The Importance of Being Kind

Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses.  ~Proverb

A friend of mine says you can’t fix stupid, and she’s 100 percent right.

But maybe it’s possible to fix pettiness.

Like the other day in church.

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The Gift of Forgiveness

I hate admitting it, but there are several stories in the Bible that I find hard to like.

This weekend’s Gospel reading about the Prodigal Son is one.

Turns out, the reason I’m having trouble with it is that I’m hearing it too literally.

I’m the first child in my family. The one who’s tried to “be good,” “be responsible,” “be conscientious.”

The one who’s generally done as she’s been told.

So when I hear of this Prodigal Son squandering his inheritance, then begging to come back into the family, I nod my head.

Figures, I think disdainfully.

And when the father throws a party for that wayward son, what’s that about??

Forgiveness.

It’s a lesson we need to understand symbolically.

Jesus wasn’t talking about birth order; He was pointing out that we all need to be forgiven, and the Father in Heaven is willing to forgive.

Aren’t we all a little like that Prodigal Son?

God has given us countless gifts, yet we squander them shamelessly. Or we decide we’d rather have a gift that somebody else has instead of those we’ve got.

We try Him and test Him, seeing how far we can push.

We’re all like the older son, too.

Feeling like we’ve somehow “earned” God’s forgiveness. Living with anger and resentment when things don’t go our way, when we see others getting “more” or “better” than we have.

As if God giving someone else a gift takes something away from us!

Our priest said somebody did a survey of the medical profession and learned that only 10 percent of people’s illnesses are actually caused by disease. The rest, doctors say, stem from anger, fear, and resentment — emotions that medicine can’t cure.

Do you remember the movie The Karate Kid?

When Mr. Miyagi asks the bullied young Daniel why he wants to learn karate, Daniel replies, “Is revenge a good enough reason?”

Wise old Mr. Miyagi points out, “Then you’d better dig two graves, one for yourself, one for the other guy.”

Mr. Miyagi, you see, knew what Jesus was trying to tell us — that anger hurts us more than it hurts others.

That forgiveness is necessary for peace and health.

So instead of seeing myself as the “wronged” first son, I need to realize I’ve been “prodigal,” too.

And humbly accept God’s forgiveness.

Come Back Home

At church yesterday morning, I was shocked to hear our priest point out that the number of people (parishioners) attending weekend Masses was down — way down.

So I glanced to my right and left and found he was right. There were lots of vacant spaces in the pews.

Our diocese has a new bishop, but to my knowledge there has been no relaxation on the requirements for church attendance on weekends and holy days. And I’m sure news of that magnitude would have caused at least a small furor!

That got me to thinking about why people avoid church services on Sunday (or Saturday, for us Catholics):

  • Weather. Yes, it’s been horrid, and we’ve had more than our share of ice, snow, and cold, but people still get out to do what they want. Some run to the bank; others to their weekly hairdresser appointment; still others to the mall or Wal-Mart or to cards with their buddies. Sorry, this one won’t fly!
  • Age. I’ve heard some of the older members excuse themselves because they’ve “earned a rest,” or because they ache, or because they don’t feel like leaving their comfortable home and driving to church. Where in the Bible does it say we get to “earn” a respite? I can understand if a person is truly ill, he/she doesn’t belong in church, but “not feeling like it” doesn’t fly!
  • Schedule. Some people stay away from church because they don’t like the times of the services. Really? Since when is that an excuse? If your boss says you’re to report for work at 8 a.m., do you get to tell him you’d rather sleep in until 10? I think not!
  • Anger. Ongoing criticism of church sex scandals, anger with a clergyman from the distant past, slights perceived or real, disagreement with church policy, etc. aren’t valid excuses for avoiding church, in my book. Now I’m sure some people really have a bone to pick — maybe they’ve been personally hurt, or know people who have. But living with that kind of anger can only make them ill. No church is perfect because it’s made up of imperfect people. You can find something to complain about anywhere, if that’s what you look for.

I suspect there are valid reasons for missing church — being in the hospital, or maintaining a vigil at a loved one’s deathbed, are two I can think of. But it saddens me when people avoid the community of church, the nourishment of the Eucharist, the graces extended, and the opportunity to praise and worship.

Freedom of religion is a blessing — just ask someone who doesn’t have it!