The Gift of Hope

“The most hopeful people in the world are the young and the drunk: the first because they have little experience of failure, and the second because they have succeeded in drowning theirs.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Hope is a topic of great contemplation in my household this spring. Hope rode high the tidal wave of Easter morning this year and my heart was filled with the promise of Christ Risen! We are an Easter people after all!

Of course life has a way of challenging hope. This season has brought many changes and with them many losses for my family. What illness hasn’t stolen from those I love, time and circumstances have. To hope in the face of loss or failure as St. Thomas points out is no small thing, and I am neither young nor given to excess consumption of alcohol.

Humans seem to miss the gift of hope and instead focus on the despair or presumption that wall off our hearts to God. It is easy to despair of the good in the world especially when one’s efforts seem to fall like a grain of sand in the desert. Like Frodo lamenting his role as the ring bearer and the darkness of the age, we seem to get lost in the dark caverns of Moria without hope of seeing the light of day once more. In despair we forget the ever-moving hand of Providence that always “works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Many bible loving Christians like to quote Romans 8:28, while leaving out the last phrase. “Who are called according to His purpose?” Scripture here is referring to those who love God. This is not those who think God is a super cool guy, but those who do His will. Love here is a verb. This love is ordered toward God’s will and not our own. Presumption that our will and discernment is best, lays God’s purpose aside in service to the false god of our feeble plans and designs. This is destined to fail.

We cannot bring about our own salvation no matter how clever or sophisticated our arguments are for the sin we commit. We cannot work against God and presume his blessings. This is not how mercy works. In God’s mercy we find our greatest hope! It is false hope to assume that the life of grace remains in us when we continue to say no to God. Mercy follows repentance and this is true hope!

My 5-year-old son posed a question this morning at breakfast. He asked, “Mommy, what exactly is sin?” Son, keep asking the questions that will get you to heaven! If only more adults pondered this question, I thought. I replied, “Saying ‘no’ to God.” Oh, and how many ways we humans say no to God. Sadly, we say no to Love.

But there is reason yet for hope! The antidote for despair is faith. This is faith in God’s love and the ever present work of Providence for our good, even if that good is only to be experienced in the next life with Christ in heaven.   We are pilgrims after all and heaven is our true destination.

The antidote for presumption that robs humanity of authentic hope (eternal life) is now settled as breakfast table conversation with a five-year old. Don’t say no to God. Only through Him and His will for our lives can we truly have hope for eternal joy.

So if the dark clouds have gathered in your world this spring, have hope! “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
 

Love Tested, A Lenten Challenge

My role as wife and mother is my primary vocation – and also my most challenging! Because I am also a psychologist, I joke that dealing with psychotic patients all day is a lot easier than settling an argument about in-laws and who is going to fold the laundry or give the youngest a bath. I’m not alone, right? These everyday moments of family life are HARD, really hard!

Pope John Paul II in 1981 wrote an Apostolic Exhortation (Familiaris Consortio), in which he declared, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”

  • Then why is it so hard?
  • If it is so “fundamental and innate,” why is it so messy and confusing?

Love is tested, every day, in big ways and lots and lots and lots of little ways. Regardless of the source of marital stress and conflict, couples in distress always present to the therapist with the same primary complaint, “I’m just not happy anymore.” Love Tested. This time the test is “Does it make me happy?”

I struggle with this as a psychologist and also as a cancer survivor. I wonder how my husband might have answered the question of happiness as he watched his wife lay in bed for months sick from chemo, bald, and now missing some important body parts. Joy and happiness were in pretty short supply. Love Tested? Well if feeling happy day in and day out is the standard and ultimate goal for marital love then we fail this test when life gets real.

Don’t get me wrong; the CCC says, “The desire for happiness is of divine origin.” God has placed in our heart the desire for happiness, but let’s be clear about what the Church means about happiness and what modern culture means by happiness. Catholic couples have gotten these definitions very confused.

The world says happiness is a feeling erupting from pleasure. Satisfying every impulse and desire brings happiness – or so we are told. However, ask any addict and they will show you the lie in this.

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “God alone satisfies.” This is happiness.

So how do we bring that joy into our marriages and families? How do we reclaim God’s perfect plan for love and marriage and allow our unions to set the world on fire?! How do we live out the sacrament and vocation of marriage in order to achieve the ultimate good of eternal life with God in Heaven?

