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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

These are my children

As I awake this morning, I am lying in bed and checking the world news. In doing so, I come across a picture of some displaced children sleeping on a blanket with pillows. They are wearing clothes that seem familiar. Two girls and a boy. They remind me of my children when they were younger. In fact, I have to restrain myself from thinking that they are my children. My children are safe at home with me. And yet, there they are, a picture of my children from not so long ago. These are my children. These are our children.

Sometimes I get the feeling that it is all too easy to dismiss what happens to other people in terms of "being thankful for what we have." While it is a good thing to be grateful for goodness in our lives, it is a blessed thing to feel sorrow for those who are suffering. Being a mother amps up the capacity to do this about a million percent. Anytime I see a picture like this, it beckons me to pray in such a way that I imagine God's loving arms embracing these children in fatherly protection. I see our Blessed Mother comforting the mother of James Foley in empathetic sorrow.

God, please heal our world. Grant us peace. Give us justice.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflections

From time to time over the past few years, my children have checked my blog. "Mom, when are you going to update your blog?" I thought it was cute how they still checked it, and I wondered about the fascination they had with reading it. I guess it became an opportunity to see their mother's words instead of just hearing them all the time. And perhaps I don't have the time during the day to phrase things exactly as I would in print. Writing is an exercise in slowing down thought, in being precise, in comtemplating. I have learned to cherish this process.

It reminds me of the technique used in Marriage and Engaged Encounter. As part of our marriage preparation, my husband and I were required to attend an Engaged Encounter weekend through our diocese. The format was similar to other youth retreats we had experienced, with one major difference. There was A LOT of writing involved, so much that people came out of their rooms shaking out the cramps from their hands. For some, the pain of writing cramps became indicative of a cramp of thought, an underdeveloped mental muscle having to bear the weight of the weekend's work. Tension aged the faces of couples who had not considered some of the deeper questions we had to confront. Much of their frustration, I'm certain, stemmed from the realization of marriage and what it was requiring from all of us, but I suspect that their inability to deal with these emotions directly realted to the fact that none of us had aquired the tools for reflection and transmission.

I love remembering these experiences because they now help guide me in instructing my children. I have been a full-time teacher for the past two years, and I think (at best) a part-time mother. Just recently, my husband was able to switch his employment, enabling me to stay at home with our children. After a nine-year hiatus, we will begin home schooling again next week. Much of their practical education will center around this lost art, the process of thinking and expressing. I thank God for this opportunity to reconnect with my children. Our world needs thoughtfulness, kindness, and eloquence. It needs self-sacrifice, dedication, and faith. In teaching our children in our home, we retreat from the world to find our place in the world. I'm thankful to have learned this lesson.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten update

I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult.

But I thought I would try it anyway. Giving up foods, drinks, television, etc. doesn't even phase me. But take away the comfort of my bed, and I become weak. Weak in a good way. Weak enough to know how addicted to comfort I really am, and how I might subtly prefer my own comfort to doing what God asks of me in my daily tasks.

So here I am this Lent. Giving up the one thing that I love...sleep...in order to "pummel my body and subdue it" so that I may grow in the dual call to charity, loving God and neighbor with a more perfect ardor.

How's it been going, you might ask?

Hmm....

Day one: Got up, prayed, blogged, felt really motivated, did everything well. I must say I was pleased with myself. Pride cometh...you know.

Day two: Got up, prayed, did some exercises, saw my husband still in bed, and decided to snuggle (after all, he does need my love to keep him warm). Fell back asleep. Blah.

Day three: Got up, prayed, drifted to sleep while praying, and gave up after 45 minutes of a painful battle of trying to stay awake. This is the day I realize how big of a nothing I am. Boy, can I relate to Peter and the Apostles in the garden. Here was their Lord, about to lay down His life for them and the whole world, and they couldn't even keep their eyes open. I bet they felt like real losers too!

Humility hurts.

