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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Aug 24, 2009)
The following is part 1 of a 14-part series to help inspire parish cenacle and study groups who are looking for ways to make a difference in this troubled world. We invite you to view the entire series.

How would you respond to people in the following situations:

A man comes home from work late every day. He has no time or energy to be with his kids or pay attention to his wife — except, now and then, to shout at them.

A child on the playground is called names day after day. She had a friend for a while, but then the friend began to hang out with the others. "Just keep away from me!" her former friend ordered her the other day. The girl feels lonely and hurt, every day.

A noted scientist writes a book debunking religion, and another 10,000 readers are turned into well-read cynics. They no longer consider praying or going to church.

A boy hears his mom and dad yell at each other — a lot. He tried to hide from it by going down to the basement and turning up the volume on the TV. One evening he found his mom crying in the corner of the bedroom, with a bruise on her face. His mom told him not to tell anyone, ever.

A woman comes home from the abortion clinic. It's done. The problem is solved. She really thought it was the only way — and now she can go back to her life. But she doesn't sleep well that night, or the next, or the next. Whenever she sees a child she gets choked up and has to fight back the tears. She didn't expect it would be this way.

A teenager sits behind the high school gym with a couple of friends. They are strung out on drugs again, trying to escape — "taking a break" as they put it — from "everything."

Another layoff at the factory, and a family loses their home. Mom and the kids go to stay at Grandma's house while Dad heads down South on his own, looking for work.

A special on TV about world hunger with pictures of starving African children with empty eyes in heads too large for their skeletal young bodies. Five-hundred million people are chronically malnourished, the program says, which means that they are slowly, or rapidly, starving to death.

A married woman has an affair with her boss at work. She is now getting a divorce, and the kids are "coping," which means they are so deeply wounded by it that the wounds won't clearly show up until they try to form their own stable, committed relationships many years later.

A man's son lives far away. He doesn't hear from him very often anymore. The son always sends a birthday card — and a Christmas present — but that's about it. It has been three years now since the man's wife died. He misses her a lot, especially during those weeks when the senior center is closed and he does not see anyone at all.

A mother brings her little boy to the emergency room. Her benefits at the restaurant do not include health insurance. So they wait — for hours. Finally, the doctor comes to examine the child. He has a "chronic condition," the doctor says. But the medication for it is expensive. Way too expensive for her.

A couple saves up for years to be able to send their child to a good Catholic college. "He's gonna make something of himself," they brag to their friends. And he does: He gets high marks, earns his degree, and even gets a big scholarship to go to grad school. But at the same time, he loses his faith. His parents are stunned. "How could this happen?" they wonder. "Where did we go wrong? Where did the college go wrong?"

A businesswoman walks into an airport and sees the sign: "Alert Level: Orange." She's filled with anxiety. When and where will the next terrorist attack come?

These problems and more are abundant in what we sometimes refer to as the "real world." The "real world" is the one we usually try to escape from as much as possible by distracting ourselves in various ways — watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Internet. But we know the "real world" won't go away. Sure, we are sorry for all the hurting people in the world. We hurt, too. We wish we could do something to help change the world, but the problems often seem so huge, so unfixable. Even the problems in our own families, in our neighborhoods, or at our jobs seem beyond our capacities to put right.

Of course, we do what we can. We give to charity, and we pray for the needs of the world. And yet we wonder, "Aren't my prayers and donations just a drop in the bucket compared to what really needs to be done? Is there some other way that I can really make a difference?"

This is part one of a series on how you can make a difference — in fact, a big difference. Not only here, and now, in the time you have left on this earth, but in a way that goes on making a difference forever.

To begin with, you need to do two things:

1. You need to look at the "real world" honestly, without closing your eyes to it, and acknowledge all the physical pain, social and emotional brokenness, and spiritual emptiness that exist all around you, and even, perhaps, within yourself. You have already begun to do that just by reading this.

2. You have to accept your total incapacity to do much of anything about it on your own. That will be the subject of part two. ...

Discussion Questions
1. What "gets you through the day," most days? In other words, what are the blessings, great and small, that God gives you each day that keep you going, and that make it all worthwhile? Remember: These are part of the "real world," too.

2. In your own life, or in the lives of family, friends, or acquaintances, do you recognize anything that is similar to a "real world" example above?

3. Have you ever had someone help you at a critical or important time of your life? Did someone make a big difference in your life in a positive way?

A Prayer of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938)
O Greatly Merciful God, Infinite Goodness, today all mankind calls out from the abyss of its misery to Your mercy — to Your compassion, O God; and it is with its mighty voice of misery that it cries out. Gracious God, do not reject the prayer of this earth's exiles! O Lord, Goodness beyond our understanding, Who are acquainted with our misery through and through, and know that by our own power we cannot ascend to You, we implore You: anticipate us with Your grace and keep on increasing Your mercy in us, that we may faithfully do Your holy will all through our life and at death's hour. ... For Jesus is our Hope: through His merciful Heart, as through an open gate, we pass through to heaven (Diary, 1570).

A Hymn (Canon Lewis Hensley, 1867)
Thy Kingdom come, O God,
Thy rule, O Christ, begin;
Break with Thine iron rod
The tyrannies of sin.

Where is Thy reign of peace,
And purity and love?
When shall all hatred cease,
As in Thy realms above?

When comes the promised time
That war shall be no more,
And lust, oppression, crime
Shall flee Thy face before?

We pray Thee, Lord, arise,
And come in Thy great might;
Revive our longing eyes,
Which languish for Thy sight.

Read Part 2: The Only Way to Change the World.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. He wishes to extend special thanks to Kathleen Ervin and the Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society of Oakland, Calif., for help in producing this series. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press).

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