This Lent I challenge you to make your marriage the focus of your conversion during this liturgical season. Through living faithfully and sacrificially the sacrament of marriage, we may have the perfect means through which to achieve holiness. Marriage has the potential to perfect us in love! Marriage when accepted with the truth of God’s plan can transform our weak hearts.

So instead of giving up chocolate for Lent, I challenge you to take on one of the following marital behaviors to address. Read through the list with your spouse and chose one (or more) to focus on this Lent. Allow this list to help identify the areas of your marriage in most need of triage!

Once you as a couple find your focus then make a list of concrete behaviors each of you are to encourage in yourself and in your spouse. Document your progress! Keep a daily journal of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which apply to (or detract from) your goal. Don’t be afraid to use this list to seek spiritual direction or professional counseling to transform your marriage this Lent.

How does your marriage apply these ten tests of love?

  1. Strong couples pray for and with their spouse; at-risk couples pray about their spouse. Do you pray together as a couple? Is your prayer a complaint about your spouse or a prayerful plea for grace and mercy to be showered upon your spouse in their need?
  1. Strong couples see their marriage as a path to holiness; at-risk couples see their marriage as a contract that can be dissolved when it no longer satisfies. Do you both share the same understanding about the sacramental nature of your marriage? Have you entered into a non-sacramental marriage and need to seek pastoral care and convalidation? Are you both not exactly on the same page about intimacy and the Church’s teaching about Natural Family Planning?
  1. Strong couples fight to help their spouse in all of life’s hardships; at-risk couples just fight. Do you treat your spouse as an ally or as an adversary? Are you on the same team when hardships arise or do you war with each other in order to always win or be right?
  1. Strong couples encourage and build each other up; at-risk couples criticize and tear each other down. Do you actively seek to praise your spouse everyday? Do you spend most of your time picking out every failure?
  1. Strong couples communicate emotions and needs without feeling threatened; at-risk couples blame each other without even trying to listen. When problems arise do you have a plan for how to resolve them? When you attempt to “communicate” does someone get defensive and do feelings get hurt?
  1. Strong couples are interested in helping to heal each other’s old wounds from their youth; at-risk couples develop great skill in provoking each other where it hurts most. Are you protective and considerate of your spouse’s emotional struggles and needs or are they weapons to win an argument? Are old wounds ignored and allowed to drive negative behaviors that create recurrent problems?
  1. Strong couples strive to outdo their spouse in life-giving service to the family; at-risk couples keep score and always complain the family burden is unfair. Do you find yourself saying “your turn” often? Are you resentful of your spouse’s “lesser share” of the household and childcare work?
  1. Strong couples show respect for each other in words and deeds while showing mercy and forgiveness when problems arise; at risk couples hold grudges and retaliate. In an argument do you offer a list of every similar offense committed to prove your point? Do you truly forgive or just drop the argument (for now)?
  1. Strong couples find happiness in placing Christ at the center of their families; at-risk couples are always chasing the fun and pleasure owed to them by their spouse. Do you pray as a family (beyond grace before meals)? Do you treat your faith as a once a week Sunday obligation (unless a game or something is on) or is God’s will the focus of your family life?
  1. Strong couples willingly accept sacrifice as Christ did; at-risk couples feel unfairly burdened by sacrifice. Are you in the middle of a great trial in your marriage (job, health, addiction)? How have you chosen to carry this cross (are you allowing your faith and the sacraments to help you)? Is the suffering bringing you closer together or breaking you apart?

If you are suddenly thinking, “I would rather give up chocolate than address any of these problems” then this challenge is for you!

St. Francis de Sales wrote, “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other; it is a perpetual exercise in mortification.” So there you have it, there can be no more perfect Lenten challenge!

I’ll be praying for you and I hope you pray for me! I’m taking the challenge too!

Catholic Identity

I love to talk about Catholicism and God in general, except with other Catholics. I know how terrible that sounds. I’m exhausted trying to convince fellow Catholics of the truth and beauty of their faith. I’m worn out by Catholics who reject the teachings and Sacraments of the Church, but still consider themselves “practicing Catholics.” It’s time to address the problem, so hang on because the Come to Jesus Meeting is about to commence. Here we go . . .

