Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #54:

“Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish.”                                                  

Author Unknown

There is an old joke that goes like so:

“Question – What’s the difference between and liturgist and terrorist?

Answer – “You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

None of this is about knocking religion; it’s a knock to those that use religion to justify rigid thinking, laziness, magical thinking, or even a lack of responsible action. It’s a stand against those who throw out the window their God given common sense, and in their desperation seek simple answers to complex questions. Jesus was well known for bringing self-critical thinking to religion. To not do so is to open up the possibility of idolatry.

As an example we unfortunately have the sad news of Pastor Gerald Glenn, 66, bishop and founder of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, VA, who recently died from the Covid-19 coronavirus shortly after he defied his State’s mandate for social distancing and limited size gatherings, and held church services. We’ll likely never know of those congregants who also got infected, and perhaps even fatally so, as well.

Faith, especially foolish faith is tragic; it’s outright dangerous. Also faith without proper action is, at best, worthless. Action without faith often is stupid. However faith and action together are the bookends of a full and purposeful life.

There’s the very old story of the man who sits on the roof of his house while the flood waters keep rising and he keeps praying for God to help him, all the while refusing first the row boat, then the motor boat, and finally the helicopter. He keeps telling these rescuers that God is going to save him. He is an idiot. God comes to us in many different ways. In this man’s case it was via a row boat, motor boat, and a helicopter!

Only those with a genuine openness to discovery and are not so locked up in their puny set ways are uncluttered enough to allow for God to operate fully and powerfully in their life. Sometimes it takes a serendipitous chance situation or even a seemingly tragic event to wake us up. I think this global pandemic is doing just that – at least it potentially can do so. Tragedies can lead us into one of two possible responses: To either become a bitter and closed off person, or, through prayer and contemplation, to be willing to walk with God – the God who brings us through whatever darkness we may be experiencing.

I recall from a movie, the title of which I cannot remember, only that it had this line in it: “The Religious Right are neither.” There are conservative activists speaking out that their rights are being violated with requirements to stay home, use social distancing and masks when out doing essential shopping, etc. Such logic is ill-founded, selfish, and immature. This is the juvenile thinking of a fifth grader. We are not being denied our freedom. Most of us we are being inconvenienced; for others the shut-down is a terribly burdensome. And as a people of a common bond, we have the responsibility to make adjustments and accommodations for those hardest hit by this crisis.

The few goof balls going around protesting their right to do whatever they are currently not being allowed to do, are doing so while most Americans (87% as of this writing) are expressing a worry that the country will open up too soon, and before enough safeguards are put into place.

My response to these clamoring protestors is, “So, you are not really Pro-Life after all.”(A line stolen from FB). Churchill said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Let’s add stupidity…as well as greed.

So back to the business of common sense. Our Sunday Visitor published a pamphlet entitled: Faith and Common Sense: The Catholic Response to an Epidemic. The pamphlet was published way before this present pandemic. You may get a copy by contacting OSV and ordering this pamphlet –                              # 800.348.2440. I will tell you what it broadly speaks about. It begins with how preparation is important and how we all should have stocked up on supplies and other items in advance. We did not do so, not as a people and not as a nation. It isn’t worth addressing this point at this moment. The pamphlet then tells how we must use good common sense, and do such things such as avoiding others if we ourselves aren’t feeling well, and help those most vulnerable, such as the poor, elderly and those living alone.

The pamphlet, of course, comes from a given perspective that we are all in this together. The OSV pamphlet concludes with what it calls a case for the Common Good. It describes several of the many things our public health officials and other experts have been saying since this pandemic began. The Common Good is so fundamental, not merely to Catholics, but rather is a central principle of all organized religions and good people in general.

It is a conviction that we are our brothers and sisters keepers, and as such, there is no room for any nonsense about losing one’s freedom or liberties while impinging on others, and other any such selfish thinking. We do need to be vigilant regarding any of our basic rights and liberties, and watchful that opportunists do not exploit this time to erode what are basic rights for all people.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has been utilizing a state-of-the-art AI logarithm tracking system (Blue Dot) to know where in present time what counties and areas the virus flares up. He first made certain any information obtained would not be used in any way to violate individual’s rights and privacy.   

