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.
The Family of God
When we hear the word family, we realize that usually this word is referring to blood relatives. When Jesus spoke about the family, He often described another family; His family. He was referring to those who hear the word of God and live it.
During the recent passing of my son John, I discovered again just what Jesus meant when He spoke of those who seek to follow Him. I have been supported through the prayers, cards, phone calls, hugs by acquaintances in the grocery store, sympathetic smiles at the bank and this outreach has helped all of us who are grieving the loss of my son.
The family of God is everywhere. To recognize it we just have to be in tune with His will, and trust that He is watching over us, and will find ways to comfort us through the dark valley of the shadow of death. I have always loved the words of the 23rd Psalm, especially the first line: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." In the last couple of years I have walked through this valley with the loss of a husband, then a mother and now my son. Yes, my faith was tested but each time, by the grace of God, I was uplifted and survived the sadness.
The kindness of people who share our world, especially those of our faith community, offers us the tools we need. Time is a great healer, and as long as we continue to put one step in front of the other, with our hand holding tightly to the hand of God, we will make it.
I live in a small community of less than 50,000 people and it is a blessing. My son loved his hometown very much and spent many years promoting it as a great place to live. Although I had moved away for ten years, I am happy that I returned a few years ago and once more, am experiencing the reasons why he never left. He was able to follow his dreams and raise his children here, and left a legacy of friends who are now supporting all of us.
Look around your world today and see the family of God who are supporting you as you travel your journey. Take time to celebrate those friends of God who will be there for you when you are in need.
Joan Levy Earle
Make every day count
I opened my mailbox yesterday to find it full. I hated the reason why, but in time, the pain will subside.
I just attended the funeral of my only son, John Earle, who died on July 18. He was 43. He had been scuba diving, but had surfaced and signaled to his wife that he was in distress. She swam out to him, the paramedics came, but he had succumbed to a massive heart attack.
Hundreds of people came to pay their respects; people of all faiths, young and old. They all said the same thing. We will miss his smile, his ability to listen sincerely, and his passion for life.
How does one survive such a shock? John's older sister Lisa said: "I didn't just lose my brother; I lost my special friend." She is an only child now. She knows too that her responsibility will be to help to keep his memory alive for his two children, a son who is 9 and an 11 year old daughter. John also gained a 20 year old step daughter, through marriage to Alyssa Blais.
Some years ago I learned from the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva that it is not enough to simply say: "Oh well, it is God's will."
Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei showed me that we must truly embrace His will. To embrace means to pray daily that the challenges of life should never be questioned. To question means that we are not living faithfully; at one with the will of Our Father in heaven Who gives us our daily bread.
This new challenge will certainly be difficult for me; we are not supposed to outlive our children, but I know I am not the only mother who has suffered such a loss.
I take comfort that my community loved my son very much, my church continues to pray, which is supporting John's wife, sister, his children and myself as we walk this path of grief.
The grace of God sustains us.
I suggest you hug those you love a little tighter this week; who knows if it might be your last chance.
Sincerely, Joan Levy Earle
We all need a reason to get out of bed each morning. For young parents, the sound of their youngsters awake in their cribs is all the motivation they need. For the middle aged, hopefully, it is a career that they continue to enjoy. Then there are those in my age category; the seventh decade brigade who are retired and still very active.
Five out of seven mornings I am motivated by a visit to daily Mass, and that half hour gives me a great start to my day. I see friendly faces and hear a short reflection on the day's readings;, a perfect beginning. For those who live alone, those short conversations as we leave the church remind us that we are a part of a caring community.
Last week, our pastor gave us a serious subject to ponder for the day. He spoke about the value of a name. One of the commandments states that we should not take the name of the Lord in vain. Well, how many of us have cursed and used His name when we are frustrated and upset? With patience, and as we grow older and wiser, we learn to control that bad habit.
The other fault that often occurs is the way we speak of our neighbour. How often have we been a part of spreading gossip about someone? Although we may hear it, we have a duty not to repeat what we hear. The spread of gossip should stop with us. Our tongues should be used for praise, and never to be a part of passing on information about others.
Friendship is a delicate and precious gift which can be easily tainted by passing along information that was shared with us in confidence. The best way to avoid promoting gossip is to keep private what should be kept to oneself. We are human and therefore, we make mistakes. All of us are guilty of letting our tongues get the better of us at times. Whether it is hurting someone through criticism, or gossip, or indifference, we should always be prepared to start each new day trying to do better.
God knows we are not perfect. He is always ready to forgive us our trespasses. We can pass along that same kindness to those around us who may have hurt our feelings. We can sincerely accept their apology, and then, forget the deed that was done.
Our life here is short compared to the future on the other side. Every effort we make here will give us peace of mind for today and be a bridge to eternal life.
Joan Levy Earle
One of the advantages of living in a smaller city is the proximity of places of worship. In my city in Ontario, Canada, there are two churches offering daily Masses within five blocks of my apartment building. I decided when I moved back home that I would not buy a vehicle. Having not driven for seven years, it would have taken a lot of practise for me to have felt confident behind the wheel. I had only been driving a few years prior to moving to a metropolis of several million people, so I felt it wise to now rely on public transportation.
I manage to walk many of the places I need to go, but a few times a week I treat myself to a bus ride from my studio, rather than walk the twelve blocks home. I find this experience humbling as many people recognize my face from the weekly column I write for our daily newspaper. They will smile a friendly greeting, and it is a reminder to me that I am back in my hometown.
I enjoy attending daily Mass; it's a wonderful way to start a day. Being a widow, I continually adjust to cooking for one person, am without a shared conversation most evenings, as well as finding it necessary to make important life decisions on my own. Within my parish family, many smiles await me before and after the morning service. It is also a privilege to be offered a ride on the days when I am heading to work in my studio. As I have told my 'driving friends', you will always find me a grateful passenger who prays thanksgivings for their kindness.
It may seem a simple thing to some people; the offer of a ride. But it is another way that people can bless their neighbours. Whether it is the need of someone to get to a doctor's appointment, helping a friend to pick up groceries or through a lift to a shopping centre across town, those who have vehicles can bless others by offering them a ride.
There are many other ways that we can assist others. A phone call to an out-of- town relative who is elderly, a visit to someone in hospice care or just a piece of pie to someone in your apartment building, these gestures of love will bless our neighbours. I am sure that we bring a smile to God's face when we do and will reward us in His own time.
Joan Levy Earle
You and I were made in the image of God; that is the essence of our Christian faith. This means that we have many God-like attributes and are capable of loving deeply, caring for others and trying to live a proper life.
As we all know, what happened in the Garden of Eden those many years ago, made it necessary for a Saviour named Jesus Christ to be born. The advice given to our first parents not to eat from the tree of knowledge took away their innocence and has left all of us open to temptation.
It is human to be tempted and we must learn that there is always another chance offered to us. Our God is a God of mercy and love. If we sincerely repent of our mistakes and indiscretions, He will forgive us. The more difficult effort may come in the ability to forgive ourselves.
You have heard the phrase: "To err is human; to forgive is divine". We know this and yet how often in our families have we held grudges? How often do we 'take our time' in saying 'I forgive you' to someone who has hurt us? If we are truly trying to live a Christian life, we must make the effort to accept an apology immediately and sincerely, with no grudges held. As well, when we know that we have hurt someone we care about, let us be ready to offer our own apology quickly.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a treasure. To be able to hear the words: "I absolve you of your sins….in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit" brings the gift of peace to a penitent's soul. We walk away from a good confession with a lighter heart, rejoicing that we can begin again to live the way God expects. A monthly confession is the best way to stay on track.
Our future is in God's hands. Only He knows the hour that we will leave this world and begin the journey towards eternal life. We know that our bodies will remain but our souls will continue. We owe it to our souls to be prepared for the end of our time on earth. Confession cleanses the soul; a purified soul is our responsibility if we are trying to follow Christ in our daily living. Of course we will fall; He knows that.
The true secret of happiness is peace of mind and heart. Confession is the best source of that peace. We taste a little bit of heaven each time we offer our souls to be cleansed through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
JOAN LEVY EARLE
When I became widowed for a second time in 2013, I decided to move back to my hometown where my mother, my son and my two grandchildren resided. The hand of providence assisted because I phoned the landlord of my 91 year old mother's apartment building and was pleasantly surprised that there would soon be a vacancy right across the hall from Mom.
I started packing and booked the mover. My mother and I chatted on the phone each day, and though her health wasn't great, her mind was alert and she was excited that I would soon become her neighbour. Just two weeks before the move, my mother died. She had a short hospital stay, thank God, and she was prepared spiritually to join my father, who had passed away five years earlier.
It was a tough few weeks; settling my furniture and helping my sisters to clear my mother's two bedroom apartment of her possessions. There was comfort knowing my mother had lived with the anticipation that I would soon be so much closer. I also felt that God had chosen this home for me, and I accepted His decision to take my mother home to Him.
I miss her terribly, of course, but the building is conveniently located close to my parish church, and walking distance to a shopping centre. I remember Mom saying that I should try to find a place close to my church, because church is a priority in my life. I had not even considered her building in the beginning, but one day, during a visit with her, a voice in my head said: "Call your mother's landlord." I argued that I didn't have time, with a train to catch, and would do it later. "Call the office now," the voice repeated. Well, I finally gave in, and within a half hour, the decision had been made. With the apartment across the hall soon to be available, it really seemed to have been ordained from heaven. I had checked out a few other buildings but none of them measured up to the place where Mom had lived for twenty years.
I won't ever forget the smile on my mother's face as she said good bye to me that day. There would be no nursing home for her; I would be her caregiver. We were both looking forward to the future. But God had other plans for Mom.
St. Josemaria Escriva said: "It is not simply enough to accept God's will; we must be ready to embrace it." I trust that God saw that my mother was tired, and her time had come. Although it was not easy to become orphaned and widowed within a six month period, I am happy that I can easily attend daily Mass, and the memories of the good times spent across the hall with my parents bring a special joy to my heart.
And when my grandchildren visit, they often remark that their great- grandmother used to be just across the hall. It's a special memory that warms all of our hearts.
Joan Levy Earle
The life of a farmer has to be one that is dependent on God. For this vocation to succeed, there should be good weather for planting, proper weather conditions for the growing season and rich soil to yield a bountiful harvest. The farmer depends on God's providence in order to prosper. The parable of the sower always makes me think about farmers who must struggle with a small acreage, and work diligently to yield a good living from their efforts.
How often do people hear the word of God go in one ear and then float out the other? Isn't this like planting in poor soil? So often people attend church services, listen to the word of God and leave in the same darkened frame of mind that they brought into church that day. The words of scripture should always give us a lesson in truth and fill us with hope. Like the sower who planted the seeds in fertile ground, we have to sit in those pews with open hearts, ready to put into action the messages that Christ is teaching through those who minister to us. When our hearts are open, our souls can be nourished. Healthy souls cultivate happy, peaceful lives.
Those who allow the Holy Spirit to guide them through each day will be blessed with confidence. All we need to do is to watch the evening news for a few days and we might become discouraged. Christians are being killed in Nigeria, corruption is discovered in the sporting world and people are fleeing their homes in the Middle East.
Maybe we cannot do more than make a donation to assist with those suffering from the earthquake in Nepal but we can do something for the suffering in our own communities. Through time spent volunteering, we become the bearers of Christ's word in action. Each kindness we extend plants a seed of hope in an organization or in a neighbour's lonely heart. It might be a little time spent with a shut in or a visit to an older relative in a nursing home. We can offer our time in so many ways and this will spread that 'agape' style of love that is needed everywhere.
