Global communication gives us breaking news all day long, so it is easier to develop a new prejudice towards people of different faiths.
Intolerance can also arise between Christians of different denominations. I witnessed this first-hand when a Catholic man wrote a report in the daily newspaper regarding a mission trip to Bosnia - Herzegovina. He shared details of his inspiration from Mary, the Mother of God and how this influenced his trip. A few days later a Baptist preacher wrote a letter to the editor of this paper criticizing this gentleman as a 'statue worshipper" quoting scripture and referring to Jesus Christ alone as the Saviour of the world.
I find it sad when people who claim to love Christ are ready to show such disrespect for His Mother. Catholics love Mary as a symbol of true obedience to God's will, and count on her friendship. After all, Jesus told John from the cross that Mary was to be his mother. Scripture proclaims this. Why then is there such frustration about having a friendship with the woman Elizabeth said was "blessed among women?"
I felt a need to respond to this cruel and unnecessary letter, but just a couple of days later, on the weekend faith page, someone wrote a half page article titled: "In Defence of Mary." The person was a local Imam who stated his knowledge of Mary's role in the Islamic faith. It was beautifully written and reminded me personally of the common bond that we have with Muslims through Mary. He said: 'While everybody has the right to disagree with another person's ideas and beliefs, it should be done in a respectful manner. I did not find this to be the case."
The article continued: "Maryam is the Arabic version of Mary…her status is so elevated she has become the symbol of a pious, other-worldly woman. Whenever a woman is praised for her piety and devotion to God, she is referred to as the Maryam of her time."
He also said: "For over 14 centuries, Mary has been synonymous with a highly spiritual woman who lived an exemplary pious life, both as a servant of God and as a loving mother of a unique messenger of God. May God bless her and shower her with ever-increasing peace and mercy. Amen."
This beautiful article was another reminder that not all Muslims are to be feared. Yes, there is a small percentage causing chaos and bloodshed, and many peace-loving Muslims are suffering because of it. We need to broaden our education of Islam for society to have a more tolerant attitude. Even television shows like Blue Bloods have taken the responsibility to show Muslims in a better light, and though Muslims are different, they should be allowed to go about their daily living without harassment.
Let us pray this Advent season that Jesus, the King of Peace will bring a new understanding and tolerance among all the people of the world this Christmas.
Joan Levy Earle
PRAY FOR PEACE
It has been just over a week since the multiple terrorist attacks on Paris, France. The world changed that day because fear entered the hearts of so many more people. It was a sad day for the French people and for all of us, as it was another reminder of the presence of evil. Let us unite our prayers that one day, there will be peace in the hearts of all mankind.
Last weekend, the pastor of our church, asked us all to pray for the victims of this assault on humanity and chose a beautiful prayer for the closing of his sermon. I will share this with you and hope that others will join us in praying for peace in the world. The author of this prayer is unknown.
A PRAYER FOR PEACE To the Creator of nature and humankind,
of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice for it is the voice of all children
who suffer and will suffer when people
put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice when I beg you to instill
into the hearts of all human beings,
the wisdom for peace, the strength of justice
and the joy of fellowship.
Hear my voice for I speak for the multitudes
in every country and in every period of history,
who do not want war and are ready to walk
the road of peace.
Hear my voice and grant insight so that
we may always respond to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need, with sharing of self, to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice and grant unto this world - Your everlasting peace. Amen.
Let us remember that God is still in charge of this world!
JOAN LEVY EARLE
IN GOD WE MUST TRUST
Just a few days ago, there were celebrations of Remembrance Day and Veteran's Day in many parts of North America. We honoured those who have served their country in the military. In Canada, wreaths of poppies were laid at cenotaphs and thanksgiving speeches given.
On November 13, in Paris, France, a state of emergency has been declared by the President. Six attacks on civilians were carried out with over a hundred citizens dead and hundreds of others wounded. Once more, evil has brought us to our knees, to unite with those who are suffering in France.
It happened in the evening when people were out enjoying themselves, not realizing that their lives would soon be over.
This senseless act of terrorism is a reminder to all of us who are believers that we must be prepared that this could be our last day on earth. We owe our loved ones responsible preparation, to have our lives in order with wills made, funeral instructions left and most of all, our spiritual lives prepared. With life being lived at such a fast pace, we often neglect those important deeds that will help those we love if we are suddenly deceased. We'd rather think that these responsibilities are not necessary right now.
