Monday, March 28, 2011

The Woman at the Well

In the Roman ritual for the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, we read selections from the Gospel of John.  These three readings speak to us about faith and tell stories of those who came to faith through an experience with Jesus.  I had the privilege again this past weekend to share some homiletic reflections on the first of those readings with the good people of St. Matthew's Church in Voorheesville, New York.  Because these readings show the development of faith in the principal characters they are used at any liturgy on these Sundays where adults are present who are awaiting the reception of baptism at the Easter Vigil.  Let me share some thoughts from that homily.

What do we see in this story of the woman at the well?  First of all, she comes to the well at the noon hour.  Now where she lived it was usually quite hot at the middle of the day and most of the women of the town would come to draw water in the early morning hours when the cool of the day was still present.  Yet she comes alone at noon.  Perhaps it was because of the lifestyle she led which might have made her feel unwelcome among the other residents of her town.  Regardless she appears at the noon hour to find a man at the well.

Jesus begins a conversation with her and in so doing throws over two very important conventions of the time.  First he speaks to a Samaritan - one of "those people" with whom the Jews had very little to do.  They considered the Samaritans as heretics because of the way they worshiped and because of their beliefs.  Jesus, nevertheless, begins to converse with this "heretic."  Second he speaks to a woman - something unheard of in his day when it was seen to be inappropriate for a man to speak alone with a woman.  What we see here is the fact that for Jesus there are no barriers - no restrictions regarding with whom he will relate.  He came to bring salvation to all and he would place no obstacles in the way of anyone whom he wished to reach with his message of love and redemption.

As Christian disciples of Jesus, are we as open to others?  Do we place restrictions on our relationships with others because of things like race, color, language, religion or sexual orientation?  If we are to be true disciples then we, too, must break down the barriers that exist between ourselves and others.

Then Jesus throws a statement at the woman from out of the blue.  "Go call your husband and come back," he says to her.  She goes on to tell him that she has no husband and he lets her know that he is aware of her various relationships with the men in her life.  He states the facts but does not condemn her.  This is the way Jesus deals with us as well.  He knows our faults and failings - some small and some large - but he does not condemn us.  Rather he pours out his mercy upon us and lifts us up from whatever dismal place we have found ourselves in.

We begin to see in the story the gradual coming to faith of this woman.  She first wants Jesus to give her the water he promises so that she won't have to come every day to the well - a very basic request to alleviate something burdensome.  After becoming aware that Jesus knows about her she proclaims that he is a prophet.  Then her faith increases to the point where she can realize that he is the Messiah - the one promised to bring salvation.  Finally, she leaves her water jar at the well and becomes a missionary.  She brings the message back to the town where she perhaps is not the most accepted person and tells her townspeople that she has found the Messiah.

This story speaks to us about baptism.  It is through the "living waters" of baptism that we are brought to faith.  Sometimes I wonder if those of us who have been Catholic since our birth are at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating our baptism unlike those catechumens - those adults preparing to receive baptism at Easter - who have grown in their faith to the point where they can make their own profession of faith in Jesus as Savior.  But our baptism - whenever it has been received - is not something to be taken lightly as just something that happened to us at some point in our life.  It is a call to become missionaries just as the Samaritan woman became.  It is a call to evangelization - to be able to show by our lives and by our words what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  I am reminded of the statement once made: If we were arrested and brought before a judge because we are Christians, would we be convicted?  It is a good thing to think about during this Lenten season.  Let the woman at the well, in the words of the poet Judy Ritter, speak to us:

Time erased
by life giving water,
offered by a man who had no bucket.
Who knew me not, yet knew me well.
My past washed clean
in the spring that I became -
flowing, flowing through me.
God's instrument.
Never again shall I thirst.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sometimes God Doesn't Listen

I can only remember two times in my life when my father physically disciplined me.  Once was when I refused (as an obstinate ten year old) to play the piano for some guests when we were visiting my grandparents' home.  He told me in a whisper that he would settle up with me when we arrived home.  I hurriedly got into bed upon arrival at my house, but he didn't forget his promise.  The other time was when I disrespectfully talked back to my mother at the dinner table.

I believe I can remember these so vividly not because my father was excessive in his discipline but rather because he rarely used this approach.  It wasn't because I was a model child either, but rather he was a model father - a father I really didn't fully appreciate until much later in life.

My father, I was later able to realize, was a true image of what God our Father is.  In the Book of Chronicles we read:
...All the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.  Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.  But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets....   (2 Chron. 36: 14-16a)

Even after all of their sins, as we know, God brought them back from exile.  John tells us in his Gospel that: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3: 17).

