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Getting to the Heart of Doing Good

Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA – Co-Director

Research has shown that giving makes us far happier than receiving.

Now, there is a new study showing that there are connections in the brain between areas associated with generosity and areas related to happiness. The research suggests that the joy of giving starts in the brain.

While I found it intriguing that the study found a neural link between generosity and happiness, I couldn’t help but wonder: what about the heart?

I am a firm believer that giving begins with the heart. I believe that we each must decide in our hearts if we are willing to give and what we will give.

Our attitudes toward material things reflect the condition of our hearts – we can check our attitudes to see if we have a “getting” heart or a “giving” heart.

Is what we have never enough and are we always seeking more? Or do we put others first and do everything in our power to make a difference?

Is our heart devoted to material things? Or is it devoted to God and/or humanity?

We can find out if we have a giving heart by checking areas of our lives that require giving. Here are some examples:

  • Do we offer to help a loved one or try to stay busy so we don’t have to?
  • Do we offer to mentor or encourage others?
  • Do we skip a break to help a co-worker finish a project?
  • Do we help clean up after an event?
  • Do we take interest in the marginalized?
  • Do we listen attentively to conversations?
  • Do we willingly give up the last piece of the dessert?

All of the above require us to put others first – exactly what a giving heart does.

Over the weekend, I was standing in line at a dollar store when I noticed a little boy – probably about 4 years old – standing in front of the automatic door. He exclaimed to his father “It opens by itself!” His father explained that it opens when you stand it front of it.

The youngster approached the door twice as if he was testing it to see if his father was right. Then he walked over and stood by his mother in the check-out line.

A few moments later, a lady approached the door and the little boy ran over to stand in front of it. As she walked into the store, the boy looked up at her and said: “I opened it for you!”

With a broad smile on her face, the lady looked down at the boy and said: “Thank you so much!”

The boy returned a beaming smile and said “You’re welcome!” He then skipped back over to his smiling parents.

A small act of kindness can go a long way.

The Bible says “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I believe that when people are generous, they discover the joy of giving.

Whether the willingness to give begins in the brain or heart, I am convinced that there is nothing more fulfilling than knowing you have made a difference in the lives of others. It only takes one small act of kindness to make the world a happier place.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

The Church Can Make a Difference in the Life of Migrants

Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA – Co-Director

A few days ago, Pope Francis tweeted “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, and war.”

His words spoke to my heart and brought back memories from 15 years ago, when one of my journalist colleagues and I spent months with migrant workers and their families to gather information for a series of stories that chronicled their lives.

I recalled the slum-like living conditions of many of the migrants –apartments that felt more like warehouses than homes; houses with exposed live electrical wires and overcrowded no-pest strips dangling from water-stained ceilings; roach-infested rental properties in desperate need of repairs.

My retrospection elicited the same emotions that I experienced all those years ago – heartbreak and repulsion.

I still cannot comprehend what motivates people to mistreat, exploit, abuse, and oppress others, especially those who are vulnerable, like the migrants. If those landlords could have seen those migrants as their brothers and sisters, they would treat them with dignity.

Pope Francis is right. All of the migrant workers with whom we spent time were in search of a better life.

Like the European immigrants who came to America, the migrant workers who shared their stories came seeking greater economic opportunities. Many had left their homeland to escape crushing poverty and, in some cases, repressive political regimes.

They, too, were drawn to the United States by the promise of the American dream. They had spent their last to come to this country for a chance at jobs that most Americans turn down.

Migrant after migrant shared how their primarily goal was to work for money that could be sent back home to pay for things like food, shoes, housing, and education for the loved ones they had left behind. Many expressed hope to be able to return to their families someday.

One man shared that the only source of water in his small rural village was a single pipe and that the houses had dirt floors and tin roofs. He said he could work all day and make nothing at home.

I am inspired by the fact that the Catholic Church is committed to the just treatment of migrants, immigrants and refugees and that church leaders have called for increased pastoral outreach among the migrants.

I am blessed to have seen the church in action:

The couple who couldn’t speak Spanish yet befriended a Spanish-speaking migrant couple and became godparents to their three children.

The volunteers who gathered in church basements and fellowship halls to teach English classes to migrant workers and their children.

The woman who accompanied an injured migrant worker to the emergency room to translate for him and hospital staff.

The advocate who established a nonprofit agency to meet the needs of migrants.

The attorney who helped migrant workers resolve legal issues.

The priest who provided pastoral support and guidance to the migrants.

Like the priest, the attorney, the advocate, the woman, the volunteers, and the couple, we (who are the church) have the power to change the way our migrant brothers and sisters are treated.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

God Wants Your Heart: Why Not Give It Today?

Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA – Co-Director

Be an Organ Donor. Give Your Heart To God.

Those words — posted on a sign in front of a Lutheran Church –caught my attention.

My first thought was, “Clever!”

My second thought (sparked by my sometimes unusual sense of humor), was, “I guess the ‘up’ side is that you don’t have to die to do that!”

Then, I began to reflect upon what it means to give your heart to God.

I imagine that we all know the value of the physical organ – how it is central to our circulatory system, pumping life-giving blood to all areas of our bodies.

But clearly, the words on the church sign were referring to not the physical organ but to our spiritual heart.

It is our spiritual heart that controls our belief and behavior. It determines how we handle life’s challenges and struggles. It is the place that holds our emotions, our mind, and our will. Everything we do flows from our heart. It is our essence. It is the center of our being. It is who we are.

When we give our heart to God, we give God control of our very being.

When we give our heart to God, we consciously make a decision to surrender our will to God’s will – God calls the shots, not us!