  1. Stop being ashamed to be Catholic. Don’t give in to the modern world’s view of sacred tradition. Your faith and your Church are beautiful gifts established by Christ Himself. It is ancient and true and breathtakingly beautiful.
  1. Saying you’re Catholic is not an insult to people of other faith traditions and Catholicism is NOT less than or equal to other faiths. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth. Full. Not less. Yes, there are rays of truth in other faith traditions, but only the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. Own it and celebrate it – then invite others!
  1. The Eucharist. We have HIM! This should not require clarification, but apparently it needs to be said. The Catholic Church through apostolic succession (broken in the protestant reformation) makes Jesus truly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Through a total gift of love, we are able to take into our bodies The One who created us. In the Eucharist we receive God’s love and supernatural grace! No amount of praise and worship music or Zen meditation can achieve this intimacy with God!
  1. Christ gave St. Peter the keys to the Kingdom, not you. Three chapters into the creation story, humanity is messing things up. We ate the forbidden fruit and then hid from God. At that very moment God declared his plan for our salvation (Genesis 3:15). God knew that after the sacrifice of the new Adam he would establish His Church on earth and give it a leadership to preserve and protect God’s truth. Guided by The Holy Spirit, the Pope in conjunction with the Bishops (Magisterium) protects and discerns God’s truth. There is no option as a Catholic to “follow one’s own conscience” in moral matters that have been dogmatically settled by the Magisterium. The Church clearly and consistently teaches the truth about the sanctity of life and God’s plan for marriage among other topics. As a lay Catholic you don’t get to decide you know better than the Church. You can’t be pro-choice and Catholic. To be Catholic means you assent to the truth taught by the Church – all of it. All. Of. It.
  1. You can’t ignore the sacraments and still call yourself Catholic. People love to tell me they are Catholic when they find out I write and teach about the faith. The next question is usually me asking them where they attend Mass. The response is usually an evasive statement about planning to consider maybe trying the local parish downtown next Easter. Life is just too busy. We have a lot going on after all. Awkward silence. Let me clarify; Mass is not optional and neither is Confession. Mass attendance every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation are required as is regular Confession (once a month is a good routine). If it has been 10, 20, 30 years since your last Confession, now is the time to return and to be reconciled to your Heavenly Father. God’s love and mercy is waiting for you and so is your authentic Catholic Identity.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “The things that we love tell us what we are.” This reality is on display in the Church today. Do we love our faith, our Sacraments, and our Sacred Tradition only on Christmas and Easter? Do we treasure the truth or just convenient truth, you know, the one that makes us popular with our liberal trendy friends? Do we move with the political and cultural sentiment or do we stand for Someone who is Eternal Truth?

Your Catholic faith is not a sometimes identity to put on and take off according to the calendar or political climate; it is a supernatural and indelible seal placed on your soul. As Catholics we are set apart from the ordinary world and called to greatness/holiness. Through the Catholic Church we experience an intense and intimate relationship with God, which is made possible through the Sacramental life. This is what and Whom we love and this is what we are.

Reclaim your Catholic Identity.

The Peace of Forgiveness

I am a spiritual toddler. I take a few steps in the right direction and then I stumble and fall. I scramble to my feet again and now forgetting my intended direction, I wander off before falling again. Overwhelmingly, I seem to be moving more often with gravity than with direction or progress. I am falling again and again and wondering at my painful lack of progress.

St. Catherine of Siena said that true progress in the spiritual life must include “perfect self-knowledge.” I am perfectly aware that I have so many blind spots in my self-knowledge that I am not even perfectly sure of my own name sometimes.

Recently, I have been thinking about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? Admittedly, I am not good at this. Actually, it would not be a stretch to say that I do not forgive – not really. Not fully.

Only weak people forgive.  Yes, this is the lesson of my childhood.

I have fantastic parents, but one side of the family makes holding a grudge an Olympic Sport, and they win Gold Every. Single. Time. The other side of the family could sit in a room with their hair on fire and not even acknowledge the smoke in the room. The CIA can’t keep secrets as long as they do.

So between ignoring problems and holding resentment and grudges for decades, I didn’t really learn much about conflict resolution. What I did learn was to hold onto pain and never forgive. That’s how you win, right?

That’s the thing about not being able to forgive. It is painful. It bothers and festers and sickens the soul. It does not bring peace yet that is the one thing a hurting heart thirsts for most when it has been hurt. Peace. I just want peace.

