The Times We Live In
Many of us are familiar with Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities. (Perhaps you were forced to read the book by some conscientious highschool English teacher—like me!) The book opens with those memorable words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens was describing 18th Century France. In one way it was the best of times, for the “Rights of Man” had just been promulgated. But in another way it was the worst of times, for the French Revolution was marked by terror, death, and destruction.
How would you describe our own times? Is it the best of times or the worst of times? I think there is a tendency in many of us to think we are living in the worst of times. We point to things like war, terrorism, economic disparity, corruption in business and politics, natural disasters of all kinds, the destruction of our environment, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust. But there is a danger in thinking we are living in the worst of times. Such thinking can quickly lead to paralysis and/or despair.
That’s why a knowledge of history is so important. History can give us a healthier perspective on our own age. With that in mind, let’s go back to 14th Century Italy and look at a fascinating woman, St. Catherine of Siena, a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and see how she dealt with her times. First, what were her times like? In the 14th Century, the Black Death raged throughout Europe, killing an estimated 50 million people or up to 30% to 60% of Europe’s entire population. In addition, mercenary armies prowled the countryside waging war everywhere and wreaking havoc. As for the Church, Pope Gregory XI had fled to Avignon, France, leaving the administration of the Church in the hands of corrupt legates. In one way, Catherine lived in the worst of times.
But Catherine did not bemoan her times. She did not say, “If only the Black Death would go away… If only the world were at peace… If only we had perfect political and church leaders, then I could really live my Christian faith.” No, Catherine became a great saint precisely because she accepted her times as the context in which God was calling her to live her faith. She did not run away from the critical issues of her day. Rather, she actively engaged herself with them. She wrote hundreds of letters, served the destitute, counseled prisoners, reconciled individuals who were at odds with one another, helped reform the Church, wrote extensively on the spiritual life, and still found time for personal prayer and contemplation.
Sometimes we are too quick to bemoan our own times. We imagine that the world used to be a kinder and gentler place or that previous generations had it much easier than we do. But a quick perusal of history would dispel such a view. In fact, every age could be called the worst of times for one reason or another, for every age has its serious challenges and problems—just as ours does.
But, as Christians, we believe that the times we live in are exactly where God is calling us to live out our faith. We are called to engage ourselves with the serious issues of our day—poverty, abortion, racism, sexism, ageism, health care, human trafficking, immigration, destruction of our environment, to name a few. We cannot engage with every serious issue, of course. But can we choose at least one critical issue that somehow touches our heart? Can we become involved with that issue by devoting some of our time, energy, talents, and financial support to it?
God is calling us to respond to our times in the same way that Catherine did: with attentiveness, compassion, courage, persistence, hope and great faith in Jesus.
How are you personally engaged with one of the serious challenges or issues of our day?
Can you think of some ways that our times are also the best of times?
The Song today is one many of you know. It’s called “They’ll Know We Are Christian by our Love.” This one beautifully highlights the corporal works of mercy given to us by Jesus himself (see Mt. 25:31-46).
What did you think of this reflection and/or the song? Did anything touch your heart? Please feel free to write a response below.
Announcing: My new book has been published! It’s called Hanging onto Hope: Reflections and Prayers for Finding ‘Good’ in an Imperfect World. The book will be available in a week or so, but you can pre-order it at Twenty-Third Publications or Amazon.com. The book has 19 chapters and includes topics such as these: What is hope? hope and love; ways to nourish hope; challenges to hope; hope, pain and sorrow; hope and prayer, hope and a sense of humor, examples of hope, images of hope. Each chapter ends with a prayer, questions for personal reflection or group sharing, and suggested music videos to accompany your prayer.
What a wonderful message Sr. Melannie!
I do prison ministry and just sang that song with the inmates last week. Thanks for the reminder in these turbulent times that God is with us.
Melannie, I loved this reflection – thank you! It is so relevant and meaningful for today and really gives us hope! Speaking of which, someone in our parish has already asked about your new book, “Hanging onto hope” and I am happy to see it is already published! Looking forward to reading it! God bless you!
Thank. So beautiful and encouraging
My friends give me hope. Many of them are luminous spirits, with a native genius for compassion. Creative souls, kind souls, people I’m glad to be sharing the planet with!