Pope Francis is calling for a new evangelization; we are asked to be joyful witnesses of our faith. Each of us has gifts and talents that can be shared. Blessed Mother Teresa believed that we can change the world, as she said, "one person at a time."
Joan Levy Earle
Although we welcome the seasonal changes, we have to be prepared for adjustments in our routine that arrive with each new season. Although our daily tasks need to be revised, imagine how boring life would be if we did not have these challenges. As a Canadian, I rejoice in the new life of nature each spring, and yet, I cannot wait to see the glorious colours of autumn. My difficulty comes with the summer heat. Humidity plays havoc with these older joints and the hotter days do not inspire creative pursuits. I must learn to take time to "smell the roses" as the old saying goes. At the moment, I am loving the chance to smell the lilacs.
About twenty years ago in our community, someone suggested that our citizens plant lilac trees and then a few years later, a lilac festival was held. Although the festival is no longer a reality, the residue remains. For two wonderful weeks, one can take a walk along the waterfront and many city streets, and breathe the scent of the mauve, purple and white lilacs that were planted in abundance. These blooms are short-lived but my hope is that in heaven, they will bloom much longer. To me, there is no more beautiful fragrance.
Just a few weeks ago, Christians celebrated the feast of Pentecost. I found a beautiful description of how this Third Person of the Trinity can make a difference in our lives. It was written by St. Josemaria Escriva and can be found in his book: Christ is Passing By, #130. He says: "The Holy Spirit performs God's works in the world. He is, as the liturgical hymn sings, the giver of gifts, the light of hearts, the soul's guest, rest in work, and consolation in sorrow. Without his help, there is nothing in man that is innocent and worthy, because it is the Holy Spirit who cleanses what is stained, cures what is sick, enkindles what is cold, straightens what has gone astray, and leads man to the door of salvation and eternal joy."
Of course, none of this assistance is possible if we are totally self-reliant individuals who feel that we are in complete control of our lives. Yes, we must be prepared to work diligently and make use of the talents and education we have acquired. But there will come a time in everyone's life when the invitation will be offered to feed the soul. May we be prepared to welcome the Spirit that wishes to dwell within us, and know that special comfort that only God's love can provide.
Joan Levy Earle
Image Wikicommons: Lilac, Syringa_vulgaris1
Joan's Message of Hope
Think about how gratifying it is to plant a seed, nurture it with water and weeding, and in a few weeks, discover the beauty of the flower that has bloomed.
We can consider Christian baptism as a very special seed, providing a seed of faith in the soul of a child. Caring parents will nourish and help that seed blossom by attending regular church services, saying grace over daily meals, and listening to a child's night prayers.
Of course, our world has become fast-paced and now, Sunday seems just like any other day. What was once a family day reserved for shared activities, is just like all the other days of the week. Attending church services is not always the first choice on the agenda for that day.
I remember the saying in the 1950s that was credited to Father Patrick Peyton, a strong promoter of the rosary prayers. He said: "The family that prays together, stays together." There is much truth in that statement. Regular Sunday worship is an important tool for healthy marriages. I can attest to many Sundays in the early years of raising my own children when the sermon that Sunday just happened to contain the answer needed to heal my hurting heart. The early years of every marriage are a time of learning and compromise. I was a stubborn young wife who needed to learn many lessons. Thank God I was married to a patient man!
Often we hear parents of newborn children comment: "We will not christen our baby. It will be up to him to choose when he is older what path of faith he will take." In my opinion, they are denying this child that initial seed of faith that can be nourished and grow, helping to guide that child into responsible adulthood.
Baptism also provides a welcome from the church community. Every time I witness a child being baptized during Sunday Mass, I thank God that the church has been blessed by another member. Young children may become restless in the pews, but we should encourage their attendance, as there is nothing more heartwarming than seeing young families offering an hour each week to praise and worship the Lord together. They give us hope that the church will endure.
Joan Levy Earle