What now St. Catherine? Here is some kernel of self-knowledge, but what do I do with it?

Now we pray she would say. So I pray and I pray, and then the silence. I talk too much when I pray. My head becomes a noisy monologue and so now I have learned to sit near the tabernacle in silence and listen.

Show me Lord how to forgive and how to heal and how to have peace when others offend and hurt me! Then silence. This is usually when I’m reminded that peace isn’t the absence of something (conflict, anger, pain) but the presence of someONE.

I don’t think of forgiveness in the same way I once did. It isn’t winning or losing or punishing someone or admitting defeat. It isn’t controlling someone or being under his or her control. It is about peace – restoring joy to life.

I’m still stumbling along. Forgiveness is still a struggle, but I know that when I am filled with the fire of God’s love and grace, I have peace and I am able to surrender the pain and hurt caused by others to God’s providence.

Fill me Lord with your grace and love. Remind me that your grace is at work in me. Lead me to your heart and conform my own heart to your will. When I am filled with the Holy Spirit there can be no room for anything but love. Through that love, may forgiveness and mercy materialize in me.

 

Advent Humility

I glared at a box of Christmas decorations today. Actually, I glared at several cluttering my front room and general living space. I’m not feeling it. Advent is upon me and I feel put upon.

I know. These are ugly feelings for sure. Advent is a time of preparation and spiritual maintenance for the celebration of the Incarnation!   However, all I can see is a laundry list of things I have to do for everyone else to have a special Christmas. Shopping, cleaning, party planning, Christmas cards, baking, decorating and don’t forget the craft projects! If Dante were writing today, one of his levels of purgatory would no doubt be Pinterest World where the craft-challenged have to spend their time repeatedly failing at the domestic arts.

Please God save me from another Facebook post where my far more talented friends pair a perfect Catholic Children’s book with a craft and afternoon snack to honor the theme from today’s liturgical calendar. I am so terribly jealous. I want to be that perfect Catholic mom, but instead I sent my kids outside to play for about three hours with a bag of popcorn. I just couldn’t parent another moment.

During Advent, the Church celebrates the Feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. We recall that she was conceived without original sin. If ever there was a mom standard, Mary is that person! I wonder what she was like as a mom – perfect I’m sure. What made her mothering perfect? I’m sure little Jesus didn’t write on the walls or cry non-stop because his socks itched (while also not wearing any socks). Neither did Mary have to bother with Pinterest Guilt or Social Media Shame.

Clearly, I need to take drastic measures to salvage my Advent! Holy Mary help me to open my heart to the coming of God made man! Help me to set aside my “mom envy” and focus on the spirit of the season of Advent.

I imagine Mother Mary answering in a small humble voice that God is not asking big things of me. He is asking for fidelity in small things. Small but true acts of devotion showing authentic love.

Forget the perfectly placed ornaments and mouthwatering holiday spreads! Reject the pressure and expectation to please four children with the hottest gifts this season. Once again this year the family Christmas card will likely arrive in time for Valentines Day, and it is ok. It really is ok.

So, this Advent our family rosary will be more prayerful and focused. Our prayers before the meal will not be rushed. The advent candles will be front and center at every dinner. We will raise our voices louder when singing at Mass, and we will keep the confessional occupied. Daily Mass will be a priority.

To all the moms out there feeling overwhelmed and inadequate this Advent, I hear you. Let’s reclaim this time of spiritual preparation. Focus on the small humble acts of devotion and let the concerns of the ego and the world go. Let Mary help you find the humility needed this time of year.

I offer my love to Jesus through Mary. May God Bless you all this Advent season!

Controlling God

It was a white-knuckle kind of day. Nothing went as I planned that day. Nothing. I was just trying to get through the mess of a day I was having.

A nagging pain in my left side (cancer side) had been ignored for over a month. Rather – I ignored it. That morning, I had finally confessed the issue to my doctor while there on a separate concern. A PET scan was ordered. I left the office with a blank face having dried my tears in the exam room before anyone else could see. Driving home, I contemplated the possible outcomes and whether the ticking time bomb of cancer within me was due to explode – again.

Oh how quickly a traumatized brain can sink to those dark and scary places.

