Saturday, May 30, 2015

(159) Graduates & All: Make a Difference For Good in Your Careers........The Power of the Individual: Every person can do something to change the world a little bit at a time

          As professor emeritus I continue to attend the University of Rio Grande Commencement every year as well as the special Sunday Mass at St. Louis Church Gallipolis, Ohio for all of the new high school graduates in the parish.  I like to give each person I know a hug and a request: “Don’t forget your great mission for God and Country”.  Indeed God has a special mission for each one of us and we will not die until we have the opportunity to accomplish that mission to the point that God wills.  However, the mission has little meaning and will bear few fruits without a close relationship with God through prayer and trusting in His will.  We depend upon Him for His help and strength according to His will.  At the same time I give each one of them the following reflection.

GRADUATES & ALL:  MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR GOOD
     

            This is the season for graduation from high school and college and also a time to think:  What am I going to do with my life to make a difference for good?  Older parents, relatives, and friends should also reflect:  In the time I have left, what can I do to make the world a little bit better?  Young graduates, never lose the ideals of your youth; don’t fall into the cynicism that age can bring.  Never lose your youthful enthusiasm.

          AMDG. There is one overriding principle for life:  Ad majorem Dei gloriam or its abbreviation often put at the top of letters or other personal writing, AMDG.  It is the Latin motto of the Jesuit order which means “For the greater glory of God”.  That is to discern God’s will for our lives and try to follow His will in everything we do as we serve Him and His people either as a leader or as a member of a team working with others, all contributing to the family, the community, the parish, and/or the organization that produces a good or a service.  Remember the little way of St. Therese, the Little Flower; “Do little things well for the love of God”.  Upon getting out of bed every day, say a short morning offering to the Lord everything you do that day.

            Every one of us can do something to further Christ’s kingdom on earth……a kingdom where love prevails and people care about each other instead of taking each other…….in the family, in the parish, in the community, in the organization where we work in little or big ways by prayer and example, by word and deed.  Work for something bigger than yourself.  Even the bedridden can make a most valuable contribution by offering his/her sufferings to God as a dynamic prayer for the Church, the Missions, a better world, and for his loved ones.  Every saint had to suffer before reaching glory and sooner or later we will suffer also.  Properly taken as a preparation for eternity, suffering can lead to sanctity.  “No cross, no crown”.  No life is a waste as long as s/he surrenders him/herself to the will of God, prays, tries to love, and aspires to serve others in little or big ways. 


            Inspiring is the life of Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest.  He was a Polish-American who was raised in a tough neighborhood.  In the late 1930s Pope Pius XI asked for missionary priests to volunteer to serve the persecuted Church in Soviet Russia.  Knowing Polish, Russian was easy for him.  So he clandestinely crossed into Stalinist Communist Russia.  Finally he was caught and confined to Russian prisons and the Gulag or slave labor camps in frigid Siberia for 23 years.  Thinking himself as tough, Fr. Walter thought he could take anything that the Communists could dish out.  Trying to maintain control, he was miserable.  Finally, Fr. Ciszek surrendered himself to the will of God with complete trust in Him.  He attributed every cross to His permissive will in that God generally does not send suffering, but allows it to happen as part of the human condition after the Fall of Man.  That complete resignation to the will of God turned his misery into joy as he ministered to those around him, thus making him a saint, now on the road to canonization.  In 1963 the U.S. Government traded two Russian spies for his release.  He shared his experience to strengthen the faith of the people back home until his death in 1984.  You can read his two major books published by Ignatius Press and also available at amazon.com: “With God in Russia” and “He Leadeth Me”.

             The Christophers. As a youth in college, I encountered the Christophers, founded by Fr. James Keller, a Maryknoll priest in the 1940s.  It has had a profound influence on my life.  Christopher comes from the Greek, "Cristoforos", meaning Christ bearer.  According to its name, the Christopher movement is directed to the lay person to bring Christ to all segments of Society, especially through the critical professions of education, government, social work, social communications, and labor-management relations.

St. Christopher

                                          
          Their motto comes from the Chinese proverb: "Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness".  With such a positive attitude and willingness to serve, you’ll have a happier and more satisfying life.  May we light many candles in the classroom, the work place, the home, the parish, in our community activities, and even at social gatherings.  And through our children, students, subordinates, or colleagues may we illuminate the entire country, as Fr. Keller envisioned in his book, “You Can Change the World” and “Change the World From Your Parish”.


  Their monthly pamphlet, the "Christopher Notes", is quite interesting and have been excellent for my personal and professional development.  They've given me many insights and practical ideas about diverse topics of daily living as well as how to be a more effective apostle in whatever state of life and/or job one has.  They are very inspirational.  You can obtain a free subscription by writing to The Christophers; 12 East 45th St.; New York, NY 10017 or www.christophers.org.  They are willing to send them in quantity free to schools and youth groups every month.  They also have fine books, videos, and audio tapes.  Their TV program, "Christopher Closeup" is great.  It's on the Faith & Values channel, EWTN cable and satellite, and on the internet at www.ewtn.com/tv.  

