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Living The Golden Rule

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         J
OY. WHAT A DELIGHTFUL WORD THAT IS! Joy should be the hallmark of who we are as Christians; joy should define the way we live. We have that on no less an authority than Jesus Himself, who said at the Last Supper: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it? The same sentiment was expressed in another way by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a 19th-century Carmelite nun: “The secret of happiness, and the secret of all the saints, is that they loved God as a friend."

It all sounds simple enough, and reasonable enough, until you remember that every one of us is saddled with something called the human condition, and our all-too-human emotions—doubt, suffering, anger, fear—can get into the way of the joy that can be ours.

Facing Doubt
We all need to know that God is a faithful friend, especially in difficult times. People who don’t know about divine love often ask, “Where was God when I needed Him?” Those who know Him as a friend are more inclined to trust Him in all circumstances.

But there are times when even people with strong faith falter in the face of tragedy. And tragedy is the word to describe the powerful tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December of 2004, taking the lives of nearly a quarter-million people. Close to a million were left homeless. The hopelessness and despair of the tsunami’s aftermath shook the faith of nearly everyone, including a local Roman Catholic bishop named Joseph K. Swampillia of Sri Lanka.

“This disaster has shaken my faith,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “and yet I know it was faith that saved us.”

A shaken faith is not a shattered faith. Pain is pain, and each individual has to deal with suffering in his or her own way. But those who have God as a friend draw strength from Him, and manage to carry on with courage.

When someone asks them, “Where was God in this tragedy?” they are able to say that He was on the scene, encouraging the victims to help one another. They might add that God was also active all over the world, inspiring millions of people to send money for food and medical supplies. This happens over and over again as catastrophes hit us unexpectedly.

God is strong enough to overlook the indignation of those who doubt Him, and gentle enough to accept all kinds of ridicule and rejection, because He remains loving in all circumstances.

Getting Angry at God
Georgina Ashworth of Lawrence, Kansas, had her life turned upside down by a bitter divorce. “I was filled with hatred for my ex-husband,” she said. “I asked God, ‘How could You let this happen to me?’ I cried for days.

“Eventually I asked for forgiveness for my anger at my ex-husband. I prayed aloud one sleepless night: ‘Father, forgive me. I want to trust You, but right now I don’t. Please help me to wish my ex-husband and his new wife the best. You know that I don’t mean this right now, but I want to.’

“My Father in Heaven listens to me lovingly. I know I am unconditionally acceptable to Him, but I still slip every now and then. He picks me up and says, ‘It’s okay. I am always with you.’”

The woman in that story went through a great deal, and at times like that we often tend to wonder: why does God allow so much suffering?

Rosa Baines writes from Edmonton, Canada: “I have at times wondered whether God allows sorrow and pain into our lives so that we can truly appreciate the times of happiness and joy—a sunrise or a sunset, birds soaring, flowers blooming, celebrating Christmas with family and friends, attending a wedding or a baptism, watching children at play…”

That’s a noble way to look at it, but not everyone can. When people suffer, they often react in anger, and anger needs to run its course. It should not be held down; otherwise it can lead to depression. However, anger can be used to supply positive energy—to engage in constructive action, to right a wrong, or to make a new beginning. Choose to channel your anger in a positive way. Don’t remain discouraged.

The Divine Friend
Everyone, at some time, goes through unbearable suffering of one kind or another. Many become disoriented, and lose their bearings for a while. If that ever happens to you, try to remember that you have a divine friend at your side. You are never alone.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and author of the book “The Seven Storey Mountain,” once wrote this prayer: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. The fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. I hope that I will never do anything apart from You. And I know that if I do, You will lead me by the right road. Though I may seem lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Merton never mistook feelings of helplessness for actual hopelessness. He trusted God in the midst of his confusion.

Former First Lady Bess Truman suffered a terrible shock when she was just 18: her father committed suicide. It was an unbearable loss. Her friend, Mary Paxton, heard the awful news and came over right away to be with her in her hour of need. Bess cried for hours. Mary listened quietly, and consoled her. Years later, when Mrs. Truman was living in the White House, she looked back and said, “Mary’s living presence was exactly what I needed at that terrible time.”

God is like that—a good friend who is always at your side, especially when you’re most in need.

The attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, shattered many lives. In her book, “A Tempered Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the Ashes of Loss,” Jennifer Sands, the widow of one of the victims, tells what happened to her when she first heard the news of the attack. In a state of shock she began praying that her beloved Jim would be saved. She begged God, but heard no answer. Jim never came home again.

Jennifer was devastated. But a year later, after her agony and doubt had drained away, she managed to write this entry in her journal: “Thank you, Lord, for getting me through this. Now help me to move on.”

Steps to Finding Joy
The real enemy of joy is fear. It’s no accident that the Bible repeats the phrase “Be not afraid” 365 times, or that Jesus warned us, “Fear is useless; what you need is trust.” Jesus knew that we wouldn’t always be able to free ourselves from emotional pain, but despite that He wanted our joy to be full.

Whenever frightening thoughts cross your mind, reject them. Turn your heart toward the Lord, and count your blessings. As St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”

Reject fear. If you have an unfortunate tendency to put yourself down—saying things like, “I’m not a good person; I won’t go on; I hate my life”—don’t be discouraged. Everyone can change a pattern of negative thinking. Bad habits can be confronted and uprooted with prayerful determination. Trust the Lord to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

Remember that you are not your thoughts; you are simply their observer. Put all those tormenting thoughts out of your head. Eliminate anything that is not from God.

And if the upsetting thoughts continue, find a good doctor or therapist to guide you. Above all, trust in God’s grace. The dark night of the soul is only temporary. One day the sun will come out, and the snow will melt away. Here’s a way to find relief in the present moment: trust the past to God’s mercy, and the future to God’s providence. Look for God in the beauty of nature, which is right before your eyes. Think of it not merely as a reflection of God’s beauty, but as a sign of His love for you. A sunset, for instance, might be God’s way of saying, “I love you.”

Everything in nature awakens in us a hunger for God. As Pope John Paul II reminded pilgrims at a general audience in April of 2002, “The need for God is a need that can be as physical as the need for food and water. Just as the arid land is dead until irrigated by rain, so the faithful yearn for God, in order to exist in joyful communion with Him.”

Mother Teresa understood that well. She said that Jesus comes to us “in disturbing disguises,” a reference to the sick and the dying to whom she ministered in the streets of India. She trained her Sisters to see the face of God in everyone.

Above all remember the words of the Lord, who said he came that our joy might be full. Pope John Paul II once gave those words an added dimension when he said:

“Christ came to bring joy; joy to children, joy to parents, joy to families and friends, joy to workers and scholars, joy to the sick and elderly, joy to all humanity. In a true sense joy is the keynote message of Christianity, and the recurring motif of the Gospels.”

And the Holy Father’s final direction, which is our mandate as Christians and which we should always bear in mind:“Go therefore and become
messengers of joy.”

“Joy is a net of love by which you can
catch souls.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta