The Shock and Awe of Becoming a Contributor for Catholic Exchange

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I learned a few lessons yesterday as I began my contributor relationship with Catholic Exchange. The story of how I ended up writing periodically for them is one that I can only look back at in wonder. A few weeks before I was asked by the editor to become a contributor, I had emailed a good friend of mine and told him that my writing goal for this year was to get a piece published on Catholic Exchange. I had seen on their editorial page that they take submissions, as do a whole host of other Catholic websites, some of which I am waiting to complete my Master’s before I write more scholarly submissions. My friend thought it was a great idea and wished me success. I had set the thought aside as I began to prepare for final essays and exams for the January semester. Then something completely unexpected happened.

I read Catholic Exchange articles throughout my week because their focus is on deepening the Catholic faith of their readers and inviting others to investigate the greatness that is Christ and His Church. I happened to see an article that stopped me in my tracks in that the title was a theological error. For some reason I felt compelled to write a theological response on my own blog and share it on their Facebook page and in the comments section.  I didn’t expect a response and had written it so that readers could see a theological argument in response and study the subject more. I will not re-hash my post here, as it was quickly corrected by the author and editor. What happened next greatly humbled and amazed me. The editor contacted me to tell me a correction had been made and asked if I wanted to become a contributor for the website. I was stunned and over-joyed. This was a site I read regularly that I felt truly represented the Catholic mission to the world in its refusal to fall strictly into polemics. They are striving to help us grow in holiness. After a few years in polemics, I had found their website and had seen what type of writer I truly wanted to be.

I was exhausted from the battles that Catholics wage with one another constantly over every minute detail. I see that parts of social media are tearing the Mystical Body down rather than lifting it up. I contemplated this last night after having survived my first day as a contributor for a major Catholic site that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I was stunned by the level of support and sharing my piece generated, as well as the other amazing authors at Catholic Exchange. I saw that thousands of people were reading and sharing the articles from yesterday. It made me wonder, do sites focused on polemics generate this kind of buzz? I looked over a few of the major Catholic political sites and saw very quickly that they are not nearly as popular. While this was an anecdotal and small pool of research, I could see that people are thirsting for the authentic Catholic Christian message. Yes, polemics are interesting. I still sit back and watch the arguments on my friends’ social media pages, but arguments don’t quench that thirst. Messages of hope, reflections on Scripture, the lives of the saints, and deepening of theological understanding feeds the soul in social media and in real life. The world is noisy and places like Catholic Exchange invite their readers into the silence of God. That is precisely why they are so popular. They are feeding Christ’s sheep.

My experience of joining them as a contributor was one of deep humility and shock. I struggle with pride, intellectual pride, and God completely stunned me with this direction in my writing. I quickly discovered that this is one of His tools for teaching me humility. I was nervous when my post was published. I was worried that I had made unintentional errors, and I actually did. They were quickly fixed. As a natural debater, I learned that I don’t have to respond to every comment posted. In fact, I really didn’t want to engage in debate since that is not the goal of my writing these days. I merely want to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with others and let God do the work. So while I responded to a few comments on my article yesterday, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need to and that is how I will keep things in the future unless any major questions arise. I want people to offer fraternal correction when necessary and I will happily contact the editor to make sure my mistakes are fixed, but I want my writing to help with silence and peace, not turn into fights over minutiae. So this natural born debater learned to trust and let things go. If the editor has approved my piece, then it is fine. Both of us are orthodox and never intend to lead people astray.

To write for a large website is to offer yourself up to the readership. It is to trust that God is using the talent he has given me to serve Him, not myself. I write because I want people to deepen their love of the Blessed Trinity. I am also human and I have to fight pride daily. There is a real danger of pride in being a writer. We can lose sight of the mission, but I see now that God is using this to teach me humility. I don’t like every writer that I read, so it is impossible for everyone to like my writing all of the time. People will tell me such and that is a great reminder to be humble and serve God, not myself. It is also deeply humbling to see so many people using this website to grow in their Catholic faith.

As a writer and a student, I tend to walk forward in fear and trembling. This is what we all should be doing, but I am amazed at what God has done with me in the past few months, especially as I go further into my Master’s program. I am learning so much and it makes me want to share it with others. I am growing in wonder and amazement as I delve deeper into the truths of Christ and His Church. I will even be teaching high school theology online this coming fall for Kolbe Academy Home School.