That day was a Holy Day of Obligation. Having missed the earlier Mass while at the doctor’s office, I hurried to the late Liturgy. The weight of my cross made it hard to breathe and focus during the Homily. I tightened my grip and pushed through.

As the priest lifted the concentrated Host, I lifted my eyes to adore my Lord. Simultaneously, several rows in front of me a woman appeared to collapse her head on her folded hands before her. Her position was one of anguish and total surrender.

What was her sorrow? What was her cross? I imagined at the moment of consecration hearing the thud as she laid down her cross at the foot of Our Lord’s Cross. I could see the dust fly up as her burden hit the ground.

I was jealous . . . not of her sorrow, but in her total trust and surrender to God. She brought her pain to the Mass and made it an offering, uniting it to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. I kneeled stoically a few pews behind her gripping my cross with fear and resentment. I was clinging to a cross I couldn’t carry alone. I stubbornly hoisted this beast upon my shoulder day after day and in my pride I shielded it from God. I was consumed by this false confidence. I would control this burden. The illusion of control and power over this cross was intoxicating to my ego and like poison to my soul.

The great “Amen” rang out among the congregation and the familiar motions of Mass focused my attention back on the altar. Then I saw her. She lifted her head once again having made her offering and she stood straight and strong. I could see her as the Mass ended pick up her cross once more. Now renewed in communion, she filed out of the church with a peaceful countenance.

I kneeled. The Mass was over and the church empty. Wanting to remain in the intimate embrace of the Eucharist within me, I prayed for the ability to trust, to surrender, to give God the freedom He wanted to live and move and work in me. He had given me the grace to see the thickness of my pride even in suffering. In my pride, I gripped my cross until my knuckles were white. I never laid it down. I never surrendered to His providence and I never trusted. I controlled.

Now on my knees I begged to be a little child with total confidence in my Heavenly Father. As a child I am powerless.

Dear Heavenly Father, help me to be a little child with total confidence in your love. Amen.

Terrified of spinning out of control, I repeated this prayer over and over again and slowly, very slowly, released my hold.

Between Deceit and Truth

Is truth a matter of opinion? If it is, we are in trouble. Chaos is the natural result.

It seems the news coverage post election offers resounding proof that the triumph of “personal truth” only leads to fragmentation and chaos. Dialogue in the pursuit of truth has been replaced with “a difference of opinion” not to be reconciled.

There is a battle being waged between those who believe in objective/universal truth and those who argue for subjective/personal truth. The battle cry of the latter, ironically, sounds something like “it is true universally that there is no universal truth.”

If you are confused by this illogical assertion of a truth that there is no such thing as real truth, then you are not alone. Shockingly, many Catholics have fallen prey to this fallacy (heresy).

The culture’s love of subjective truth seems inextricably linked to a false interpretation of freedom. Personal truth allows me to “create” truth that justifies my choices. In fact, there is no such thing as wrong/sin because my personal truth accommodates all of my vices and is oh so convenient.

When pressed to choose the good in a challenging moral conflict, personal truth always rides in to the rescue, reinterpreting the choices to give me permission to make the easy/popular/expedient choice. I am now “free” to follow my personal truth, especially if I refer to it as “following my conscience” – sadly, a common refrain of Cafeteria Catholics.

In a postmodern world, the new age movement reduces truth to feelings and impulses devoid of responsibility. The result is chaos. An infinite number of competing truths demanding to be recognized is sure to lead to anything but peace in society and in the family of God. Truth must be liberated from the chains of individual interpretation.

In his 2005 homily at Mass before the Conclave that elected him Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, explained, “To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of “doctrine,” seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims as the ultimate measure. . . Adult and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth.”

Make no mistake, the “dictatorship of relativism” is self-deceit. We lie to ourselves as Catholics when we declare our personal truth must be followed in contradiction to declared doctrine. Both faith and reason acknowledge that Catholic doctrine is the truth of the Creator, which governs His creation.

The voices of popular culture are loud and ever distracting. The noise is deafening.   The faithful are led astray and seduced by things that entertain. The secular world forsakes truth, which forms us in virtue, in order to pursue the easy and comfortable. Society has become confusing and disordered in this way.

Chaos is not only “complete disorder,” but by definition, it means “confusion.” When truth is “random” and “unpredictable” according to personal subjective interpretation or popular sentiment, confusion dominates our lives. Chaos replaces truth.

