The Way We Talk To Each Other Matters


In the spring and early summer of 1994, I was a sophomore in college. I spent the late semester gnashing my teeth about who got which solo parts in the orchestra, and my summer working on the farm. I was aware enough of the world to know something awful was going on in a country I’d never heard of on the other side of the Atlantic, but it was hard to get worked up about it, especially since there was nothing I could do.

Fast forward twenty years. Someone somewhere on the internet mentions a book called Left to Tell, a memoir of the Rwandan genocide. I check it out of the library and suddenly I am carrying it around the house reading while I prepare food and unload the dishwasher, because I cannot put it down.

It’s a horrible story, and Immaculée Ilibagiza doesn’t pull her punches. This story is compelling and so nauseating because of the way people turned on neighbors and friends. People they had been interacting with, going to school with, working with, worshiping with, for years. Ilibagiza tells of kids who grew up as friends suddenly hacking those friends to death. And over what?

Photo by billadler, via Flickr

An ethnic distinction so subtle, they had to have ID cards to make it clear, because they simply couldn’t tell by looking.

We can’t imagine something like this happening in America. We have free and open media that doesn’t spew the kind of ugliness toward groups that she describes in the leadup to the genocide. Our open elections and diverse population prevent us from ever falling down this kind of path.

Well, sort of.

Photo by cobalt123, via Flickr

See, it was language that stirred up the hatred. Propaganda that was so outlandish, reasonable people didn’t give it credit. They just ignored it, figuring nobody could possibly be swayed by language so dehumanizing, so polarizing, and so obviously not based on reason.

And a huge amount of the political, philosophical and religious discourse in America also fits that description.

Photo by tuaussi, via Flickr

The political fundraising letters, written in cataclysmic terms full of bold-face and italicized language, making sweeping generalizations about the motivations and even the worth of those who think differently from you and threatening apocalypse if you don’t act RIGHT NOW.

The Facebook diatribes beginning with the words “I’m sorry, but…” (or any other number of inflammatory openers).

The anonymous (or not anonymous) comments left on blog posts and news articles, ripping into previous commenters with scathing derision.

The email forwards whose only purpose is to stir up self-righteous indignation and “mobilize the base” (which translates to “move to the extreme position and dehumanize everyone who doesn’t come with you”).

Photo by Les_Stockton, via Flickr

Political ads of all stripes, narrated in a tone of voice full of derision and scorn while using half-truths and skewed facts to bamboozle a lazy electorate into thinking issues are black and white, when really they are very nuanced and can only be prised apart by–gasp–the application of REASON.

What I’m listing is not at the same level as what Ilibagiza describes. But it is definitely on the same spectrum.

We do not want to be on that spectrum.

So I’m just asking everyone to stop and think before you react. Before you make any statement about gays/Muslims/Catholics/Protestants/damn liberals/damn conservatives/whites/blacks/cops/municipal leaders/homeless/poor/fat cats/fill in the blank. What sort of tone of voice are you using? What sort of descriptors? Are you using your God-given intellect, or are you expressing bigotry and prejudice through an emotional reaction?

Think about the human dignity of whoever you’re tearing into.

The stakes are too high not to.

Guest Post: Blessed Are the Peacemakers (This Little Light of Mine Blog Tour, week 7)


Today’s guest post comes from Barb Mecker. Barb is my sister-in-law’s mother and a woman I respect tremendously for her love, faith, and passion for life. I hope you will enjoy her thoughts on making peace in this decidedly unpeaceful world.


Barb Mecker Hammond photoWhen I hear the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God,” I often flash back to my days as a peace activist in the late 60s and early 70s. I participated in anti-war marches, volunteered at the Syracuse Peace Council, and managed the local War Tax Resistance Fund.  We certainly had “saints” to whom we looked for inspiration:  Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan and his brother Phil, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and especially for me, Loretto sisters Mary Luke Tobin, Cecily Jones, and many others. We had secular saints who inspired us as well: singers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and so many others; movie stars such as Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Paul Newman. These folks created lots of energy and enthusiasm for the peace movement, probably much like the energy and enthusiasm of children.

