Certainly the past 18 months have presented challenges unique in most of our lives. In these difficult times, it's wise and helpful to remember the lessons that the Scriptures and the writings and the lives of the Saints teach us.
1. Turning the bad times into good times
We have been here before, and chances are we will find ourselves here again - history shows us that this is the way of this world. What to do? Saint Augustine answers:
"Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times."
2. "You are the light of the world."
What an incredible statement by Christ! As men and women of prayer, we are not weak, we are not powerless. And together, our seemingly small lights can bring a great illumination.
In the 1940's a religious teacher brought his students to a nighttime concert at the Hollywood Bowl. At one point small candles were distributed to the audience members, and at a signal everyone lit their candle. The amphitheater was gloriously illuminated! The lesson being ended, the teacher led his students out of the concert.
3. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
These words from Saint James the Apostle should not be taken lightly. The history of the Church abounds in stories of the miraculous effect of prayer, and even science has finally begun to catch up with the religion and realize this.
In 1988 Dr. Randolph Byrd organized a double-blind study of 393 patients in a coronary unit, dividing them into two randomized groups, one of which was put on a list to receive intercessory prayer on their behalf without their knowledge. The other group was a control and was not prayed for. The study concluded that the patients in the first group scored statistically lower in the severity of their medical needs, showing that prayers even from remote strangers positively affected the outcome of their medical treatment. It works! (But you already knew that.)
4. Don't forget your heavenly friends
The sense of isolation and of powerlessness are probably what make difficult times so painful for so many. But as Christians, we are never alone, we are never helpless. Don't forget to call on your heavenly friends, who are always ready and eager to help you and all those you pray for - the holy angels, the saints, and of course our Lord and the Blessed Virgin. "The Church Militant" is not just a metaphor. We are part of, and surrounded by a great heavenly army.
When the king of Syria sent a great army to capture the prophet Elisha, the prophet's terrified servant cried "What shall we do?" Mystically seeing the great angelic army which God had sent to protect him, Elisha told his servant: "Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." (2 Kings 6:16)
5. Pray for your enemies
Christ taught that we must recognize the reality of evil in the world; ours is not a faith of rose-colored glasses. As Christians, how should we react to this evil? Among other things, Christ taught us to pray for our enemies. Think of the tortured condition of the people wreaking havoc in the world at this time. As difficult as it may be, let us bring them too before God in prayer, that His light will drive the darkness out of their hearts and minds.
After some months of their imprisonment in a Ravensbruck concentration camp because they concealed Jews in their home in Holland, the two Dutch sisters Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom learned the identity of the Dutch man who had colluded with the Nazis and betrayed their family. Corrie brimmed with hatred for the man who had brought such suffering literally to their doorstep. Her father was dead because of this man, and it was because of that traitor that Betsie was slowly dying. When she asked her sister "Doesn't it bother you?" she replied "Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I've felt for him ever since I knew--and pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind."
As Betsie grew weaker, she kept insisting that she and Corrie had work to do after the war. She planned to have rehabilitation homes - with green paint and window boxes - for concentration camp survivors as well as for people who had helped the Nazis.
6. Heroes great and small
Thank God there are heroes among us -- like the U.S. veterans of the Afghan war who recently came together to organize the "Pineapple Express," the covert operation that safely exited 500 Afghan allies and their families from Kabul. Although most of us lack the abilities and opportunity for such great acts, we do not have to look far to see where we can be of help. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta taught: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
7. Acquiring the spirit of peace
Lest we be distracted in doing good and saving the world, let us remember that the most important work we are called to as Christians is the purification of our own hearts and lives. And our faith gives us so many means to accomplish this: the Sacraments, the Rosary and prayer of the Holy Name, the guidance of the Scriptures, and the living presence of the Saints and Angels who are ever ready to support and inspire us. If we feel called to save the world, let's not forget to save ourselves first. Since we are the light of the world, let's make sure our candle is burning brightly!
"Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved." (Russian mystic Saint Seraphim of Sarov)
8. When things get overwhelming...
Many of us have been personally touched by the difficulties of these recent years. It hasn't been easy. In these painful circumstances, it's good to remember the profound last words of Betsie Ten Boom' to her sister Corrie, as she lay dying in a stretcher on the floor of Ravensbruck concentration camp: "We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.'"
9. "Pray, hope, and DON'T WORRY."
This advice from Saint Pio of Pietrelcina has a very practical aspect for our modern age of instant information, vivid images of disaster, and the media's self-appointed prophets of doom. Let's not join the crowd of "worriers."
You become what you contemplate. Don't spend so much time with the news. Spend more time filling your mind with "the things above," and the "things below" will take care of themselves.