What an inheritance we Catholics have! The fullness of truth in the teachings of the Church and the person of Truth in our Eucharist! Why then does confusion dominate the minds of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Why is there conflict among the faithful regarding truth? You have to look no further than questions about abortion or contraception to see the divisions. Let us speak honestly about this lack of unity and begin to address it.

In love, Christ established His Church on earth to protect His beloved children from error and confusion. He established a priesthood to minister grace to His children and a Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit, to protect and teach the truth of God. All this because we had a loving Father who wants us to be confirmed in truth and united to both His Will and His Heart.

If we are not reconciled as Catholics to God’s truth, taught by His Church, then we have appointed ourselves as the author of truth and it is ourselves that we worship while our bodies occupy the pew. Our Lord wants more than just our attendance. He wants to be King of our hearts and minds.

Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

We Need Gandalf

Time to move to Middle Earth. The Shire is calling. I want a brightly colored round front door, and I will tolerate large hairy feet to get it!

My newsfeed right now is terrifying on an apocalyptic level. I’m ready to start dissociating from my reality and living in Tolkein’s fictional Middle Earth. I’ll take Sauron’s treats over the current political and social disasters looming over the US right now. Where is the fellowship when you need them?

Better yet, where is Gandalf? We need Gandalf. We need the gray wizard and his staff of light to guide us through the darkness.

Tolkein understood how vital it is to have a shepherd – a spiritual guide through the dark times. Gandalf is the archetype for the bishop/priest. He is the one with great wisdom (and a short temper). He sees Bilbo’s great need to leave his shallow comfortable life and grow through trial and suffering. He loves each member of his small fellowship (parish) and feels their loss and suffering as if they were his own.

Gandalf sacrifices himself for them and the world of good men and free people of Middle Earth. He is not the messianic figure that Frodo becomes, but the spiritual shepherd that makes the whole story of salvation come alive and play out in the fallen world of Middle Earth. He reminds the fellowship at every stumble of their true destiny. He is the wizard with the gift of light, a symbolic image of the priest’s ability to bring people to THE LIGHT, the Son of God, Truth.

The gray wizard leads the faithful along the arduous path of redemption. He is there to show them the way when they get lost. Just like a good priest, he chastises those who veer from the path and reminds them of the cost of their failure.

When weak and power-thirsty kings of men fail to see the evil around them, the spiritual shepherd calls out the truth. At every battle, he is out front, rallying the faithful and leading them to battle the evil of their world.

How blessed we are then to have our spiritual shepherds/priest today. How vital it is to have a Father who will call out the truth and chastise our ways when we get lost. What a gift it is to have our priests who sacrifice their entire life for the vocation to bring us to holiness. These men are out front leading the faithful in the battle against the evils of secularism and the culture of death. They give us hope when the Saurons/evils of our world surround us.

We need the light cast from the spiritual shepherds in our parishes to help sort through the many temptations and confusions of this age. Only pride allows us to place our own judgment of right and wrong above that of the ordained priest of Christ’s own Church.

May Our Lord Jesus Christ, who instituted the priesthood, protect it always. Give the men you call the courage to hear and respond, Lord.

Middle Earth will have to wait after all. The shepherds of my church are rallying the faithful for a great battle – to protect life. I can’t break the fellowship. I must respond and follow the Good Shepherd. So should you.

Letter to Women

Feminism and abortion are opposing concepts. They are incompatible. The one invalidates the other.

This election season has focused in large part on the dignity and rights of women. In the most schizophrenic manner, the Democratic candidate has claimed to be a champion of the rights and dignity of women while also promising to make abortion restriction-free all the way through the ninth month of pregnancy.

This is how we honor women? This is what it means to be free and have “rights” as women? This is the sign of a society that holds women in high regard?

Oh, I can hear the angry readers now. I know what you think. I bet I have been placed in the category of uneducated, unsophisticated, and oppressed religious freaks. It’s ok. Just keep reading.

Here is why you can’t be a feminist and pro-choice. St. Pope John Paul II said it best in his Letter to Women (1995):

“. . . the choice to have an abortion always remains a grave sin. But before being something to blame on the woman, it is a crime for which guilt needs to be attributed to men and to the complicity of the general social environment.”

As JPII is declaring his gratitude for the “genius of women.” He holds firm to the truth that abortion is a grave sin. He does not, however, hold that this sin/choice is “personal” sin or restricted to women alone!

