Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Out of an endless summer

This year I missed out on experiencing the seasons as I always had. We moved to Florida from Wisconsin last summer, and I didn't anticipate how a year without dramatic changes in temperature would make me feel.

There were many things to appreciate. Not having to scrounge for socks, hats, mittens, or coats. Getting to keep out my summer clothes year-round. Not having to shovel snow or drive on icy roads. Going strawberry picking in January. Taking walks outside without having to bundle up.

But there were times when the good weather bothered me. And I couldn't make sense of it until I realized, quite suddenly, that it was already May. In Wisconsin, May is a beautiful month. Flowers are starting to sprout from their bulbs. The trees are budding. Neighbors come out to greet each other after a long winter spent indoors. Everything is coming to life again. And we celebrate Our Lady who brought Light into the world.

In Florida, May is also a beautiful month. Every day is beautiful. So I guess that's what hit me. Every. Day. Is. Beautiful. There is no winter hardship here that binds people together in suffering and compassion. No frozen darkness out of which the great warmth of spring emerges. No sense of joyful anticipation. Only an expectation that each day will be as beautiful as the last.

I have often heard the question, "Why would an all-powerful and loving God permit us to suffer so terribly in this life?" People don't deny that suffering is a part of life. Suffering is inevitable and universally recognized. But the question remains.

So many people have friends, money, and power. Yet true happiness eludes them. Each day is a fulfillment of their physical desires, yet the soul cannot be quenched. They have an expectation all needs will be met, and they find themselves dulled to appreciate even the temporal pleasures that they once pursued so vigorously. They become difficult to please and even harder to live with.

Attempting to live a life free of suffering is like wishing to read a book without the conflict. Yawn. We all love an inspiring tale of heroic bravery or overcoming great obstacles, yet we tend to flee at first indication of personal sacrifice. Our lives are a great story being written with all the peaks and valleys that come with it. Aren't the peaks more triumphant when the valleys have been deeper? Absolutely. And so it shall be in our heavenly home.

An answer that has come to me in the experience of an endless summer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fifty Shades: What hits the fan

Ladies, who are we kidding with this? Ourselves. Each other. If you have happened upon this series, and participated in reading them, I will chalk it up to a moment of weakness, of indiscretion, perhaps of temporary insanity. But you insist upon defending this insipid junk porn, or worse, recommending it to others, I must take issue with you. You cannot blame anyone but yourselves for the perpetuation of ignorant female characters in literature, for the promotion of domestic violence, and for the misdirection of our daughters into the hands of men who will devalue them in every way.
After researching this vapid piece of cultural excrement that is known as "Fifty Shades," I have come up with a list of responses to those who would attempt to defend it. Many of them are analogies to eating poop.
Gullable and undiscerning: I wanted to read it just to see what all the fuss was about, and I had to finish reading it, because I always finish what I start.
Translation: Everyone was eating this thing, and I realized halfway through that it was poop, but I thought, well, I always finish what I start. (See Ratatouille. Q."What are you eating?" A."I don't really know.")
Lusty lady: Well, the violence and dominating aspects bothered me a little, but it really energized my sex life.
Translation: So, I ate this giant pile of poop, and buried deep within it was some chocolate that really gave me a sugar rush. It's not for everyone, but it really helped me.
Hopelessly delusional: It's only the first book in which he abuses her. He's really just hurting on the inside. After reading all the books, you can see that she heals him from his brokenness.
Translation: I ate this poop because everyone told me I could eat candy for dessert. (AND, by the way, isn't the abused woman's mantra, "Oh, you just don't know him like I do." Mix with a big dose of "I can change him," and call me when you're an emotional and physical wreck. Or dead. You could be dead, but then you couldn't call.)
Bandwagoner: I saw that everybody was reading this book, and I thought it looked a littler naughtier than my usual reads, but I had to read it to keep up with the culture. It's harmless fun.
Translation: I knew it was a big pile of poop, but everyone was eating. It's fun to eat something other than what I usually eat, and I didn't want to be left out of talking about how fun it was to eat the poop.
Avid reader: Well, at least it gets people reading.
Translation: Better to eat poop than to starve.

Finally, one thing to ask yourselves...
If Christian Grey sported a mullet and a handlebar moustache, wore a grease-stained t-shirt with flannel pajama pants, lived in his parents' basement, had missing teeth and bad breath, would his behavior still excite you?
If the answer is no, you have been seduced into accepting a horrifying and damaging situation by the glitz and glamor of a wealthy, high-powered, and well-groomed monster.

Don't see the movie. Don't promote the books. Don't laugh it off. Spread the word. It's not too late.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Je suis Flopsy

Oh, rabbits. Lots of people are talking about them. Their cuteness, their reputation as prolific procreators, their improvident nature.

The term, "rabbits," is well known by faithful Catholic women. When directed at a Catholic woman who has been given the gift of fertility, is taken to be a slur because it is a slur. I remember hearing this metaphorical term attributed to irresponsible procreation for the first time in college.

A college friend of mine was showing me around the campus. Our dorm was situated on the top of the hill. As she guided me along, she pointed out a row of broken-down, sad-looking buildings that were littered with dirty toys and tricycles.

"Those are the rabbit hutches," she pointed out with a nod and a wink.

"Rabbit hutches?" I asked.

"Yeah, you know, married student housing. Breeding like rabbits?"

It was my introduction to a mentality that would strike fear into the hearts of all young women who ended up with an unplanned pregnancy. The rabbit hutches served as a sort of cautionary tale, a symbol of derailed dreams and compromises.

"Oh, God, I don't want to end up there," I remember thinking.

Fast forward a year and a half later. A trip to the student health center. What was one of the images that flashed through my mind as the health worker read me the result of my pregnancy test?

Those stupid rabbit hutches.

I had earned the insult, I thought. I was one of them. I became a rabbit, and I was making other rabbits. I was irresponsible, impulsive, and extremely fertile. And so was my boyfriend who I ended up marrying as soon as we had our baby bunny.

Fortunately, we were able to prepare for our marriage with a pretty fantastic priest who had us read encyclicals about marriage. We attended Natural Family Planning courses that helped form us in God's plan for married love as being open to life while having the knowledge about fertility.

I am glad that we got to have such fantastic formation, but what is sometimes left unsaid is that NFP can have a bit of a learning curve. And it might take a few bunnies to master. And, gosh darn it, isn't that a huge part of marriage anyway?

That being said, the narrative of the out-of-control mindless rabbits, I would suspect, is one that hits a nerve with many faithful Catholic women. Because we've heard it whispered in the grocery store as we pass by with a cart-full of kids. Because we've been shocked by our own fertility. Because we've had to sacrifice and give up marital relations on the only days that we have desire (ladies, you know this to be true). Because we've struggled with difficult pregnancies. Because we've been mocked by our own family members. Because we've been haunted by the image of a house that is dirty and in disrepair...and how would we be witnessing to life if people saw how our children have torn clothes and run recklessly through the streets causing mayhem?

Just today, I read a delightful post by Father Dwight Longenecker about the March for Life. His post reformed this slur into an image of adorable humility and bravery...and humor. Just picture it... hundreds of thousands of bunnies marching for life. Demonstrating the beauty of fertility. In your face. Many other women, after getting through their initial hurt at an off-the-cuff and I'm going to say rather reckless comment, have joined in on the teasing. It is a good and healthy thing to find humor in these situations.

Another one of my friends wrote a little comment about Flopsy bunny. For those of you who may not be familiar with Flopsy, I urge you to read the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter. It's in the second grade curriculum for many homeschool and independent schools. Potter describes Benjamin and his wife, Flopsy, to be "improvident"...not concerned about the future. From a human standpoint, the reader might be tempted to feel superior to these foolish rabbits. 

Instead of feeling superior to Flopsy, I have found myself warmly united to her in all her "rabbitness." Perhaps she and Benjamin had too many children too quickly. They didn't have enough to eat, and they had to scrounge for food. Benjamin had been killed trying to do just that. Maybe they weren't always "responsible." But one thing is clear. Flopsy loves her children. She grooms them, she disciplines them, and she does so with great care and concern. Benjamin and Flopsy had four bunnies..Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter...and probably would have had more if not for the untimely death of Benjamin. They were, after all, rabbits.

It is said that the best way to conquer an insult is to transform it. So let's talk about rabbits. So what if the rabbit hutches are laughed at and the eye-rolls abound when we bring all of our kids to the store at once? Rabbits. So what if the society and even some in the Church suggest that I am being irresponsible because I'm trying to live according to how my well-formed conscience and the Church have encouraged me throughout two thousand years of doctrinal consistency? Rabbits. In entrusting my fertility to God, I have to call myself improvident, in the sense that I trust in God's providence. Any amount of planning could be derailed by another, better plan that God has for my life. Married life has taught me that. So call me a rabbit. I am like one. And if you knew what ultimate joy there is in being "like a rabbit," you'd hope to be like one too.

Je suis Flopsy! And I love my rabbits.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Prayer as foundation for action

We humans like to be busy. Our culture is a frenetic mix of those who seek constant action. On one hand, we see the pleasure-seekers, those who busy themselves with gratifying their own desires. On the other, there are the do-gooders, those who busy themselves with trying to solve all the problems of the world. The problem is that both of these groups drift can tend toward identifying themselves by their actions.*

What we sometimes forget is that our actions should flow from our prayer life, our rich union with God, who renews our intentions and focuses us to order our actions according to a holy priority. It is this relationship with God that is so vital to our relationships with others.

Sadly, this concept is becoming more foreign to our modern culture. We are increasingly tempted to forgo prayer for the sake of getting just one more thing done. Time-savers such as e-mail and the internet, cell phones, video conferencing, machines that wash our dishes and clothes, cars and planes that take us great distances in a short amount of time...all these have coaxed us into filling up our time saved with even more commitments and projects. And so we push out our time with God in the name of saving time.

The problem with skipping prayer...that time in which we recall that our Lord is King of all...is that we lose our focus. We get overwhelmed by all the projects because our sense of direction wavers according to what can most successfully grab our attention at any given moment.

I can think of one concrete example that I have studied in depth. In fact, I have no way of escaping this constant reminder. I live it everyday. It's my morning routine. But here, for the sake of time, I will skip to preparing breakfast.

My best mornings happen when I wake up to a clean and organized kitchen. I have thought ahead to what I am going to make. My kitchen utensils and pans are accessible and ready to go. I have enough coffee, and the pot the is clean. My job becomes easy.

There are mornings, though, when I wake up too late to (my oldest daughter uses the expression, "hangry" hungry+angry) kids and a trashed kitchen. Yesterday's morning elixir is still in the machine. Dirty pans with crusted food fill a sink that makes it difficult to maneuver even getting a glass of water. The refrigerator is filled with condiments and not much else. Can I provide food for my children under these circumstances? Well, there's always Dunkin' Donuts. It gets the job done, but is it good for them? It is good for me? Could we sustain our family on this routine? Well, I don't want to find out.

When my kitchen is trashed, the immediate need in the morning in my head is "must feed children." It distracts me from my ultimate goal of providing nutritional meals for them. Their hunger grabs my attention, not their nutrition.

If I choose to save time by not cleaning and shopping the day before, this is what happens. I am disoriented by the mess, and I just look for the quickest and easiest way to solve the problem.

Pausing for prayer is our cleaning and shopping time. We prepare for our task ahead of us by asking God what he wants of us. We are filled with His love then so we don't seek fulfillment in the outcome of our actions, which can be disappointing, depending upon the day. We dedicate our day to serving Him. We remember our being in communion with Him, and our actions flow from that great love.

