PLEASE GOD, CAN’T MY SPOUSE AND I BE NICER TO EACH OTHER!!

Posted November 2nd, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized

By Robert Fontana

Juanita and Juan are frustrated.  They are both very devout Christians, with lovely children, have jobs that they really enjoy and, by their own admission, “WE ARE SO UNHAPPY!”  And then their prayer, “PLEASE GOD, HELP US TO BE NICER TO ONE ANOTHER!”

Juan said that because he and Juanita love Jesus and attend church he was sure that his marriage would never reach the point of being a primary source of frustration for him.  Juanita agreed.  Each prayed asking God to change his/her spouse’s heart and behavior.  And when that didn’t work, each prayer to ask God to change “my heart and my behavior to my spouse.”  And when that didn’t work and the distance between each other got to great they called me.  “Wow,” said, “So I am the answer to your prayer.”

John and Jane Doe, a Christian couple called for counseling:  Jane – “I really want my marriage to succeed but we are so busy with our jobs and the babies after work we have no time for each other.  And when we do talk we get into these explosive arguments.  I want that to stop.”  John – “I know we can do better.  I don’t like the arguments.  I love Jane and want to have the kind of marriage I see other people have.

William Doe, professional man and husband:  William – “My wife and I did counseling, but it wasn’t that helpful.  I think I’m the problem.  I want to be a better person and a better husband but I have some hang-ups that I just can’t seem to let go of. I over react to little things.  I don’t want to yell at her so I just get quiet.  Maybe we’ll come in together later but I need help right now. 

Bien, professional woman from an Asian culture:  Bien – “I am struggling with my family that     expects so much of me.  My mother wants me to mediate between her and my brother, my father wants me to marry and give him a son.  My parents were always embarrassed that their first born was a girl. I want help in finding myself while still  being responsible to my family.  I do believe in God and pray but, I don’t know, God’s not much help.

 

THE MIRACLE OF ADOPTION  

Posted September 5th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized

by Renee Garrot (Lori and Robert’s niece)

reneee ccIt is easy to look back on certain events in my life years later and now see the meaning or purpose they each played in shaping not only the path my life would take, but the person I would become. Yet the events that come to the forefront of my memory are not always the happiest, brightest, or easiest, but they are the ones that have allowed me the grace to experience miracles. My living miracle has been the miracle of adoption.

I was fifteen years old sitting in Spanish class when an unthinkable pain developed in my lower right abdomen. That event will stick with me forever because it changed the course of the life I thought I would live. From that moment, and through the next five years, I lived with pain as if it was an un-welcomed friend. I was diagnosed with a severe case of endometriosis, which is very common in women.

My parents and I traveled all over the South, from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, attempting one surgery after the other, praying for relief of this nightmare. After each new treatment, and each new medication and surgery, the endometriosis would grow back like wildfire. Even though I experienced many days where the pain was so horrendous that getting out of bed to walk was exhausting, I had three rays of hope that kept me looking beyond the pain: my family, my school, and my faith.                                    

During this time my doctors were very honest with me, and I knew that my odds of ever becoming pregnant later in life were very slim. Throughout these five years I often asked God why I was suffering so much. He would respond with helping me to understand that I do not need to worry about “why” I am suffering. He helped me understand that my cross would be heavy and my sacrifice would be great to get through this period in my life. In response to my many prayers, He would tell me that at the end of this journey what I will receive will be much greater than the suffering I was experiencing.

These conversations with the Lord gave me courage to make the decision of having a complete hysterectomy at age 20. Yes, it was a huge choice to make at such a young age and it was not one that was made easily. Life for me, from then on, was only about adopting a child whenever it came time. My heart and my mind were for once in agreement and not battling each other. I knew that God’s purpose for me was to adopt.

Fast forward fifteen years, and finally the right man comes into my life who never gave the idea of adopting a child a second thought. It was as natural to him as if he and I were discussing having biological children. My husband and I began discussing the many ways we could go about adopting soon after we were married, but never put anything into action.    After seven months of being married our miracle came from a phone call.

Five days prior to that phone call I left a very lucrative job to go back to teaching. In my former  position I was traveling a great deal and was away from home four out of five nights a week. While away from home one morning, preparing for a training in my former job, the Lord stopped me in my tracks. He called me to forsake everything else and place my family first. The moment I accepted this calling, a huge sense of a “something great is approaching” came upon me. I quit my job that day and went back to the classroom.

The phone call I received five days later was from my father, the man who stood by me as I suffered all those years before, who helped me decide to have the hysterectomy, who allowed me to cry upon his shoulder when struggling with why this was all happening. He called to tell me he knew of a baby who was a day old and was in need of being adopted. How beautiful of a miracle it was that God allowed my father to introduce this child into my life. Two hours later my husband and I were meeting our  daughter and her birth mother in the hospital. A couple hours later we were buying a car seat! We took her home from the hospital the next day and from that day forth the miracles are countless.

renee jasonIt is a miracle that she can call me mommy because there were so many days I doubted I would ever hear those words. It is a miracle she is given the opportunity to have a mother and father and a wonderful extended family through the grace of her birth mother, who so thankfully did not choose to abort her. It is a miracle that she is healthy, happy, funny, full of life (sometimes too much life), so smart, and has been given the opportunity to be curious about the world she is blessed to live in. I see everyday the miracle of my daughter’s relationship with my    mother, which mirrors the relationship I had with my grandmother, for whom my daughter is named.

Why was she chosen to live and not be aborted? I cannot answer that. To me it is a miracle. Looking back on  my life, I know the path I was on led me to my miracle baby, and I know she has a purpose on Earth. It is with God’s love and the miracle of adoption that my purpose is to guide her to find her own.

Renee Garrot is the mother of a vivacious four-year-old, and proud wife to her husband Jason. She is the author of  “The Angel Pillow,” a children’s book for families blessed by adoption.  It is currently available on Amazon and at  https://www.createspace.com/7164006

 

Grieving this Holy Week

Posted March 22nd, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized, View From the Pew

by Robert Fontana

There is enough bad news to make one think that Jesus’ second coming better happen soon or we are doomed.  Here are three examples:

  • bombInternationally: ISIS claimed to strike yet again on European soil Tuesday, saying its “fighters” launched attacks on the Brussels airport and one of its subway stations, killing at least 30 people and wounding over 230 more. (CNN news)
  • Nationally: Republican voters seem to be selecting Donald Trump as their nominee… Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetime… Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship… As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.  (David Brooks, New York Times)
  • Locally: The Seattle Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (an unofficial student group at Seattle University) planned to host a speaker from Planned Parenthood, the topic – “Catholicism and Full Spectrum Reproductive Healthcare: One Provider’s Perspective,” in late February…the promotional flyers for the event…showed a rosary with an IUD in place of the crucifix. (Lifesitenews)

I admit that this is my short list based on my Catholic Christian values and world view; you may have a different list.  The point is, there is so much hate, ignorance, stupidity, and nonsense in the world, it can make a person lose faith in the one who came to redeem all that hate, ignorance, stupidity, and nonsense.  But don’t lose your faith; use Holy Week to carry all that bad news with Jesus as he journeys to the Good Friday cross, and the Easter Sunday Resurrection.

woman praying with rosary in handJesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they who mourn.”  Holy Week is a sacred time to mourn for the ignorance, sufferings, and violence in our world, the world that Jesus spoke of when he said,

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn* the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16

This is the world that we too are called to love.   And one part of loving this world is to grieve for the vast amount of human suffering that we humans inflict upon one another and the natural world.  Grieve the beautiful people who died or were maimed in the Brussels bombing; grieve the American political process that has allowed a bully and demagogue like Trump to dominate the Republican Party; and grieve Seattle University nursing students who advocate abortion as a human right.

Of course, the question is, after grieving for the current “sins of the world,” what do we do?  What actions do we take?  St. Paul gives us some direction:

Be angry but do not sin.” (Ephesian 4:26)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…do not look for revenge…Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.  (Romans 12:17-21)

When confronted with evil the temptation is to fight “fire with fire,” to do unto the other what the other has done unto you.  But that is not the way of the Gospel.   Hate as a response to these evils is the easy solution.  Hate is focused, simple, aggressive, initially satisfying, and wrong.  Hate eats up the one who is hating as it seeks to destroy the one who is hated.  Love, not the soft, mushy sentimental versions from Valentine’s Day, but the harsh, demanding, and justice- oriented love that took flesh in the person of Jesus, is the far more difficult solution.  And it is the correct one.

joy 2So, when Holy Week is over, and you have had a good cry grieving the evils of the world, do something loving.  Spread joy!  Don’t let the evil you abhor rob you of one minute of the joy you feel at being alive and loved by God.  Don’t give evil that power over your well-being.  Share your joy with others, with the people around you at home and work, and the slow-moving grocery clerk.  And get involved, somehow.  Befriend your local Muslim community, send a letter of protest to Seattle U, volunteer at a food bank, participate in our political processes.

In the midst of suffering and evil in the world, let your life be an Alleluia!

Please post your comments!

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Come to the Jubilee Year Prayer and Study Day:  Blessed Helen's Photoare the Merciful.  Sunday, April 17, St. Mary by the Lake Spirituality Center, Bellevue.   
Catholics from throughout the state will be gathering in Bellevue to pray, listen, and learn about Pope Francis’ vision for a “Church of Mercy.”

Helen Oesterle (pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe) and Patrick Bpb (1)arredo (former pastoral associate from Holy Rosary) will be presenting on: Mercy Begins with Me; Mercy as a Way of Life; The Cross of Mercy; and the Church of Mercy.  Blessed are the Merciful is presented by Catholic Life Ministries (CLM) of Seattle.

Time: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.  Lunch provided; the day concludes with a Liturgy of the Word with Communion.

Cost:  $35 individual, $60 couples (scholarships are available upon request).

To register:   Go online to Catholiclifeministries.org, click on calendar, and scroll down to “click here to register.”  Or, send your name, cell number, address, email, and fee to: CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl. SW # 1, Seattle, WA 98136. Questions?  Call Robert Fontana at 509-731-6012.

 

Another Advent

Posted November 28th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized

advent-wreathby Lori Fontana

Another Advent, another church year begins this Sunday. While I have always loved the rituals and mystery of Advent, this year it seems overshadowed by the news from around the world. What our world is experiencing is scary and depressing. It’s hard to be hopeful. How can I “celebrate” Advent and then the great feast of Christmas amidst so much human fear and suffering? Can Advent make a difference in my life?

In the Gospel, Jesus describes these times: “You will hear of wars and reports of wars…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place…All these are the beginning of the labor pains.” (Mt 24:6-8, Mk 13:7-9) Sounds like the “end times.” But Jesus cautions, “See that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.” (Mt 24:6, Mk 13:7)  And just a few lines later, Jesus adds that no one knows “[the] day and hour…neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mt 24:36, Mk 7:32)

In other words, Jesus tells us that there will be big problems around the world, but we are not to be alarmed, discouraged, or without hope; and forget trying to predict that the end times are here and going to wait on a mountaintop or hole up in a bunker. No, what does Jesus say? “Stay awake!…Be prepared!” (Mt 24:42, 44) “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mk 7:33)

syrian refugeeWhat does that mean for me today, this first Sunday of Advent, 2015? When I listen to the reports of wars, of babies drowning in the sea as their families make a desperate attempt to flee violence and persecution, or just find their daily bread, I’m overwhelmed. What can I do? I donate money to Catholic Relief Services or Mercy Corps. I pray…what else?

Sometimes I just want to curl up on the couch with popcorn and hot chocolate, and turn on a Christmas movie. Or I think that a trip to Toys R Us for that fun gift for Linus or Cora or Rose (grandbabies!) will be just the thing to bolster my Christmas spirit.

These things are pseudo-Christmas, though our culture has thoroughly “sold” us on these aspects of the Christmas season. The first Christmas happened when two “blue-collar” folks from Nazareth travelled to Bethlehem for the government census. The town was so crowded that they could not find a place to stay—hence, Jesus’ birth in a stable, which I’m thinking was dark, cramped, cold, and smelly despite Christmas card depictions to the contrary.

Jesus’ first visitors were the bottom of the social order—shepherds from the surrounding fields. They responded to the angel’s invitation and “went in haste” to see Mary and Joseph, and Jesus lying in a manger. They rejoiced! Jesus’ birth was good news to them; Jesus was the first Christmas present.

These shepherds also lived in a time of wars and reports of wars, of famines and persecutions. But they were awake to the good news of Jesus’ birth. Because they were alert, watchful, and prepared, they responded quickly to the angel; and upon seeing the newborn Jesus, they were filled with JOY! They left the stable and shared with others this good news of salvation: “A savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2: 11)

The rest of the message was “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) Peace on earth—that’s what we need today. How can I contribute?

I have started humming Christmas carols, of course, but also the hymn, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” It’s pretty simple really: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. I, one insignificant person, can’t magically bring about world peace, but I can nurture peace in my own heart and share it with those around me. That’s about all most of us can and will ever do; but it’s huge. Think about it. We see how violence begets violence. In the same way, a spirit of peace can beget peace. If I refuse to react to another’s “war,” then that little stream of hatred and fear is stopped from spreading any further. If hundreds of us, thousands of us make this little change, think how God’s peace could flourish.

st francisI’ll call on another man of peace for some specific ways that we can nurture peace during this Advent, 2015. St. Francis wrote his Peace Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Let’s choose one or two of Francis’ exhortations this Advent season. Do you know someone who is despairing in life? Share some hope with her or him. Reach out to someone who needs consolation, understanding, or love. Forgive another person from your heart. It might be someone in your family or someone you pass on the highway. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you whom to reach out to and ask for the grace and change of heart to do so with JOY! Blessed Advent to you.

A Relationship Assessment–In Time for St. Valentine’s Day

Posted February 8th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot, Uncategorized

Happy Valentine’s Day! Is your marriage successful?  Or, if you are not married but in a serious relationship with another person, is it successful?  Note that I did not write “is it perfect?”  There are no perfect marriages, no perfect relationships, but there are successful ones.  The 12 areas of a successful marriage summarized below are taken from Why Marriage Matters by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite.  Take this quick relationship assessment for a snapshot on the state of your marriage. It works for dating couples as well.  Complete it separately, then compare your answers.

Indicate your level of agreement with the following statements with a 1=Never, 3=often, and 5=always.

1.  We work effectively as a team.        1      2      3      4      5

2.  My spouse accepts me for who I am, and  affirms my gifts and talents.    1      2      3      4      5

3.  Our marriage has helped me to mature as a person;  it brings out the best in me (most of the time).     1      2      3      4      5

4.  We agree on our approach to money; how we are to save, spend, and give a portion of it to charity. 1      2      3      4       5

5.  We live a healthy balance of work, leisure,  exercise, and sleep.  1      2      3      4      5

6.  Our marriage gives me a firm foundation to be able to  to succeed at work.1     2     3     4      5

7.  My spouse takes good care of me when I am sick.   1      2      3      4      5

8.  We agree on our approach to faith and  and spiritual growth.  1      2      3      4      5

9.  We work hard at being good neighbors and  active citizens.    1      2      3      4      5

10. We are best friends and regularly make  time to have fun together.   1      2      3      4      5

11. We are very good at dealing with conflict.   1      2      3      4        5

12. I am very satisfied with our romantic, sensual life!   1      2      3      4      5

Many couples run their marriages on cruise control.  They’re like the airline pilot who announces good news and bad news.  The good news is we’re making excellent time at a great speed.  The bad news is we don’t know where we are going.  Find out “where your marriage is going” by taking a more comprehensive relationship assessment.  You can find it at workonyourmarriage.org. Look at the column on left for Marriage Assessment.  Click it and follow the directions.