The Bible states that our call from God may come "like a thief in the night" and so we must treat each day as a gift, just in case it is the last. Let us choose to speak the small endearments that our loved ones deserve to hear. We can also put away the minor criticisms that may impact another soul, and just thank God that we are not alone, but have people to share our lives.
The Lord's Prayer reminds us that if we wish to be forgiven, we must be prepared to forgive. Let us take time today to celebrate those we love and praise God for every blessing we share.
Above all, let us pray for those whose lives ended in Paris on November 13. Their families need strength for the days ahead as they struggle through their grief. May God bless and comfort the people of France.
JOAN LEVY EARLE
TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON.....
The magnificent autumn leaves are spreading throughout our city, making a familiar rustle as I walk along the street. I am reminded that winter is fast approaching.
All of my New Zealand friends are full of hope as they see the stronger sunlight and the longer days that spring promises. No doubt they are beginning to look forward to summer activities.
Winter for me is a time of quiet and renewal. Just as the bare trees stand tall and strong against the last light of the day, I am full of anticipation for the cooler evenings. It always seems easier for us senior folks when we reach for a sweater rather than having to endure the humidity that hot summer days offer.
As in life, the changing of the seasons are reminders that change is a normal part of our existence. We have to be prepared for every obstacle that comes our way, and not lose sight that by faith, we can survive anything.
Think about the scripture: "To everything there is a season". As the people of New Zealand look forward to spring, we in Canada will soon embrace the frosty mornings of November, and expect the first snowfall in a few weeks.
The change of seasons is another good time to count the blessings of our lives. For believers, the journey of life holds only joy because their death will be the beginning of a new life in heaven. Some people don't believe in the hereafter and prefer to declare: "This is it. All we have is right now."
Jesus told the Good Thief hanging beside Him on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise." I am confident that eternity is not just a figment of our imagination, but the promised land where those who give their best effort and believe in Him, will one day enjoy.
Joan Levy Earle
A recent holiday in the Southern United States has reminded me about the way we can all bring the love of Christ into our everyday lives.
Jesus asks us to do two things; to love our neighbour as ourselves and to love Him with all of our heart.
I visited good friends who live near Raleigh, North Carolina and experienced a true sense of service and kindness in each shop and restaurant. Their authentic smiles of greeting amazed me. You will often hear a clerk say: "Have a nice day" when they complete the transaction but in North Carolina I heard: "You all have a great day now!" often and I knew it was meant from their hearts. The smiles on their faces were evidence of their desire to be of service in their work. They provided an atmosphere that encouraged a happy response from those they encountered. There was a spirit everywhere I went that helped to heal my heart which had been broken three months earlier with the sudden loss of my only son. God gave me unexpected joy in these moments and reminded me that His presence is everywhere when those who love Him show that love in their work places.
My friends are Evangelical Christians with ecumenical hearts. They attended the Catholic Mass with me on the Saturday evening and the next morning, I joined them at Raleigh First Assembly Church for their service. I walked into their sanctuary and to my surprise, discovered drums on stage, men with guitars and a keyboard. The worship music that started the service was uplifting, joy-filled and sung with great gusto. Within a minute many young people came to the front and began moving to the music and singing along, full of zeal for the words of praise.
One song touched me deeply: "You make me brave…" was the first line. I am a strong believer but certain trials of life can steal some of our courage. There is a darkness covering many areas of life, as the enemy tries to steal our joy. Christ wants us to rejoice because He died for our sins and offered us eternal life.
I returned home after five days in the Bible Belt refreshed and full of conviction that I must be brave, put my hand into the hand of Jesus, and move forward in service to Him. I am so grateful for the witness of those American Christians.
Joan Levy Earle
THE POWER OF THE ROSARY
For Roman Catholics, a special feast day occurs each year on October 7th.We call it the Feast of the Holy Rosary. In my life, the prayers of the rosary have become a source of comfort on the sad and difficult days, and a way of celebrating when God's blessings are overflowing.
It was an encounter on a train where I first learned about the power of the rosary prayers. In 1981 a friendly conductor named Frank Gregostki started chatting to me about my bishop's love of gardening. Frank had a horse farm and would drop off a bag of fertilizer for the bishop each spring. The bishop loved to grow beautiful rose bushes. I had noticed that Frank was wearing a little rose on his uniform lapel and inquired about it. Frank said he was a proud member of the Knights of Columbus and the rose was a symbol of his pro-life affiliation.