Prayer is as simple as raising one's heart and mind to God, to paraphrase St. Therese. It is wonderful to have the ability to set aside regular, silent prayer each day, but young moms know that their most heartfelt moments happen in cries of utter exhaustion, "Help me, God! Jesus save me!" If we make it a habit of lifting our minds and hearts to God throughout the chores of daily life, our work becomes a prayer. Every diaper we change glorifies God. Every boo-boo we kiss is a wound of Christ. Each tantrum we subdue is a reminder to us to constantly fight against our rebellious spirits.

Our relationship with God sanctifies and perfects our actions throughout the day. It is not our actions that perfect us. Rather, it is the grace of God that makes us whole and ready to face each challenge that is set before us all for the His glory.


*For further reading about this topic, I would suggest the following works;

The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste
Holiness for Housewives (and other working women) by Dom Hubert Van Zeller

**For morning coffee, click here: Mystic Monk Coffee (much yummier than DD)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Veronica's veil

In recent years, many Catholics have become increasingly aware of the Church's humanness. The Church, as being fully divine and fully human, certainly has its times when the divinity is obscured by the humanity as seen in its flaws and weaknesses.

Christ himself, being fully divine and fully human, also demonstrated these times of outward weakness and frailty. When Christ took on human form, sharing fully in our humanity as one person with two natures, he allowed himself to be subjected to the weaknesses. He felt fear and sorrow, grief and pain, joy and anger, humiliation and temptation toward pride. All of these emotions he felt deeply without falling into sin.

Jesus demonstrated for us the perfection of humanity. He taught us to pray to our Father in heaven. He welcomed children. He forgave sinners. He reached out to the outcasts, and he challenged all of us to dedicate our lives to serving God more fully, not just in an outward manner, but in a deep, transformative union with the Blessed Trinity as actualized in the sacramental life.

He was also betrayed. And beaten. And scourged. And mocked. And hated.

On his way to his death, he struggled to walk underneath the weight of the beam that was to hold him for his last breath. His humanity certainly obscured his divinity at that moment, hiding beneath the blood and sweat of the flesh.

A woman named Veronica, overwhelmed by her sorrow at his frailty, removed her own veil to uncover the glorious face that was masked by the physical horrors of torture. Perhaps she paused a moment to consider the danger of such a bold act. Perhaps she experienced a grace to act without thinking of the consequences. Either way, she was not deterred by his grotesque disfigurement or by fears of guilt by association.

When our Church is disfigured by sin and corruption, I wonder if our first reaction is to consider the radiant face of Christ that hides beneath, or to retreat out of repulsion and the shock that our Lord could subject himself to such horrors and scandal.

Christ rewarded Veronica's brave act that encompassed faith, hope, and love with a miraculous imprint of his suffering face, because it was her veil that revealed the face of divinity in the midst of his passion.

Let us remember Veronica's veil when we are grieved by human frailty within the Body of Christ, the Church. It is in the midst of this passion that we need to recall the beautiful face of our Lord bloodied by our sins.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recognizing the better choice

I very recently came across an article that used the death of Brittany Maynard as an opportunity to more narrowly define the act of suicide, Brittany Maynard Didn't Commit Suicide (What We Can Learn From 9-11's Falling Man. In it, the author makes the case that Maynard's death was actually caused by cancer, not the pills that she took. He uses the example of the jumpers of 9-ll to support this assertion:
"In all the years since 9-11, I've never once heard a Christian speak up in judgement and condemnation over the 9-11 jumpers. I've never heard anyone say they sinned because they 'hastened death instead of accepting God's timing.' I've never heard anyone say that failing to condemn their choice is a 'slippery slope that could send the message that suicide is okay.' All I've ever heard about the 9-ll jumpers is how difficult their choice must have been, and how sad it is that their lives were taken by terrorism."
While I appreciate his view of Christians as being compassionate, I must respectfully disagree with his misguided perceptions. If he has never known a Christian to condemn the act of jumping to avoid a tragic and scary death inside a burning building, let me be the first.

