Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012/04/15 - 2nd Sunday Easter - "Doubts"

I think poor ole Thomas has gotten a bad rap over the years.  Seems like most of the time, we hear that Gospel reading and think the message is that we shouldn’t doubt… we should just have faith.  Many of us may have grown up thinking that this Church stuff is all about Faith – and we shouldn’t ask questions because that means we’re having doubts…and if we have doubts, then obviously we don’t have enough Faith.  So we never ask the questions.
I think the message of today’s Gospel is just the opposite:  Don’t ignore your doubts.
 If we never doubt, we would never ask questions.  And if we never ask questions, we’ll never look for answers.  And if we never look for answers, then we’ll never find the truth and believe it with all our heart.
This past Wednesday, I got to have dinner with several of our parishioners who are attending USI.  We like to go to Hacienda a couple times each semester just to keep up with each other and have some good food.  Besides – I gave up chips and salsa for Lent, so it was time to break my fast!  This week we got to talking about some questions that their non-Catholic friends have asked them.  Things like why we have to go to Confession to a priest?  Whether it’s OK to marry somebody who’s not Catholic.  Why do we call our Priest ‘Father’, when other churches call their minister ‘Pastor’?
I encouraged them to ask questions.  If they never ask questions and find the answers, then they’ll never know the TRUTH, and when somebody approaches them with some seemingly logical arguments from the Bible, they ‘might’ be pulleed away from the Church. 
If we’re honest with ourselves, probably every person at one time or another has doubts about God – about Jesus – about the Catholic Church.  Some of us are so strong in our doubt that we’re SURE that the Church is wrong about one teaching or another.  I’m here to tell you that it is OK to have doubts – in fact, doubting can be the first step in really understanding something.  Thomas is a great example… – he was the doubter, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it – but after today’s encounter with Jesus, he ended up travelling all the way to southwest India and started a sect of the Catholic Church which still survives today in the midst of an overwhelming Hindu and Muslim population.  This same guy who at first doubted the Resurrection – once he had the proof, he caught fire and wanted to spread that message to the world.  In the end, he was martyred for his faith.  Know the Truth can change our life.
More dangerous is the person who never doubts at all.  This can happen one of two ways – First way is that I just accept everything the church teaches me and never really try to understand it.  What’s the danger here?  Look at all the people leaving the church… my guess is that most of them fall into this category.  They accept all the teachings, but never really try to understand it… so when somebody from another faith approaches them with some logical arguments, they are swept away by the logic of it and they walk away from the Church that Jesus started.  I myself used to fall into this category – I accepted the Catholic teachings until I was in college – then an atheist professor made me question for the first time.  His logic led me to question whether God even exists!  Several years later, anti-catholics came at me with very logical arguments against the Church which the Bible seemed to support.  Thank God I had the wits about me to question what they were saying…. In a way – it was their arguments which made me doubt – and it was that doubt that made me start searching for answers.  It was only through that search that this Catholic faith became ‘mine’.  What I mean by that is – I no longer went to church just because I was told to as a kid… but because I truly believe in our Catholic faith.  In fact, it was only through that doubt that I caught fire enough to want to serve Jesus as a Deacon.  Ever listen to Scott Hahn’s conversion?  Or read Rome Sweet Home?  Powerful stuff – he explains the multi-year story of how he started doubting his non-Catholic tradition and through his research found that all the answers were contained in Catholic Doctrine.  Now he, like Thomas, is spending his life trying to spread that fire and Truth to others.  I personally credit his story with helping to keep me solidly planted here in the Church.
The other danger is for those who have doubts – and are so SURE of themselves that they know the “Real Truth”…. But they never really check out WHY the Church teaches what they do.  For example, maybe you’re POSITIVE that the Church is wrong about confession to a Priest – or maybe you are SURE that the churches stand on contraception is old-fashioned and no longer relevant – or maybe you are Positive that the Eucharist really isn’t the Body and Blood of Jesus, or maybe you think Purgatory is just an old superstition.  If you or I fall into this category where we have doubts that are SO strong that we “KNOW” the Church is wrong  - but we never take the time to really research WHY the church teaches what they do, then we are in a dangerous position.  We may leave the church – or worse yet – we may infect other people with our un-informed opinions and lead THEM away from the truth.  Remember what Jesus said – it is better to tie a millstone around your neck and drop in the sea than to lead someone away from the Truth.
Now – this may surprise you – but did you know that it is OK to disagree with the Church!?  Really!  But listen carefully…there are two conditions.  You are actually morally obligated to go against Church teachings IF 1) you believe it would be morally wrong to FOLLOW that teaching and (and this is important) 2) you have fully formed your conscience – in other words, you have fully researched the REASONING behind the teaching and you have approached God in prayer to seek His wisdom about the teaching.
If you really take that seriously, chances are, you will never find a situation that fits the criteria – and therefore, you’ll never come across a situation where you can morally disregard any one teaching of the Church.
We will only know the truth if we ask the question… and we will only ask the question if we admit that we have a doubt.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Haiti 2012 - Last Day on this planet

It is Monday morning, and it is the first day that has started with no clouds - so it promises to be a hot one.  We will try to finish up the two little projects we started Saturday.  We'll finish using the paint we have left on the school, and Gary will work on the electrical system at the nuns' house.  Already three people have requested meetings with us.  Two are mothers of students who are in the University studying to be a doctor.  We have some tough decisions to make.

God-willing, tonight at 3 am we start the drive to Cap Haitien... the first leg of our journey that will take us out of THIS world and back to the world we're accustomed to.  While many things are the same here and there like the basic needs for shelter, food, love, sleep, etc., how we fill those needs is often a world of difference.

Shelter:  their houses are all open to the air.  They have no problem with it getting cold (although 55 would seem freezing to them), but more often they need that air flow to keep the house from getting too warm.  The house is simply where you sleep and the few possessions you own are stored.  Families sit outside... talking, singing, fixing each other's hair rather than each person having their own room and watching TV or surfing the web or talking on the phone.  Which world is better???

Food:  all the food has been BON! (good).  Rice is served most meals along with a few beans or onions mixed in.  The Poule (chicken) and Cabrit (goat) meat were particularly flavorful - and even the Conch they served us today was delicious (although a bit rubbery).  There are always a selection of veggies and/or fruit available - and it seems that they have a new drink for us to try at LEAST once a day (including an alcoholic beverage they served us this morning for breakfast ;).  We ate soup for breakfast and oatmeal for supper.  We drink bottled water, which we still treat with chlorine drops as an added precaution.  We wash our hands almost to the point of hypochondriacs to prevent spreading germs.  So far, the only sickness we have had has been due to allergies or dehydration, so the precautions have been succesful so far.  (along with all those prayers y'all are sending out on our behalf)

Sleep:  noise is a constant.  Roosters, dogs, goats, birds, people talking and pounding on things, sweeping, singing... and if a silent moment should happen upon them, they'll turn on a radio (when electricity is available).  You either get used to it - or wear ear plugs.  We sleep under mosquito nets to help prevent malaria and dengue fever (plus it helps Maddie to feel more secure that the spiders can't get to her).  On the other hand, we have undoubtedly gotten more sleep here than at home - which shows that we CAN adjust to this slower pace of life.  Which world is better?

One thing that we share is our Catholic liturgy.  Even though we don't understand what is being said, the motions and timing are such that we always know what is going on and where we are in the Mass.  Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and we got to participate in the procession from the other side of town to the church.  I wonder what OUR community would think if we still did that?  Mass lasted almost three hours... and I KNOW what our community would think if we did THAT!

While many things will remain the same when we get home, hopefully some of this place and these people will come home with us.  We are not so different, but we live in two different worlds.  May we continue to help them until our last day on the planet.

Haiti 2012 - Put a band-aid where it hurts

It's been basically an un-eventful week in Dupity.  Daily scattered showered tease us, but seem to only provide needed rain to the higher country.  We are thankful for the clouds - as it gets very hot when the sun is shining full. 

Saturday, Maddie, Eric, and Mike worked with a group of kids to paint two classrooms.  Gary (along with Max and Baba) worked on installing a solar panel at the Nun's house.  It felt so good to finally DO something.  I'm sure it's selfish of us to want to do this... just to make US feel good.  On the other hand, if we never felt useful, I suppose we wouldn't have the incentive to come back.  I pray God will forgive us this selfishness.

While two rooms now have beautiful coats of paint, you can turn around and see the rest of the school which still is bare and very rough conrete block.  I see things as analogies - so I see the paint as simply a band-aid to cover the hurt.  Perhaps it will lift the spirits of the youth who attend there and 'perhaps' give them a daily reminder that we are with them in solidarity.  I also fear that the paint is an analogy for the help we provide overall.  Yes - we do commendable things:  sponsoring students, bakery, clinic, nutrition center, orphanage, parish... but in the end, is this just a band-aid for the incurable wound that Haiti endures?  A quick glance around at the fires in the distance reminds us that the forests are only a couple of years from being gone.  Then what? 

Allergies, headaches, minor scrapes, and a slightly upset stomache are the normal inconveniences we endure - but are nothing compared to what they deal with daily.  So we offer it up as part of our Lenten sacrifice for the people of Haiti.

Today we met with the students we have sponsored - probably 150 or so were present!  That was a sign of hope!  Even some who had already graduated came back to say 'thank you'.  They sang, danced, put on a skit, and presented us with gifts as a token of appreciation.

Hard to believe just one more day here in Dupity.  We head toward Cap Haitian at 3 am Tuesday morning and hope to be back in our own beds Tuesday night.  Less than 20 hours of travel-time, but a WORLD apart.

Maddie and Eric and already talking about coming back.  That's the best sign that the people of Haiti still can touch our hearts if we give our time to visit.  I pray that somehow God will show us to do more than just "put a band-aid where it hurts".