            Making a Difference Wherever You Are. The Christopher movement has been a great influence upon me since I was an undergraduate in college.....especially their emphasis upon individual responsibility for making the world just a little bit better because of you.....that God has given each one of us a special mission, a mission that He has not given to any other.  One person can do little to change the world, but you can do something.....a little today, a little tomorrow, and a little the next day.  Then with God's help, the accumulation of many small deeds over a career can add to greatness (grounded in humility).....as great as many noted people in history, who have only one or two major positive accomplishments or contributions, but nothing more.  Thus, you can change the world.  The key to great achievements and greatness itself is perseverance.....a little every day as God works through each one of us.  Continue learning in order to serve God and people more effectively.

         Each one of us in our careers touches the lives of hundreds of people.  For you, it could be in the thousands someday, especially if you’re in mass communications, a teacher, writer, musician, actor, or a leader.  There must be many unknown heroes and saints out there who do their little bit every day for God, Country, community, parish, family, and neighbor.  In the inner cities, for example, there are mothers who raise great persons for the Lord despite having been abandoned by their husbands.  There are the sick and the hurting who offer their crosses as dynamic prayers for a better world. When you die, nobody will remember nor care how much money you made, but how you enriched other people's lives in little or big ways.....beginning with the immediate family and reaching out to groups or individuals in the work place, the parish, and the community.
 
          Enriching people's lives ---starting with the family is crucial since a child benefits more from and later remembers a parent's time in quality and quantity more than the toys showered upon him or her--- may be just little things........being there when somebody needs help or a patient understanding ear, giving someone a little time even when in a hurry, a kind word of encouragement and praise that reinvigorates,  a greeting and a smile that communicates a little love,  accepting one who is difficult to like, being patient with one who taxes one's patience.  A bit of kindness or just being nice with a big smile that communicates a little love can make a person’s day.  I have an ideal and a desire.....that when I die the world will be just a little bit better because of me.  We wish the same for you.

            Dealing with Failures. Inevitably, at times things will not go well.  Occasionally, there will be opposition, criticism, frustration, disappointment, and failure.  Offer that up too and don’t give up; don’t quit.  Our Lord also values your failed efforts done in loving Him and His people.  Remember the words of Blessed Mother of Calcutta: “God does not ask that we be successful, but to be faithful” to Him and the vocation He has called us to.  "God doesn't require us to succeed; He only requires that you try."  “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action.”  “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”  “If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” 

           From the Christophers, came my ideal of putting Christ into Business and other organizations through our students.  Bishop Sheen promoted: “Put Christ into the Market Place”. If every alumnus from your school or every member of your parish, for example, would light just one candle, we could illuminate the whole country. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

(158) Becky Riepenhoff's Journey Up the Mountain, Her Message, and Our Own Personal Journeys Soon to Come

AMDG


     Today (May 22) marks one year since the passing of Elizabeth Ann “Becky” Skidmore Riepenhoff, who left an indelible mark upon the parish of St. Louis Church Gallipolis, Ohio.  Her spirit was unsinkable as shown in the following article she wrote in 2011.  She inspired and taught us and the citizens of Gallia, Meigs, and Mason (WV) Counties through the newspaper.  Becky continued to inspire and teach us in our parish community until her death in 2014 at the age of 57 as we’ll elaborate in the epilogue after her article.  Her husband Jay, ever true to his marriage vows, was always faithfully with her through it all…….another great lesson for our very fragile marriages of today. 

Journey Up the Mountain: My Message of Faith, Hope and Love 
Written By Becky Skidmore Riepenhoff
  Published in the Gallipolis (Ohio) Sunday Times-Sentinel October 23, 2011

       In the early spring of 2009, I started having pains in my neck, shoulders, lower back, right hip, and leg.  Since I have always had yearly checkups and quit smoking and drinking at age 35, I just thought: “This will go away”.  No one wants to hear someone complain.  We were taught to keep your complaints to yourself.  Needless to say, the pain became worse.  I had leg cramps that would literally take me to the ground.

       I called my primary care physician.  He saw me and said I probably pulled some muscle and suggested physical therapy.  This was June.  Needless to say, I didn’t go.  We know our own bodies, and there was no way I could do physical therapy.  The pain worsened, and I saw my primary care physician four more times----no relief.

        This past February, I was suffering 24 hours a day.  My pain was a 10.  I called my primary care physician again, went to see him, explained my pain to him, and told him I spent most of my time on two heating pads.  I would take a rolling pin and roll it up and down my right leg to try to relieve some of the pain.  I explained to him that I had a chance to see a pain management doctor, but my primary care physician wouldn’t refer me until I went to physical therapy.  “No way”, I thought.  When I arrived home, I was in tears.  My pain was horrific.  My husband Jay said, “You need a second opinion; you can’t continue to live like this.