As always, Sister Melannie, you have hit the nail on the head. I just attended my 60th HS reunion (Scecina Memorial-first coed Catholic HS in Indianapolis, IN) and we sang that song at the conclusion of our Mass.
My husband, Jack, and I do Prison Ministry and we are constantly fighting for “Restorative Justice”. We know it will be a lifelong battle but one well worth the struggle.
How encouraging that you and your husband are so dedicated to “Restorying Justice” and Prison Ministry. I would love to hear more. Sheila Scecina ’60.
We, in Naples, FL, are surviving hurricane Irma. Our Ministry Center is now a distribution center for FEMA and Catholic Charities. Numerous volunteers are helping in various ways to assist those in desperate need. We are actively being the hands of God as best we can.
How inspiring that St. Peter’s Ministry Center has become the strong center of giving and renewal in a time when it has been the center of the storm Our prayers of peace and recovery are with the community of Naples.
Thanks for your hope!! After having watched the news, I sometimes think…”wow, times are bad.” It was eye-opening to hear of the times for Saint Catherine. We live in great times. I just needed that attitude adjustment. Looked on amazon…they don’t have your new book yet…but I will look again in a week. Loved the video and song…
Excellent and timely, Melannie. Thank you!
I find great joy in bringing a smile and to the clients served at the Food Pantry where I volunteer. There are so many needy people. If only for a brief moment when I interact with them, if I can elicit a smile, I have succeeded, as they often come in downcast. I hope they will remember that someone cares.
Raise awareness about mental health conditions and try to replace stigma with understanding with 9th grade health students in a program called “Ending the Silence” from the National Alliance on Mental Health.
Dear Sister Melannie – you’ve done it again! Right on time. How easily bad, heartbreaking threats and counter threats are allowed to disturb us.
Your reflection blew me away (almost), the honesty and truth it contains reins in the despondency hovering around inside our heads and hearts. I feel so much better and I’ve had you on my mind most of the day. ‘Dear Lord, thank you for Melannie and beautiful honest obedient servants like her, who allow your voice to be heard, your call to wake up – the world, country, church, family crying out for loving words of truth’ Amen
Wonderful as always. Love that song.so excited to get your new book!
Thanks again for your insiteful thoughts. It is disheartening to see so much suffering in our world, and it is so easy to ask…. why? Personally, I don’t think there is an answer, but we must remember that God is with us through it all. We have to believe with Julian of Norwich that “all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well. ”
It is encouraging to see how much support is being given to devastated areas by people all over the country. Prayers are important, too!
Looking forward to getting your new book! Congratulations.
Peace and love, Josita
Dear S. Melanni,
Thank you for your timely and inspirational message/voice in word and song!! Most of us need uplifting at this time of disaster, fear, neediness.
Last week I was at Kohls and found myself paying attention to customers and listening to their needs, disappointments, and concerns about life. I came home feeling I was touched by them right in my own backyard, as well as ministering to them with encouragement and compassion.
Your words encourage me to keep on listening and offering hope right where Iam! Thank you BelovedGod!
My heart goes out to everyone in the video, but especially the children.
My own individual calling is to assist in the caring for innocent animals,
who,through no fault of their own are caught in the uncertainties of nature itself, or cruelty at the hands of human beings.
The song and the message of hope was powerful.
Thank you for a very sobering reflection today. I am guilty of falling in to the trappings of the fire situations that are a part of my lifetime. I am hopeful, prayerful, & optimistic but I find it difficult to maintain this outlook when the “bad” times persist. What helps me is my music ministry & the students I tutor. The people whose life I touch find such joy in positive, engaging cncounters with me that it feeds my soul & restores my faith in humankind. I know God is asking me to open my eyes to the influence of the people in my life.
IT IS OCT.3 AFTER SEEING WHAT HAPPENED IN LAS VEGAS THIS WEEKEND , I HAD TO GO BACK TO THE SONG AND VIDEO OF LAST WEEK TO REMIND ME OF HOW YOUR LIFE CAN CHANGE IN AN INSTANCE AND HOW YOU LIVE IT EVERYDAY IS IMPORTANT.
The comments have been inspiritng to me.