When we give our heart to God, we consciously make a decision to live our life for God and to make God the Lord of our life.

God wants our heart, which means God wants us.

God wants our unclean heart in order to give us a new, clean heart.

God wants our heart to empower us with the Holy Spirit.

When we give our heart to God, we are transformed, strengthened, and renewed.

We can experience that renewal, strength, and transformation if we choose to give our heart to God.

There’s no time like the present – give your heart to God today.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

A Better World Begins With You and Me

Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA – Co-Director

When I saw the photo of a smiling 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen, my heart cried.

When I saw her bereaved mother, tears flowed down my face.

I was overcome with agony, grief and empathy.

In Nabra, I saw my daughter.

In her mother, I saw myself.

I cried out: “My God! Help this mother! Help her family!”

Nabra’s death is frustratingly tragic: she was beaten and killed early Father’s Day morning as she walked with a group of friends back to her Virginia mosque, after gathering at a nearby restaurant for suhoor (the meal Muslims share before beginning their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan).

According to published reports, Nabra and her friends were walking and riding bicycles – some were on the sidewalk and others were in the road – when an angry motorist drove up behind them and began arguing with a teen on a bike. The motorist drove his car over a curb, scattering the teens. In a nearby parking lot, he got out of his car and gave chase with a baseball bat. When the friends regrouped, they realized that Nabra was missing.

The motorist reportedly caught Nabra, struck her with the bat, placed her in his car and drove away. Her body was found hours later in a man-made pond a few miles away.

Police are describing Nabra’s death as an incident of road rage that escalated into deadly violence. Some, including her parents, are voicing skepticism and asking authorities to investigate Nabra’s murder as a possible hate crime (she was reportedly wearing an abaya and hijab).

Whether it was a hate crime or road rage, Nabra’s tragic death has raised unsettling questions about the role of Islamophobia in our society and whether we are seriously committed to doing something about it.

In a time when racially and religiously motivated tensions have fueled a dramatic increase in hate crimes, those of us who are committed to justice, equality and equity must step up, speak out, and take action to do what we can to end Islamophobia. (Statistics show that discrimination and bigotry against American Muslims is worse today than in the months following 9/11. FBI hate crime data shows a surge in the number of hate crimes nationwide, with attacks against Muslims increasing the most sharply).

We must refrain from and reject hateful rhetoric.

We must educate ourselves to gain a better understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters and to distinguish the differences between culture and religion.

We must speak out against Islamophobia and stand in solidarity with people of the Islamic faith.

We must embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We must recognize that Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia all are fruits of the same tree of hate.

We must actively engage in re-framing the narrative to prevent more Islamophobia.

I believe that there are enough people of goodwill in the world to make things better – like the thousands of people
who participated in vigils nationwide and poured into the Virginia mosque to pay respects to Nabra and support her family.

Now is the time to make our world a better place!

“…violence is destroying us. You know, we’re seeing violence growing every day in our streets, in our homes, in our towns, in our cities, in the world itself. Everywhere we turn, we see violence and hate and prejudice and anger and all of these negative emotions that are destroying humanity. And we have to wake up and take note of this and try to change our course, so that we can create a world of peace and harmony….”
— Arun Gandhi

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Travel as Prayer

Blog by Anita Davidson, OPA

To celebrate my 60th and her 30th birthday, my daughter and I took a trip to Ireland and Lithuania. Ireland because I’ve always wanted to go there and Lithuania because my maternal grandparents emigrated from there to the US. It was my first trip “across the pond” and I was full of anticipation!  The red-eye flight from Chicago to Dublin left me exhausted, but even exhaustion couldn’t quash my delight as we shared our first beautiful Irish sunrise followed almost immediately by a rainbow!  It felt as if all of Ireland was saying, “Welcome!  We’re so glad you’re here!” It was the beginning of a wonderful week of adventures.

I spent much of our visit awestruck – by the magnificent churches and castles, the beautiful countryside, the deep sense of history embedded in the cobblestones on which we walked.  Nature sings the praises of God in Ireland through the bright yellow fields of rapeseed, the Dunmore Caves, the rolling hills, the blue waters of Dingle Bay (and its famous dolphin!), the majestic Cliffs of Moher and all the way up to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. I’ve always imagined Ireland to be a “thin” place – where the boundary between heaven and earth is nearly non-existent.  It turns out that I was right!

As if the natural wonders weren’t enough, or perhaps because of the natural beauty of which they were a part, human beings have been hallowing this land since long before recorded history began.  At Newgrange is an ancient temple built around 3200 BCE (older than the pyramids!). Stone circles built by civilizations from 1100 BCE can be found all over the countryside. Christian monasteries and churches date back to the early 5th century CE, some of which are still at least partially standing.  As we visited many of these sites, I was moved to reflect on the deep connection to the Holy that must have permeated the lives of the generations of people who, without benefit of modern earthmoving machinery, spent their lives using their God-given gifts to imagine, design, carve, paint, and sculpt these magnificent structures.  Most of them began the projects knowing they would never live to see them finished, but hoping their children and surely their grandchildren would. I was deeply humbled by their vision and faith.  I wandered around them in wonder and awe, soaking up the holiness of the place, the land, the people.

Just being in Ireland – the land of Ériu, the goddess of the land – felt like prayer. Walking its fields and roads, wading in its waters, listening to its music, watching its dances, all felt like sacred ritual. I left this beautiful land with my heart and soul filled to overflowing.

Who knew there was more holiness awaiting me in Lithuania, the land of my ancestors?!  But I’ll save that for another day.

Click here for pictures.

Posted in Associate Blog, News