GOD IN OUR MIDST
Fixing Our Eyes on God
By Kathy Coffey

“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God— (Matthew 5:8).

Let—s use some comparisons to better understand this Beatitude. For instance, think of what—s within a seed: the sprout, the stem, the flower. As the 18th-century Indian poet Ghalib writes: —Hidden in this image is also its end.— The final act is there at the beginning; the overture contains all the musical themes; the process unfolds with a mysterious but natural logic to a predictable conclusion.

One example comes from the life of Dorothy Day. At the age of eight, she found a Bible in the home of her non-practicing Christian parents. As she read it, she felt she —was being introduced to someone, and I knew almost immediately that I was discovering God.— Her biographer would later call her —haunted by God.—

Pushing her baby brother in his carriage through the tenements of Chicago, she discovered the other major theme of her life: compassion with the poor. Despite an obstacle course that might make lesser souls waver, she persisted in establishing the Catholic Worker movement and its houses of hospitality. She spent time in jail for her insistence on nonviolence and remained faithful to unpopular stands. Always her closeness to Christ was the foundation for her passionate commitments to justice and peace.

In just such a natural unfolding, the clean of heart will someday look with deep joy into the face of God. Throughout their lives, they have cherished this hope and put other things aside because they have set their sights on God. With their eyes fixed on what matters most, they forget to fret about themselves.

Our Shining Model

During this process which is often costly, their shining model is Jesus. At the heart of his being, the core of his consciousness was —Abba.— The image of his Father brought him such deep joy that he could endure a difficult life and a tortured death. When the disciples misunderstood him and the people hounded him and the religious authorities tormented him and the Roman soldiers beat him, he held fast to one thing that sustained him: union with God.

If we want a picture of the —clean of heart,— we need look no further than Jesus. He had an inner freedom from the self-defensive, clinging postures that often define us. When we are insecure, we act out of fear or a sense of scarcity. —Better grab my slice of the pie,— we reason; —there—s not enough to go around.— As long as we—re shoring up our shaky egos, we don—t much care about the others we—re pushing around or ignoring in the process.

But Jesus acts always from the clean center, the sure knowledge given to the prodigal son: —Everything I have is yours already.—

The good news is, he wants us to share his experience. He wants us to have the same clean heart and interior serenity he has. —I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me— (John 17:24). He gives us to soar; he makes us to shine.

Clarity of Vision

If you meet people who are clean of heart, you—ll recognize in them the attributes of Jesus. They can shrug off little assaults on their turf; they don—t get angry about trivia. Often they have a marvelous, self-deprecating sense of humor. They can be relaxed about things that don—t matter because they know precisely what does matter. They are firmly focused on the pursuit of God—s reign. Serving God is so important that they toss aside a few things the rest of us clutch: personal comfort, career success, financial security.

And we who are saddled with obligations and cluttered with possessions: How do we become clean of heart? We could start by looking at two modern barometers of commitment: the calendar and the checkbook. (The trendy will need only their Palm Pilots.) Where have we placed our time and treasure? Where have we channeled our energies? Do our gifts serve God—s mission, creatively transforming the human community?

If our answers waver, our next step is to ask help from a God who assures: —[A]sk and you will receive; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you— (Luke 11:9).

Kathy Coffey is the author of many books, including Hidden Women of the Gospels, Experiencing God With Your Children and God in the Moment: Making Every Day a Prayer. A retreat and workshop leader, she lives with her husband and four children in Denver.

Next: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Questions for Reflection:

• Who have you met in your lifetime that was "clean of heart"? Explain.

• When you look at your calendar and checkbook, what would you have to adjust to "clean up" your heart?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."

 

FAMILY CORNER
Seeking and Finding the Truth
By Judith Dunlap

Who are the —clean of heart—? For me, such people are committed to truth and see things as they really are. They know where they fit in the great scheme of things and live their lives accordingly. It takes great effort and much searching to get to this point.

It is difficult to watch our children get there. It can be pretty scary when our youngsters begin questioning the truths we hold most sacred.

My youngest son was 14 when he put the question to me: —Mom, what if there isn—t a God?— After some discussion about what he was thinking and feeling, I realized he was just as concerned about the fact that he was questioning as the question itself. I offered some advice that I—ve tried to follow myself: —As long as you keep honestly searching for the truth, you—ll be fine.—

This search for truth can be a lifelong adventure; questioning and even doubting are often a part of the process. Our job as parents is to lay a solid faith foundation so our children feel free to ask their questions, but also know where to look for answers. We do this from their earliest years by sharing Scripture and praying with them, by talking about what we believe and by taking them to church to worship, learn and serve with their peers and the larger parish.

We cannot argue our children into faith. We cannot make them believe. We know they were gifted with faith at their Baptism and we can only trust that if they keep honestly searching for the truth they will find it. In the end they will see God, because God is truth.

