Posted by: mmreflections | July 21, 2011

Loaded With Gifts! July 2010

What might a person say if I were to announce that our current times are loaded with gifts?  Recent weeks seem to have been dominated by friends and readers calling to tell me of major problems in their life situations.  Sad news came from one family regarding their young father who had recently been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  Their world seems to be turned upside down as they struggle to get their bearings after hearing the prognosis and questioning what the future holds.  Another young father has been terminated from the position with a company for which he had worked for many years leaving him despondent after going out each day seeking unsuccessfully to find employment.  Concerns for his wife and children, a serious loss of self-esteem and mounting unpaid bills cause him to question his faith.  Many have indicated they are no longer able to watch or listen to news on radio or TV as the media bombards the nation with fears of possible economic disaster.  Fears mount, anxieties increase, doubts arise, questions go unanswered and most feel powerless.  Worst case scenarios are being placed before us.  Floods, famine, earthquakes, heat waves, terrorists attacks, tragedies of all sorts are unfolding around us.

If we were to stop and reflect silently for a time it might become apparent that these are the very conditions which bring out the deepest shadows in us or the very best aspects of our character.  These are the challenges that help us to discover who we really are and what we really believe.  We do not attain maturity and the very best that is in us when all is going well and according to our liking.  In reflecting upon my own journey of seventy-seven years I must admit that moments of my life that appeared to be the darkest were the moments that led to my becoming more confident, productive and creative.

One such moment unfolded when serving in the army during the Korean conflict.  The training period, referred to as Boot Camp, was demanding and quite unlike anything I had previously experienced.  Having graduated from college and teaching school before being drafted in no way prepared me for what was about to unfold.  Early rising in the morning, long marches with full back packs on hot summer days, getting back to the barracks late in the day, exhausted with personal chores still awaiting me prior to getting showered and gratefully collapsing on my bunk was what unfolded day after day.  It was during this time our platoon was placed under the charge of a pin stripped corporal who had only recently returned from Korea.  He was merciless and disrespectful to all the men placed in his charge.  After exhausting days in the field  we would return to the barracks and subjected to this soldier’s regaling us with his war stories of horrific and sadistic exploits while in the war zones.  He would force all of us to listen to him as he went on and on for hours until it was time for lights out.  Many were discouraged while others were determined not to let this man break us.  Because of a minor infraction after one of these sessions, he demanded that all of us get out of the barracks just as we were and fall into formation out on the compound.  Some who were taking showers had to get outside with only a towel wrapped around their waists, others came out only in undershorts and bare feet.  The night air was cold and damp; the ground muddy from a slow drizzle of rain.  He demanded we all start doing pushups on the soggy ground.  He was so engrossed in disciplining all of us for one man’s infraction that he never noticed the military police approaching and shining spotlights on us.  The police ordered all of us back into the barracks and most of us thought this was the end of the matter.

Needless to say, many of us were discouraged and felt hopeless at the thought of the many weeks of boot camp ahead of us.  When we returned from the field the next day our pin stripped corporal was nowhere to be seen.  We were to discover later that he had been placed under military arrest for his abuse of authority.  A newly graduated lieutenant from West Point was now placed in charge of our platoon.  A true leader, he manifested great respect for all of us and soon we were an outstanding platoon.  As a result of our ordeal we discovered new aspects of courage and determination we didn’t realize we had.  The gifts realized from those dark nights were to remain with me for the remainder of my time in the military and for the many challenges which still awaited me.

The problems in our society and in the world are challenging us right now.  We can give into despair and frustration, feeling powerless over the issues and fears confronting us or we can remain hopeful, believing in the promise that the Holy One in whom we trust will draw good out of all  things for those who remain faithful.  Indeed, there are gifts to be realized in the midst of the ordeals we are now facing.  One of the greatest gifts awaiting us in all this is the discovery of the truth about ourselves.  When all is going well, we can easily slip into the illusion of being some really great and perfect person.  However, when the chips are down and all seems to be falling apart in our life situations we discover aspects of ourselves or shadows that we have been unwilling to acknowledge.  These shadows manifest themselves in our fears,  worries, anxieties, frustrations, anger, bitterness and resentment which are reflected in how we treat others.

In the midst of the crises that arise in our  life situations we are called to stop and take some deep breathes, asking ourselves what we can do to make things better.  Looking realistically about our situations, we are called to accept with peace those things over which we have no control and which we cannot change.  At the same time it is important to review the possibilities and to courageously change the situations we can change while praying for the wisdom to recognize the difference.

A great peace comes from living one day at a time.  Many of us are overwhelmed because we are living tomorrow’s and next week’s challenges along with today’s.  My military experience reminds me of how discouraged I had become by thinking of the weeks ahead of me instead of taking matters one day at a time.  We would all prefer to live our days without hardships but that is not realistic.  Hardships are great gifts and accepting them as a part of life makes them pathways to greater peace and joy.  Many of us are looking for Utopia, that is, a perfect world with true leaders who reach out and  nurture their people who strive to live in harmony with each other.  A wonderful gift awaits us when we can accept this suffering and troubled world with loving concern as it is and not as we would have it.  This is what Jesus taught us to do as he walked the world of his day with loving concern.

What many of us are lacking at this time is trust!  Our trust in the many institutions of our society has been severely challenged.  In whom are we to trust?  Those of us who believe in a power greater than ourselves, a power greater than our human society are at an advantage.  We can do all we can to create a better society but our trust is in the Holy One who promises to  make all things right for those who place their trust in him.  Herein is found the ultimate gift.  

God, you have taught me from my youth; to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.  Now that I am old and gray, do not forsake me, God, that I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come. (Psalms 71:17-18)

 

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Responses

  1. Dear Father Mike,
    Thank you for the reassuring words for all of us!
    Michael

  2. Thanks Father Mike for the insightful lesson along the way.
    Some years ago I drove Bishop Tom to an event. I was squeaking about our small Parish being burdened with building a new church building and the ancillary facilities. He said Do not complain and squeak; do your best every day and in years to come you will all marvel at what you did. They will prove to be some of your best years. Charlie K.


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