Day four and beyond: I have since amended my Lenten sacrifice to rise at 5 am only during the week. Realistically, I need the weekends to recover. I have also found that praying first thing in the morning does not facilitate the waking up process, so I am adding a 30-minute burst on the treadmill to jolt me into action. Prayer will follow.Tried it this morning and it worked like a charm!

It's funny, because I once heard someone say that putting prayer first thing in the morning ensures that we are giving God our best. Clearly, my best was not happening then, so in keeping with the truth that grace builds on nature, I will go to God with a clear head AFTER I wake up my body.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

O happy Lent!

One of the things I've been wanting to tackle in my own life is discipline, so when I was discerning what my Lenten sacrifice would be, I kept that in the forefront of my mind. It's not enough to just do without sweets or coffee or anything like that. Lacking those things doesn't make me focus enough, and I usually find substitutes for them, anyway.

So this year, I am waking up at 5 a.m. each day during Lent. It might sound too simple, but for me it's a real sacrifice. I am usually up by 6:30 or so, and that is enough to get up and around before the kids go to school and I go to work. But that's not enough. I don't get time to spend in prayer when I wake up later, nor do I have time to collect my thoughts. At 5 a.m. no one is up. It's a built-in time for quiet reflection.

And mind you, God has a way of testing my resolve. In anticipation of my early awakening, I decided to get to bed early. Last night my husband and older children kept coming into the bedroom to try and find things, ask me questions, etc., so my "early" bedtime got pushed to about 11 o'clock. Additionally, my children are to the age where they mostly sleep through the night, but not last night. My 9-year-old daughter awoke at 3 a.m. with a fever and a cough that persisted through roughly 4:30, when I estimate was the time I was finally able to go back to sleep...for a half hour before my alarm went off.

At five o'clock, I had a profound conversation with God in which I asked Him if this sacrifice was really the one for me, given my crazy schedule, my five children, and my night-owl husband. The answer came back to me almost instantly...when was the last time you experienced the profound irony of God? Here I was doing the very thing that I had set out to do, to raise my heart and mind to God in the silence of the morning, and I was begging Him to release me from my promise.

I got it. Sacrifice. It's not supposed to be easy.

A blessed Lent to everyone! May we all share in the grace of Christ's passion through our Lenten sacrifices!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Celebrating marriage!


Last weekend, my husband was invited to speak in Altoona at St. Mary’s parish. It was a dinner event in celebration of marriage. He gave the keynote address, and I tagged along.

We had lived in Chippewa Falls about 12 years ago, and many of our old friends had come to join in the night’s festivities. What a wonderful surprise to be greeted by such wonderful familiar faces! More importantly, though, what a joy to see the gift of marriage alive in the union of the sixty or so couples who attended!

The most profound thing that I realized that night was that vibrant marriages are still thriving in our Church. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by the oppressive cultural sludge that seems to be threatening our families daily, and that’s why it’s so important to have these events in which we come together as married couples. We need to see each other…to know that there are others who all feel also at times that they are the only ones who delight in the freedom of the sacrament of marriage, who enjoy the beauty of family life, and who strive everyday to live according to the moral teachings of the Church regarding contraception.

Yes, we exist! And we’re full life, love, and laughter. Sometimes I feel like shouting that from a rooftop, but maybe it’s just enough to BE. The fact that we ARE in the world, but not fashioned from the culture, the fact that we HAVE children, and the fact that we can still BE together despite the human tendency to prefer satiating our selfish desires…all of these verbs of BEING draw us to conclude that the real change happens not in acting, but in being, in resting in the beautiful truth that God’s plan for us comes not from our own actions, but in our willingness to rest in HIS action. It is beauty. It is peace. It is communion.

Our being married is action enough for God to use to unleash his love into the world. Our being parents is the instrument God uses to perpetuate the future of his Church. When we realize that God’s action is built on BEING, the course of action we must take in our world becomes clear. We are to do His will. We are to be His light to the world. It is in His plan, not ours, where we find the greatest power for transforming our world.