Why do we need to be saved?  It is because of our basic human condition which is one of sin - sin which some writers have referred to as idolatry.

What are our idols?  Is out idol perhaps money?  Are we so caught up in possessing as much of the world's goods that we can amass that we lose sight of more important things?

Maybe our idol is sex and sexual gratification.  Do we exploit other human beings in our attempt to satisfy our own urges, or do we respect the sexuality of others?  Is our idol power?  Do we enjoy lording it over others and having the ability to make people do just what we want without concern for their feelings?  Or perhaps our idol is righteousness.  We can really do no wrong; it's only "those" people who are always to blame for whatever isn't right.

God calls us to repentance, something we should think more about during this season of Lent.  All he asks of us is to allow him to be what he wants to be in our lives.  The Chronicler understood God's mercy.  John reminds us that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" to be our salvation.

One of my favorite Scripture stories is the parable of the Prodigal Son.  A few years ago I cam across a poem by someone entitled Sometimes God Doesn't Listen.  I cannot give the proper credit for it, but I think it well describes how our God acts toward us:

The Prodigal prepared a speech:
How awful he felt about himself; what awful things he'd done.
Then he planned to start it:  "I don't deserve to be your son."

But his father threw his arms around him, interrupted him.
"You're back!  Let's throw a party!

Thank goodness sometimes God doesn't listen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is the World Coming to an End?

In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we read the following:

Peter, James, John  and Andrew asked him privately,  "Tell us...what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?  Jesus began to say to them,  "...When you hear of wars and reports of wars do not be alarmed, such things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.  Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes from place to place and there will be famines.  These are the beginnings of the labor pains....But in those days...the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not gives its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  (Mk. 13:3b-5a; 7-8; 24-25)

Given the events of these past few months with one of the hardest winters that we have experienced in some time, with floods and snow and ice storms, and with the serious devastation caused just a week ago today by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan followed by problems with the nuclear power plants in that nation, can we expect some to wonder if these things are harbingers of the coming of the end of the world?  We know in the past that such events or an event like the ushering in of a new millennium have triggered speculation and even strong belief on the part of some that the world's days are numbered.  No one really knows when the world will come to an end - even Jesus himself stated that he did not know the time (as we read later in the same chapter of Mark):  But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  (Mk. 13:32)

I certainly don't know when the end will come but I don't believe it is anytime soon.  We have yet to see the sun and moon lose their light or the stars falling from the sky.  But perhaps this is a good time to ask a question:  What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren?

We hear a lot of talk about the environment and what should be done to correct situations affecting our earth - the earth about whom St. Francis of Assisi (the patron of ecology) said:  Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

How long will Mother Earth be able to sustain us if we continue to abuse the resources God has given us in the earth?  We hear about "climate change" and some still hold out the belief that it really has little significance.  How they can still feel this way is beyond me after we have witnessed the shrinking of the polar ice cap and the results of this in the wide variety of weather we have so recently experienced.

We need to educate our people and our children as to how the resources of the earth are finite and need our constant attention and concern.  In 2002, a declaration on the environment was signed by His Holiness Pope John  Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.  It would be well to heed some of the statements made in that declaration:

We are...concerned about the negative consequences for humanity and for all creation resulting from the degradation of some basic natural resources such as water, air and land, brought about by an economic and technological progress which does not recognize and take into accounts its limits....

If we examine carefully the social and environmental crisis which the world community is facing, we must conclude that we are still betraying the mandate God has given us: to be stewards called to collaborate with God in watching over creation in holiness and wisdom....The problem is not simply economic and technological; it is moral and spiritual.  A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.

Similar concerns were echoed by the bishops' conference of England and Wales when they said: mechanisms are breaking down through pollution and abuse.  In many places fresh water once teeming with life is dead, beautiful coasts have been turned into sewers, fertile soil lies barren or has turned into desert.  Forests, often described as the lungs of the earth, are reduced to wasteland, and cities are choked with smog.  Emissions of "greenhouse gases" continue to affect the atmosphere in ways that threaten the balance of life on the planet.

What can each of us do to create a healthier environment?  We can begin with simple things like recycling instead of just tossing everything we no longer use into the garbage to be taken to landfills that are bursting.  We can encourage our government officials at the state and national levels to put into place laws and practices that will help make our environment a healthier place for all of us.  We can move toward, in the words of our present Holy Father, Benedict XVI:  ...more sober lifestyles and a rediscovery of the "moral dimension" of development.  He states that this development must be ...founded on the dignity of the human person and oriented toward the common good.