Over the years, I have participated at various levels in the anti-nuclear movement, the women’s movement, the protests against the Iraqi War, and the protests to close the School of the Americas (SOA). Mostly though, I had to figure out how to be peaceful in my own life, amidst the stresses of being a wife, mother, teacher, daughter, sister, etc. That to me seemed much more immediate and far more challenging! I really felt far less successful at establishing peace in these personal realms than I did at working for peace on a global level.

Thankfully, I am now retired, my children are grown, and I face far fewer personal challenges to living a somewhat peaceful life than I used to. When I look at issues of peace in the larger world, however, they seem more challenging than ever, both within our own country and within the world, and even within the universe. We don’t really seem to have the inspiring saints that we had during the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war days, or even the days of the women’s movement. How do we work for peace in the current age?

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverMany of us in the Loretto Community have been reading a book by James O’Dea entitled Cultivating Peace:  Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador. He believes that we must go beyond the traditional ways we have worked for peace—with protests, marches, demonstrations, and even conflict resolution. He is not disheartened by the apparent lack of charismatic leaders because he believes that at this time, each of us is capable of being a global leader. Like Jesus says in the Beatitudes, we must cultivate peace in our own lives first, but with advances in our understanding of culture, psychology, spirituality, mental and physical health, we perhaps have better tools with which to accomplish this. He is also convinced that our own interactions with ourselves and others have an influence on the rest of the world, much like the flapping of butterfly wings can affect the weather in a far off location. Although O’Dea’s work has a bit of a New Age sound to it, it seems to me that this is actually quite similar to our belief about prayer. It turns out that my struggles to figure out how to be peaceful amidst the daily stresses of life may have been more important than my direct work for peace! Certainly this makes it possible for each of us to help create a more peaceful world—and perhaps each of us has a chance to become a saint!


Barb Mecker and her husband Brian Hammond are co-members of the Loretto Community (Sisters of Loretto and co-members). Barb coordinated the Loretto Volunteer Program for eight years after retiring from a teaching career. She and Brian have four children and nine grandchildren.

Blessed Are The Merciful (TLL Review and Excerpt)


ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverChapter 5 of This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes ties together the idea of mercy with the 4th through 10th commandments–as I like to call them, the “rubber-meets-the-road” commandments. Today’s excerpt comes from the section for children.

Have you ever heard that old saying, “What goes around, comes around?” That’s kind of what Jesus is getting at here. God is good to everyone all the time, but people have trouble being nice to those who are mean to them.

The last seven of the Ten Commandments tell us how we should treat other people. Here are some things to think about:


“You shall not kill.”

Most of us are never going to kill anyone, but that doesn’t mean this commandment is an easy one to follow. There are people we just don’t like, and sometimes we say mean things to or about them. “I don’t like playing with you.” “You’re not very good at sports.” “I’m a better reader than you.”

The way we talk to other people and what we say about them when they aren’t around can make them feel that they are important and loved, or it can make them feel like they are worthless. When we hurt other people’s feelings, we are “killing” their spirit. God wants us to talk about other people with respect and not trash their reputation.

Just live it

How can you tell people they hurt you without doing the same thing to them?

(Excerpt from This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes, chapter 5)

Today I have TWO reviews to share! Here is Ellen Gable Hrkach’s review at Amazing Catechists, and Carol at Simple Catholic Living has both a review and a giveaway in process! Hop on over!

Guest Post: Blessed Are The Merciful (This Little Light Blog Tour, Week 5)


Today I welcome blogger, columnist and author Sarah Reinhard to the blog. Her charm and humor shines through everything she writes, and today’s offering, in which she really digs down to the heart of a lived faith, is no exception!


The Rubber Meets the Road with the Merciful

reinhard sarah 402x401So often, I love the thinking, theory parts of my faith life. I like to think about how things work and go all deep and thinkoretical. I’ve always been this way.

I was all set to live my life this way until right after I became Catholic. It was at that point, with the sun streaming in through our little parish church, when the director of religious education found me and turned her big brown eyes on me.

“You’d be great as a catechist,” she said, so sincerely, so charmingly, so humbly.

Yeah, you know the drill. I said yes. And life has never been the same.

You see, there’s nothing like a class full of younger people—in my introductory case, 3rd graders—to make all that theory into just a bunch of marshmallows. They don’t care what it’s supposed to look like. They want to know how it is. They want to know why. They want to know how.