Certainly, there were mitigating circumstances, and I can't even begin to imagine the fear and the panic that someone would experience in that situation. Of course, we cannot judge their souls. We have no idea what they were thinking at the time, if they were thinking at all. But it is imperative that we separate these anomalies from the act itself. If we fail to do this, any act becomes impossible to judge, and our entire sense of right and wrong upon which our society exists continues to be eroded.

These jumpers and Brittany Maynard did have something in common. They suffered from a loss of hope. We can say that the situation in which they found themselves was very difficult, the pessimist would even say hopeless. We cannot judge them for taking their own lives. But the circumstance does not change the act. The act must be assessed apart from emotion or turmoil. They ended their lives directly, no matter how immanent death was by other means. Were they without a choice? Certainly not. Others made different choices.

There were others who stayed inside the burning building, no doubt trying to comfort each other and thinking about their loved ones. Maybe even there were some people who offered up their sufferings for their murderers. Who knows how many prayers were said, lives amended, peace granted in those extraordinary moments of grace?

And there are others who struggle with cancer everyday, convinced that this is their path to sanctification, being tried by fire, and those of us who are witnesses to their bravery, their strength, their hope in the everlasting God who delivers on all His promises more abundantly than we could ever imagine, we are sanctified through suffering with them in admiration and empathy.

Anyone who attempts to redefine suicide is perhaps trying to make peace with a loved one lost, a world that is filled with many evils and injustices. But isn't that just allowing the sorrow to perpetuate? When we attempt to control things by redefining, by separating ourselves from the will of God that always works for our sanctification and our ultimate happiness which can only be fulfilled in Him, doesn't that just place us back in the Garden? We reach for the fruit that we have been convinced to consume out of distrust in God's promises for our future happiness.

If we look closely, there are choices that lead us closer to God, and there are choices that play into our own fears for the future. Clearly, there are better choices. Failing to recognize the better choice in a difficult situation makes it a hopeless situation. We must be able to recognize the better choice. Our future depends upon it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The loving gift of authority

I am the oldest of four girls. My father undoubtedly loves each one of us unconditionally. When we were growing up, he made us pancakes on Saturday mornings, took us to the park in his free time, taught us to ride our bikes, coached our all-girls sports teams, and made sure we attended Mass each Sunday. He also set the example of being active in our parish and in our community. My dad is loving and merciful. He is also an authoritarian.

Why would I call my dad an authoritarian? Well, I knew that he was the authority in my household. He did not wield his authority like a reckless tyrant, but he behaved in a manner that reflected the authority of Christ. My mother (no shy violet by any means) allowed him to make decisions that she might have disagreed with, but she acquiesced in recognition of his authority. I knew that Dad had the final say. It was admirable to be an authority figure. It was manly. I wouldn't have wanted my dad any other way.

Now that I have a family of my own, I am inspired by my father's example of gentlemanly authority and my mother's strong-willed submission. My married relationship has been formed in these balanced views of masculine and feminine complementarity. Recognizing and fostering my children's trust and respect for my husband's authority is a huge part of this. Their relationship with their father as a loving authoritarian sets the tone for their relationship with God.

I am blessed with a husband who sees love in law, freedom in structure, and mercy in justice. I listen to him as he imparts this wisdom to our children during their tutorial sessions for home instruction. I praise the Lord that He has given me this gentle, humble, holy, and strong man to lead our family. It is as Christ had intended.

So, too, does the Church need authoritarians. She needs men who are strong in their faith, who cannot be swayed by the lures of popularity or comfort. She needs priests and bishops who lovingly guide their people to be faithful to truth, to be soldiers for Christ, to have the conviction to go out and spread the Gospel in their everyday lives.

Charity and authority are not opposed to one another. A true authoritarian knows that love and respect are completely intertwined with protecting and preserving truth. The authoritative relationship of Christ to His Church models this, and we would be misdirected to imagine it any other way.

Thank you, Dad, for giving me my first lessons in loving authority. They have set the groundwork for my faith, they have given me to tools to recognize a good and holy man to be my husband and the father of our children, and they have continued to instruct and inspire me in my marriage and in my relationship with Christ and His Church.