Yes, my primary vocation is wife and mother. That is the greatest gift, but I am thankful that he is using me precisely in my vocation. I can teach and write from home. He is fulfilling that deep intellectual yearning that He gave me, but also keeping me firmly planted at home with my daughter and husband. What a tremendous gift! The last few years have been hard. I suffered three miscarriages, post-partum depression, and a long period of refinement in the furnace of suffering, as one of my Confessors called it. The grief was painful and I was constantly reminded of Christ on the Cross. Through all of that suffering Christ has conformed me more closely to Himself that I may serve Him in charity, truth, and humility. So here I am in awe of what He is doing in my life. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed Easter season.

My First Piece as a Contributor for Catholic Exchange: A Few Lessons from the Life of St. Bernadette

I am very happy to announce that I was asked to become a contributor for the popular Catholic website, Catholic Exchange. My first piece has been published today. You can start reading it here and then jump over to Catholic Exchange to finish and let me know what you think.  God bless!

A Few Lessons from the Life of St. Bernadette

The story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous is well known throughout the Church because of her remarkable connection to the Marian apparitions at Lourdes. St. Bernadette was a young, simple, and impoverished girl who was chosen by Our Lord and Our Lady to witness a miracle. Today marks the anniversary of her death. She died on April 16, 1879. She died devoting her personal suffering to Christ and with these words on her lips: “Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me! A poor sinner, a poor sinner—“. She was canonized in 1933. Her rather recent canonization means that she is a great saint to learn from in our current era. There are many things to learn from the life of this great saint, but today we will focus on these examples: child-like wonder and obedience, trust, and perseverance.

Child-like Wonder and Obedience

St. Bernadette grew up in humble circumstances marred by poverty. In fact, at the time the apparitions of Our Lady began, she and her family dwelt in a one room basement residence that had previously been a jail. She spent much of her life suffering from chronic breathing problems and was never physically strong. She had great faith, however, and worked hard to receive her first Holy Communion when many did not take her desires seriously. Her dedication to her faith would prove invaluable when the extraordinary events that began on February 11, 1858 changed her life forever….finish reading over at Catholic Exchange.

Guest Post from My Dad: Mom on the Mend

Today I want to share a post by my father, Mike Rapkoch, from his Ricochet site. My grandmother became critically ill about 2 weeks ago. My husband and I rushed out on the drive from Virginia to my home-state of Montana, expecting the worst. Instead, my grandmother recovered and amazed us all.  My father was her care-taker during this episode and these are his words:

As time goes by I am ever more convinced that O’Henry’s reflection in the Gift of the Magi, that life is “made up of sobs, sniffles and smiles, with sniffles predominating,” is the truest description of human experience ever put to paper. I’ve spent the last two weeks at my mother’s side as she’s struggled–and I mean struggled–through a mysterious illness that has caused huge weight loss, brought on nearly constant nausea and vomiting, and triggered other very unpleasant gastrointestinal manifestations. The condition developed slowly over several weeks and had her doctors completely stumped. When she was ordered into the hospital things looked grave.

Since I’m not one to panic my initial reaction to the news was, odd as it may sound, to smile. Mom’s a tough old bird and has battled her way through a bout with cancer and a couple of major operations with, if not ease, at least with grace. I figured she’d be back on her feet toot sweet so there was no point in worrying too much.

Then mom called and the tone of her voice instantly wiped my smile away. She sounded so sick. She sounded so frightened. She sounded so desperate. Although she insisted I stay home, I was in the car and on the way in ten minutes. For all her protests of “you don’t need to drive up,” there was no escaping the plea in her voice “please come help me.” If she wasn’t sobbing I was.

I arrived in two hours, breaking one or two traffic laws along the way. Concerns over personal safety drain away quickly when someone you love needs you.

As I walked into mom’s hospital room I saw, for the first time in my life, true fear in her eyes. With a mock scold she said “I knew you’d come even though I told you not to.” Her words plunged like a dagger into my heart. “I knew you’d come” meant “I knew you loved me.” It was childlike and I cannot think about it without sniffling a bit. I was here now and could hold her hand as she faced down an agony she could not understand.

