August 28, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Goodness is still around, gracefully keeping the faith

Cynthia DewesSometimes life can get you down. Even if your own life is going along pretty smoothly—no one dear to you is currently dying or in jail, the family budget is holding up and the roof isn’t leaking—what’s going on elsewhere in the world can be downright depressing.

We may believe that racial tension in our country has lessened, and suddenly a black intellectual, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a seasoned police officer and a confused neighbor produce a serious racial incident which discourages us, and confirms the opinions of some that we are still a racist nation.

We bask for years in the glory of the Greatest Generation and the idea that the U.S. is a morally righteous nation—and out of the blue, we find some of our country(wo)men involved in morally reprehensible acts of torture, political intrigue and personal ambition. And worse, attempting to hide them.

We are increasingly grateful for American prosperity and the American Dream which contributes to it—until systemic greed destroys the national economy and many individuals’ finances. Excess which seemed wonderful is now simply disgusting, and the thriftiness we thought was old-fashioned is again considered to be a virtue.

We laud the long-overdue feminist and gender equality movements, thrilled that girls and women may finally enjoy the same educational, political and professional opportunities that men have always considered their due.

But when these morph into abortion on demand, impoverished single parenthood and widespread sexual promiscuity, we find that we are faced with more and greater social problems, such as poverty, disease and ignorance.

While the Church teaches that we (wo)men are innately good because we are made in God’s image, all these conditions may make us feel differently. Despair is one of the human faults we are heir to, along with the errors that produce it, so we may find it hard to be optimistic.

Well, when that happens I say we should look around. Somehow, goodness will appear, just when we need it, in the least-expected people, places and events. In religious terms, this is the grace which God has promised to help us on our journey.

I think of a woman who passed away recently. She was a member of my former parish, where she was a stalwart “church lady” in the best sense of the word.

She was funny, a good wife, and the mother of many children whom she nurtured, educated and inspired. She was not a celebrity, but when she died the large crowd at her wake was joyful for having known her, and in the certainty that she was now with God.

I think of another elderly lady in the town nearby, who has been widowed for many years. On her Social Security check and whatever money she can earn in cleaning jobs, she supports two adult sons who are handicapped either by disability or inertia. She is one of the best volunteers at every event in the community, and never fails to greet everyone with smiles and hugs.

The freedoms that have made America a place of tolerance, fairness and prosperity require responsibilities from those who enjoy them. The ladies I describe did not—and do not—take freedom for granted.

Rather, they worked, and work with God’s grace to make it available to others.

Faith in God gives us the freedom to do what is right. As Americans, we must keep that faith.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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