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You can do a marriage workshop at home by purchasing our book Hidden Treasure, a workbook for couples to help them discover the amazing gift of their marriage.  Hidden Treasure will guide you through a series of conversations related to critical issues of married love: interpersonal needs, sexual intimacy, friendship, children, faith, money, future plans, forgiveness, and effective communication. Do one chapter a week, and you can spend the next 13 weeks deepening love and intimacy in your marriage!  Hidden Treasure  can be purchased at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

The Jesus Prayer—you should try it!

Posted August 10th, 2014 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized, View From the Pew
Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer—you should try it!

by Robert Fontana

The ancient Jesus Prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”   It is held with great esteem among the Eastern Orthodox, who consider it the perfect prayer.  Through this prayer, I confess the Lordship of Jesus, profess faith in His divinity, and admit to being a sinner in great need of God’s mercy.  The roots of the Jesus Prayer come from Jesus himself through the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10-14). 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 

 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“God, have mercy on me a sinner,” according to Jesus, is the most worthy of prayers.  These are the words of a person who knows in the depths of her / his being that God is capable of overcoming any of life’s messes.  This is the prayer at the heart of the twelve steps of A.A.:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The Orthodox use this prayer as a mantra which they learn to pray as they breathe in and out.

Breathe in – “Lord Jesus.”

Breathe out – “Son of God.”

Breathe in – “have mercy on me.”

Breathe out – “a sinner.”

This is something a believer can do while doing busy work that does not take much thought.  Repeating these simple words in a quiet, repetitive way, in a pattern similar to saying the rosary, allows me to slowly move faith from my head to my heart.  Thus I am drawn into the presence of God though I may be sewing, fishing, driving, caring for children or an elderly parent, or washing a car.

When I need to focus more intently on my task or interact with someone, I simply set the Jesus Prayer aside. I can quickly pick it up again later.  Sometimes “later” is not until I go to sleep that night, but that’s okay. Thus the Jesus Prayer helps me to attempt to fulfill St. Paul’s admonition: “Pray always.”  (1 Thess 5:17)

Wednesdays and Fridays are days of fasting and prayer for Lori and me. On those days, the first thing I try to do when I awake, while still lying in bed, is pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I use it throughout the day to keep me in touch with God.  It not only reminds me that I am a sinner, but also that, given the right conditions, I am capable of doing just about any evil act (and so are you!).  More importantly, it draws me to the Lord and keeps me attentive to the Holy Spirit’s presence, consolation, and guidance.

Praying the Jesus Prayer has taught me to venture out to other Scripture verses and prayers that I use as mantras in a similar way.  On Sundays (and other moments as needed) I recite the words from Psalm 63:1: “Oh, God, you are my God whom I seek.”  On Mondays it’s a Taize chant: “O, Lord, hear my prayer; come and listen to me.”  On Tuesdays I borrow from Psalm 42, “My soul longs for you, O God;” and on Thursdays it’s the 23rd Psalm – “Jesus is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”  Sometimes I just take a portion of the prayer to Mary and repeat it over and over again, “Hail Mary full of grace, holy Mary pray for us.  Hail Mary full of grace, holy Mary pray for us.”

Using the Jesus Prayer and other Scripture verses as mantras that I recite as I breathe in and out helps me to release negative thoughts and feelings – anger toward a neighbor, regret over a hurtful action I’ve done, anxiety about a certain situation – and replace them with surrender, forgiveness, acceptance, and the peace of God.  Praying the Jesus Prayer does not make a perfect Christian who never sins. It does help me to keep coming back to Jesus for the strength to love God and neighbor as he has exhorted / invited me to do.

 

Robert was energetic…a beautiful presence…fantastic

Posted July 7th, 2014 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized, View From the Pew

Grace and peace, Readers, this is our fund-raising month.  Yes, I’m tooting my horn to try and inspire you to financially and prayerfully support the Fontanas and Catholic Life Ministries.

Recently I was asked to lead a family service camp at St. Luke’s Church, Seattle. I also coordinated a service day project for another parish.  My job at St. Luke’s was to gather all ages for prayer, fun, music, and reflection at different times during the camp, as well as lead at a work site.  It was a terrific weekend.  Here’s one comment about my work on the weekend:

 

Robert was energetic and welcoming.  He used a variety of methods to engage the volunteers including music, discussion, and prayer.  He connected with people on both the whole group level and also on a personal level. 

