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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The faces of courage

Last night, my husband and I had the privilege of hearing a story about God's extraordinary intervention of grace. We attended a local Theology on Tap gathering to which a speaker was invited to share his very personal story of healing and redemption from the loss of innocence in childhood all the way up through his very active participation in the homosexual lifestyle.

His journey began as a young child, searching for love and acceptance, only be met with fear and violence in his household. His stepfather and older brother viciously abused him all throughout his developmental years, and his escape from this situation only took him further into a life of abuse by his own addictions. He entered the social scene in New York at the hight of the homosexual surge in the seventies. By the time he left New York, about ninety percent of his friends had died because of the AIDS epidemic.

This humble man recounted instances in his life where he had known the hand of God was leading him out of the darkness and into the light. His conviction that he was miraculously preserved from AIDS and completely healed of Hepatitis-B in order to spend the rest of his life "making up for what I did." He credited the prompting of his conversion of heart to Mother Angelica, who spoke the truth with love through his television set.

After stealing time away from his partner to watch Mother Angelica, this man named Paul went to his first confession in 35 years. He knew he had to take steps to heal and overcome his addiction so deeply ingrained, so he reached out to Courage, the apostolate that helps people with same-sex attraction live chastely, according to the teachings of the Church that are founded upon principles of natural law.

One of the challenges Paul encountered on his road to recovery was the hardship of having to drive many miles into another diocese to attend Courage meetings, as his own bishop was not supportive of his request to establish a group within his own diocese. He appreciated the clear teaching about chaste living, not wanting to be patronized by a softening of the Church teaching which had been encapsulated by the strength and no-nonsense style of Mother Angelica, whom he had come to cherish.

I think there are many things that we can take away from Paul's testimony. One is that love crosses seemingly insurmountable obstacles to bring people back from the brink of self-destruction. We should not lose hope for our loved ones who have been seduced by the darkness of the culture. Secondly, our modern inclination to make truth more palatable by chipping away at it in the interest of "pastoral sensitivity" is misguided. Mother Angelica was famous for telling it like it is, but there was never any doubt that she loved her viewers with an insurmountable love, one that reached right through the television set and set their hearts on fire.

Since Paul's conversion, and through his affiliation with Courage, he has generously and bravely agreed to share his story of God's love and redemption in his life with a wider audience. His testimony, along with the testimonies of two other courageous souls who struggled with same-sex attraction is available to view on Vimeo.

Please join me in praying for them. Their witness to seeking holiness will undoubtedly touch hearts, but it will also pierce the consciences of those who will not want to let go of their addictions without a violent fight. God bless and protect these brave men and women who sacrifice and risk everything to testify to the truth.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Giving birth to hope

As many of you have now heard, Baby Shane, the Facebook celebrated baby who was diagnosed with anencephaly, has been born, baptized, and welcomed to heaven in a short span of roughly four hours. His parents have chronicled their journey, inviting the world to celebrate and suffer with them in this transforming life event. Their brave smiles conquered fear and death with an inspiring hope in eternal life.

I learned about another mother this week who is bravely and hopefully embracing suffering in a most profound way. She is a young mom with a loving husband and four small children. After having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, her message to the world is selfless indeed. "I know that people look at my story with small children, and they have a hard time looking, but it's not the absence of God's goodness. It has caused us to look for love and embrace each moment with our children."

These two mothers share an indomitable hope in God's love and His plan for our lives. They have reached out through social media to share, to inspire, and to evangelize our culture which in desperate need of faith, hope, and love. Thank you, young moms, for your witness. Your sacrifices are touching hearts and calling us all to live more deeply in the presence of God, uniting our sufferings to Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The fantastical story of the prodigal son

There has been a lot of chatter about the parable of the Prodigal Son lately, and it usually ends with one group of people within the Church judging or insinuating that another group of people within the Church is a acting like the older brother.

Ouch. Nobody wants to be called the older brother. Every well-formed Christian knows themselves to be the Prodigal Son.

The truth of the matter is that I honestly don't know anyone who could rightly be identified as an older brother. The older brother was angry that his repentant younger brother was so easily forgiven by his father after squandering his inheritance. Even though his younger brother had been through hell and realized what unconditional love and joy he had rejected, the older brother could not overcome his own jealousy at the lavish feast that was prepared for his malnourished sibling.

So why would anyone identify another with such hateful behavior? I believe it stems from a deliberate twisting of scripture. Instead of reading the text in the light of the Church, our culture has become accustomed to falling into the habit of, "I'm going to find a text to support my view." In particular reference to the aforementioned trend, "Disagree with me, and I'll slam you with a biblical reference to a horrible character in one of Jesus' stories about love and redemption."

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't we be reading great texts, the Sacred Text being the greatest, and with the wise assitance of the Church fathers and Saints, hear the beckoning of the Holy Spirit in our own lives instead of going around, thinking ourselves to be brilliantly original, and assaulting people with our new take on Scripture? When we do this, we create a fantastical story about our own agenda that becomes unrecognizable from the original form.

It's a challenge to all of us in this weird modern culture. Pray, study, contemplate. Correct when necessary, and don't fall into the habit of holy-cloaked name-calling when words fail.