For Family Response:

Ask each family member to think about the following question. "If you could ask God one question, what would it be?" Share your questions.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

Media Watch
The Rookie
By Frank Frost

Just as baseball is the American game, so The Rookie is the American-dream story.

In his youth, Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) had dreams of playing baseball, dreams thwarted by his father—s untimely military transfers. His grown-up dreams of pitching in the major leagues were ended early by an arm injury. Now he—s settled for being a high school teacher and baseball coach. He has a loving wife, Lorrie (Rachel Griffiths), and children he adores, in particular his 8-year-old son, Hunter (Angus T. Jones).

But still Jim dreams, pitching against a chain-link fence in the dark of night. He—s challenged to pursue these dreams when he confronts his baseball team after a loss. The reason they lose, he tells the high schoolers, is because they quit. They don—t dream of winning. —What about you?— they retort. Team members make a pact with their coach: If they win the district championship, he—ll try out again for professional baseball.

They win, he tries out and makes it to the majors—where he pitches for two years. If the movie weren—t based on a true story, we—d never believe it.

But that—s just the plot, not the movie. This is about much more than baseball and career ambitions. Baseball is only one metaphor in the film for pursuing your dreams. Another is striking it rich by drilling for oil. And both are placed in the realm of legend at the movie—s start. Oil workers hopelessly drilling for oil are reduced to playing baseball to pass the time, until some nuns appear to strew the site with yellow rose petals in honor of St. Rita, patron of impossible dreams. (It—s nice to have the American dream associated with the Catholic dream for a change.)

The pursuit of dreams is seen in several strands: through 10 teenagers battling great odds to win a baseball championship, through Jim—s relationship with his wife and his father, and above all in the eyes of Jim—s young son. Over and over again the camera shows us Jim through Hunter—s eyes, reacting to his father—s struggles and triumphs. And we repeatedly see Jim filtering his own determination through his motivation to be a positive model for his son.

Of course St. Rita—s intercession is efficacious, then and now. She blesses this town once more. Her assist with an impossible dream is not for Jim alone, but through him for the whole community that helped motivate him and that shares in his success.

The themes of the movie are neatly summed up by director John Lee Hancock after Jim—s glorious moment of pitching successfully in his first major league game. He reconciles with his father after many years. He—s embraced by his wife, who had doubted the wisdom of his choice, and by his children who look up to him. And when he exits the stadium, the whole town of Big Lake is there to greet him.


SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Maria Goretti (1890-1902)

Maria Goretti never went to school, never learned to read or write. But she certainly learned how to forgive. One of the last acts of her life was to pardon the young man who tried to rape her.

Maria was only 12 when she died. In those dozen years she saw firsthand many of the challenges life can bring. There was the early death of her father, the struggle of her mother to keep the family farm afloat, Maria—s ongoing responsibilities to care for her young siblings and tend to household chores as well. But she found the time to nourish her faith life as well. After special preparations she received her First Communion only two months before her death.

It was a hot July day when Maria saw Alessandro Serenelli, 18, climb the stairs of her house and approach her. Twice before he had made sexual advances and she had rebuffed him. On this day he was more insistent. He attempted to rape her, but Maria resisted him. Infuriated, the young man began striking at her with a dagger. He stabbed her 14 times, but she was able to flee.

Maria was rushed to a hospital and died 24 hours later. Meanwhile, Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Unrepentant for many years, he experienced a conversion following a dream in which Maria appeared to him and offered him lilies. He begged the family—s forgiveness. Upon his release from prison, he visited Maria—s mother to personally ask for her pardon.

Maria was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950. One quarter million people were present. Among them was an elderly man who was weeping. His name was Alessandro Serenelli.

St. Maria Goretti—s feast day is July 6.

Heather Gallagher

As a young girl, Heather Gallagher learned about sex and the importance of chastity from her parents. She learned about such things on an entirely different level years later, when she went to college and lived in a sorority house and then studied abroad.

What she saw in forceful and often painful ways was the price—especially the emotional price—that young people pay when they become sexually active before marriage. In their search for love and respect, she found, they often experienced despair and hopelessness instead.

—God calls us to chastity—not to take something away but to give us the most,— Heather told Every Day Catholic. That is the message she delivers regularly in her role as chastity educator for the Retreat, Evangelization and Prayer Team (REAP) of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

She estimates that she has spoken to 15,000 teens through retreats, parish programs and youth groups during her two years as part of the REAP Team. —Chastity is respecting sex so much you keep it in your marriage. If you want it in your marriage, practice it now,— she advises her audiences.

At the conclusion of the team members— presentations the girls and boys in the audience are invited to take chastity commitment cards home. Heather, 26 and single, encourages the young people to —pray about what they have heard.— Though there is no formal feedback process, she stays in touch with many of them by e-mail. Some have told her that she has —turned their lives around— and helped them see —what God—s plan is— for them.

Heather is there to —plant the seed.— From there on, she trusts —that God will be present with them.—

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)



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