Frank asked me if I prayed the rosary. My answer was no and so he reached into his pocket and took out a little silver pocket rosary. He said: "I like to give these to people to encourage them to pray the rosary. This one is for you. I pray the rosary every day because it helps me in so many ways."
Frank died in 1983 and by then, I had learned how to pray all the mystery meditations of the rosary. A few months after his death, I found myself writing and publishing a small booklet, with modern meditations on the rosary prayers and the story of our encounter on the train. I had nicknamed the ring rosary A CIRCLE OF LOVE and used that name for the booklet. Six months later, I was doing a half hour radio programme with that same name, and a focus on the rosary prayers. In 1985, Our Lady inspired me to present a peace rally in our city. There were 2000 people in attendance, with a 100 voice ecumenical choir, and the rosary was led by a group of young students. Every participant received a small pocket rosary, the same kind that Frank had handed to me five years before.
The bishop, Eugene LaRocque, that same bishop who grew beautiful roses, commented: "One person can make a difference. We are all gathered here today because a conductor on a train gave a small gift to encourage another person to pray the rosary." Then he read a telegram from the Holy Father John Paul II who had joined with us in spirit to pray for peace in the world.
And on national television that Sunday evening, the last item on the news was about our rally for peace in the world. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had helped to make that Pentecost one that none of us would ever forget.
Joan Levy Earle
IN GOD WE MUST TRUST
There are so many wonderful quotes that can inspire us to a stronger faith life. Here is one from Leo Tolstoy: "I believe in God whom I comprehend as Spirit, as Love, as the Source of all. I believe that He is in me and I in Him."
Are we true believers? Do we totally trust in Him Who is the Source of all? Can we let go when things don't seem to be working out the way we thought and continue to believe that God is in control?
It is so easy to give thanks to God for the blessings that come into our life. Praising His name is so wonderful when a friend calls unexpectedly and plans to visit, or we get a raise in our pay, or discover that a new grandchild is on the way. Good news warrants thanksgiving prayers.
But how do we react when the opposite happens? If we learn that someone we love has just died, can we take a deep breath and say: "Thy will be done, Father." If we have just been told that the job we are doing has become redundant, can we accept that God will take care of our financial needs? Those are not easy questions. I believe that if we stay close to Him through daily prayer and know how to tune into His direction, His grace will surround us through all the difficult times and we can survive anything that life brings our way.
How do we turn the dial of our spirit to His frequency? The easiest way is through the practice of our faith. Whatever the community or denomination we follow, we can find support through daily prayer. If we begin each new day in thanksgiving, happy to be alive and prepared to face the joys and difficulties that may encompass that new day, then life will become an adventure in faith. We who believe in God, know that He walks through the days with us. He loves us and doesn't cause all the troubles of our day, but instead, is near to us to help us solve them.
Fear is the greatest enemy that we face. Psalm 27 says: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life."
Believe those words. You are not walking alone. He loves you more than you can imagine. Trust Him in all things.
Joan Levy Earle
One of the best pieces of advice that my father gave to me prior to his passing was that "FRIENDSHIP IS A RESPONSIBILITY AND NOT AN OPPORTUNITY."
If we think about that statement we realize that true friends do not expect anything from us, but instead, they want to co-operate in every way possible to help to make our lives a little better. Perhaps that might even involve helping us face the truth about ourselves, or giving us advice that we really don't want to hear. Above all, they are interested in our welfare, how we are doing and are available when we are in need.
I recall a few months ago when my son died suddenly, I phoned a good friend to give her the sad news. She listened and then stated: "I will cancel my holiday plans for the week and be available for whatever you need." That was a huge gift of her time. There were certainly other people around to also assist but she was a friend from my church community and each morning after daily Mass, she would inquire if I needed help for anything in particular. One morning she took my granddaughter and I shopping for funeral clothes. Another morning, she picked up coffee and brought it to our family. Perhaps they were simple efforts but such valuable gifts of her time. Her presence was calming and comforting. She was also chosen to do the readings at the funeral, just as she had done for my husband's funeral, my second wedding, and then for my son.
