Who is My Neighbor? – Catholicmom.com

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus concretely defines who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is whoever needs our help, regardless of situation, status, skin color, or belief. Even more broadly, our neighbor is the Other, anyone who is outside of ourselves. Jesus’ ultimate example, which we are preparing to immerse ourselves in during this Lenten season, is His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus’ sacrifice for us illuminates the essence of true love: willing the good of the other.

In these times of both intense closeness and intense separation due to COVID-19, I believe it would be helpful to pause and marvel at what we are achieving as a society.

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The Pearl of Great Price

Jesus told a parable about a merchant who found a pearl of great price. Overjoyed at this discovery, he sells all that he has in order to acquire it. This parable, and others similar to it, are part of a series of teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. Even one small glimpse is worth sacrificing everything we have.

We are living in a turbulent time. In the midst of school suspensions, sporting events cancelled and family members in various stages of quarantine, it can be challenging to know where to turn next. These sacrifices we are making as a society weren’t voted on, and in most cases our opinion wasn’t sought out. And yet, the gift of sacrifice is waiting for us to make good use of it.

In the Christian tradition, the act of sacrifice is an act of life and love. Jesus Christ’s paramount example of selfless sacrifice on the cross is how God saves us from our sins and opens the gates of Heaven. We are called to participate in that same act when we offer our smaller, daily sacrifices with love for the good of others. Before a few weeks ago, these sacrifices might have included letting someone go before us, listening to a friend’s concerns for longer than we had anticipated, making someone else’s favorite meal instead of your own, etc.

Today, our sacrifices have gotten much larger. They now range to staying home from work, creatively stretching a bag of beans into multiple meals, monitoring toilet paper usage, cancelling our own events and celebrations, handling our children’s disappointment when their activities are cancelled and learning how to “do school” from home.

I think no matter what our situation, the biggest sacrifice we are being asked to make is one of time. Time is a tricky thing. There never seems to be enough, and at the same time (hehe, see what I did there?), we struggle when there is an abundance of it. We are each facing a unique situation which presents an undetermined amount of time that must be spent at home. When, in recent memory, have you been actually required to stay home? The last time you were grounded perhaps?

What an incredible gift this could turn out to be! What a pearl of great price to acquire! There are so many thing you could get done! In fact, I would challenge you to make a list, right now, of all the things you’ve been meaning to do and haven’t had or wanted to find time for. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Finished? Did you remember to switch out your winter and spring wardrobe? How about paint the back bedroom? Or finally organize the closet in your son or daughter’s room? Don’t forget scrubbing the crayon off the wall by your toddler’s crib from who knows how long ago (just me?).

Now, if you’re like me, you probably just got overwhelmed by all the “things” that need to get done. You’re list, though full of great tasks, is missing a critical element. The people who you will be spending this unstructured time with are more important than any to-do list. The people, be they big or small, young or old, are waiting for you to be present with them. They are waiting for your gift of time.

You have time to talk to your grandma on the phone for as long as you and she like. You have time to write the thank you notes from Christmas or a birthday. You have time to make home-made play dough, and then actually play with your kids with it. You have time to read that book, “Just one more time, please!” You have time to say a whole rosary, maybe even uninterrupted if you wake up early enough. You have time to teach your son or daughter to sew, whittle, crochet, garden, mow the lawn, clean the bathroom properly, take your pick! You have time to bake cookies (and then probably put them in the freezer), to celebrate a friend’s birthday after we all get to congregate more than 6ft from one another.

So step back and take another look at your list. Take a moment and close your eyes. The sacrifice of staying home could bring your family a pearl of great value. How do you hope to strengthen your relationships with the people in your home, family and community during this period at home? Pick one or two things that at the end of all this, you want to look back and say, “Wow, that was awesome. Without this concentrated time we never would have done x, or y, what a gift this time turned out to be.”

It’s not going to be easy. I’m not saying that every single moment of this time needs to be spent in togetherness. Be sure to carve out time for yourself, your own growth and mental health. Go for that run, read that book, swing on the swing, make a home altar and spend a period of time each day in silence. Whatever it is, your time together will be all the more fruitful if you are also taking the time to care for your wellbeing.

These sacrifices are challenging indeed. But as we go forward into this unknown territory, the landscape does not need to be as daunting as some might make it out to be. The light shines a bit brighter when we embrace our sacrifices and and discover the pearls God is waiting to shower upon us.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Advent Reflections – December 23, 2015

Living in Harmony: Real Life

Living in harmony and unity grows out of the cultivation of a few habits. Really, living in harmony and unity, within ourselves, with others, and with God could be concluded to be our main goal in life. After all, Jesus’ final prayer, according to the Gospel of John, was

That they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us. John 17:21

Jesus’ final prayer is about our unity, both with God and with one another. You can be sure that if this is a desire of Jesus, it is a desire of Mary, our Mother, whose purpose is always to concretely bring us into greater unity with her Son. In a way, each of the themes we have reflected on this Advent season pave the way for unity.

  1. Open to Life – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not open to experiencing their life, no matter how different it is from our own. No only must we be open to it, we must find a way to reach common ground when our differing experiences cause us to view one another in suspicious, concerning or even hostile lights.
  2. Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to be the first to love, to be the first to extend a hand of friendship. Being willing to love without requiring or needing love in return means making ourselves vulnerable and humble. We love not because someone else acted toward us in kindness, generosity, respect, or love first, but because we have been created in the image and likeness of Love Itself. We love because God loved us first, unconditionally and completely (cf. 1 John 4:19).
  3. Willing to Sacrifice for Others – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to give up something of ourselves for the sake of the other. The gift of perfect love, of perfect unity, is Jesus on the cross, giving His whole self for the sake of our broken, imperfect, yet beautiful selves. If we are to live out Jesus’ call for unity, we can expect nothing less to be demanded of us. The more we die to self, the more we allow God to move and shape our lives, the greater and more perfect unity we will experience.
  4. Capable of Forgiveness – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to seek and extend forgiveness. We are no longer the perfect creatures from the garden. We are broken. We are sinful. We are in need of mercy. These are not sentiments. They are facts. If we wish to find true harmony with one another and with God, we must accept the fact that we will need to become the living embodiment of forgiveness – quick to forgive and quick to seek forgiveness.

The beauty of Jesus’ final prayer is that even before He prayed it, He had prepared for us a practical, living example of how to bring it to fruition. The example of Mary’s Motherhood shines forth for each person, illuminating key moments which, when gathered together, present a path for holiness, for peace, and for unity among all peoples and most importantly, unity with her Son, Jesus our Savior.