewards of this special job were "out of this
world", that I had been specially chosen for this duty and that He would give me
all the grace I would ever need to accomplish it. But what was it and why had
He not revealed it to me??

After over a year of marriage, there came the birth of our first
son. I was still waiting for this special ministry He had promised. "Dear
Lord," I said, "it's going to be harder to do this ministry as you give me each
child. Make your plans clear to me, Dear Lord. You know how anxious I am!"

Well, time kept passing by and no word on the "special
ministry"! During this long wait, we were blessed with the birth of four more
sons and a daughter. "Dear, dear Lord...I now have six children. How can I
ever do this special ministry you promised, especially if I don't know what it
is? God, are you listening?? Speak to me. I still yearn to clothe the naked
and feed the hungry. YooooHoooo....this silence is killing me!"

"Dear child," He replied, "it is in silence that I speak to you!
You must be quiet and listen to the still, small voice. If you had listened you
would have known that your special ministry was laid in front of you the day you
were married, and became all the more special as I gave you each child. When
your husband and children needed to be clothed, did you not purchase/make their
clothing? Did you not keep it clean for them? Did you not sew on missing
buttons and repair torn clothing for them?

Dear child, did you not realize that you have been feeding the
hungry? You have nourished their bodies and their souls. Good job, dear child.
Yet, you still say you yearn?

Well, dear child, go tell the other mothers who have been drawn
away from their homes to RETURN! Lead, by your example and joy. These mothers
have a very special ministry they must attend is the home; it is to be
godly mothers and wives. Tell them not to fear about finances. Do I not
provide for the birds of the air? Motherhood is a High calling and must not be
forsaken. Fulfillment and contentment do not come from the outside world."

"Thank you, Dear Lord!" I exclaimed. I shall fulfill my duties
cheerfully and gratefully. I shall make Your words known all over the world!

To all you mothers who have been pulled away from your homes and
your quiver, RETURN! Your children will soon be grown and out of the house,
leaving you to lament over the duties you did not fulfill! It is not too late;
RETURN! Your "special ministry" is in the home! Listen to that still, small
voice and RETURN! Spread the word!

Written by Wendy Cukierski. Wendy and her husband Walter are simple Catholic folks. They operate The Cukierski Family Apostolate, P.O. Box 396, Wampsville, NY 13163

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I have been very uninspired lately and thus, short on blog posts. Although the headlines list numerous atrocities, I am, so far, unable to write anything of substance on any of it. My thoughts are consumed mostly with my daily grind; housework, homeschooling, hunger and my health (which I don't care to discuss here.) Lent ceases to contain any deeper spiritual insight for me this year so far, which probably signifies I'm doing something wrong.
My husband mentioned that the pope suggested more contemplative prayer during Lent. I plan to get right on that as soon as I find a quiet time in my day when I won't fall asleep. Most of my prayers and reflections have been very self centered and my meditations on the daily readings are so rushed as to hardly count for anything. Maybe I expect too much during this season. I read about the transfiguration last night and maybe I'm hoping for something brilliant and breathtaking like that.
I'm also trying not too get too wrapped up in planning our future; the 'wheres' and 'whats' mainly. But also, trying not to jump into too much from the get go and deciding do we just do what is easiest for the family or should the needs of others figure into our plans.
So for now, I'm plugging along. Trying to make the most of Lent and my day. When the mood to write comes back, you'll know.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Letter of the Law

I used a Christmas gift card and was finally able to take 'The Solzhenitsyn Reader' of my wish list. Two months later, I'm finally cracking open the cover to read about the man of whom Day said,
"I will have to go again later this spring if only to drive to Cavendish, a pilgrimage to pay silent tribute to one of the greatest writers of our day -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn. [snip]
From the time I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich I have been fascinated by this author, who, to my mind, stands with Chekhov, Tolstoi and Dostoievsky."

It is a lovely hardbound book, (I usually stock up at library sales) and so I hesitate to underline or mark pages as I usually do. As I read interesting passages, I will pass them along to you so that we all can learn a thing or two from his insight. For a brief bio of Solzhenitsyn try here.
Enjoy this passage from his 1978 Harvard commencement speech.
"Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk:This would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: Everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. [snip]
I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is also less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold an formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates and atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses."
Harvard commencement speech, June 8, 1978 TSR pgs 565-566