And the thing about kids, whether they’re in 3rd grade or 5th grade or Confirmation-aged, is that they’ll ask. They’ll demand (if you’re lucky) or they’ll tune you out (if you’re not).

Over the years, I’ve learned that parents—and, really, all adults—aren’t so different. Give them, for example, a tangible way to apply the commandments and live the beatitudes, and, while they might wiggle their eyebrows (their kids got it naturally), they will also think about it. They will probably try them. With God at work, they may even start to make them their own.

There is a longing in the Catholics all around us for Truth and, even more, for ways to apply Truth. We’re at odds with the world around us, but we’re also so very conditioned and immersed in life…where’s the line? How do we know?

That’s where the last six commandments come in. And, if you stop for a minute, it’s also where the beatitude about mercy—”Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”—comes in.

On the surface, it seems too easy to even mention. At first, you almost wonder if it’s not a cutesy way of saying the same thing twice.

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverBut when you try to live mercy, when you try to refrain from strangling a small person or yanking the hair out of a rude operator, when you attempt to swallow the sharp retort or eat the entire foot you just had shoved down your throat—well, then it becomes clear that mercy isn’t so easy to live. At. All.

This year, our religious education program focused on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy each week. The students earned a cut-out hand to hang on the wall for each work of mercy they performed. In my class, I had one student who really focused on bearing wrongs patiently, especially with his younger sisters.

By the end of the year, a couple of the other students in my class were also citing that work of mercy. They were sharing how they helped someone with homework, how they prayed for a friend, how they did something so inconsequential they giggled as they told me.

And that’s what mercy is, isn’t it? It’s bearing wrongs patiently in our homes so that we’re ready to do it in the Great Big Out There. It’s feeding the hungry who clamor and rudely demand so that we are reflexively gracious and generous with the stranger and poor. It’s a thousand small moments not ignored, but made habit. It’s a way of being that mirrors how Jesus himself taught us to live.

Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mother, author, and farm girl who writes at

Guest Post: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Week 2, This Little Light Blog Tour)


I met Barbara Shoeneberger through the blogosphere, as we both participate in a weekly Catholic carnival. She has approached her chronic health issues with a beautiful attitude of faith. I hope her thoughts today will illuminate the sufferings in your lives as well.


Barb Feb 2010 resizedNobody gets through this life without mourning. Mourning implies loss of something we value.  Whether it is a dear one, a body part, a capability diminished or extinguished by age, infirmity, or accident; a job, financial security, or innocence; loss can pierce the heart, grind away the stomach, or leave one in a state of emotional and physical collapse.  With loss of what we value comes suffering unique to each person in expression and duration.

Often we are tempted to question God when suffering deeply: “Why me?” That is our first mistake, albeit a natural one. God permits us to suffer for reasons we cannot always see at the time, but by faith we know that He only wills our good. In fact, one of the best ways to suffer well and eventually joyfully, is to seek an ever deepening faith in God. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Next we can begin to look for God’s blessings in the heart of our misery. This is essential to avoid getting stuck in suffering. The finishing phrase of this Beatitude: “…for they shall be comforted,” contains the key. The Greek word for “comforted” is the same origin for the word “Comforter” that Jesus uses in John 14:26 when he tells the apostles, ” But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things…”.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Glass.Mouse)

When we are mourning or suffering, our Father sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to show us that He is with us. The Holy Spirit not only enters into the receptive heart Himself, but He comes also by others to help us find peace. We are comforted in our anguish by kind words and sometimes the simple silent being of a friend sitting with us, touching our hands, fixing a meal or doing a chore we can’t do. He puts new people and information into our lives to help us and show us ways to be in a changed existence. Often we describe these people as “Godsends” and indeed they are.

Suffering with joy is my motto for the rest of my life. When we pray “Thy will be done” in the Our Father we are affirming our submission to the good that God desires to do for us. I am joyful in suffering because I have seen how God is reshaping me, redirecting my life, changing my focus from myself to Him. That doesn’t mean that I am not in pain or that I don’t have moments of doubt or panic or rebellion or that I won’t have to start all over again at times because I’ve started to focus on myself and my misery. I just know now that He has a purpose for me, that I am to be faithful to that purpose, that I am not alone, and that I must take life one day at a time. It is enough for me.