He creatively engaged all members of the group ages four through seventy through song and stories.  Robert had a beautiful presence about him that showed genuine love and care for us. 

He was fantastic and I would definitely attend any workshop that Robert led.

In addition to family service camps, I teach marriage prep for three low income parishes in Seattle, offer days of prayer and reflection for adults in the fall and spring, teach relationship education to youth and young adults and marriage enrichment for couples, lead staff development days for parishes and medical mission staffs, and do anything else a pastor, school principal, prayer group leader, parents, and youth will ask me to do.

WE NEED YOUR HELP

We’re doing work you believe in. Help us be your hands and feet, heart and head in awakening faith, strengthing families, and building community so that the Christian faithful will be a power for good in the world.

80% of our operating budget comes from donations from our sponsors in ministry.  If you are already a sponsor, thank you so much!

If you are not a current sponsor, please consider joining us in our ministry by making a pledge.  One sponsor sends us $5 a month and prays for us.  Another sends us $1,000 once a year and prays for us.   Whatever you can do based on your life’s circumstances, we would be very grateful.   To donate, please  go to catholiclifeministries.org and click on

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

Thank you for your help.   

On Thursdays, when Lori and I are praying for you, we are also praying for the work of CLM using the following CLM Prayer:

O loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we commend to you this day our love and service.  We pray also that in the providence of our everyday life, we may be mindful of the poor and the spiritually abandoned who do not know your love or the love of their neighbor.

Be with and bless the community of Catholic Life Ministries.  Help CLM to draw the busy and the board, those in and out of Church, into the love of the Trinity.  We this in the name of Jesus and through the intercession of Mary and all the saints, amen.

 

Pope Francis – “a Church that is poor and for the poor”

Posted June 10th, 2014 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized, View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

I am praying through Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, The Gospel of Joy.  I find it very inspiring and challenging.  If you have not yet read it, I urge you to do so, but also to read it with others and discuss its meaning for your life.  I have been doing this with a group of men, including our pastor, on Saturday mornings.

In this letter, as he invites us to encounter Jesus ourselves and joyfully share this encounter with everyone we meet,  Pope Francis also calls for a church that is “poor and for the poor.”  I find this most challenging and thought I would share with you what he specifically wrote about this.  I invite you to post your thoughts and comments.

The special place of the poor in God’s people

197. God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself “became poor” (2 Cor 8:9). The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. Salvation came to us from the “yes” uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire. The Saviour was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (cf.Lk 2:24; Lev 5:7); he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread. When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). He assured those burdened by sorrow and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: “Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20); he made himself one of them: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat”, and he taught them that mercy towards all of these is the key to heaven (cf. Mt 25:5ff.).

198. For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”.  This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”.   This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.

199. Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”.   This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”.   The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”,  and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?”  Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”.

200. Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.

201. No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel,   none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”.   I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect. That being said, I trust in the openness and readiness of all Christians, and I ask you to seek, as a community, creative ways of accepting this renewed call.

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation – Evangelii Gaudium (the Gospel of Joy), 2013.

 

(Photo of children – Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_ammit’>ammit / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

 

“I have a dream…” (That’s Robert, not Dr. King)

Posted August 23rd, 2013 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized
Comments Off on “I have a dream…” (That’s Robert, not Dr. King)

by Robert Fontana

I have been following with interest the nation’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, D.C., where over 250,000 people gathered to demand civil rights for people of every color.  And, of course, the high point of this event was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rallying the cause in his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Now I am no sociologist, but from what I read “the Dream” that Dr. King held out as a possibility for the future of this nation has been unevenly met.  The signs of “the Dream’s” becoming a reality are: an African American is our president (Barack Obama); an African American was our Secretary of State (Colin Powell); and an African American was the Chief of Staff of the armed forces (Condoleezza Rice).  These achievements would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.

But there are numerous signs that “the Dream” is on shaky grounds.  I’m sure racism has something to do with this, but I’m with Bill Cosby in being convinced that the problem is fundamentally a breakdown in the family.  Here’s Bill:

They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English.

I can’t even talk the way these people talk:

“Why you ain’t,  Where you is, What he drive,
Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be…”.

And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk.

And then I heard the father talk.

Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.

These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids.  $500 sneakers for what? And they won’t spend $200 for “Hooked on Phonics.”  I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2?  Where were you when he was 12?  Where were you when he was 18, and how come you didn’t know that he had a pistol?

And where is the father? Or who is his father?

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem.  We have got to take the neighborhood back.  People used to be ashamed.  Today a woman has eight children with eight different ‘husbands’ — or men or whatever you call them now.

This is not just a problem for the Black community, but it does seem to be a primary problem for people of lower incomes and less education from all races including us white folk.  Education appears to be a dividing line with a majority of those with college educations choosing to marry and stay together as married couples, and those with little or no college foregoing marriage for co-habiting with all its social risks: increased domestic and sexual violence, increased drug and alcohol use among youth, increased violence from teens especially the males, increased teen pregnancies, and an increase in women having multiple fathers for their children.

I do not think that there is a government fix to this problem even though tweaking welfare laws to support marriage and adjusting no-fault divorce laws would be a help.  No, we as a nation need to shake up our imagination and dream of a country where marriage is held in high esteem, where the vast majority of couples work on their marriages daily, and where young people prepare as children and teenagers to be successful spouses and parents.

“I have a dream today, that husbands and wives will be true to one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and health, and will love and honor one another until separated by death. 

I have a dream today that fathers and mothers will raise their children with fidelity, love, and honor; that before any material possession, athletic opportunity, or creativity camp, moms and dads will give their children a family in which they are loved, disciplined, educated, and cherished over a lifetime.

The tragic failure of marriage and family life in this country, especially among lower income people, has been catastrophic.   Something must be done.

The Fontanas and CLM will be relocating to Seattle, Washington on Labor Day weekend.  We are doing this, in part, so that I can return to graduate school and work on a license as a marriage and family therapist.  Our goal is that I will gain greater expertise to be a help for marriages and families in stress as we continue the work of CLM.

A vision I have for my future and CLM’s would be to commit our energies to work with other leaders in marriage and family life in the Church and society to create a School for Marriage Success.  This school would be a place to train leaders in marriage and family ministry, to collaborate with clergy and lay ministers in developing the most effective programs in marriage enrichment and preparation, and – most importantly – to be an advocate for marriage and family-friendly policies and practices in the Church and in society.

If you have benefited in the past from CLM and continue to believe in the ministry that we are doing now, please consider making a donation to Catholic Life Ministries (on-line at catholiclifeministries.org or by US Post at our new address: CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl. SW # 1, Seattle, WA 98136).  All donations are tax deductible.

Some Thoughts on Marriage – The Shoebox

Posted April 16th, 2013 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot, Uncategorized

By Kristin White (Eugene, Oregon)

A Shoebox.

If you look at it, that’s all it looks like.  The sides are faded, there’s water damage on one side, and the corner of the lid is bent.  But it looks like any other shoe box—until you open it up.  When you open it up there are hundreds of envelopes full of letters, some on stationery, some typed, others written with blue ink.  Letters that my now-husband and I sent back and forth over a span of two years as we dated long distance.  When I unfold the letters from 17 years ago, some of the paper is already yellowing, full of words.  Words about our lives and about hope.  Words that talk of our childhoods and our dreams.  Words that speak of the love between the two of us.  All these years later, the words wrap tightly around my heart.  I cry over some of them, I laugh at how young we were, and I am reminded of the newness that accompanies the mystery of young love. It was a different time then.  There were no text messages or cell phones, long distance phone calls were a huge expense, and my parents didn’t even own a computer.  So we wrote.

I knew I was going to marry Chris the moment I saw him.  Once in a while we have these experiences that are so poignant that they stay with us years later.  I didn’t know him, had never laid eyes on him, but I knew.  Even when we were dating I knew where we were going.  I had dated before and so had he, but this time, for both of us, everything was different.  While I consider this a gift, we were so young. I was sixteen when we met; we started dating when I was seventeen…. And even though I knew, there was so much growing up I had to do. So much growing we had to do.

