'In Front of Me All Along'
By Fr. Walter Dziordz, MIC (Nov 14, 2006)
I have been on the lookout for the positive, or better yet, how to be positive. It's been hard. How can one stay positive, surrounded by what seems to be so much negativity in the world?
Even the Church I grew up in seemed, to my thinking, to enhance the negative — through guilt and all the threats of condemnation I heard as a child. I so much do not want to generalize here. I fully realize that my experiences are only mine. Other people could certainly have grown up with different experiences. But my sense is that there are many people who can identify with me — people searching for the positive in a negative world, people who grew up in similar fashion, perhaps even with a different religion.
Why else would so many people read Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, which has sold nearly 20 million copies and has been printed in 41 different languages? They read him for a "look" on how to keep a positive mindset daily.
Or why else would people read the many management books on how a positive mindset — based on either a belief in oneself, in one's inner abilities, or simply in God — can improve one's chances of success? Or why else would they sign up for a seminar led by Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker and writer whose books include Unlimited Power?
I have the sneaking suspicion that people in my "club of negativity" feel that with a positive self-image comes a much happier life.
Certainly, we Catholics know that our strength comes only from God. But considering that our perception can be negative to begin with, some of us feel we need to do everything "right" all the time just to be accepted by God. Guilt becomes a continual friend of sorts, or at least a companion.
Some people stay in their negativity. Some people make a break with the Church and join other religions, seeking a better and stronger mindset, at least with an interpretation of what such a mindset might look like. Some people stay Catholic and join a subgroup and identify with being either a "conservative" or a "liberal" Catholic, finding their ideal self-image among people of like mind. Some people stay angry and suspicious of anything "different."
Does it have to be this way? I have come to see that the answer to this question is "no!" I have come to recognize that the real answer has been right in front of me all along.
If one looks at our Church teaching objectively, as taught by the Magisterium, one finds mercy. One finds a loving God. He has always been there.
I do not know why we forget Him. We just do. But we find Him again. Someone reminds us. Out of curiosity, out of just some inner pull that we cannot understand, we listen to that "someone" out of a hope that we may see what they see, and hopefully — and finally — be able to throw away our negativity for good, and experience the healing we crave.
One such person, these days anyway, who reminds us not to forget Him is St. Faustina Kowalska, known as the "Apostle of Divine Mercy." She, in turn, was reminded by Christ quite directly in a series of visions. The message He gave her is that God is Mercy Itself. All of us can be strong. Nobody needs to be afraid.
I joined the Marians in 1977. I always saw the image of The Divine Mercy around me. I was always aware of the story of St. Faustina and the revelations she received in the 1930s. But I typically fell back to my prior stance of "How can this be relevant to me? It is probably not even true." A negative stance pops up again, in other words.
Still, I at least kept the message in the corner of my mind. I kept thinking about it, wondering about it. Could it be true? Perhaps here I set myself up to accept it (I created an ideal ambiance, in other words).
Stories of how one accepts this message may be different for each person. But for me, it was like this: I read of mercy in the Bible. I heard Catholic priests and preachers from other Christian denominations tell me how much God loves me and that He died for me. I even allowed myself to be jealous of Tibetan Buddhism, whose leader is the Dalai Lama, and which teaches the primacy of compassion as being the true hallmark of an enlightened person.
But my jealousy faded when I read that even the Dalai Lama encourages people to look at Christ who taught the same, and whose teachings continue to this day.
So I looked at Christ deeply just to see what truly strong people saw, people strong because of the depth of their love.
And I saw it. Saint Faustina is right. A Merciful God is the bedrock upon which both conservatives and liberals can find a home. It's where any two people who disagree with each other can find a home and truly see each other as family. It is a home for sinners, but that only means that it is a home for people needing healing. I always need to be healed. Do you? If so, we can deeply relate to each other. Welcome home!
Father Walter Dziordz, MIC, recently served as Provincial Superior of the Marians' St. Stanislaus Kostka Province, based in Stockbridge, Mass.