My daughter is in Florida now which is being battered by Hurricane Irma. She is safe in a shelter with a few friends and families and after a few more days will return to campus for her senior year at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, which hopefully wasn’t devastated too badly and will be able to return to “normal.” By the time I went to get her a flight home, they were all sold out. I felt guilty about that but realized I had to let go of that guilt or I would be blocked from being present right here and now (many miles away in Maryland), and let go of the worry for her I was feeling – because it was all out of my control , there was nothing I could do but pray for her and the countless others in Florida affected by the hurricane. I had to “let go and let God” – or release her to God’s care. But it’s not always easy to let go of guilt and worry – fears of past and future – and stay in the present so we can be of use to others and do God’s will.
Today also commemorates the anniversary of “9-11,” the terrorist attacks in the US that occurred 16 years ago…and I’m sure for many it is still hard to let go of the grief that caused. And terrorist acts continue to occur in the Middle East, affecting many persecuted Christians who defend our faith and military who defend our freedom. I pray for all of them and their friends and families to have peace in these still-troubled times.
On another personal note, I recently had to let go of a resentment against someone who had caused harm against one of my family members and forgive that person. It took a year to completely “let go,” and while our relationship may never be what it was, at least I can be around this person without feeling angry or resentful. But I know deep down forgiveness works both ways – it not only frees the other person I forgive, but it frees me too.
I also have a hard time “letting go” of summer…my favorite time of year. Cooler weather is already setting in here in Maryland and for me, fall is bittersweet; even though it’s a lovely time of year, it means summer is gone and winter is on the way. I used to look back and have regrets about all of the things I didn’t do over the summer…but fortunately I have grown spiritually enough to be grateful for the things I did do, and let the rest go…and to appreciate autumn and not worry about winter.
Is there something – or someone – that you need to let go but can’t, that is holding you “bound” and blocking the sunlight of your spirit? I know it’s hard to let go (trust me, it has taken many years of practice and I’m a little better at it, but far from perfect!)…so I offer words from Psalm 46 to meditate on for all those having difficulty letting go of hurts, resentments, anger, worry, anxiety and fear – and pray for the victims of both Hurricanes Harvey & Irma: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’….The Lord Almighty is with us.”
‘Tis the season to invite others and be invited to holiday parties, to gatherings of family and friends, lunches, dinners and the like. But have you remembered to invite God to the party? And if you’re not hosting, will you at least invite Him to come along? I recently was reminded in a Bible study on the Book of Revelation (as I’ve heard before and then forgotten as is in my human nature!) that I need to invite God to be part of all I do…in my daily life, thanking Him for the food I eat, asking for help in relationships, to bless the work I do, to give me grace and strength, to be by my side. And the holidays are no exception, although I tend to get caught up, like we all do, as Dr. Seuss would say in his wonderful book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “with (their) presents, the ribbons, the wrappings! the tags and the tinsel, the trimmings, the trappings!…” and forget what this holiday season is really about…love, peace, joy, family, friends, our relationships with people…and with our God Who came to us as the baby Jesus, to save, lead and love us. So don’t forget to invite Him to accompany you to that next holiday gathering (which may be delightful, or may be difficult) to help you have a better attitude, to be less self-centered and to think more of others, or to be by your side so that your heart may be filled with gratitude, peace, love and joy. Because as the Grinch discovered, “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store…maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!” It really is all about God. And of course, He is always awaiting our invitation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me…” (Rev. 3:20) Lord, help us to remember to invite you to be by our sides and dwell in our hearts…when we work, when we play, when we gather with people whom we love and even those who are hard for us to love.
Second only to the first sin of pride, envy can be the root of a lot of evil. It is at the heart of the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, which my upcoming novel I’m now writing, titled The Jealous Brother, is based upon. If you’re not familiar with the story, Cain kills Abel out of jealousy, or envy. Adam and Eve, Cain’s parents, later have another child, Seth, who becomes one of the ancestors in the royal line of Jesus. In killing his brother, Cain loses everything, including that birthright. There are many other examples of sibling rivalry in the Bible: Jacob, who steals his brother Esau’s birthright; Joseph and his brothers, who sell him into slavery; and in the New Testament, the Prodigal son and his brother, who complains that he was the good son and got nothing; and Mary and Martha, the latter of whom complains that she is doing all the work and her sister is getting all the credit. You get the picture. Even in the Gospel in today’s Mass, we hear someone from the crowd call to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me,” to which Jesus tells a parable about a wealthy man who plans to store up his riches only to be told he’s going to die that same night. (Luke 12:13-21) I grew up in a very competitive family (you should come to one of our family reunions!) and my sister and I sometimes competed for our parents’ attention…and I know my kids competed with each other at times as well. I think sibling rivalry is normal, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. But envy can also be closely linked to some of the other deadly sins like greed, lust and anger. Are you feeling jealous of a sibling, friend, co-worker…who you believe is unfairly getting all of the credit, attention, money or material things instead of you? Try praying for God to remove the feelings that are causing you pain, and then try praying for the other person of whom you’re envious. (not praying for him or her to have a major catastrophe…but praying for his or her happiness!) Lord, help us to turn to you when we feel the powerful clutches of envy sneak into our hearts so that you can remove this terrible sin.
Tonight the first 2016 US Presidential debate will be nationally televised. Barring any unforeseen catastrophic circumstances, one of the two candidates in the debate will end up being the President of the United States, still one of the most powerful “rulers” in the world. Did you know that there was no official ruler of God’s people until they finally begged to have one in about 600 BC? (as it is written in the First Book of Samuel, “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel…Yet his sons did not walk in his ways…Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations’.” (1 Sam 8:1-22) God told Samuel to appoint Saul, who became the first King of Israel but ended up turning from God. So God told Samuel to appoint another, and King David was chosen, and then there was a succession of kings leading up to King Herod’s reign in which the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, was born. So the people asked to be ruled…as people usually have over the ages. My novel, The Peace Maker, which is being re-published and released tomorrow, Sept. 27, is based on the First Book of Samuel and the rise of King David, set in a modern-day America with a plot about a contemporary US Presidential election and issues much like those we face today: the strife for peace in the Middle East, right to life vs. right to choose, and more. So…which candidate is the right one in this election? Which one would God choose? I think we need to educate ourselves, so a good first step would probably be watching the presidential debates, starting tonight. And then we need to keep praying!
I am fortunate indeed to be able to say I didn’t have anyone close to me who died in the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon. Still, like most of my fellow Americans, I will never forget the tragedy that occurred that day, the deadliest terrorist act in world history, and my heart still aches for all of the victims and their families. Sometimes as human beings we are prone to question “why?” when reflecting on events such as these. As in, why do bad things happen to good people, why does God cause or allow such evil to exist and such pain and suffering to occur, and the like, just like Job did in the Bible, on whom my first novel, The Faithful One, is based. I believe that God doesn’t cause evil and suffering to happen; however, since He is all-powerful, whether bad things are caused by man and/or Satan, God does allow them to happen. We see this in the Book of Job when Satan asks God if he can “test” Job’s faith in order to destroy him. But the good news in the story is that, while God allows this to happen, Satan does not destroy Job, and then God gives to Job double what he lost. God is ultimately in control and helps Job, like he helps us, in our darkest days. Is this supposed to be comforting? Well, maybe not at first. It is still tough to understand why an all-loving, all knowing, all powerful God would allow bad things to happen. But in the big picture it can be. Because if God is all powerful, He will use our pain and suffering ultimately for good, like he did with his Son Jesus. Over and over in the Bible we are told everything happens for a reason according to God’s Plan. We just can’t always see it. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8) And what if we could? We might still not fully understand or be satisfied with His answers. Yet that does not mean God is silent toward us. God speaks to Job in the Bible, but instead of telling him “Why” He tells him “Who.” He reminds Job who He is. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?…” And we are reminded daily too…in the majesty of the ocean, the beauty of an eagle flying,the love and compassion we feel for each other which is seen especially in the wake of tragedies like 9-11. And that is enough for us to know. Even – and especially – when life doesn’t go our way, we can have faith in God’s sovereignty and know He will bring us through with his care and love. I especially felt this Sunday at Mass when they played the song, “On Eagle’s Wings” ((Lyrics based on Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40:31) often played at funerals to comfort us when we have lost a loved one and may question “why?” And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”