Pathways to prayer: Let Us Fast

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Stock.exchng photo by Paul Harvey

Today is Good Friday. Today, we honor the moment when Jesus laid down his life for us, to forgive our sins and to open the gates of heaven once more.

Here is a short prayer for today.

Let Us Fast

While fasting with the body,
brothers and sisters,
let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loose every bond of iniquity;
let us undo the knots of every contact
made by violence;
let us tear up all unjust agreements;
let us give bread to the hungry
and welcome to our house
the poor who have no roof to cover them,
that we may receive mercy from
Christ our God.
-Byzantine Vespers

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Update: Feeding the hungry

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Image from sjy.org

When I first started this yearlong journey, I started off with a simple corporal act of mercy: Feed the hungry. However, it isn’t always so easy to do so, when our emotions and thoughts get in the way. We sometimes don’t want to give a homeless person on the street food because “why can’t they just get a job and stop begging? They are liars.”

These thoughts that invade our mind do more harm than good and come from an evil source. It takes all the willpower we have inside to block them out as we help the less fortunate, no matter if they are liars or not.

So, in addition to the easy task of donating food to our local food pantry, my husband and I decided to start volunteering once a month at Catholic Harvest Food Pantry. This pantry allows those who need food to “shop” through the store with a volunteer to get the items they need and want.

When we arrive, we got a rundown of the schedule: We take the person in need, who has a slip of their family size, and loop them through the aisles with a cart and some boxes. Each pile of food and other items have a tag that lists how much they are allowed. Some just say “2 items per family.” Some items have a scale, where a family size of 3 would only get one item, but a family of 5 would get two, etc. Some tags even say “2 items per person”, so if there is a family of 5, the person can take 10 items. As we guide the person around, we ask “do you want this? You can have 2. Do you like this? You can take 2 per person, so 10 items.”

That night I only had one woman I worked with, who had a partner and 3 kids. Some items she passed up, like cereal. I thought, “Why would she ignore and reject FREE food that her family clearly needs?” But in other moments, I realized my privilege, where I can go to the grocery store and pay a lot of money for the best toilet paper and for non-aluminum deodorant. This woman was looking for some deodorant, something that would make her feel fresh. It is such a simple thing I take for granted as I look at items in a grocery store to see which item I WANT, not NEED.

And, going back to her “rejection” of food: Where is it my place to judge this person, who is allowed to have food preferences? If her kids won’t eat cereal, why should she take it and let it go to waste? I don’t like certain foods either, and when I go grocery shopping, I don’t buy them. How is this any different?

After that first experience, I was immediately enlightened. This was a moment to serve another person, and this person isn’t required to beg, plead and jump through hoops just so she can get food for her family of five. She deserves to have a moment of being taken care of, to have someone serve her.

That is human decency. That is being Jesus to others.

When clothe the naked takes on new meaning

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Flickr photo by Eugene Luchinin

I had been thinking a lot about clothing the naked, and how it impacts me as a human.

After Adam and Eve sinned and they were cast out of the Garden, we had to clothe ourselves, out of shame. We regard our bodies as shameful, for some reason.

Obviously we want to give clothes so people stay warm in the cold and cool in the heat. But people don’t deserve to wear old cast-offs full of holes and stains, as I mention here. Besides the examples I gave in a previous post, I wondered how I can do more, and is there a way to do more for this particular corporal act of mercy?

I have always wanted to volunteer at a pregnancy center. When I lived in Lewistown, I stumbled upon one that would help women carry their child to term by asking them to come in for video classes, where they can earn “points” or “bucks.” These would then be used in the retail store ran by the center, so the women can shop for necessities for the babies.

Well, lucky for me, we have a similar place where I live now, called Human Life Services. I love how the organization empowers women to take care of their children (or give them up for adoption) while working within their current life, whether that is a job, school or other issues.

This had me thinking: We are all born naked. We come into this world without anything covering our bodies that God created. And, because of our sin, we must clothe ourselves in this world.

