Stay tuned for more miracles

Larry Smith

Since my arrival at Catholic Charities in April 2013, I’ve said that we serve two kinds of people: those with a need to give and those with a need to receive. That was brought home to me in an amazing way at A Beacon of Hope Gala for Lighthouse and Women’s Services, which raised more than $700,000 to help women, children and families in need.

Just before the gala began, I was blessed to introduce a Lighthouse client family to a donor whose advertising project had helped that expectant mom and dad find Lighthouse a year earlier. At the time, the young couple had been driving around Denver, thinking they might be pregnant. Then they saw a bus with an advertisement for Lighthouse Women’s Center and a phone number, which they called. They were treated with respect and compassion at Lighthouse throughout her pregnancy, they said. And at the Jan. 31 gala, they brought their beautiful 3-month-old baby in a carrier.

That story, for me, is what Catholic Charities is all about and what can happen when we give ourselves in faith to serve others, even if we don’t know how it will all turn out. Here’s the background:

Lighthouse Women’s Center had launched an eight-week advertising campaign in late 2013 on buses and light rail trains in the Denver market, intending to reach women in crisis pregnancies. The donor family funding the project had three goals: greater visibility for Lighthouse, ads with a dedicated phone number to track responses, and simple messaging and imagery to reach young women in crisis, such as “Unplanned pregnancy? You are NOT Alone” or “Considering an Abortion? We can help. Free Services.”

In the tally of calls received and services provided, we concluded that several women in various circumstances had a change of heart and did not pursue an abortion as a result of the advertising campaign. And know this: We don’t just ask a woman in a crisis pregnancy not to abort her child. We show her a path to a life with her child through our continuum of care. That includes free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and confidential counseling at Lighthouse—and may also include shelter, diapers, clothing, food, counseling—all that she may need to begin a life with that child. And whether a woman is abortion-minded, in a crisis pregnancy, seeking a pregnancy test or simply happens to see the right sign pointing her to Lighthouse at the right moment, we want to be there.

And so do our donors. At the gala, the donor family who had so generously funded the first transit ad campaign for Lighthouse said they are going to renew—and increase—their funding for that project. Stay tuned for more miracles.

COMING UP: Strong temptations? Defeat them like the Desert Fathers

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The fact that we don’t do what we want but instead do what we hate is a problem as old as our first parents. Yet, we can interpret temptation either as that which is always keeping us away from God or as the very vehicle to grow closer to him.

The Desert Fathers believed it to be a necessary vehicle: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” St. Anthony of the Desert used to say. They saw the fight against these evil enticements as a step to love God in a deeper way.

Here’s how these radical followers of Christ – who fled to the Egyptian desert during the 3rd to 5th centuries to live a form of daily martyrdom in a land where being a Christian was no longer a risk – survived the strongest enticements of the flesh and the devil, as they sought to live out the Gospel and grow in perfection.

The sayings, teachings, maxims and stories they left behind, compiled and known as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, show that a combination of three things: self-awareness, prayer and practicality, are key to battling the strongest disordered passions.

Alertness and action

“The early monks understood that temptations often come in the form of thoughts. We become attracted and have fantasies, whether that be in petty things, bodily appetites or social interactions,” explained Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B., expert on early monasticism, scholar and director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

The first disposition they considered to be key, was self-awareness, “knowing what happens in our minds and hearts… how to recognize [bad thoughts] before we actually do a sinful action,” he said.

After this base, which requires continuous self-examination and attention to the inner impulses of the heart, the importance of prayer and practicality follow.

A hermit of the desert said to a young monk suffering from strong temptations, “This is the way to be strong: when temptations start to speak in your mind do not answer them but get up, pray, do penance, and say, ‘Son of God, have mercy upon me.’”

Prayer is not isolated from action. The hermit tells him to “get up,” “do penance” and “pray.”

Practicality can take on different forms, such as going in the opposite direction of the temptation or seeking help from another, Father Stewart pointed out.

“For example, when you’re angry with someone… thoughts of anger start emerging, and you replay in your imagination what made you angry. Then that turns into a mental video of how you’re going to get revenge. This is when self-awareness comes in and you realize that the thoughts you’re having are inappropriate,” Father Stewart said.

A first practical action would be to step away instead of going to find that person, he continued. “Then to use your mind and imagination to instead remember the times when your relationship [with that person] was better or think about the future and how great it will be when this passes.”

Light overcomes darkness

Also, this “get up” practicality consists in bringing to light one’s sins or temptations to someone else and not fighting alone.

“A common exhortation, attributed to many different monks, was that the Enemy, the devil, rejoices in nothing so much as unmanifested thoughts… A sin which is hidden begins to multiply,” Father Stewart wrote in an article.

He then explained that “If the devil was delighted by a monk’s self-imposed isolation, surely this was because the opposite of isolation, encounter with another, was the way to salvation.”

According to Father Stewart, this understanding led the Fathers to break from “the illusion of self-sufficiency, a pose which encourages self-absorption,” and find spiritual fathers.

“The desert tradition is universally insistent upon the young monk’s need for a discerning elder,” he explained. “The basic insight of the desert… was that one cannot grow towards perfection through isolated, solitary effort: grace is mediated through one’s neighbor, especially one’s abba [spiritual father].”

The way these early hermits fought temptations is one of many treasures that Father Stewart says they left behind. In fact, he encourages readers to look at the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as a source that is still “amazingly relevant.”

“[The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] have been very popular sources of wisdom and inspiration throughout history,” he said. “What sets [them] apart… is that they speak from and to experience rather than text or theory.”

“The tradition of Christian wisdom is great,” he concluded. “People only need to know where to find it.”