St. Joseph, Protector of the Holy Family, pray for us.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The womanly art of being a nag

Probably one of the most devastating things I've heard in the course of this whole Brittany Maynard situation came from the lips of her mother. "It’s not my job to tell her how to live, and it’s not my job to tell her how to die."

Well, actually, that's precisely what a mother's job is. Mothers should tell their children how to live. I thought that was common knowledge, but in the words of Chesterton, "Common knowledge is not so common" anymore.

She goes on to say, "It's my job to love her through it." Yes. That is a statement with which I can agree. Brittany's mom was correct in saying that a mother's job is to love her child through the pain, through the confusion, through the fear, through the darkness.

The problem is that these two sentiments were allowed to coexist in a rational mind. A mother cannot simultaneously love her child through the pain and allow her to endanger her immortal soul through an act of usurping the decision that is God's alone. Mothers who know the value of a healthy soul would walk through hot coals to prevent their children from eternally separating themselves from God.

I know this because my mother did this for me. In a time in my life that was filled with confusion and doubt, my mother became a horrible nag. She would call me constantly to check up on me, she scheduled people to meet with me, and she prayed like a mad woman that I would repent. It annoyed me that she was telling me how to live, that she wasn't trusting my baby adult brain. Many of those decisions I ended up making during that time were a direct result of trying to get her off my back. Thank God she annoyed me. Thank God she was a nag.

I suspect that St. Monica was also a nag. I'm sure that it frustrated Augustine to have this "crazy" lady showing up in places and weeping over his soul. He recalled his gratefulness that she had never given up on him in his Confessions:
"For almost nine years passed, in which I wallowed 'in the mire of the deep' and in the darkness of error, and although I often strove to rise out of it, I was all the more grievously thrust down again. But all the while, that chaste, devout, and sober widow, one such as those you love, already livelier in hope, but no less assiduous in weeping and mourning, ceased not in all her hours of prayer to lament over me before you."
A mother's number one job is getting her children to heaven. Concern for the soul may not ever be trumped by concern for the body. Care for the soul demands that we scrutinize decisions that are made out of fear or in the midst of suffering. On a natural level, mothers have been trained to do this by the pains of birth and the emotional demands of motherhood. But training must not be limited to merely natural realms.

We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. We mothers need to arm ourselves with prayer and sacrifice. We need to make frequent use of the sacraments, and we need to be prepared to be seen as nags, definitely by the culture, but perhaps even by our own children.

Sometimes the only thing standing in the way of eternal darkness is the nagging of a good mother.

St. Monica, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

He who has ears, let him hear

In the past few days, I have had a number of conversations with friends and family about the mid-Synod document that was released by the Vatican on Monday. So many have voiced their concerns, because most of their information comes through the channel of the media. Educated, rational people, faithful Catholics who do their best to live out the teachings of the Church are confused because of what they hear the leaders of our Church considering.

These are not your average schlep to Mass maybe on Christmas or Easter Catholics. Neither are they the Sunday Mass Catholics who simply go through the motions. They have struggled against the culture to raise their families and live their faith according to the teachings of the Church, against the cultural tides, suffering in union with Christ, who comforts them in their times of trial.

They feel confused, and, dare I say, slightly betrayed by the prospect of our Church leaders caving in to the culture that they have been bravely living in and battling with. These families are not without struggles. Their lives are not unaffected by divorce, contraception, abortion, fornication, adultery, or homosexual behavior. In their experience of living out their faith, they have been confirmed in the wisdom of living according to the truth of the Gospel and the law of the Church, not because it "punishes" their loved ones who stray, but because their loved ones are tortured by the lifestyles they lead apart from the law. It causes them great suffering to see their loved ones misled by a seductive culture that promises happiness and leaves them with inconsolable loneliness.

Church leaders who seek to evangelize the culture at the expense of following law that is rooted in traditional moral teachings cannot expect a great yield. In Matthew 13, Jesus speaks to us in a parable that is very appropriate for our present moment, in the crossroads of a critical decision about where we should concentrate our efforts.