The public discourse on abortion has settled exclusively on the “rights” of women to choose abortion and not the failure of men to protect the dignity of women. Let us make sure men have as much sex without restriction, consequences, or obligations while denigrating the awesome life-giving power of the female body. How feminist are you feeling right now?

Feminism according to my graduate education (not as uneducated as you thought, huh?) is concerned with the dynamics of oppression present in society. The “social environment” JPII referenced includes the community’s failure to support a women’s material, social, and spiritual needs so that abortion is not an option. Why does Planned Parenthood get supported with $500 million a year in taxpayer funds, but your local crisis pregnancy center is scratching out an existence on donations and fundraising events?

Furthermore, “complicity” as used in the passage has political ramifications in the “social environment.” To be complicit is to participate in wrongdoing. Voting for an evil thing while being “personally opposed” is being complicit in evil. It is a participation in the wrongdoing! There is no invisible barrier between the evil I do and the evil I condone. My soul takes on both – equally.

From the Catholic world view, there is no personal sin. That is to say that the Mystical Body of Christ shares in the grace of one person’s virtue and the sin and spiritual death of another. We cannot ignore abortion and claim it is a “personal” choice with no impact on the society at large. Abortion has become a cannibalization of the dignity of women as well as society’s future.

A final quote from St. John Paul The Great:

“America you are beautiful…and blessed…. The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless. If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then America, defend life.”

-Pope John Paul II

Thirst Awakened

Two steps into the sanctuary I could feel a surprising weight. It was as if the air was pushing down on my body. The smell of Lilies filled the medieval church and evoked memories of Easter, water, and fire!

My eyes searched the ornate altarpiece for the notorious Eucharistic miracle of Santarem. Since 1247, the Host of Jesus’s Body has bled.

High above the altar in a small golden monstrance, the Host of Our Lord is on display. A golden tabernacle protects this divine miracle.

Almost as soon as I found a place to kneel, relieving the pressure of the air, the small golden door on the tabernacle closed. My knees ached against the bare wooden kneeler and my heart sighed. Could I not get closer? Could I not see with more than my heart? Like all good and true desires of my heart, God was about to exceed my expectations and delight both my eyes and my heart!

Adoration of God in the Eucharist proceeds from the belief/truth of The Real Presence of Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine. No reflection on the Blood of Jesus would be complete without recalling the mystical intimacy Catherine of Siena had with Christ’s passion and Blood.

St. Catherine spoke incessantly of Christ’s Blood. She asserted the need to drink in the grace of Christ’s Blood and become “drunk” on the love poured out in the shedding of this sacred Blood. In one rather remarkable gift of grace, Catherine was permitted to drink the Blood of Christ directly from his side!

Catherine, reflecting on her spiritual children, declared, “Indeed, they go into battle filled and inebriated with the blood of Christ crucified . . . they will pass through the narrow gate drunk, as it were, with the blood of the spotless Lamb.”

By partaking in the Blood of Christ, her thirst was awakened, not quenched. The more she drank in of Christ, the more she desired. Her soul was intoxicated by the love found in Christ’s Blood!

Almost in mid-thought, a Portuguese woman in broken English interrupted my contemplation of Catherine. She bid my group of pilgrims approach the altar revealing a side staircase. The marble floor surrounding the altar gave way to a set of wooden stairs. The walls inside the staircase were covered in religious art and statues of Our Lady and various saints were tucked into every corner. An eclectic assortment of religious items was displayed in glass cases. Somewhere from behind the wall men’s voices were suddenly raised in Gregorian chant.

I climbed the hidden staircase only to find another narrow metal set of stairs at the top. One by one each member of our group ascended and returned. No one spoke. No one looked at each other.

Finally, it was my turn to climb the narrow stair. Up, up I climbed and then I saw Him! Almost six inches from my eyes, separated by merely a pane of glass, I gazed on my beloved Creator. The consecrated Host (the same consecrated at every Mass) was before me! This time the Host was covered in bright red blood! The clotted blood looked as if today His flesh had been torn open for my sins! Torn open for love of me!

Stupefied, I said and did nothing! For several moments I forgot to pray, or how to pray! His love on display, I felt the thirst and intoxication Catherine spoke about. So all I could do in that moment was to whisper through the glass, “I love you.”