So, why not help these women and families clothe their children, not just with physical clothes but with the clothes of salvation through Jesus Christ?

This is just another way you can help clothe the naked. Encourage and support women in your community who have no resources or help in the face of pregnancy. Every life is precious, but that includes the one of the mother. We can’t simply stop at “don’t abort.” We must support, as well.

Spiritual act of mercy: Be a good example when instructing

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Receiving ashes in 2010

You might be like me and don’t feel like you have a knack for teaching. I know I have always been afraid of public speaking, so teaching — especially children — frightens me.

I also always thought I wasn’t knowledgeable enough in “Bible stuff” to teach anyone else. Who would want to listen to a wayward Catholic, struggling with her own faith?

Well, a few years ago, I was shocked when a friend of mine asked me to be her sponsor as she joined the Catholic Church. She said I was a good example and she was inspired by my faith.

Wait, what?

At the time, I had been a college student at a Big 10 university known for its drinking habits. I had gone with this friend to many a party, flirted with many guys and did many non-Christian things, in my eyes. I even had a roommate at one point who was super Christian, and my friends and I thought she was acting silly at some points (wouldn’t wear a bathing suit, never kissing a boy or drinking.)

Yet, I still dragged my butt to church weekly, even at the 9 p.m. Sunday Mass in sweatpants. I did, at one point, decide to become a Eucharistic minister, but that was it. I didn’t really read my Bible in front of her or speak in tongues … I acted up like many college students.

Despite all this, I was a good example of the Catholic Church, according to this friend.

So, this is a great way, and many the most important way, we can instruct the ignorant or uneducated. We need to be living examples of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

You don’t need to be perfect; none of us can be as sinners. But if we live humbly and continue to strive to change our ways under God’s guidance, I think we can be great examples.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

Read part 1 here.

Pathways to Mercy: Clothe the naked

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stock.xchng photo by remind

It seems so easy for us to “clothe the naked.” We just need to donate clothes to Salvation Army or any of the number of organizations that gathers used clothes and resells them to the public.

And yes, that will help. Some people just can’t afford to go to the store and buy clothes. But with cheaper clothes in places such as Wal-Mart, there sometimes is no need to go to Salvation Army for those that can’t afford it. Plus, have you gone to Salvation Army lately? There are a lot of dated clothes (I am looking at you, 1980s dresses with shoulder pads!)

So, how can we really help clothe the naked?

First, we need to start giving better clothes to help out the poor. These people do not want to be dressed in rags and don’t deserve to be. They deserve to look their best, as God has created them. I got this idea from Catholic Sistas, and it rang so true to me. I usually give many of my dated or destroyed clothes to charity, not thinking about the other person who needs the clothes.

And as much as I love Salvation Army and its mission, what about those who can’t even afford to buy used clothes? If there are organizations in your area that gives clothes away for free, I would suggest donating to those places, as well. I know during this time of year, there were many drives for winter coats and hats/gloves/scarves. What if you don’t have any of these specific items? Well, go out and buy them! As much as a homeless man will use a pair of used gloves, he will also use a pair of new gloves. He needs to keep warm, and that is all that matters.

And going back to Wal-Mart and cheap clothing: Why not start buying from responsible, fair-wage companies? And reusing and repairing what clothes you have? And also buying from Salvation Army instead? Our Jubilee of Mercy not only exists in our neighborhoods, but extends all over the world. By recognizing the horrors of slave labor and how many companies use sweat shops to make the cheap clothing we enjoy buying, that makes an impact on “clothing the naked” in other countries. These workers are treated like dirt, and that is unacceptable.

Clothing the naked goes beyond handing out gloves on a cold, winter day (though, that helps tremendously!) It also involves where we put our money.

Do you have any other ideas about how you can clothe the naked? 

Spiritual act of mercy: Instruct the ignorant

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

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Flickr photo by George Bannister

Instruct the ignorant — That seems like such a harsh statement! The word “ignorant” has negative connotations these days.