We need to take a new look at the environment and how we need to help it continue to sustain a good life on this planet.  We owe this to our children and grandchildren who will inherit what we leave behind.  But even as witness the devastation that has recently engulfed Japan, we can be heartened by the words of one who has lived through it and has shared some of her thoughts with family and friends.  She says:  ...Somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide.  My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening.  I don't.  Rather, I feel as part of something happening that is much larger than myself.  This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

When he hear an expression of hope such as this coming from within great devastation, we can be heartened that there can still be a future for this wonderful world - this gift of Mother Earth from our Creator.  Perhaps we can send prayers to God through the intercessions of the patrons of ecology - Francis of Assisi and Kateri Tekakwitha.  Let us pray that our children and grandchildren will know a better and cleaner and healthier world in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Breadth of a Blog and a CMT Update

Today's post covers two areas: how far and wide a blog can reach and an update on CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome).  They are not necessarily connected but since I wanted to say something about each I figured I'd just use one post.

First - the breadth of a blog.  When I began my blog in September of 2010 I had no idea of the extent to which it would reach.  Since that time people have logged on to one or another of my blogs over 950 times but the places the blog has reached has truly astounded me.

It is humbling to know that my words have reached four continents and over a dozen countries.  The blog has been read not only in the U.S. and Canada but has reached as far as China, South Korea and the Philippines.  It has also been seen in Germany, the U.K, Italy, Israel, Zimbabwe, and Russia among others.  I hope that the readers have found something of either interest or help in the thoughts that I have shared.  I welcome all of those readers into my "family" and hope they will continue their interest in my blog.

Second - one of my earliest blogs had to do with CMT (September 22, 2010).  CMT is a degenerative neurological muscular disorder affecting over 150,000 persons in the U.S. and many beyond its borders.  One of those who lives with this disorder is my younger daughter.  It is a disorder that is not always diagnosed (in fact it took almost twelve years before someone diagnosed my daughter as having CMT).  There is currently a drive on to have September named as CMT Awareness Month in the U.S.  Last year they had a week dedicated to awareness and the national CMT association wants to expand this so that more can be learned about the disorder and further research can be done to hopefully find medications that will assist the afflicted and God willing an eventual cure.  My early blog is still receiving attention - only today someone logged on to learn more about CMT.

For a more thorough discussion of CMT and to see how one person lives with it and tries to maintain a positive attitude in life, I highly recommend my daughter's blog - Grace Lines.  It can accessed by going to:  My daughter has been living with the effects of this disorder for almost the past 27 years yet she continues to amaze us with her upbeat spirit and wonderful sense of humor (so evident in the various posts she has made to her blog).  Give it a read; I invite my readers from all those far-flung places in the world to read her work.

If you have been blessed with good health, remember those who daily struggle with all forms of diseases and disorders both mental and physical.  And perhaps in September (and even any other time) you may think of those dealing with CMT and offer a prayer for them.  God bless.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent 2011 - What's In It For Us?

Another Lent is upon us.  On Ash Wednesday we go to church and receive the ashes on our foreheads as a reminder of our mortality and our sinfulness.  We are again asked to use this holy season to evaluate our lives and see what course corrections may be needed.  As a youngster I didn't like Lent.  It was always a time when we were asked to "give something up."  And it was usually something we liked to do or have very much (candy, movies, etc.).  As I have grown, however, I have come to realize the gift that the season of Lent is for us - a chance to make a "40 day retreat" with the Lord in preparation for remembering the great events of his passion, death and resurrection.

This past weekend's Scripture readings (the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time) had to do with building our spiritual life and journey on a solid rock foundation.  In the homily delivered at my parish, my longtime friend, Fr. Jim Mackey, spoke to us about building this foundation and reminded us that as Lent was coming in a few days we could use that holy season to stablize that foundation in three ways: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.  I would just like to share a few thoughts about each of these.

Almsgiving:  I don't know about you but I receive almost daily requests for donations for a variety of charities - many or most of them very worthy.  It is not possible to give to all and we all make certain decisions regarding what charities we will support.  In these difficult economic times, however, if we are able to give from our bounty we should consider giving to those who are most in need in our society - the poor, those with varying degrees of mental and physical disabilities who find it hard to find work, victims of oppression and abuse, etc.  This list can be exhaustive but if we can take some of our fortune (if we have been blessed with it) to help others, it is a good way to enter into the spirit of the season and give something of ourselves.  One of the most traditional ways we have in our Church is through Operation Rice Bowl which sees to the needs of the hungry and poor throughout the world.  Rice bowls can be obtained at any of our parishes during this season.