"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear" Mt 13:3-9.
Dear Synod Fathers, I ask you, in light of these words of Jesus, in seeking to provide relief to those whom you suggest suffer because of the law, have you become blinded to the possibility that you might be focusing your efforts on how to best scatter seed on thin, rocky and thorny soil? Christ himself assures you that these efforts will come up empty. By affirming the beautiful teachings of the Church that have brought so many of us into deeper union with Christ, you fertilize the soil that has already produced much fruit. By holding fast to the law and the traditions of the Church, you can lovingly continue to remove the rocks and the thorns and make more rich soil available to those in whom the Holy Spirit is already working.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Following Jesus' example of pastoral action as the Good Shepherd

In the midst of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there have been some questionable notions that have been promoted by some Church leaders as “pastoral.” One is the so-called “pastoral” technique of “graduality,” in which certain moral obligations are, in a sense, relaxed with the expectation that the person whose dedication is lacking will be moved by the outreach of the Church. Another presumed notion of “pastoral” action calls Church members to avoid language that is precise because its use could be inflammatory, thereby supposedly shutting down any opportunity of showing the merciful love of God. In the name of “pastoral sensitivity” the faithful have even been cautioned against bringing up certain topics, such as contraception, abortion, and homosexual behavior, because these issues are said to prevent the Church from reaching out. These notions about how the Church should proceed in relating to its body reveal a fundamental flaw in the understanding of what “pastoral” means.
Pastoral action is rooted in the image of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd. “I know my flock, and they know me,” (Jn. 10:14). This is why the calling of the Extraordinary Synod on the family is a good action. The Holy Father, as the head of the Body of Christ acts as Christ. He desires to know his flock. This is a great good, but it is also a risk in our modern time, since so many of the sheep are misguided and a great number of the shepherds have decided to follow where the sheep decide to go. Good shepherds know that they must stand firm and guide the sheep away from the wolves and thickets in which their horns can get tangled. Shepherds should know from years of experience what the sheep need to be guided and protected. Otherwise, the herd thins very quickly.

Pastoral action is love and law, united perfectly. To love is to will the good of the other. God wills that we have all the goodness He has to offer, and He has made us to desire the love that only He can give. Through the study of Christian anthropology, philosophers and theologians have been able to come to a deeper understanding of the essence of the human person. Humans innately desire union with God, union that can only come from following His laws that He has written on every human heart and has further defined through the authority of the Church. In softening these teachings for the sake of “reaching out,” Church leaders risk delaying the union that the Holy Spirit seeks for a great many souls. They become the shepherds who allow unruly sheep to lead the rest off a cliff.

Pastoral action is grounded in true and quiet humility that seeks only to draw focused attention to the matter at hand. Its fruit is clarity and union among those who honestly seek holiness. It does not promote unity for the sake of doctrine, but it rests peacefully in holy division (Mt. 10:34), always welcoming those who are touched by a moment of grace, by an event of transformation, by a tearful recognition of one’s own sinfulness. Church leaders who constantly chatter, using terms and phrases that are ambiguous and misleading, become accessories to unholy division, causing the faithful to doubt and argue among themselves, and further blocking the process of true conversion by confusing the message of the Gospel. They become shepherds who give unclear signals to the sheep, causing them to scatter in every direction, according to their own misguided instincts.

There are a good number of pastors, true shepherds, who have been so dedicated and disciplined in guiding their sheep that the sheep themselves have become conditioned to function despite the occasional bad shepherd that comes their way. These sheep know to stay out of the thorny bushes, they can smell a wolf coming from miles away, and they know where to go for nourishment. Thankfully, a good number of these sheep exist, but they are becoming weary of steering their misdirected brothers and sisters away from the shepherds who have these new ideas about shepherding. Strong leaders, clear teachers, and humble servants to the truth of the Gospel are needed in this modern time. Please, dear pastors, don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that shepherding has changed all that much from the time of when the Good Shepherd walked this earth.