It turns out most Americans have truly stepped up and are cooperating by doing the necessary things now proving to be effective in reducing the epidemic from further spread. I don’t think anyone likes these sacrifices, but to do otherwise is purely self-centered and faulty thinking. We do these things because we are all of God’s creation.

The final part of this informative OSV pamphlet speaks about how we need to trust God. It is very easy and understandable to become afraid – even panicky – and to allow our imaginations to run away with us. Fear just means we have forgotten how much we are loved. To trust God one must know he/she is loved. Only then can trusting become a sure fire way to manage anxiousness. Trusting calls for a surrendering and a steadfast belief that our God is with us, as God always is, and is especially with us during these difficult times as well. It also doesn’t mean we stop doing the smart, common sense things. Remember: Faith AND action.

This pandemic is a game changer. We are already talking about the next phase –“The Post Covid-19 New Normal.” Listen to any of the people who have recovered, and especially those that have left the hospital and returned home. Hear them say things like:

“I will never again take my life, or my family, for granted.”

“I am so humbled and forever grateful for all those who made it possible for me to be alive.”

Our society is being made anew. There a silver lining that many are already finding in this most difficult time. None of us would have asked for this to occur. And we are far from over it, with much more to endure. We have, in addition, a long and difficult economic recovery to handle, and there is much grieving yet to do for so many. We cannot let those we grieve for have died in vain. Let their legacy be that we went forward to build a better society, a better world. Let this we our way of honoring them.

This past weekend the gospel reading for Catholics was about the Road to Emmaus. Two apostles while traveling on the road to Emmaus, meet up with a stranger, who then joins them on their sojourn. Eventually the apostles realize it is Jesus – the risen Christ. This story is a great reminder that we, too, can take on the possibility that everyone we encounter is also an encounter with this Jesus.

What if we were then to treat each person as if she or he might be the messiah? Therefore, we would begin to treat this other with special – preferential – treatment. What if we also treated ourselves, on the outside chance, that we might be the messiah? And so we commit taking on treating ourselves in a kinder, more loving way, as well.

I think this is happening; it is happening a lot. Simply look around and see how people have stepped up, maybe sewing masks, providing meals, being good neighbors, or just saying “hello” to people passing by and doing countless acts of kindness and generosity.

At the risk of including too many Catholic references I add one more. This week (April 29) was the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, the Patron Saint of Nurses, no less. Catherine wrote:

“Since love of neighbor has its source in God, the more the soul loves God, the more she loves her neighbor.”

This is very good medicine for today, for sure.

The human and divine co-existing at the same time is real religion. Wholeness and Holiness are one in the same. They are simpatico. This co-existing creates honest people, people that don’t waste time trying to prove they are right, or superior, or saved. They are people who just go about living and loving the mystery that they are and that others are.

I know it is an over-used thought that the Chinese have a word for crisis that also means opportunity. It isn’t actually totally accurate but became folk lore ever since John F. Kennedy began using it in 1959:

“In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing ‘danger,’ and the other, ‘opportunity’.”

I think in order for us to move forward we must take such an approach by looking for whatever the opportunities may be. So, let me end this with a thought by G. K. Chesterton, a hero among conservative Catholics. He once wrote:

“The test of a good religion is whether or not it can laugh at itself.”

The overall lack of self-critical thinking, the inability to laugh at oneself, and a general inability to ever appreciate what is right in front of us, are very unattractive elements of those with more fundamentalist approaches, conservative or retro-Catholics, and many ideological Republicans. If they have the truth they don’t seem to be enjoying it, nor do they make it look attractive.

Richard Rohr speaks of liminal space and describes as an inner state where we can begin to think and act in new ways. We usually enter liminal space when our former way is challenged or changed. We are vulnerable and ideally we become open to new possibilities. Liminal space is what allows for transformation. It offers those who are reflecting to be open to what some may call the “Teachable Moment.”

I say, “Hello and welcome, my fellow classmates. May we both learn from this teachable moment, as well as, be prompted to move forward with new vigor and purpose.”