Prayer:  We are encouraged to "pray always" and not just at this time of the year.  But Lent does give us the opportunity to perhaps strengthen our prayer life.  There are so many ways in which we can enter into this spirit of prayer during Lent:  more frequent attendance at Mass (during the week when possible), reading the Scriptures of the day, finding daily reflections on the various websites that can be found on the Internet among others.  There are also many things to pray for: certainly peace in the world particularly in those areas affected by war and turmoil, for freedom from oppression for those people living in countries where freedom is abridged, for the safety of the men and women in our armed forces, for our families and for good health.  Each of us can find those areas for which prayer is needed and this season gives us the chance to increase our prayer life for whatever intentions we have.

Fasting:  The Church asks us to abstain from meat on two important days in Lent - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Many dioceses also request their members to continue the age-old practice of abstaining from meat on the other Fridays in Lent.  As I was growing up meatless Fridays were the norm not to be changed until the Second Vatican Council when we were asked to voluntarily practice fasting and abstinence instead of feeling compelled by the notion of sin if we did not.  Obviously abstaining from meat does not become a hardship if one enjoys in its place a fine lobster dinner (unless you are seriously allergic to shell fish).  Then it is not really a sacrifice - the abstaining from meat is just a reminder that our Lord gave of himself wholeheartedly by going to the cross for our salvation.

It is interesting what can happen even economically by this practice of abstinence.  I am reminded of a story told by a priest friend of what happened one Ash Wednesday in Washington when he was a seminarian.  A group of seminarians went to McDonald's for lunch and, of course, ordered the fish sandwich.  They were told to go to a special line which took up a good part of the restaurant.  His comment was:  "That day we brought McDonald's to their knees."  I'm sure that places like McDonald's realize that they had better stock up with more fish at this time of the year.

Fasting or limiting our food intake is asked of people between certain ages (not the very young or very old).  While it may be good for our health and help us slim down, the primary reason for asking for this sacrifice is to remind us again of what God has done for us and how we can benefit from giving up something and not becoming too attached to any one thing.  Other ways of fasting, of course, can include giving up things we like very much (certain types of entertainment, smoking, etc.).  We can also consider giving up some habits which may have become a part of us - do we tend to gossip;  do we tend to put ourselves forward rather than giving way to others, etc.  All of these are ways we can use this holy season to prepare ourselves for the great celebration of Easter.

May we then use this sacred time to come closer to our God and rejoice in the salvation won for us by our savior Jesus Christ.  May God grant you a blessed Lent!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sound of Silence

Elected silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe to me pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lowly-dumb.
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

The poetry of the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem The Habit of Perfection speaks of silence and asks that this silence be the music that he cares to hear.  Upon reading the book The Catholic Experience by Lawrence Cunnigham, I decided to say a few words about silence.  Is it a commodity in our present culture that is lacking?

We certainly experience silence during our hours of sleep.  But what about our waking hours?  Has the noise of the world overtaken us to the point that we find it hard to experience silence?  We live in a world full of noise - loud stereo music, elevator music in the malls, horns blaring on the highway, constant interaction with our I-pads or talks on the cellphone (even in our cars).  It seems sometimes that when we do find a period of silence we don't know what to do with it.  Did you ever feel uncomfortable when there is a lull in a conversation?  Do we feel the need to fill the void with words or can we just let some quiet take over?

There is a history in my Church - the Catholic Church - which recognizes the role of silence.  We know of contemplative religious orders, for example, that practice silence as a means of staying more in touch with the divine and being open to the stirrings of the Spirit.  Our Catholic liturgy places particular moments of silence throughout (although sometimes it seems that they get glossed over very quickly). 

We might believe that being silent at times (during private prayer, on a retreat, etc.) will allow us to hear God's message more clearly. What about those times when we feel the silence is on God's end of the conversation?  In Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal the figure of death speaks to the searching knight:

KNIGHT:    I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, but knowledge.  I want God to stretch  out his hand to me, reveal himself, and speak to me.

DEATH:     But he remains silent.

KNIGHT:    I call out to him in the dark but no one seems to be there.

DEATH:     Then life is an outrageous horror.  No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness.

Have you felt those times when it seems that God does not hear or is even present to you?  I'm sure all of us have experienced this at one time or another in life.  Do we give up or do we continue to listen for what God is telling us?  Can we hear the message of God when surrounded by all the noise of our world?  The monks in cloistered communities like the Trappists live with silence and involve themselves in contemplative prayer.  One of their most famous members - Thomas Merton - in his work Contemplative Prayer says:

Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy.  And yet in a certain sense, we most truly begin to hear God's word when we have ceased to listen.  What is the explanation of this paradox?  Perhaps only that there is a higher kind of listening, which is not attentiveness to a particular wave length, a receptivity to a certain kind of message, but a general emptiness that wants to realize the message of God within his own apparent void....He waits on the word of God in silence, and when he is "answered" it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence.  It is by his silence itself suddently, inexplicably, revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.

