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Searching for Service

Affirmation:  I pray
daily for those who most need God’s mercy and open myself to be of service to
whomever She sends me.
 

Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has inspired the world.  He was elected pope in April of this year
following the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  He didn’t want to be Pope.  He didn’t expect to become the Pope.  He had already purchased his return ticket
for Argentina.  Immediately after his
election all sorts of tales began appearing in the news.  It appears he is a very newsworthy person.  One of the first stories was about him paying
the bill for his hotel room, himself and then taking a taxi back to where he
needed to be.  Now, I’ve done those
things many times in my life as I’m sure you may have, but no one ever thought
it was of so much interest that they announced it in the media!  The behavior and words of Pope Francis have
since been announced and scrutinized.  He
is both applauded and criticized.  He is
unlike most world leaders and yet he is subject to the same scrutiny as all of
them.  He comes up short for some but it
appears as of this date, he is mostly being hailed as a man of humility and
wisdom, two qualities we all should strive to possess but which if possessed by
our leaders make for a kinder, more compassionate society. 

This month Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time
Magazine
.  It appears the criteria
for this acknowledgement is who Time believes has had the greatest
impact on society during the year.  It is
not always someone who has had a positive effect on our world. The opposite is
true for Pope Francis.  They named him
because of his philosophy or a better word would be theology.  His mission is to provide care and dignity
for all human beings.  Mother Teresa also
had that mission. It’s what Jesus Christ’s mission was when He walked on this
earth and according to our Catholic tradition Pope Francis is His
representative here, today.  He is the
266th pope and so far he has shown himself to be quite unique in his role as
Pope.  There’s been a photo circulating
on the internet that shows Pope Francis in one half and Pope Benedict XVI in
the other.  It says “Can you see the
differences?”  Unlike the Sunday
cartoon quiz which makes it difficult to pick out the different character, this
“quiz” is very easy.  Pope
Francis has abandoned the fancy trappings used by the pope’s of the past.

The latest picture being circulated is of Pope Francis kissing
the head of a severely disfigured man. 
There’s a rumor that he goes out into the slums of Italy and provides
solace for the populace.  It is a fact
that he did this when he was in Argentina, so it’s not too farfetched to
believe he’s continued this practice. 
His first encyclical addressed the distribution of wealth throughout the
world.  He doesn’t believe the system
most countries, including ours works to the benefit of the neediest.  Conservatives who only focus on economics
aren’t very happy with the Pope’s message but the Pope isn’t concerned with
their opinion.  He is only concerned with
how society will respond to the needs of the most poor and the most suffering
of us. Yes, I said us. 

In my daily reading Spiritual Insights the focus for the month of
December is unity.  Each day I am
reminded that we are all one.  Once you
begin to believe that, you will recognize that if one of us is suffering we are
responsible to find a way to alleviate that suffering and the world is
suffering of this there is no doubt.  It
takes very little awareness to recognize the distress of this world.  Sometimes when I hear some of the stories, I
am completely overwhelmed by what’s going on. 
I am horrified by the cruelty.  I
fully recognize that I don’t even have a clue of the horrors that are taking
place in our world even as I write this and to be honest, I really don’t want
to know the details.  I only know they
exist and as the year has passed I have found myself called to step up and to
be more aware of the poor and suffering and to reach out in a way that
alleviates their suffering, perhaps even brings them joy and peace. 

It’s the message I have been receiving these last few
months.  It began before Pope Francis was
even elected.  It has been here all along
as all important messages are but I wasn’t ready to fully embrace it.  I mean what can I do to help those most in
need?  The second part of that question
is, what will I be called on to do and am I ready and willing?  The clearest message came from Albert Haase’s
book Catching Fire Becoming Flame
He says that focusing on Christ 
“leads us right into the heart of a suffering, needy world where we
are sent to respond lovingly to the unmet need or required duty of the present
moment.”  It is our mission in
life.  It is our reason for existing, to
make the world a kinder more compassionate place.

As my friend and I walked around the lake we talked about how we
can help change the world.  It was a good
walk!  What can we possibly do to aid in
the conversion of hearts to bring them to a place of love and peace?  We can begin with ourselves.  The first place where the transformation must
begin is within our own hearts.  Luke
1:68-79 says “Let there be peace on hearth and let it begin with
me.”  After that the soul is open to
the flame of transformation.  If you take
some time every day to connect to the Divine, you will be led to opportunities
to ease the suffering of another, of others. 
The opportunity is there.  There
are so many ways to be of service if one is asking to receive them. 

A friend of mine once stopped to talk to a man who looked quite
deranged and was obviously homeless.  She
asked him how he was doing and engaged him in a very nice discussion.  The rest of us had walked past, quickly.  Afterwards I asked her why she had done
that.  She told me she asked God every
day to send people to her who were in need and to whom she could respond.  She told me she never knew where they would
appear and she couldn’t take the chance of passing someone by that might be an
answer to her prayers.  Do you think her
kind words made any difference?

A study that took place in NYC had two groups of people passing
by pedestrians on a busy sidewalk.  One
group would nod and smile at the stranger passing by them.  The other group would ignore the
stranger.  The researchers then asked the
stranger a few questions about how they were feeling.  (How they got someone in NYC to stop and chat
with them was amazing to me but they did.) The people who were smiled at had a
higher level of contentment than those who were ignored.  If just a simple smile from a stranger can
add to the joy of this world, what a difference we can make if we are making an
effort to ease the suffering and pain of whomever we meet and hopefully,
whomever we are holding in our prayers. 

Trust me, just like my friend, once you ask God to allow you to
be of service, opportunities will present themselves and once you open yourself
up to caring about the marginalized and suffering of this world, not only will
you make a difference in other’s lives, you will make a difference in your
life.  Your heart and this world will be
transformed.

The Power of Prayer

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.
Do you believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you have a theory about why it does or doesn’t work?  Have you ever “tested” your theory?  
The older I become, the more I pray; the more I value prayer.  One of the popular comedians said that’s very normal because as we age we realize we’re getting closer to death and we’re “hedging our bets.”  That could be true.  I also have more time to pray.  I don’t have to rush out every morning or get the children off to school.

I get to begin my day before I even rise with a prayer of thanksgiving and with the invitation to God to join me throughout my day & to bring blessings and favors on all those for whom I have promised to pray.  I pray for my spouse, my children and grand-children by name and then go on and list my siblings and their families.  Next, I include all my “dear, dear friends” and especially those who most need God’s mercy.”  I try to recall each of those special people by name who I know need extra prayers.  I can usually remember them.  If not, I do keep a prayer list.  After my friends I include all “the special intentions of those in my Small Christian Community.”  I then go on to add “all the support people in my life, seen and unseen and their loved ones.”  I so value all those people who make my life so much easier and richer because of their hard work.  I include our “fighting men and women and their families” and finally I pray for “wisdom for our world leaders and peace for this world.”  Then, it is time to rise.

Am I making a difference?  I’m making a difference in how I value those in my life and how I perceive them and the world.  I sometimes think this aspect is the most powerful effect of prayer; the change that takes place in me when I take the time and spend my energy to pray for others.  But, I believe prayer makes a difference in ways we cannot even fathom.  It is one of the most powerful tools available to us to tap into the Divine.  If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, why not connect with spirit and let that power work the miracles we are asking for in our lives?
According to Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking, the whole world is made up of vibrations and prayer is one way to activate and send out positive vibrations to create change in the world.  Energy and how it can by directed and controlled has been written about to name just a few, by Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav.  That’s what prayer is.  It’s a form of energy.  Several years ago Duke Health did a study on prayer.  They had two groups prayed for by a variety of people from all different religious theologies.  The results of their study did not show any difference in the recovery of the patients.  But, I wonder what did change for those who were receiving the prayers?  Do you think it might have been something that wasn’t measurable like grace, peace, hope and other non-tangibles; things we all value and look for but for which there is no measurement?

Prayer changes lives.  The greatest challenge is believing in its power; believing that it really can have an effect on the situation.  The second challenge is believing that it will be a positive effect, even if it’s not the apparent answer for which we prayed.  Prayer and the belief in it and the ability to tap into the Divine do not remove our difficulties but it can make our difficulties, our challenges, easier to bear.  It can bring us a sense of peace and hope believing that there is a kind and loving Supreme Being who wants what’s best for us, especially if we’re willing to ask and then to listen. 

When we first moved to North Carolina I said a prayer that God would lead us to the best house and neighborhood for us.  And, then I asked for a “sign.”  I asked for some sort of burning bush.  Yes, I was testing.  Well, we drove everywhere and I never saw that bush.  We finally settled on a lovely house in a new neighborhood and I let go of my search for the perfect place for us.  I actually loved our new home and our new neighbors, so all was good.  Several years later, we were taking my in-laws around showing them the area and we saw a beautiful house that was for sale.  We were able to tour it on the spot and I loved it!  Soon, we had sold our other house and moved into the new one.  One day, I was walking with someone who knew a lot about shrubs and he was telling me about the different bushes around the house.  I stopped dead when he pointed to the bushes at the bottom of the driveway and told me they were called Burning Bushes (Euonymus).  There were six of them!  Was that answered prayer?  As far as I was concerned it was. 

I don’t go around testing God any longer.  I simply expect my prayers to be answered.  I know they are answered and I know they make a difference, a difference in my life and a difference in the world but I must remind myself that God’s plan may not be my plan and that God’s timing is something I will never be able to fathom.