It was a week before Christmas and I found myself anxious and angry. I realized I was paying more attention to minute-by-minute politics than I had paid any other day of the year. It was Impeachment Day. I was seeing all kinds of “Impeachmas” references and merriment about the proceedings in the House. At the Mass I went to that day, the Franciscan friar prayed, without partisanship, about the “grave” matters in Washington. The priest called upon Saint Joseph to intercede so that there might be wisdom there. That seemed like a countercultural act of faith at a time of such cynicism.
Some of the rhetoric around Impeachment Day was absurd. A Republican invoking the crucifixion of Christ comes to mind, but there were offenders on both sides of the aisle. I fear we are complicit, too, when we appear addicted to national politics like it’s a reality-TV show we can’t turn off. Sometimes, politics almost drowns us in a cacophony of rage.
So, I stepped away from my phone — which is possibly the greatest gift those of us who are addicted to them can give to ourselves and to others for Christmas. And immediately I started to think of what’s given me hope in the last year.
Right from the start, I thought of 17,000 young people taking over the Indianapolis Convention Center for days of prayer and challenge, starting the new year with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) “SEEK” conference. That conference is for anyone who is seeking more, who knows there is something greater than this material world we live in and often find ourselves enslaved to. Participants get inspirational talks from some real lights in the world, like my friends Sister Bethany Madonna from the Sisters of Life and bestselling author, radio host, stand-up comedian, and mom Jennifer Fulwiler. But the heart of the conference is the common ground of wanting to do something beautiful with the gifts of their still-young lives, to give glory to God with how they live their lives. Everything FOCUS does is rooted in prayer, sacraments, and fellowship. It has a model in which young people become missionaries on college campuses as a way of giving thanks, and each missionary gets people invested in the cause. There’s an element of the missionaries of decades past who came to the United States to build the institutions that, today, we are having to rethink and renew.
Speaking of renewal and rebuilding: The Seton Education Fellows are teaching students about virtue in New York City charter schools. In a convent in midtown that was once essential for parish life, the Sisters of Life live with pregnant women and new moms and their babies, burping and bouncing and embracing as the arms of Jesus in the world. In the same neighborhood where an Amber alert was sparked for what turned out to be a faked kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal live to reach children in some of the most trying of circumstances, to give them a taste of something pure.
There are more missionaries in our midst. Justin Fatica and his Hard as Nails ministry has as its mission that no one will suffer alone. Their missionaries work primarily with middle-school and high-school students, but goodness, could we all use a little time in their loving care. Our fear of suffering is compounded by our fear of reaching out to those in misery. We all suffer. It’s a part of our lives. How about we stop pretending otherwise? How about we start to treat people with the kind of love that we want in our lives? At one Hard as Nails youth rally I attended in Long Island in November, a girl talked about how she came to know Christ after being used by her own father “as a prostitute.” She radiated a kind of peace that revived the faith of the adults in the room and heightened our sensitivity once again to the fact that there is such darkness in the world — and most of it is not the kind that makes headlines. There was an innocent beauty to her, despite such intimate torture. It’s as if God picked her up to His heart, to give her back some of the dignity she was robbed of.
God does that in the world today. Sometimes the most tender hearts are the ones that have suffered the most.
To bookmark the year, I saw that in action at a retreat I was helping out at for FOCUS missionaries earlier this month. (Again, on Long Island! The healers seem to be drawn there!) God can work some unexpected miracles, given time. I think the boost from being around all those young people with generous hearts helped get me across the finish line to the recently published A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. My prayer for everyone this Christmas is a little time in silence, pondering creation — especially human life and the family, as we see in the Christ child and His holy family — and encountering the creator.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.
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