Can we use our moments of silence then to listen to what the Lord wants us to hear?  Perhaps we need to look at our expectations of how God makes his message known to us.

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is found in the First Book of Kings, Chapter 19:

Then he came to a cave, where he took shelter.  But the word of the Lord came to him,  "Why are you here, Elijah?"  He answered,  "I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword.  I alone am left, and they seek to take my life."  Then the Lord said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord will be passing by."  A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord - but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake - but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was fire - but the Lord was not in the fire.  After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

A tiny whispering sound.  Sometimes the Lord may get our attention with something loud and majestic but most often his voice comes to us in that "tiny whispering sound."  We need to be open and attentive to it.  We need also remember that the voice of God most often comes in forms we might least expect - many times in the words and love of others for us.  Do we recognize God's voice in those times and in those people in our lives?

The man whispered, "God, speak to me."  And the meadowlark sang.  But the man did not hear.  So the man yelled, "God, speak to me!"  And thunder and lightning rolled across the sky.  But the man did not listen.  The man looked around and said,  "God, let me see you."  And a star shone brightly.  But the man did not see.  And the man shouted, "God, show me a miracle!"  And a life was born.  But the man did not notice.  So the main cried out in despair, "Touch me, God, and let me know you are here."  Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.  But the man brushed away the butterfly and walked on.

God comes to us in the touch of a loved one's hand, in the off-key music of a little child, in the soft refreshing rain that quenches the thirst of the earth.  Are we listening - are we aware?

In Psalm 46 we read:  Be still and know that I am God.  We need to find the time in our hectic lives to "be still" and cherish the silence so that we can hear the voice of God in whatever form it comes to us.  May each of us be willing to say that this silence, in the words of Hopkins, is "the music that I care to hear."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Lincoln Can Teach Us

I have a confession to make.  I am addicted to mystery stories.  I enjoy reading the stories of Anne Perry, Robert Barnard, Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel and Mary Daheim to name just a few of my favorite authors.  Since I am now retired I have more time for reading and I find a good mystery is a good way to relax.  However, I have recently moved into a new genre of reading.  My son gave me the first book in the trilogy by Edmund Morris of the life of Theodore Roosevelt.  I found it fascinating reading and that led me to purchase the remaining two books in the series.

On my last trip to our public library I decided to try out the biography section.  I selected two biographies and the first was Abraham Lincoln by Benjamin P. Thomas.  I already knew a lot about Lincoln but this book led me through a life that was most remarkable in many ways.  Born somewhat in poverty, he rose to lead the nation during one of the most difficult times in its history.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in our nation's history.  Over 1,030,000 casualties occured (3% of the population) including civilians.  Over 620,000 soldiers were lost on both sides of the conflict removing from the scene 10% of the young male population in the North and 30% in the South.  Through this conflict, Lincoln strove to preserve the Union and bring about the end to slavery in our nation.  As a compassionate man he agonized over many facets of the war.  I am sure that no president in our history who has had to call the nation to war can fail to agonize over the number of lives lost in whatever the struggle may be.

The reason I chose to write about Lincoln today was because he epitomizes the spirit of forgiveness that I had spoken about in my previous post.  Jesus had commanded us (in his Sermon on the Mount) to love our enemies.  This requires forgiveness on our part of those who have hurt or offended us.  You can imagine the calls for recrimination that must have occured following the Civil War regarding how the seceding Southern states should be punished.  Lincoln would have none of that.  While Lincoln did not belong to any established church he was inbued with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and would act accordingly.

Toward the end of the war he was faced with a request for approval of various court-martial sentences (almost 30,000 in one year).  According to one of his secretaries, he would use any possible means to avoid having a soldier's life taken as punishment.  He did not want to approve the death penalty for cowardice, and as he remitted such sentences he would say: It would frighten the poor fellows too terribly to kill them.

His spirit of forgiveness was most evident after the conclusion of the war.  He did not want severe recriminations brought upon the seceding states but rather wished to "bind up the nation's wounds."  His words at his second inauguration in 1865 are classic:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

This is what Lincoln can teach us today - a spirit of forgiveness and a search for lasting peace and harmony between ourselves and others and between nations.  We must never give up hope that such can be accomplished for if we do it can never happen.

A contemporary of Lincoln's - Mark Twain - once wrote:  Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it.  In the spirit of forgiveness that Jesus taught us and as it was seen in the life of Lincoln, may we reach out to all those who have offended us and leave that fragrance for them to experience.