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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Staff Meeting Prayer

My turn rolled around again to provide the devotional/prayer for our staff meeting, so I prepared the following as an outline (in its written form below):

Just after Thanksgiving, in 1990, I was part of a work mission to Lima, Peru. I was a senior in High School, the Reds had just won the World Series – for you Cubs fans, I’ll explain what winning a World Series is later – and I was living a pretty comfortable life. It wasn’t much by a lot of standards: I grew up in a single parent household with a mom who had to work a lot of hours to make ends meet, and yet I was never really wanting for anything either. My “burden” – if you will – was that maybe I got less expensive clothes and shoes than my friends, didn’t have such elaborate birthdays or Christmas morning wasn’t going to see hundreds of dollars worth of toys under the tree. Growing up I still had a bike, plenty of baseball cards and comic books, and lots of the other material trappings of childhood. Maybe we weren’t as well off as my friend Richard Kornilack (after all, his father owned a Delorian, like the car in the movie Back to the Future), but things weren’t bad either.

In Lima, I saw just how “not bad” things were for me, and – in reality – for anyone living in the United States. There were whole hill sides covered in small Mat Huts, so named because they were literally homes made by propping four straw mats together, with a fifth mat to provide the roof. Rice – an American side dish or the base of my frequent Chinese carryout – served as three meals a day for some. The difference between lower-middle class in the US and the conditions in most of Peru were stark, and I realized even a relatively poor kid in Hamilton, Ohio lived like a king compared to many people in the world.

When we returned from the trip, it was just a few days before my 18th birthday. My grandfather had purchased and installed a new radio and tape deck in the car I had (what had just a few weeks earlier been “just a used car” when compared to some of the cars other people at school drove). They took me out to the car after we got home from the airport, and when I turned it on, a tape recording of my mom and grandfather singing happy birthday came on. I wept; the full weight of my blessings suddenly so obvious. It’s a lesson I do well to remember from time to time.

Everything we have is a blessing from God. The question for us in such a rich country is whether those blessings are a help or a hindrance in our relationship to Him. St. Rose of Lima has an “optional” memorial today, August 23rd. But as I contemplated her story, and the story of our selves, our families, our parish, I couldn’t help but see her example as one that ties so strongly into the concept of stewardship.

Stewardship is seen, I think, as a gimmick or a code word for raising money and getting more “stuff” for the Church: money, items donated, people’s time, volunteers, whatever. The reality is this: stewardship is a conversion of our hearts, to the point where we can look at our homes, our cars, our other material blessings as wonderful things that we can utilize toward a higher goal. Stewardship is breaking the hold of the things that easily distract us and can even become idols in our lives.

Our modern example of this was Mother Teresa, but 400 years or so before her, came St. Rose. We may not each be called to give up everything we have (though some of us certainly are), but we are – at the very least – called to keep our material blessings in context. Our freedom of time, our ability to accomplish certain things, and the monetary resources we are given, can all be wonderful tools, as long as we keep them in their proper place.

St. Rose of Lima
Memorial, August 23rd

Rose de Flores was born in Lima, Peru in 1586. Her given name was Isabel, but she was known as Rose because of her great beauty. She objected when people paid attention to her beauty because she found their praise and attention to be obstacles to humility. She is even said to have rubbed her face with pepper to produce blotches, scars, and discoloration of her skin to lessen her beauty, and she cut her hair short in an attempt to be less noticed.

Rose wanted to enter a convent, but her family refused to allow it. Instead, she lived in a small enclosure in her family’s garden, doing needlework to earn money for her family. Eventually, she was permitted to become a part of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. During the final three years of her short life, Rose lived in the house of a government official where she set up a room to care for homeless children, the elderly, and the sick. At the age of 31, Rose died. The city of Lima marked her passing with a heroine’s funeral in which prominent men of the city took turns carrying her coffin.

Rose wrote: “The Lord our savior lifted up His voice and said with unparalleled majesty: ‘All must understand that grace comes only after tribulation. They must realize that without the weight of afflictions they cannot reach the heights of grace…without the cross they cannot find the path to attain heaven.”

Her spiritual focus was to attain inner purity, and to banish self-love so that she might be filled with the love of Christ. She attempted to live out St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor 1:28-30: “God chose the world’s lowborn and despised - those who count for nothing - to reduce to nothing those who were something; so that mankind can do no boasting before God. God it is who has given you life in Jesus Christ.”

In the Gospel of St. John (Chapter 1, verse 35), Jesus asks the two disciples, “What are you looking for?” If Jesus were to ask us that, what would we answer? Would we be embarrassed by our answer? Are we looking for – or seeking – material goods or are we more concerned with seeking God?

Too often, we look for material prosperity, even though true happiness comes not from material goods but from spiritual riches. We look for security, even though the best things God gives us are often the surprises in life. We look for understanding, acceptance, and closeness from others, even though our impatient hearts remain restless until they rest in God. We look for physical health and fitness, even though eternity hangs on the wellness of our souls, not our bodies. We look for and long for good things of this life, even though the things that will not fade or be corrupted are the eternal things of God.

St. Rose of Lima dedicated her life to minimizing the effects of material goods, the security of family, and the short-term happiness that comes from the compliments of others. She focused instead on the things that would see her through eternity: generosity, empathy, spiritual wellness, and a devotion to God that was self-sacrificing. And so we pray that we too may seek things of an eternal nature:

“O God, you filled St. Rose with love for You, and enabled her to leave the world and be free for You, through the austerity of penance. Through her intercession, help us to follow in her footsteps on earth, and enjoy the torrent of Your delights in heaven.”


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At 10:47 AM, Blogger Dk said...

Eric, as you can imagine I loved this article. Your Peru trip affected all of us, loved reliving those days. I'm very proud of you and love the blog.....don't block me! LOL

Love you,


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