When I was a kid I had to be confined to bed for a year with Rheumatic Fever. It was a lonely life. But mom was there. On Christmas Eve, as she tucked me in, I saw deep love and pain in her eyes over my suffering. I can still see that look clearly in my memories eye. It was a look I hoped to one day repay. This was the day.

As the week went on mom began to tank. Wednesday evening she began to vomit uncontrollably. I was helpless. I pulled out my Rosary and began, in a daze, to run the beads though my fingers as I recited the prayers and sobbed. Every time mom began to gag and wretch I stopped, went over and put my hand on her shoulder, and said the only thing that made any sense: “I love you mom.”

Then, as the spasms of nausea took total control of her she looked at me and said “I’m so sick.” Like a child she was stating the obvious because the obvious was all that made sense. I am sure that the look on my face matched that loving look she gave to me all those years ago. The look of a broken heart which can do nothing else but join the suffering in love.

For a few brief moments the vomiting subsided and mom’s eyes closed at the brief and merciful reprieve. I went back to my Rosary. My brother Dan arrived and, as is the way of the Rosary, simply joined in. There’s no fire in the Rosary. It is a deeply meditative prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and it is a prayer of desperation. As Dan and I reached the end my sobs turned into sniffles as we prayed the last prayer, the Hail Holy Queen, with its heart rending words to the Blessed Mother “to thee do we cry, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” It is the perfect match to O’Henry’s insight. We sniffle, we sob, and we find comfort in the words “turn then O most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.” Then we can smile–even and especially– in the face of pain.

More than that we can rest, like a child in his mother’s arms.

I count it a miracle that, as our Rosary came to a close, mom fell asleep, perhaps from the anti-nausea drugs, but certainly with the comfort of knowing her Heavenly Mother, and her two worldly sons, were with her. I went to mom’s house at about 2AM, and fell asleep, even though I was sure that I’d never see her again this side of heaven.

Of course I was wrong about that. I got back to the hospital about 8AM, and found mom quietly sleeping. The nurse informed me that the nausea had subsided around 3 and that mom had slept through the night.

A few minutes later my brother Geof walked in. Mom woke up, smiled, said hello, and sat up to talk. I was flabbergasted. A few days later they sent mom home, many pounds lighter and still weak and unsteady, but on her way back to her old ornery self (just kidding if you ever read this mom). She’ll be with Home Health for a few weeks. The therapists have assured her that if she does what they tell her she’ll be back in the swing of things in short order. And I’ll be heading home in a few days. That’s going to mean some sniffles but, as hard as it is to accept after such a scare, I have to let mom get back to her own life. She’s only 87 after all. Besides, by the time I’m ready to leave mom will be pushing me out the door because, well, she’ll need a rest from me.

I don’t really know how to close this. I’ll just have to give it a rest. Thanks again for all the prayers. Peace.

Forgiving Until It Hurts and then Some….

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.       St. Matthew 18:21-22

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Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.

Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.

I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.

The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.

Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.

When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness.  There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.

What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him.  That is how we must forgive time and time again.  I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.

Recapturing Our Narrative: Living the Good News

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Holy Week tends to be overwhelming. It is accepted and known by faithful Catholics that all of the dysfunction and evil in the world likes to still come out in full display during Holy Week, even 2000 years after the Crucifixion of Our Lord. Last week was no exception from mass slaughter of Christians in Kenya to the rushing torrent of rage, hate, and anger that attempted to swallow up a small town pizza shop. Christians were under attack, as it has always been. It just seems that the attacks become cacophonous around Holy week.

All of the news and the horrible words used to describe us can be frustrating and discouraging, but we must remember that this is precisely what happened to Christ. Those Kenyan students died a death just like their Lord’s and that pizza shop endured the taunts and destruction that Christ endured during his Passion.  So it goes for us Christians. This is precisely what we agreed to when we underwent the waters of Baptism and died with Christ to rise to new life. We accepted that we are no longer our own, but His. We accepted whatever Cross will come our way before the glorious Resurrection of our own bodies. The Good News is that the Resurrection does come after the Cross.

