Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Must Act

One of the first and more oft-repeated phrases of Pope John Paul II was “Be Not Afraid”. He spoke those words to the Polish people to give them strength to live their faith with courage, despite the oppressing communism they lived under. Many say that his 1979 visit to Poland was a turning point, and helped lead to communism’s downfall. The pope also spoke those words to millions of youths, to give them courage to live out their faith, despite our increasingly secular culture.

John Paul II told them to “Be Not Afraid” to give them hope, and through that hope, to call them to action. Be Not Afraid: You Must Act. His words apply to each of us today. Despite our fears, despite our feelings that we can do nothing of any importance, we must act. Even if it seems we can do nothing, God can do anything, and will, but we must act, and act with courage. Now is the time to “walk the talk”. Now is not a time for separation of church and state, but a time of union of church and state. Not one or the other leading, but working together to make a better country and a better world. And it starts with our actions, each and every one of us.


Yes, those letters mean what you probably think they mean. To me, they don’t seem appropriate for an Advent meditation such as this, but the Hallmark Company apparently thinks they are an appropriate Christmas greeting. The letters were prominent on the front of a Shoebox Greetings “Christmas” card in my local Hallmark store. When I told the clerk there that I was offended by the card and a number similar to it, she responded that they had no choice but to display and sell cards Hallmark sent them to sell. So I turned in my Gold Crown Card there, commenting that I likely wouldn’t be needing it in the future. Later, I reflected and decided to make my thoughts known to the company --- I decided to act. I purchased the cards and sent them with a polite letter to Mr. David E. Hall, President and CEO of Hallmark Cards, Inc., via overnight express mail. I asked him to change this trend of offering offensive cards. It’s been a few weeks and he hasn’t responded, even with a form letter. I guess I can conclude that profits matter more than customer concerns. So from now on, I will use one of the many other greeting card stores, and I encourage you to do the same.

A couple of weeks ago I read that JP Morgan Chase bank had informed all of its branches that they may not display Christmas trees or other such Christmas decorations in the banks. They didn’t want to offend anyone. I sent an email to the CEO of that company noting that I was offended by his bank’s notice to not celebrate a Federal Holiday, out of fears of offending someone. Well, I was offended, and unless the policy was changed I would express my offense by moving my $100,000+ account to another bank. That note also gathered no response to date. My local branch manager told me she would like to see the policy changed, but noted she could not disobey it. I told her of my plans; she smiled and wished me “luck”. Yesterday I walked into my local credit union bank. There was a large Christmas tree in the lobby and bunting and wreaths. I wasn’t offended. I’ll wait a couple of weeks, but without a clear response from JPM Chase, I’ll transfer my account to the credit union bank. It will be a minor inconvenience to change, but I’m sure I quickly won’t notice the difference.

A few months back a man spoke to the small men’s breakfast group I attend on Tuesday mornings. George Schwartz had written a book titled “Good Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible Investing”. George explained his faith, and his need to live it out, and how he came to start the Ave Maria Mutual Funds. The funds target investments in morally responsible companies. At least one of the funds was rated five stars. I read George’s book and commented on it on Amazon, but I took no action --- until last week. I thought about Advent, I thought about the need to change, I thought about the letters I had sent to CEOs of major companies, and the actions I would take there. And I decided to take action here, also. I looked at some of the mutual funds I had in my retirement account, and I looked at the Ave Maria funds. The returns were similar, if not better for the Ave Maria funds. So I sent a note to my financial advisor and said I had to “walk the talk”, and to sell the funds I had and to switch into the Ave Maria mutual funds. I’m not sure that the net financial results of that switch will be positive or negative to me, but it is one I HAD to make. I knew had to act.

These are three examples of actions I took in recent days, resulting from my Advent reflections. I wanted to turn my thoughts into action.

I know some of you now reading this little article are thinking, even if not voicing: “Your actions are to be commended, but they won’t make one bit of difference.” Perhaps in some ways, you are right. The CEO’s, as demonstrated by their inaction to date could care less about my little concerns or actions. And I certainly won’t sink any large mutual funds, and am unlikely to cause any major companies to behave in more moral ways. And so, from that point of view, nothing is likely to change --- although God could choose make changes even there. Who am I to say what He would choose to do with my meager efforts at standing up for Him?

Perhaps my small actions will make no changes these companies, but don’t you see? My small actions will make changes here, right here, in me. If I don’t act, if I give in to the declines in the culture; or if I say “What I do won’t matter”; then I will change. I won’t care as much anymore. I’ll make excuses for these CEOs, these companies, and others like them now, and others much worse to come. I’ll be buying into the separation of church from state: morality does not matter in business or government. And I will be a worse man for my giving in. I don’t want to be that man.

John Paul II challenged us: Be Not Afraid! What if my actions accomplish nothing more but a change in me? That could be a hugely valuable thing. What if my friends hear of my actions and respond with that quiet little smirk? What if some of my acquaintances think: “He’s a bit of a religious nut, always carrying this religious thing too far?”

But what if some of the youth I meet react like those who heard Pope John Paul II, and thought “Yes, we need to act as he does; we can make change.” And what if some of the confused adults I meet think “Well at least SOMEONE is making a stand --- perhaps I should also.”

A major wall fell, and the world changed, when John Paul II said: “Be Not Afraid.”

What are you afraid of?


  1. Apropos action: God does not ask us to succeed, He asks us to TRY. Act away. Little actions raise questions, enlighten sensitivities and you never know what the Holy Spirit will do. My own small act--I sent real, honest to goodness Christmas e-cards to my team, my colleagues and yes even my boss. No Happy Holidays for me...and so far, no ripples. By the way there is at least one Catholic e-card site. I've taken to e-cards rather than spend money on something that will be discarded--at least for people who are computer savvy!

  2. Merry Christmas to you, Tom! Thank you for having the courage to speak up for what is right. Without your courageous words and actions and the words and actions of other brave souls who stand up for what is right, nothing would ever change.

    I admire your fortitude and conviction, your living a Christlike life in this world of sin and temptation! Keep it up into the New Year!

  3. Thank you, A, for standing up also. My former boss is a follower of this blog, and we regularly exchange words of encouragement, words of faith. I've had many consolations from God in my life, people who I barely know who said something I said or did made a difference to them, one even dedicated years of his life to try and follow my lead. You never know what God will do if you trust in Him, and just TRY.
    Thank you also, A, for words of encouragement. You are also an encouragement for me.
    I wish you both much strength and joy in this coming new year.