We often hear about police brutality and injustice incurred by some law enforcement officers. We also hear atrocities done by ecclesiastical leaders and clerics that drove people away and hurt the Church‘s image and reputation in a very negative way. I am not denying that they are wrong and should be reprimanded and/or punished for their actions, but I wonder how many actually are willing to hold the same standards of judgment to the very friends, family members, or people that they know, care, or have some types of sentimental or personal affinity toward. What would they really think if those bad actions are caused by the same people who have done wrong but are able to get excused, a blind eye turned, get matters hidden or covered.
Of course, there are rotten people everywhere, and those who are caught and covered often quickly get labeled, condemned, and called out by the news media and the reactionary crowds. Hence, the natural and raw anger, frustration, or reactionary emotions and sentiments quickly get transferred or projected to the condemned and to those who are related or seem to be in the same category as they are. It is right to call out the wrong and to seek, demand, and require better, just, equitable, caring, and more compassionate service, words, and actions for civil, professional, and pastoral leaders and representatives, but we also have to be careful not to lump or general the good, silent, and faithful ones with the rotten, corrupted, and bad individuals. Hence, there was a recent encounter and story that I would like to share with you to make this point of what we can do and be for one another as servant leaders of our local and greater community, especially as Christians who are led, motivated, and transformed daily by our loving faithfulness and service like Christ.
First of all, I would like to share that one of my three parishes, St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Burkburnett hosts and maintains a Blessing Box as an outreach effort with two other local Christian churches. What is a Blessing Box, you asked!?! Simply put, it is a box that anyone can put any non-perishable goods or foods to be shared and bless others. Hence, anyone who is in need can come by and take up any items that they need from the box – no questions asked. Throughout our years of maintaining this effort, we have gained and learned many valuable lessons taught by the community at large, as well as the individuals who have received blessings from this simple ministry. We have seen firsthand the generous efforts of our very own parishioners as well as people from the community doing their parts to keep the Blessing Box stocked and filled for others. We have seen the elderly, children, and even people who have little done their parts to help our effort, too. We are humbled and taught by the Lord through the example of others that all can do as best as we can — no matter how big or small — to care for others!
Even though we have also suffered throughout the years with numerous cases of inconsiderate and ill-willed acts of vandalism, and it does get frustrating at times, the good that comes from the ministry far outweighs the need to get held back by the unfortunate inconveniences caused. Even though it gets disheartening to find our box and its donated goods get destroyed, scattered, or misused on occasions, none of that can ever outmatch the real good that we are able to give and bless those in need. Even though we have seen people who took everything and left nothing for others, and it does get tempting to judge their intentions at times, we pray that they genuinely find the appropriate help through those donated items. Even though parishioners and others tell us to put up cameras around the box to provide better protection and surveillance from vandalism and abuse, I always insisted on protecting the anonymity and dignity of the poor. Being poor myself in the past, I want people to have the freedom to find help without being tracked or looked at as obstacles or spectacles. Even though there are good intentions of how to better do things, especially to protect the valuable donated goods, the Blessing Box teaches us that true charity has its challenges, but we should never stop doing good even though it gets challenging.
For me, as a Catholic and a priest, I have seen charity being misused and simply acts as a slogan, propaganda, or self-serving political or social purpose. In a day and age where we hear a lot about tolerance, goodness, equality, and all the typical “trigger” words that advocate for a more caring, compassionate, and understanding society and world, it is important that we truly practice charity in a personal, humble, and unpretentious way. Instead of using charity as a way to attract attention, glorify one’s self, gain popularity or create a false self-image, we are called to truly care and love others in a patient and willing way, even when it gets hard and challenging at times. Only true charity and love will change the world, especially when each and every one of us lives as the Lord teaches instead of vainly pursuing and promoting empty, vocal, and meaningless political or social agendas. Hence, this leads me to my next point and story learned…
One day, the parish secretary and I saw a police patrol vehicle stopped and an officer was talking to a teenager in front of our Blessing Box. Wanting to give them privacy, we kept an eye from the Parish Office but paid attention to what was going on. After the conversation, the police officer came to talk to me. He explained that the teen had a rough day at school and decided to put frustrations at our Blessing Box. Being misunderstood for something that was wrongly blamed for, it was easier to put that sentimental and emotional reaction toward something else. It was wrong and the action destroyed several good items that could have been used for others, but I thought what the police officer did was commendable. Instead of doing the typical police actions prescribed by the law, he took the time to talk to the young person. I believe that this type of policing and human response is much better than what we would typically do or react as human beings! When we take the time to talk to a person, it empowers the person and, at the same time, teaches valuable life lessons. By learning to take the time to respond instead of reacting, we lead others to a higher state of dialogue, learning, understanding, and communication instead of turning to destructive raw, emotionally, or sentimentally reactionary actions. When we dialogue and communicate effectively, our respect, care, and compassion empower people as we respect their dignity as human beings, and much more for us as Christians, because we see in them His image and likeness — as children of God.
In a day and age where we have so many people who are angry, frustrated, and reactive all the time, it is important that we choose real, charitable, and compassionate responses that care, empower, dialogue, communicate, and dignify each individual. In a day and age when people learn to immediately fall back to their raw, humanistic, and reactive measures to prove themselves right when something is wrong, it is important to learn to dialogue and communicate with patience and respect. In a day and age where people are constantly being sensationally bombarded, provoked, agitated, wired, and told by the news media to be on edge as they are constantly being filled with redundant political messages, popular social and agenda-driven slogans, never-ending “breaking news” feeds, and self-centered social media interactions, many have lost what it means to step back, think, communicate, and respond as genuine human beings. Therefore, it is important to slow down, reflect, pray, and respond with what the Lord has taught us to do and called us to act as His disciples, instruments of peace of the Holy Spirit, and as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
If we just take a moment to open our eyes, we shall be able to tell what our society and its popular social networking and news media platforms are constantly trying to feed us. If we step back and look at the fruits that have been bored by these typical “news” outlets, we will see its shallow, reactionary, meaningless, and oftentimes, rotten fruits that do not give life. If we truly and humbly pray, reflect, and discern what is being told to us by sensationalistic news media, even ones that labeled themselves to be Catholic, we will see that everything that they said is nothing but empty, vain, and temporary “connecting the dots” for momentary reactions. They have nothing real to give except to poke, agitate, stir up, and play with our emotional or sentimental reactions as to sell money-making air time, advertisements, and web clicks, constantly moving from one story, matter, or thing to the next.
Therefore, let us take the time to find life in Him through humble prayer, patient discernment, genuine reflection, and faithful perseverance in what we are called to do! In a day and age where everything is quick, temporary, and reactionarily vain and empty, let us choose to respond with true charity by doing what is right and to follow the Lord with genuine loving faithfulness and perseverance. We are called and have to personally choose to do what is right even when it gets disheartening and challenging by allowing our charity and love of God to shine forth in the darkest of time. Even when things get hard, we pick up the pieces thrown at us and do what is called of us. We are only Christians if we live in words, actions, life, and deeds, standing firm and committed to what He has taught and given to us as commandments and teachings through His very own life examples. Simply put, let us choose to bless others by the blessings He has given us; and, we ourselves, too, may learn to humbly come to Him to receive His grace-filled strength and blessing for our very own life and journey. No matter what other people might be doing or abandoning, reacting or discouraging, agitating or condemning others to make themselves feel good, we keep on being firm and faithful to what we are called to do at all costs! May we see in honesty the true fruits that can and will bear when we choose to be blessed by Him and be blessings for one another out of love for Him.