Friendship means availability. I am sure you know people who are a part of your lives and seem to be happy to assist when there seems to be something for them to gain for themselves. Those people may have good intentions, but the reality is that they are opportunistic. If it suits their schedule or it doesn't inconvenience them, then they are happy to oblige.
What a blessing it is to have people in your life who love you in spite of your faults and, your weaknesses. They are true gifts from God and their presence in your lives enhances your own journey. Today you might want to say a little prayer of thanks as you examine those people you might consider to be real friends.
My dad also added: "If you can count those who are true friends on one hand, you are rich." With friendship, it is not about quantity, but instead, quality. Even the Bible speaks of that when it says in Sirach, chapter 6: "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure…. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy…"
May the Lord bless those who have blessed our lives with true friendship!
Joan Levy Earle
THE DIGNITY OF WORK
So often we hear people comment that they are not sure if they are ready to retire. Wives might say that they are expecting it will be such a big change to have their husbands around the house on a daily basis. The same holds true for some husbands, who seem so lost when they have to leave their regular work routines.
If a person has a hobby that can occupy a lot of their spare time upon retirement, it is an added bonus. We have all been given gifts and it is up to us to find ways of using them. Perhaps it is the gift of patience to spend time with a friend or relative in a nursing home, or a green thumb that inspires you to help a neighbour with their gardening. There are many outreach programs that are always in need of volunteers. Once a person is retired and on pension, the possibility of choosing to spend one's extra time doing something to make another life better, seems a very important job to take on. If our financial needs are being met, then we can work to make our neighbourhood a better place by sharing our time and talents as a volunteer.
In Canada we have just celebrated Labour Day. For us, this is the day that falls just before the elementary and high school students return to classes. Labour Day can be looked at as another new beginning to our daily routines. We think about getting back to regular schedules of activities with holiday time behind us.
There is a reminder too of all of those who are unemployed, and sincerely searching for work. The age of technology has stolen many of the tasks that used to provide jobs for people. Remember the days when managers had secretaries who typed all their letters? Most executives do their own correspondence now, mostly by email. A number of manufacturing jobs have disappeared because of robotic technology. The human element has diminished along assembly lines. Yet, each of us needs to have something satisfying to do each day.
Work is essential to our happiness. Our minds need stimulation and our bodies need activity. For our souls, that sense of satisfaction when a job is completed successfully cannot be duplicated.
If you are retired and feeling just a little bored with your life, take a look around your community and inquire about ways that you can offer your talents. Whether it is serving at a local soup kitchen, volunteering to drive cancer patients or reading to a blind person, your own life will be enhanced by the sharing of your time. That smile of gratitude you will receive is worth the effort.
As it is written in Ecclesiastes 3:1, "there is an appointed time for every event under heaven…" If you have entered your retirement time, why not thank God for the freedom to serve Him in new ways.
Joan Levy Earle
Pope Francis has declared that 2015 should be considered the Year of the Family. There will be a special synod on the family in Rome in October as well as meetings in the United States in September.
For each of us, this declaration can offer an opportunity to make improvements within our own families. After all, a change in the world has to begin within each of our own households. We cannot expect to pray for world peace if there is no peace within our own hearts. We have no peace in our individual families if we are struggling to forgive someone who has hurt us, like a brother or sister, a mother or father, or someone else close to us in our own neighbourhood. Remember how Jesus spoke about forgiveness and said we have to be willing to forgive not just seven times, but seven times seventy. That means we have to forgive one another often.
When we are angry and hold a grudge, it is within our own hearts that there is suffering, sadness and bitterness. The person we are upset with is not feeling all these emotions; we are doing that all by ourselves. So we help ourselves first by letting go of negative feelings and giving these troubles to God the Father, and His Son Jesus. They will take them from us and heal the pain inside our hearts.
Then when we encounter that person who wronged us we do not have a heavy heart. Instead, we can look at them and believe that they deserve another chance. No words need be said. Your relationship can improve through God's grace and your open heart. This is especially true for married couples. Happiness can return with a simple smile and one "I am sorry."
The family is a special haven where we can feel protected, loved and even cherished. In our church community, we can find this same compassion at times when we need it the most. How blessed we are when we are believers, and we practise our faith through regular attendance at a place of worship.
No matter what the circumstances of life that we will have to face, we know we will always find comfort from the family of God.
Joan Levy Earle.