        Jay called Dr. Doug Jones.  Dr. Jones saw me that afternoon and, within four day, Dr. Jones had diagnosed me, and I was on my way to Adena for more tests and to see an oncologist.  Dr. Doug Jones saved my life.  When you’re sitting in the doctor’s office and he tells you that you have cancer, you go into an out-of-body experience.  You say, “No, not me.  This is not happening.”  Then all of the negative thoughts flood your mind:  death, family.  “Oh no”, you say to yourself.  “I’m not going to die.  I’m fighting for my life.”  I call my cancer the “Devil’s curse”.  My treatments I call “climbing the mountain”, and when I reach the top, that will be remission.  My doctor says there is no cure for my cancer, but it is treatable.  I won’t accept that.  I believe in miracles.  They happen every day.  I believe in the power of prayer.
 
        I cannot begin to thank all of my friends, family and acquaintances, and people who have heard about me through other friends, from all the prayers, cards, flowers, phone calls, and, of course, Facebook messages.  If you have been diagnosed recently with a life-threatening disease, or you just need someone to talk to or pray with, you can call me.  I’ll be right over.  I can help!

       I will never give up.  I’m climbing the mountain every day.  With all my prayer warriors, I will reach the top.  It’s in sight.  (Becky Riepenhoff has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the immunoglobulin producing plasma cells found in the bone marrow.  It is a cancer that involves the immune system.)

Epilogue

          Becky did climb to the top of the mountain and did have a remission.  She utilized that precious time to again teach our kids in our Parish School of Religion.  Even after the cancer came back, she heroically continued to teach until it was physically impossible.  One Sunday she somehow made it to Mass in a wheelchair for one last time.  Heartwarming was seeing her kids who were present come up to her one by one and give her big hugs.  She loved those kids so much and they reciprocated that love.  May Becky inspire us to learn more about the beauty and richness of our faith through spiritual reading and in our parish Bible Study and then share it with our children and friends.  Even though parents are the primary educators in the faith, the need for good teachers is great in our Parish School of Religion to help parents with their crucial mission of passing on the faith to the next generation.

        I also found a card Becky wrote to her “sister in faith” with a gift of a prayer shawl three months before her death.  Each stitch in the two shawls crocheted by a friend of hers was a prayer for healing.  She wrote: “I know you understand and love Jesus like I do.  So wear your prayer shawl proudly and serve the Lord.  In God’s love and mine, Sister Becky……..Praise the Lord and all his gifts to us.”  What a demonstration of heroic faith in the midst of adversity!  Becky continued with her unshakeable love of God and unsinkable trust His providence.

      Indeed Becky is healed now.  She certainly received the ultimate healing of everything that might have ailed her.......healing in eternity of all physical, spiritual, and emotional wounds and imperfections.

        Why didn’t God give Becky a complete healing on earth?  Why did He allow the cancer to come back?  Why didn’t He let us have this treasure (Becky) for a few more years?  These are mysteries that even the most learned theologians cannot really answer.  Becky couldn’t either, but she did know how to trust that God would make a much greater good out of all that she went through.  Becky did know that by uniting her crosses with the Lord’s cross and by offering them up to Him as a dynamic prayer for the Church, the missions, a better world, and for her loved ones…… her suffering would bear much fruit.  St. Therese the Little Flower taught us that in her book, “Story of a Soul”.  St. Pope John-Paul developed a theology of suffering.  See my blog #133 at paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com for the link and more detail.

       In fact, Becky was a member of the Third Order of the Victim Soul movement.  The members resign themselves completely to the Divine Will.  Thus they attribute everything negative that happens to them as part of the permissive will of God (He generally does not cause suffering, but allows it to happen as part of the human condition)…… offering all of the crosses to God for humanity of the past (time does not exist for God), present, and future.  See www.divinewill.org and www.divinewilltrinity.org.  All of our prayers were very useful; they helped Becky to get through all of this and climb the ultimate mountain to her heavenly reward and her ultimate healing.       

       The Quest for Holiness.  One priest commented:  “Those who die of cancer die like saints” because they have the opportunity to prepare.  That’s certainly true if one spiritualizes the suffering and continues to trust.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and every saint without exception have had to suffer to reach their glory.  Can we expect to be different and have an easy road to heaven?  That’s all part of the human condition that began with the Fall of Man (generic) in the Garden of Eden.  Suffering is an opportunity to attain holiness, an absolute necessity to come before the throne of God……..if not here then certainly in purgatory, that happy but extremely difficult place of purification.
   
        May the example of Becky’s courage and faith strengthen each one of us, who sooner or later will have to confront cancer, heart disease, some serious accident, the crosses of old age, or some other infirmity in our own personal journeys to eternity.   The way Becky carried her cross made her a saint.  With the help of God’s grace our crosses properly carried with faith, trust, and courage will also make each one of us a saint someday.  Thank you Becky for all that you did in our parish and are continuing to do with your prayers.  Becky, you victoriously climbed the ultimate mountain (your personal Calvary) to heaven.  May we follow you on the journey up this ultimate mountain and do as well with our personal Calvaries.   May we be faithful to Christ and His Church.  Then we’ll all be together again with joyful hugs of VICTORY!