O Lord, thank you for the hardship in my life. Thank you for the people you have sent to help me in my difficulties. Thank you for helping me grow in faith, hope, and charity, and for making it possible for me to help others. Please teach me what You want me to know. Give me the grace to understand what You want from me and the strength to do it. Give me submission of heart and will to execute Your plans for me for the good of all.


Barb Schoeneberger blogs at Suffering with Joy. She serves on the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval committee, provides copy editing and proofreading services to writers, and is working on a book on sin.

Paradox and Contradiction

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness*

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness* (Photo credit: anitakhart)

Call it reversals, call it paradox–Christianity is full of them, and they are a sometimes insurmountable stumbling block for people contemplating religious belief. To destroy yourself in order to find yourself, to die in order to live, to consider yourself blessed when you are mourning, or poor in spirit, or persecuted…to people steeped in the idea that our purpose on earth is the pursuit of the good life, these concepts are foreign and threatening and, well, nonsensical. Why should I deny myself enjoyment and pleasure? Why should I deliberately impose restrictions on myself that are difficult or unpleasant? The more I indulge myself, the happier I’ll be. The rest of it is moral repression imposed by people trying to control the ignorant masses.

Thomas Merton once thought so.

“Here I was, scarcely four years after I had…walked out into the world that I thought I was going to ransack and rob of all its pleasures and satisfactions. I had done what I intended, and now I found that it was I who was emptied and robbed and gutted. What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.”


“There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell.”

(Quotes from The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton)

Notice he didn’t say capital-H Hell, as in a place where Satan torments you for all eternity. He said little-h hell, as in a life full of misery, anger and bitterness.

And he’s right. The 2012 “Better Life Index” found that our country is #1 in terms of personal wealth and #12 in terms of happiness. Out of 36. Another survey, the “Happy Planet Index,” listed the U.S. as 105 out of 187. Ouch.

Granted, it’s not a terrible ranking. And granted, plenty of people who call themselves Christians are also bitter and angry and miserable. But let’s consider the possibility that if all our wealth of TV viewing and video game playing and enrichment activities for kids and wide-screen TVs and smart phones and wall-to-wall carpeting and supersized master bedrooms and sporty cars and vacation homes at the beach and girls’ weekends and football games with the guys–if all those things can’t make us the happiest place on earth, then…maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether.

The Lent You Want vs. the Lent You Need

flowers in the snow

flowers in the snow (Photo credit: elpostito)

I confess: I have an idealized view of Lent. My first spring in grad school, Lent came like a breath of renewal on the heels of one of the most difficult six months of my life. My first semester had been a nightmare of homesickness and a hellish roommate situation interspersed with glorious moments of musical learning and discovering like-minded friends. When Lent came around that year, I couldn’t go home for Easter. Every fiber of my soul longed for the familiar sounds and faces of my parish back home.

I thought it would be a miserable forty (-six) days. Instead, the whole season gleams in my memory with a concentrated, pure white flame, as all the suffering and loneliness concentrated to a point and softened the ground of my soul. It was one of the most fertile times of soul growth I have ever experienced, a season in which joy walked beside me on the long daily trek from my apartment to the school of music, across fields and a creek, while winter passed slowly and softly into a spring like nothing I had ever seen. (Spring feels different in places where it’s actually cold and snow-covered all winter.)

I’ve never had another Lent like that one. The next year I spent the season preparing for Comps, which, by virtue of being scheduled for Easter Monday, forced me to spend even Easter Sunday studying. (Blech!) Since then I’ve occasionally caught a whiff of that sanctity, but that spring of 1998 remains the ideal for which I strive.

This Lent has been just about as 180 degrees the opposite direction as it is possible for a Lent to be. I’m failing miserably at my Lenten goals (so spectacularly that at present I can’t even remember what they were anymore). As anyone who’s read my blog the last few weeks knows, I’ve not been a picture of holy motherhood and saintly living lately. And although the provocations are certainly not without justification, it doesn’t change the fact that my response has been less grace-filled and more sinful.

But it occurred to me this weekend–when I went to Confession so to leave the anger and temper loss in the past, and then came home to lose my cool again spectacularly that night–that sometimes the Lent you want is not the Lent you need. Sometimes we need to spend a few weeks staring at the excruciating image in the mirror: the one that forces us to live with the knowledge of our own powerlessness against sin, and how much we need God to carry us through it.