Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review - Finding Patience

With so much incivility, hate, and violence in the world, you may be wondering how have things spun so out of control? An even more important question is: How to do we reverse this disturbing downward spiral?

Virginia Lieto’s children’s book Finding Patience offers some answers. Lieto, who is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College in Maine, teaches theology and advocates a return to instructing our children in the virtues.

Finding Patience follows sisters Charity, Hope, and Faith as they adapt to a major change in their lives—a move to a new home and school. When Faith has difficulty adjusting, her parents guide her to pray and practice the virtue of patience—a lesson not only for children but also for adults.

The book offers reassurance that God is good and only wants the best for Faith but that will come in His perfect timing. And when it does come, Faith receives Patience in a delightful twist at the end.

If you want a children’s book that not only entertains but also edifies, then Finding Patience is the book you have been waiting for—I hope patiently!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It’s Perfect – Not!

It was Father’s Day weekend thirty-one years ago. Married only a couple of years, my husband and I had moved into our first house that previous January. We’d spent that spring painting, wallpapering—the things you do to get a home into shape. On Saturday of that weekend, I’d cleaned the whole house while my husband had spent the day outside trimming hedges, weeding, and cutting grass in anticipation of a Father’s Day picnic for both sides of our family—the first event in our first home.

As we called it a day, I remember looking at our neatly manicured lawn and gleaming house and thinking, “Everything is perfect.”

Then the phone rang at 7:04 a.m. Who calls that early on a Sunday morning? I thought as my husband rolled over and answered it. When I saw the color drain from his face, I knew something was terribly wrong. He hung up and stared blankly at me, too stunned to show any emotion. “That was my mom. Tommy’s been killed in a motorcycle accident.” Tommy was his twenty-three-year-old little brother.

We’d anticipated a Father’s Day picnic filled with fun and laughter. Instead, we were now faced with death, identifying a body at the morgue, and making funeral arrangements.

So much for perfection.

Flash forward to June seven years later. I’m sitting in a counselor’s office after suffering for months with panic attacks. “From what I’ve observed,” the kind therapist said, “You are very hard on yourself. You need to allow yourself to be human. You think you have to be perfect.”

As you can see, my dance with perfection has been filled with missteps. From Tommy’s death, I learned that life is not perfect and never will be, and through my joust with anxiety, I learned that I am not perfect and never will be.

So, how does someone who’s had these types of reality checks with perfection square them with Jesus’s words in Matthew’s Gospel where He instructs us to “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To a perfectionist, His words area a recipe for disaster. You may have heard the adage “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Well, when we perfectionists get rolling, we tend to discount anything, however good, that does not meet our level of perfection. We get tangled up in being immaculate. I’ve worked hard not to be a perfectionist, so when I came across that bit of scripture again recently, I, once again, reacted to it with disregard and confusion—not a good way to react to scripture.

I know perfection is impossible and shouldn’t even be pursued lest I become paralyzed in my quest to be flawless. There is no perfection on this side of eternity. I know I cannot be perfect, I made myself sick trying. Why would Jesus impose such an impossible directive on those He loves?

Ah, but I’ve also come to learn that when Jesus commands us to do something, He always promises to provide us with the grace to achieve it. His words in John’s Gospel provide the key. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Him, I cannot reach perfection. Apart from Him, the world wallows in sin and destruction. Perfection in the way Jesus means is a work of transformation and something for me not to achieve but to surrender to. Through Jesus and His act of redemption, we reach perfection. Paul in his letter to Philippians gives us this assurance: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I’ve learned that Jesus is working on me, and that sounds absolutely perfect to me.

(This originally appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild Blog.) 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Running for the End Zone

I recently celebrated my birthday. Now that I’m past the fifty-yard line of life and heading to the end zone, I can no longer deny that I am aging. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I could ignore the subtle signs of the advancing clock, and in my forties, platitudes like “forty is the new thirty” provided a flimsy veil of denial that I was growing older. However, when you hit your fifties, your children are grown, you are now called grandma, and conversations with friends gravitate toward aging parents, physical ailments, and possible retirement dates, there is no denying the obvious: I am getting older.

Many of us take a passive approach to our advancing years, believing that how one ages is out of one’s control–that it’s something that just happens to you. Others go into warrior mode and fight the “dying of the light” with hair plugs, Botox, and sundry other remedies in an attempt to vanquish the inevitable. This birthday spurred me to examine how I wanted to age. I decided I didn’t want to take the “curl up and die” approach and surrender to Father Time, but I also decided that I didn’t want to take the “aging rock star” approach and look foolish trying to cling to my youth at all cost. So how to approach this process of growing older? The second chapter of Luke’s Gospel provides the prescription. This last line jumped out at me as this chapter concludes: And Jesus increased in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.

It may seem odd talking about growing older when considering the immortality of Jesus. Though human and divine at the same time, Jesus, nevertheless, did age in body as is evident from his progression from birth as an infant to his culmination as an adult man in his thirties. Therefore, Jesus knew what it was to grow older, and as in all things, He provides the example for all humanity. This verse from Luke is His prescriptive on aging, and it implies that it should be an active, deliberative process that includes three aspects.
The first aspect is to grow in wisdom. To age following Jesus’s example, we must actively pursue wisdom. What exactly is wisdom? Proverbs 9: 10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear in this sense does not mean wariness of God, but of a healthy knowledge of His magnificence and our place and God’s place in His grand design. To acquire wisdom is not to gain knowledge but to be always persevering to know God and know ourselves in relation to Him.

The second aspect is to grow in age. While we know that Jesus advanced in years, many commentaries say that this phrase actually means to mature. Not only did Jesus grow in wisdom, but he flourished into our Savoir. What does it mean to mature? It means to become what God intended you to be, to embrace and fulfill your mission on earth. So, we are not only to gain knowledge of God and ourselves, but we are also to channel that wisdom into serving God by becoming exactly who He intended us to be.

Finally, we must grow in grace. Now, if Jesus is perfect, he could not have grown in grace as we usually think of it. Most biblical scholars take this passage to mean that Jesus performed greater and greater works for men and for God. Therefore, to follow in Jesus’s example, we must continue to acquire knowledge of God and ourselves and strive to fulfill our mission on earth. However, unlike Christ we are not perfected in grace. As such, we must rely on God to help us do greater and greater works in His name.

So, our golden years are designed not to be a passive time of acceptance of the elapsing years or an unreasonable attachment to bodily youth, but to enjoy a dynamic time of continued growth and development. We are to continue our run all the way to the end zone—perhaps with flagging physical strength and failing breath—but, nevertheless, with a vibrant spirit filled with wisdom, maturity, and grace.

This originally appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild.