Conference Connection

From the CEO – May 2019

From the CEO – May 2019 600 600 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. Thanks to each of you, our Council continues to stabilize and make measurable progress as, day by day, we engage in our modest version of God’s work.

From a business standpoint, I am pleased to announce that we have hired Megan Witty as our new Director of Store Operations. Megan has extensive management experience running thrift store operations for Goodwill Industries. She starts Wednesday, May 8th. Welcome aboard, Megan!

I. The Important Art of “Story Telling”

We just completed our annual Lenten season and Easter celebration. The miraculous transformation that occurs from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is the very essence of our faith.
As we embrace what lies ahead, no matter where you may find yourself or what you may be facing, let us remember that in just three days, the family and followers of Jesus Christ went from abject hopelessness and profound despair to great hope and eternal joy.

During his remarkable life as a man, Jesus Christ used the art of “story telling” to share His core messages. In fact, He left behind no writings of his own. Instead, the gospels are stories trying to convey the messages of Jesus. It is this collection of stories, passed down from generation to generation, that help capture what Jesus taught.

In that spirit, I briefly reference four, well known gospels recently read at Mass that touched me deeply. Two dealt with Lent and two with Easter.

II. Lent

a) Unwillingness to Forgive – the first gospel from Matthew spoke of a Master who had compassion and forgave a significant debt of one of his servants. In turn, the servant then refuses to forgive a modest debt owed to him. Instead, he has his debtor severely beaten. Jesus taught that we should strive to “do unto others as I have done to you.” Every Mass before communion, we confess that “Lord, I am not worthy.” Nonetheless, like the Master, Jesus forgives us. For as long as we possess the gift of Life, we have the capability of acting “God-like” by choosing to treat others as Jesus treats us. In that regard, do we go to Mass, profess our unworthiness, discover that we are accepted by God “as is”, and then choose to treat others with disrespect and no compassion? How often are our actions like those of the unforgiving servant?

b) Being Judgmental – the second gospel from John told the story of Jesus and the adulteress. During Passover, under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers perched atop the city walls, a crowd gathered in Jerusalem’s Temple square and confronted Jesus with an adulteress. Curiously, the story makes no reference to the alleged adulterer. The crowd wanted her stoned to death. But, in response to Jesus’s challenge, no one in the crowd was willing to cast the first stone. Instead, the accusing crowd quickly left. After it dispersed, Jesus found
himself alone with the woman. He could have lectured her about her sin and judged her. Instead, he simply said, “go and sin no more.” How often do we lecture another in need as we help them? How often do we comment to others whether those we serve deserve our help?

People help us every day. They see us “as is”. When we choose to judge or lecture others, we are succumbing to temptations like those Jesus faced in the desert. When we do, even as we help another, we exhibit a close-mindedness that has been described as an “imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he/she is locked up.”

Everyone walks in different shoes. Every day, we choose between acting God-like – e.g., forgiveness, acceptance, selfless love of another, “unworthy” soul – or surrendering, once again, to un-God-like temptations. Shouldn’t we strive to help others in need without judging them? After all, our Vincentian Rule (1.9) provides as much; and we are all in need.

The gospels, our stories, are profoundly rich signs if only we “slow things down” and reflect upon the messages they contain. Until one does, we may find ourselves stuck in a personal desert of unwillingness to forgive, judging all others with whom one disagrees (e.g. morals police), and general loneliness and discontent. Collectively, these are characteristics commonly attributable to our journey of darkness that the Lenten season asks us to reflect upon.

III. Easter Life Is A Process

The miracle of Easter reinforces our belief in Jesus as well as the need we have for others – all others. By it, we segue from darkness to light and from despair to joy and peace. In that essential sense, Easter is a process of how we view our Lord, our world, and each other. Two recent gospels, in particular, capture this reality.

a) Resucito! (He has risen!) – On Easter morning, we heard the gospel of John. It told the story of three people going to Christ’s tomb on Sunday morning, three days after His murder. Mary Magdalene goes first “while it is still dark”. Upon noticing that the tomb is empty, she does not enter it. Perhaps she was frightened. Perhaps it had to do with then prevailing norms for women. Instead, she shares the news with others. Peter and the “favored disciple” then go to the tomb and enter it. Peter, the leader, assesses the situation, but does not comprehend what has happened. One can be blinded by power or status and not “see” the situation. The “favored disciple”, on the other hand, sees and concludes that Jesus has risen. How interesting that two people can see the same situation and draw such different conclusions!

b) Those Who Have Not Seen, But Believe – The Sunday after Easter, we heard another gospel from John. In it, Jesus appears to some of the disciples, but Thomas was not among them. “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ ” Later, Jesus appears before His disciples again: “Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. (emphasis added).

Easter is not just a day in the year. Rather, according to my inspirational Pastor, Msgr. John Zenz, Easter life commenced from the very beginning of Christ’s earthly days. It is a saving light that radiated through Him even in His darkest moments of abandonment.

“Easter life” dwells within us, too. It is seeking to radiate through us. It gives us the capacity to accept, forgive, and love all others. It is that light that creates a strong sense of community among those who believe. So often we say to ourselves, if only I had a sign from Jesus. Let us look inside ourselves to find that sign by choosing to share generously our Easter life.

Clearly, the road to salvation can be difficult and most challenging. At times, it may seem not unlike carrying a heavy cross. As we struggle and continually fall short, we should be heartened by the assurance that Jesus will never abandon us. We should not be afraid no matter how bleak life might seem. Therein lies precisely why spiritual formation should be communal in nature.

From a salvation standpoint, we need God, above all. But we also need one another in at least two, quite distinct ways.

First, when one chooses to see and accept “imperfections” in others (just as Jesus does with us), one miraculously converts crisis into opportunities to grow and thereby develop into a more loving human being. In that sense, how one chooses to deal with another’s “imperfections” are some of the most important choices one can make. When confronted by the imperfections of others, are we living our Easter life, or are we choosing instead to live as self-appointed, unforgiving “referees” who criticize, judge, and condemn others for “being human”?

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we?

Easter life offers a second, entirely different promise. Clearly, one’s understanding of God and His world is limited. According to noted Christian author, Katelyn Beaty, “I need the insights of others in order to fill in what I, owing to ignorance, sin, or immaturity, cannot see.” Consider it this way. Assume that understanding of God is a seven billion piece jigsaw puzzle. Each of the seven billion people on Earth is a “piece”. How many pieces have you assembled? So, we should be striving for inclusion. Instead, for a variety of reasons, we tend to remain huddled in our comfort zones.

These days, a significant, practical challenge to inclusion is that many of us tend to listen only to those who share similar views. Moreover, a growing number of social media sites caters to those who wish to remain ideologically narrow. That mindset can have serious ramifications for the individual and for a pluralist society and religion like ours.

We need others, all others, to grow in love and to grow in understanding. Doing so involves that currency of selfless love about which Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. so eloquently spoke at our Evening of Reflection.

IV. Conclusion

Our world is being seriously challenged in many ways. One could say it is still working its way through a desert of its own. Easter life offers the remedy to those who embrace it. While truly glorious, it is not easy. We must overcome temptations like unwillingness to forgive, harshly judging others, jealousies, and even hate to “get there.” Only then can one truly emulate the Risen Lord and believe even though one has not seen. After all, faith should not be about everything turning out ok. Rather, it should be about being ok no matter how things turn out.

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. Herein lies why we need God and each other. That is precisely what our Vincentian values promote.

Just as humans are flawed, we have discovered, painfully, that human institutions can be as well. To the extent possible, we should apply these same principles to our relationship with our institutions, especially our Church. It is not always easy to do. But making time for prayer and reflection reminds us of who we are living for. In that regard, the President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John I. Jenkins, had this important reminder about, in the final analysis, what really matters.

“Yet genuine faith is not founded on a confidence in the goodness of human ministers, but on the mystery of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The Church is the sign and instrument of that mystery, but we hold the treasure in the earthen vessel of human fallibility. True faith calls us not to be discouraged by human sin, but to focus more completely on the hope offered by Christ. If we do this, we can deepen our prayer, strengthen our commitment to live good and holy lives, and foster a hope that will shine more clearly.” Thank you, Fr. Jenkins. Well said. After all, while vitally important, “field hospitals after battle” are, like the noble patients they serve, hardly models of perfection. Rather, they are earthen vessels of human fallibility. Notwithstanding plenty of hypocrisy in our world, Easter life is still rock solid and available to all those who seek it.

May our collective, selfless service for all in need as well as our “Easter life” serve as the inspirational, spiritual antidote to the senseless, shocking barbarism we continue to witness. Let our prayers especially include the poor victims and their grieving survivors in Pittsburgh, Poway, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere who were savagely murdered as they worshipped. Lord, have mercy.

I look forward to seeing many Vincentians at this year’s Awards Breakfast on May 19th at Sacred Heart Seminary. It promises to be an enjoyable celebration. God bless.

Dan

From the CEO – April 2019

From the CEO – April 2019 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I hope that you and your family have made it successfully through yet another Michigan Winter. This year’s was particularly harsh. May the cold weather soon be behind us. Welcome to Spring!

We find ourselves well into the Lenten season, a period of preparation that is meant to remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the desert. But, especially in light of the truly disturbing backdrop of recent events, our challenge is to quiet ourselves and prepare to visit with God through prayer, repentance of sins, and reflection.

Last month, I spoke of gospels that addressed the challenges we face when dealing with both “neighbors” and “enemies”. It reflected upon our “external” struggle (i.e. how we choose to deal with others). That challenge involves the interplay between God’s two greatest commandments – love of God and love of neighbor.

This month’s column offers thoughts on prayer and then offers three reflections that may help to cope with powerful “internal” struggles (i.e. how we choose to deal with ourselves) that all of us wrestle with. Those struggles are depicted in a recent, well-known gospel that deals with temptation.

Like last month’s, the topic of temptation is particularly fitting for Lenten reflection. I share the following comments in the spirit of promoting continued growth in our core Vincentian values of spirituality and friendship. I do not have answers or even any particularly keen insights. As a fellow lay person, however, it is my hope that these comments cause you to think on things. If a thought or two helps you prepare for Easter just as you help me, even better.

1. Lent – Prayer – In the Name of the Father

Lent can be just another forty days in our march through yet another year. Lent can also be a time that invites us through prayer and reflection to come to terms with the human condition. If we choose to accept the invitation, Lenten prayer and reflection can bring our need for a Savior into better focus. It is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper. If we do, then when Good Friday and eventually Easter come, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing graces God has to offer.

Lent allows us to pause and examine our imperfections, whatever they may be, and return to the God who, through our shortcomings, we may have disappointed (or disregarded) time and again. Lent should not stop at sadness and despair, however. Rather, it should guide us to the hope of the Resurrection that Easter Sunday reminds us of annually. Prayer helps us to re-orient ourselves in a world filled with distractions and temptations.

Prayer can consist of beautiful recitations that we learn at an early age at our parents’ knee. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It can also be more extemporaneous. “Good and gracious God, we feel your love and presence as we gather in your name.” It can and should also be much more inclusive. For example, any act of love, charity, mercy, or forgiveness is a meaningful kind of prayer. So, too, are daily activities undertaken in God’s name. It is not easy. But dedicating oneself to act with love in God’s honor can develop a mindset that helps one to stay the course when Life’s storm of temptations come as they surely will. As importantly, helping others do the same through daily personal choices of how one chooses to treat others is the best way, perhaps the only way, to stay focused on what really matters. Prayer can be anything thought, said, or done to evangelize the name of Jesus Christ.

In a real sense, our lives are a long, winding, complex, interrupted, joyous, sorrowful, evolving, and ofttimes messy prayer. “Prayer” should be a LOT more than prescribed words. Prayer should not be compartmentalized.

Lord, notwithstanding our world’s chaotic state, let us, in your name, commit to helping one another take a more prayerful approach to our daily lives and decisions. Let us also aspire to see one another in a more compassionate, forgiving light – just as Jesus surely sees us – each and every time another “falls short.” No matter how many times we or another falls, let our focus be on getting up or helping her/him up rather than criticizing the fall. Let us not be the “morals police.” Let us instead love thy neighbor as you love us. Amen.

2. Lent – Reflection I – Matthew’s Gospel (29:25) – “The rich get richer” – Who Is your Annie?

On February 27th, Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. from Manresa Retreat House, graciously served as the keynote speaker at our Evening of Reflection. As those who attended know, he gave a masterful presentation. Because so many were not able to attend, I briefly reference two of his main points.

Fr. Hurd first referenced the gospel of Matthew, “the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer”. How can that be? Fr. Hurd then brilliantly questioned “what currency is one using” when making that inquiry. Money? Or love? When it is love, the passage makes incredible sense. It reminds one of another passage, typically used at wedding ceremonies, where St. Paul teaches the Corinthians that “Love is patient, love is kind. . . . So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love begets more love.

This kind of love is difficult to experience, much less sustain. It needs to be nourished – reinforced – by the grace of God. In another sense, St. Paul describes this kind of love so that we may recognize and embrace it when it enters our lives.

Fr. Hurd then shared an example of this kind of selfless love. He spoke eloquently and candidly about a personal experience he had while serving on a Native American reservation in the Dakotas. He had agreed to tutor a struggling young lady, “Annie”, who was determined to obtain her high school equivalency degree. By all measures, Annie was a person of very limited economic means. In effect, she was a neighbor in need.

A few weeks into the tutoring, Annie asked Fr. Hurd if he would counsel her not only on her education, but on how to adopt a child as well. After all, Annie reasoned, since she had so much, it was only fitting that she help another in need. For Fr. Hurd, the poignant moment was yet another inspirational reminder of what he knew and what he had witnessed time and time again: one’s capacity to give – to love as St. Paul described – is a personal choice.

How often do we view our “neighbors in need” as less likely, perhaps even incapable, of helping others? To be sure, Vincentians serve. But, as we do, let us remain open to the possibility that we are the person in need. In that regard, who is your Annie?

3.  Lent – Reflection II – Luke’s Gospel (4: 1-13) – Forty Days in the Desert

Luke’s gospel of Jesus being tempted in the desert is an incredibly personal one. It begins with the Spirit leading Jesus into the desert where Jesus stayed without nourishment for forty days. While it mentions the temple, it does not involve or even make reference to any other person. Rather, it depicts a conversation, a personal encounter between Jesus the man, struggling, worn down, and unnourished (i.e. vulnerable), and Satan. In that sense, this gospel could depict Jesus having a dream or reflection in a quiet moment. As we know, Satan tempts Jesus three times; and, each time, Jesus thwarts the temptations. Herein lies the “internal” aspect of this gospel. How often, especially when we feel vulnerable, do we experience the same internal struggle with temptations?

Practically speaking, when, in the solitude of our mind or heart, temptation comes calling, its allure can be irresistible. Its daily influence involves issues like personal advancement, e.g. greed, jealousy, hurtful rumors, revenge, bullying, hate, etc. v. selfless love of others. Our responses at these crossroads become “ambiguous.” If we use a “I am the center of the universe internal analysis”, there may seemingly always be “justification” for one’s actions as cruel or insensitive as they may be. To further complicate things, one’s past, particularly events that caused trauma and left scars, can arrive without invite and can add fiery spice to the decision-making process. It is in this collective sense that I use the term temptation as being anything that can distract us from living God’s will. Therein lies what should be the real topic of Lenten reflection.

A second, far more prevalent and nefarious internal barrier exists that stifles inclusion and acceptance of others, even accepting ourselves. It is a characteristic common to every human being: vulnerabilities. That can involve literally anything – real or perceived – that causes us to feel inadequate, insecure, or filled with doubt. They are temptations, too. Vulnerabilities contribute immeasurably to the complexities of the human condition. In our incredibly diverse world, the greatest commonality we share is vulnerability. How we choose to deal with them can be life changing.

Accepting “vulnerabilities” – in ourselves and others – miraculously converts crises into opportunities to grow. When we accept our own flaws, we tend to see others through more compassionate and forgiving eyes.

As we move along our “forty days of Lent”, let us reflect upon our discomforts with neighbors who are “different” and, perhaps more so, our unease with our own temptations and vulnerabilities, whatever they may be. As we do, let us realize that embracing them allows us to grow spiritually. Rather than rue our shortcomings, therefore, let us thank God for the miracle of imperfections!

As the classic poem, Desiderata, reminds, “. . . with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

4.  Lent – Reflection III – “Thy” will v. My will (i.e. temptations)

Let us pause and reflect upon the true nature of our “internal” struggle. How often have we recited the Lord’s Prayer? In it, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. God’s will, not ours. Is it between God and “Satan”? Or is it more akin to Thy will v. My will? Each of us is surely capable of acting “God-like” (e.g. loving others) and “Un-God-like” (i.e. you get the picture). Temptations, vulnerabilities, and ghosts from one’s past can create turbulent internal storms that make it truly difficult to be God-like to others.

Whose will do you aspire to? Clearly, what God teaches us to do and what we want to do is ofttimes sympatico. When a “conflict” arises, however, how often do we choose “my will”? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” That is what we ask for each and every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer.

By design, humans are flawed. Especially in a society like ours that constantly bombards us with concepts of perfection (e.g. beauty, wealth, femininity, masculinity, success, even happiness), the harsh impact of imperfections and self-critical analysis can be depressing, even devastating. None of us measures up. So our willingness to see ourselves and others “as is”, flaws and all, is how God enters our lives, our world.

When we let shortcomings control our behavior, we tend to focus on our shortcomings and frailties. Let us choose instead to focus on the boundless power of God. When we live and act in His name, anything becomes possible. Choosing to do so will help make compassion contagious. “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

5. Conclusion

Lenten tradition calls for “giving up” something. But think about what “giving” could create. To be sure, every nod, every smile, every interaction can change the course of someone else’s day. We wield that influence in either a positive or negative way. Choose to empower others. It may be the most important act of kindness you can extend to another; and it is free. How can one do so? Stated simply, just as Jesus did, use love as your currency. If necessary, use it first during Lent and then all year round. And remain open to “finding your Annie”.

Asnat Greenberg believes that empowering another means stifling the temptations of gratuitously criticizing, judging, being mean or cynical, and curbing one’s ego. Instead, one should smile at others, praise them, acknowledge them, thank them, and wish them a good day. Simply stated, the choice to empower others makes our world a better place. It may also make each of us happier, better people.

Secondly, God does not give up on us because we have flaws. If so, He’d give up on everyone! He loves us because of our flaws! Thy will, not my will. The gospel tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into his desert – just as the Spirit leads us into our personal deserts of temptations, vulnerabilities, and nightmares from the past. Our challenge is not to avoid them as much as to deal with them through conscience formation, e.g. acknowledge, repent, forgive, love. Then and only then can the barren fig tree bear fruit. Just as Jesus forgives us, so too should we strive to forgive others. Indeed, formation comes with the mindfulness of our flaws together with a humility and determination to do something about them.

The future has not yet been written!

Finally, we live in a world uncomfortable in its own skin. We have suffered through so many horrific massacres, the latest in New Zealand. God have mercy on all of the poor victims and survivors of such senseless tragedies. Our Church and government have been rocked with scandals. And, for several reasons, during the last two decades, our U.S. Catholic Church has suffered its most dramatic exodus, particularly among millennials. We surely must make time for prayer. Prayer needs to include not only quiet, personal reflection, but also proactive evangelization (i.e. we must live the Good Word of the Gospels).

Finding your “Annie”, committing to Thy will be done, empowering others, making time to pray, and “fostering a hope (for others) that will shine more clearly” – sounds like a perfect combination to prepare for our most holy day of the year.

Let us go and serve the Lord by serving all who we meet. God bless.