Let’s put it in other words: Teach others; Instruct the unaware. Now, that sounds better.

Jesus instructs the apostles in the book of Matthew to go out and teach, making disciples of everyone. So, we are instructed to do the same.

It seems like a huge task, but it can be very simple.

The family

Our obligations are first to our spouses and children. Gone are the days when we ship the kids off to Catholic school and hope the priests and sisters will teach our kids all there is to know about our faith. First, that is a huge task! I know from personal experience that while I learned the basics and the importance of Mass, adoration, etc., I didn’t really learn the history of the church or delve into important topics all that often. Also, many families don’t encourage Catholic practice outside of school hours. Practicing our faith is like doing homework; it needs to be re-enforced by parents. So, live your faith constantly in front of your family, and encourage practicing of the faith.

Another way to help is to teach CCD on Sunday mornings to the church children. We need to be drawing the youth closer to the faith, and encouraging them to learn the practices. If volunteers don’t continue this practice, it might be detrimental to the next generation of followers. Also, get your children involved in youth groups and other church-related activities.

Teaching our children might be tough, though, as many of us might not have a background in theology or have “necessary” training. To that I say: Educate yourself. Before telling your children something, make sure you are correct.

Rely on those who have the training: priests, deacons, bishops, and the pope. They are the proper sources to read from and ask questions to. However, remember that these men are human, as well, and can and will make mistakes.

Most of all, prayer is an important lesson to teach everyone and to put into practice. Teach your family how to pray, and be a good example of this by praying nightly.

But what if …?

I realize that I centered this post a lot around family and children. They are the first and most important part of instruction, as we have an obligation to get our spouses and children into heaven. Plus, in my eyes, it is easy to teach children because they want to learn and it is our obligation to teach them.

But what if you are single/don’t have children/don’t like teaching/etc? I will touch on this topic in my next post, because I hear you! I do not have children, so the idea of “instructing the ignorant” frightens me a bit, too!

Feed the hungry: Carrying care packages during Jubilee of Mercy

IMG_20160121_160116330.jpgWe can feed the hungry in many ways: Giving donations to local food banks, helping out during food drives and even making and baking for area soup kitchens. But during the Jubilee of Mercy, it is also time to think outside the box.

I am going to shine a light on my husband’s good deeds for a moment. When we were dating, we were walking the streets of Ann Arbor on a date. A homeless man was begging for change on one of the corners. He turned to me and said, “I know this might sound weird, but I am going to ask that man if he wants to get a coffee at the shop nearby. Is that OK with you?” I was a bit shocked. And I said yes, that was fine.

The man did take us up on the offer, and we spent an hour with the man. I was immediately humbled and impressed at my then-boyfriend. Wow, he invites homeless men for coffee! I never, ever thought to do that!

Well, we talked about it on the ride home (he told me to never mention it to anyone! Oops!) He told me he doesn’t like to give money. Instead, he will give any leftovers he is carrying, or invite the person for a cup of coffee/a sandwich/etc. I was in awe at the selflessness this man portrayed. It inspired me.

IMG_20160121_155543537However, he warned me to never do that, as I am a woman. Wait, WHAT?! The feminist in me started to grumble ….

He was right. I am a woman, and sometimes I need to protect myself more.
BUT that doesn’t mean I can’t donate my leftovers, or go into a shop and just buy a coffee or sandwich for someone and give it to them. I can do things that make me feel safe, but still give back as much as possible in individual situations.

On the blog Catholic Sistas, I was inspired by preloaded gift cards to give out. And that gave me another idea: Small care packages. I went to Target and got some pantry staples: granola bars, bags of nuts, cracker sandwiches and tissues (everyone needs tissues.) I also put a $5 Subway card in the bag. I have a few care packages without the gift cards, because I still think they are important to give out, when I can’t afford a bunch of Subway cards.

What are some unique ways do you help feed the hungry? Have you tried anything during this Jubilee of Mercy?