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Keys For Change: Spiritual Exercise 02/17/20

Facing Our Immortality Support Group

Time: 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm mountain (8:30 pm to 10:00 pm eastern).

  1. Call Uber Conference at 720-735-7025 or
  2. Online at uberconference.com/facingourimmortality

REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Keys For Change

A story is told of a man frantically searching for his lost keys under a streetlamp. When a police officer stops to help the man, he asks him where he last had his keys. “Over there by the bushes,” responds the man. “Then why are you looking here?” asks the policeman. “Because the light is better here.”

At the beginning of the year, as we contemplate changes to be made, it can be helpful to question our focus.  Sometimes change comes not from focusing on something in the environment, but rather on the environment itself and whether it supports the goals and expectations we have.

One of the key concepts in education is the concept of the prepared environment.  In observing children, Maria Montessori noted that when one understood the developmental needs of the child, they could arrange the environment in such a way that it would not only be conducive to real growth and development, but would accelerate thriving and happy explosions of learning, or sensitive periods as she called them, for optimal growth.  

To emphasize the importance of this idea, she used the example of a waterwheel often placed alongside a river to generate energy.  She noted that if you were to relocate the waterwheel to the desert, it would fail to function because it would be in the wrong environment.  So she arranged the classroom accordingly and demonstrated the remarkable fruitfulness of paying attention to the environment if you want to truly serve children in healthy development.

The idea of prepared environments is a universal concept that has been around since the beginning of time. In fact, the understanding of the importance of environment runs through Scripture as an undergirding theme, from the Garden of Eden to the Promised Land to the instructions for worship and community life, to Jesus’ teachings about the Church and eternal life.

It also runs through the saints’ teachings on holiness, where we discover, once we have committed to the work of sanctification, that we often have to change our environments and relationships to avoid the near occasions of sin, which we encounter so quickly in life today. If we fail to address environment, it becomes almost impossible to conquer the disorder and temptations that are long-standing and prevalent in us.  (An active alcoholic cannot expect to recover if he takes a job in a bar, or continues to socialize with people who are always drinking. The environment overpowers him in his weakness and does not serve but sabotages his efforts.)

Another area where this concern is also present is in the Church’s directions to religious communities and parish communities.  Religious communities are structured the way they are for the sake of creating environments that help members live the perfection of charity and give prophetic witness of the life to come.  Parish communities are meant to support people’s search for God and a deepening relationship with Him while providing at the same time, a place for authentic, communal worship of God as His People.

Family life was also ordained by God from the beginning of time, as the best environment for children to be raised in and for human beings to live in. Jesus points to this importance of environment both in his life, (Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, the Holy Family) and when He tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God.  As He returns to the Father He tells his disciples not to be sad, because He goes to prepare an eternal place for us in His Father’s Mansion.  -Jn 14:3 What anticipation we should feel at that thought!

Why is this particularly important for us today?  Because we see the increasing effects of chaos and barbarism, which are the fruit of environments that are disordered and detrimental to the dignity and development of the human person and human communities.  Environment isn’t the whole answer, but it is remarkable how a good environment can draw the best out of people while the opposite often happens in unhealthy environments.

Vatican Council II talked about the role of the laity in sanctifying the temporal order.  Another way to understand that is to say the laity are responsible for creating environments which are conducive to the living out of our relationship with God here and now, and as preparation for eternal life hereafter.

Laity should be sanctifying all areas of human activity: law, politics, medicine, technology, education, science, etc., by supporting and establishing Christian environments that respect the human person and are structured to the recognition of God’s order and the full development of the human person, vs. the profit or power at all costs mentality.  

The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to examine our environments and ask some tough questions.  How much is happiness or a lack of joy and satisfaction tied to disorder in my environment?  In the life of my family, friends, etc.?  What is my work environment like? What about my social environment?  Where can I bring some humanizing and Christianizing influence into the environments I live in, work in and recreate in? What kind of self-discipline is necessary to keep that order once it is established?

It is, of course, necessary to look at the environment of our own hearts.  The interior of our own hearts tend to dictate the order or disorder around us.  At the same time, some environments are more healing to the heart than others. And our goal should be to create these kinds of environments.

This life, as we have often said, is a preparation for the life we will live in eternity. If there are things in our life here that are not compatible with our dignity as children of God and future citizens of Heaven, then now is the time to clear them out and begin anew to recognize the great gifts and the high call God has given to us already here in time to participate in building the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.

1. Do I have set goals for this time in my life?

2. What is my current environment like?  Given the things I am dealing with right now, does my environment support the goals I have at this time in my life?

3. What kinds of things in my own heart might need attention?

4. Given that emotions/moods can be contagious, how do I affect the environment of people I live with, socialize with, work and worship with?

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