All these years later, with almost 13 years of marriage behind us, I look back at these letters, their thin parchments soft as silk.  I see the 17-year-old version of myself, awestruck as I read and reread each word Chris wrote to me back then. I would memorize the way his cursive writing helped build a foundation of communication between us.  And when I think back now, I am more convinced than ever that though I had no doubts about me and Chris, I also had no idea what marriage was about.

Everybody loves a love story.  And I loved the concept of love.  I loved God.  And I loved Chris. When he asked me to marry him in secret, and then a year later proposed over a waterfall while washing my feet, it was the stuff of movies: romantic, full of promise.  But where movies end, real life begins.

When we built our lives together on paper, we didn’t think about the reality of marriage.  Oh, of course we thought of the good stuff: anniversaries, babies, kids’ soccer games, and backyard barbecues. But then there is all the other stuff: a baby who won’t stop crying, sleepless nights, mortgages, the baby is still crying…and then you’re at your in-laws, trying to get to church on time, standing at a child’s soccer game in sideways rain…with a baby who is still crying.  The suddenly you wake up and realize that a month has passed and you haven’t had a date, another child is throwing up and you can’t remember the last time you both went to bed at the same time.  And you look in the mirror and realize that your eyes are tired, and your checkbook won’t balance, and you can’t remember the last time you prayed together except for a haphazard blessing before meals.  The notebook paper, once crisp and blank with so much promise, is scribbled now with dates, orthodontist appointments and smeared peanut butter, looking nothing like a love story.

And you begin to wonder if you are still on the same page.

Once Upon a Time, a couple of years ago, we got to that point.  The turning point where we had begun to talk at each other and not to each other. Around us, we saw couples who had started out like us, as starry-eyed beginners, beginning to file new paperwork: impersonal sheets and sheets of documents meant to divide their assets—to divide their lives. We saw another couple so similar to us, separated by death.   And it scared me to the core.  I knew that we weren’t infallible and that we needed to fight for every single hope I’d kept in that shoebox that had started our courtship.  Because those written words had turned into years, and I now lived in a home with four children and a dog and someone who used to be my best friend.

So together we fought for our marriage.  We went to Mass as a family, and I let go of the fact that the kids had to match every time.  We looked at each other during the sign of peace.  We prayed together and for each other.  We filled each other in on all the daily things about our lives; the things we used to write on paper to each other.  We dreamed together and held hands. We made a conscience effort to be honoring to each other in our actions and speech.  And even when we couldn’t afford it we started going on a weekly date night.  And though grey has begun to sprinkle his hair at the temples, Chris is still the man I fell in love with 17 years ago.  Now, instead of writing about our lives, we are living them together. He is my best friend.

I can’t emphasize enough how those little efforts paid off, mostly because they weren’t little.  Praying together is that important.  Attending Mass as a family is that important, and stating what we believe as a family is not only powerful but unifying.  Talking to each other, not about schedules—even though we still do plenty of that—but talking and listening and hearing each other is that important. And every week, I dress up to go out with the handsomest man I know.  While we are always home in time to shower and put kids to bed, for two hours it’s just us, and I feel that familiar tight embrace of his love.

I know that Love is often a choice, much like my Faith journey.  If I don’t recommit and work at it, I start to lose sight of why I’m there. Maybe it would be easy to rewrite my life, change everything, but I choose to be here.  And some day’s it’s so hard, but all this middle stuff that I’ve lived through hasn’t been a solo journey…I’ve been with Chris.  While the baby cried, he was right there.  On those mortgages, his signature is next to mine.  Through the devastating loss of a child and the births of four miracles – his hand held mine.

I am so thankful God chose this life for me, and I choose to do everything I can to keep it sacred.  I still love a good love story. The concept of love intrigues me.  I love God.  And I absolutely love Chris. To people just meeting us, we may look like just your average family with four kids.  Just like the shoebox, there is nothing on the outside that looks too remarkable.  But just as the simple box hides its hundreds of letters, there is a love story hidden in our lives.