How do we cope with unrest in nation, world?

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, September 21, 2014

A student from the Chicago International Charter School, located on the campus of St. Anselm Parish, 6045 S. Michigan Ave., held up a sign during peace vigil and march on Nov. 30, 2012. The vigil was held following the shootings of two men outside of the nearby St. Columbanus Church. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Racial unrest in Missouri. Monday morning recaps of Chicago gun violence. The Ebola virus. Conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East. Western journalists and aid workers beheaded while tens of thousands of Christians are killed or routed from their homes by the Islamic State.

For the last several months, it seems as though people all over the United States have been subjected to one bit of bad news after another. While none has had the cataclysmic effect of the 9/11 attacks, they have continued to come at people from all directions and from near and far.

But people can find help by turning to their faith and paying attention to their spiritual lives, local experts say.

Brian Schmisek, director of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago, said the first Catholics should remember is that none of us are alone.

“That’s one benefit of being in a church,” he said. “There’s a community of people there.”

To help people who are seeking comfort, parishes should make sure they are welcome.

While parish communities can help, people often find more comfort in the smaller groups they belong to, groups like Bible studies or men’s or women’s clubs. Those groups tend to foster the kinds of friendships that can help people cope when the world is too much for them.

At the same time, those groups or even individuals can use the resources of the Internet and other communication technologies, Schmisek said. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website ( featured a Prayer for the People of Syria that the institute has used to open some of its staff meetings, Schmisek said.

It also has an online Bible and all of the daily Mass readings. The Bible that is posted — the New American Bible, Revised Edition — includes the notes that are in that edition to help people understand the Scriptures.

“Especially since Vatican II, Catholics have been really encouraged to open their Bibles and read them,” Schmisek said.

When they do that, they encounter people of faith who also went through hard times, but who were able to hold onto or regain their faith.

“It reminds us that our story is the story of the disciples, the story of the first century Christians,” Schmisek said. “They encountered trouble. They encountered times when their worlds were turned upside down. Think of the death of Jesus. The disciples abandoned Jesus. They still don’t get it, after spending three years with him. But after the death of Jesus, there was the resurrection.”

C. Vanessa White, assistant professor of spirituality and ministry and director of the Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program at Catholic Theological Union, said that she reminds people to “be attentive to how they practice their spirituality.”

White, who this term is teaching a course on an Introduction to the Christian Spiritual Life, emphasized that it is a practice, not a one-time or sporadic thing. People should think about what they can do each day, each week, each month and each year to keep themselves connected spiritually to God.

“Spiritual practice makes a space for God,” she said. “It gives us that strength, that fuel that can help us overcome, even in the midst of the challenge.”

White said one of her most important spiritual practices is to take time for Sabbath. For her, that means unplugging and ignoring the phone and email and other distractions for one day, or even a half-day, each week.

“Many people don’t take that time to stop and rest,” she said. “We feel like we have to keep going and going. But even God worked for six days, and then he rested. We need to take that time to be still and know that there is God.”

She also recommends that people pay attention to their physical needs, honoring their bodies by resting when they are tired, by getting adequate exercise, by eating well.

People also should take time to focus on gratitude.

“What you focus on is what you give power to,” White said. “Take the time to say thank you to God. Every night before you fall asleep, say thank you for wherever you have experienced God’s grace, even in the midst of troubled times. It may have been a horrible day, but there are moments of God’s grace.”

People who are feeling in a rut might want to make a list of their 10 favorite things to do, things that made them feel alive, that they no longer do, and make time to do at least one of them once a week.

In prayer, she said, Christians are best advised to include praise and thanksgiving, to ask God for what they want or need and then to listen. They should spend more time listening than praising and asking combined, she said.

“We spend a lot of time talking to God, when we need to take the time to really stop and listen,” she said.

Doing those things helps people to avoid being “sour saints.” Follow the example of Pope Francis and find the joy of the Gospel, she said.

“The Spirit should be overflowing,” White said. “But how can it flow if we are dry inside? We need to recover the Spirit that is life-giving.”