As a Catholic who rests in the Church’s fullness of truth, I find it painful to watch the heresies of our day. I know, isn’t that an archaic term in our relativistic society? No. There is truth and there is fallacy in the form of half-truths. The real truth is that Christ came to redeem us, he called us to new life and an abandonment of sin. He called us to holiness. He called us to the Cross. He called us there precisely because it is how we reach the Resurrection.  There is no other way. He also called us to the Church, His Church, which is precisely why we are a missionary people. Our faith is not internal and private, our faith is about showing the world what it means to be fully human and to rest in the Divine Love found in the Blessed Trinity.

This is precisely why we must find a way to recapture our own narrative. Non-Christians, or people in error, are telling our story and we are letting them.  We are allowing our culture to spew lies, vitriol, and hate about us. We are allowing people to water down authentic love both inside and outside of the Church. Mercy and truth both are required aspects of love. It is not merciful to ignore sin. It is not merciful in myself and it is not merciful in others. It is also not merciful to participate in sin whether cooperating or enabling. That doesn’t mean we shout at others about their sins, but it does mean we show them the way.

I made some serious sins in my Twenties. I lived in a state of mortal sin for a few years and I convinced myself that it didn’t matter. I could still be Catholic and use contraception, cohabitate, and receive Holy Communion. THIS is the greatest regret of my life.  I have been to Confession at least 100 times since then and I know that I am forgiven, but I still know what I did was wrong. Thankfully, God’s authentic mercy brought me a conversion of heart and I was able to return to sanctifying grace. This is the Christian message. It is not to keep doing what you want. It is that someONE greater than ourselves is calling us to Himself. Joy comes from abandonment. Joy comes from a relinquishing of sin.

Now, that does not mean that we will never sin. The path to holiness is arduous and filled with temptation. We will most assuredly fall, but in those falls Christ picks us back up and keeps us on the path. Our eschatological end is Heaven, not something of this world. Our eyes must be fixed on Heaven. This reality is ever present in these 50 days of Easter as Our Lord reveals the Resurrection to each one of us.

Catholics are a sacramental people. Christ gave us the Church and the sacraments because he wanted to reach us bodily and spiritually. He nourishes us with himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity each time we receive the Holy Eucharist. He heals our sins when we reach out to Him in the Sacrament of Penance. He calls us to Confession so that we do not deceive ourselves, but look at our sins in His light, not our own. He strengthens our weaknesses in the Sacrament of Anointing. The Incarnation makes our faith a bodily and spiritual reality because Christ was the God-man. He came to reach us in the flesh and he heals and strengthens us in our humanity which is the uniting of body and soul. This is another joyful reality to share with the world. The Sacraments are not a right. We are not entitled to them, they are a gift to restore and give grace, but we must be open in love, real love. We must invite the world to the Eucharistic celebration, so that all may find rest.

How do we share our narrative with the world? By living it and never compromising the truth. The truth is Christ crucified and raised from the dead. The truth is the call to follow him up to Calvary in order to enter into the great mysteries of God. The truth is that we are called to be more fully human and that means an abandonment of sin. Yes, overcoming sin is difficult, but we do not do it alone. Christ walks with us and nourishes us at the Eucharistic table. He heals our sins and pushes us along the journey. He stands beside us as people hurl hate, anger, and threats at us. He is there when people choose evil and take our lives through violence. We recapture the narrative by living the Gospel. Not the made-up Gospel of our culture that takes ignorant pieces from Scripture. We live the Gospel as it has been proclaimed by the Catholic Church for 2000 years. We trust in the Holy Spirit who is the life of the Church. We live the paradoxes and unite suffering with joy.We live Holy Week every single day. We proclaim the Good News of Easter.

Yes, the storm is here, but it has always been here. The Church has been hated, attacked, and “doomed” in every age, and yet, she is still here.  She will continue to be here long after the current “powers and principalities” have died out and withered into the history books. We know who wins. The path comes with pain, sacrifice, and even the risk of martyrdom, but we know that God wins. So let us walk out into the world in joy and faith as we endure what Our Lord has called us to. Let’s bring the world to Christ.  A very blessed Easter to you all!

Dialoguing Generations: Priests in Discussion

This is very good so I wanted to share it. I am dealing with a family emergency so my writing will be sporadic. Prayers appreciated. Happy Easter!!!

Fr. Pietraszko's Corner

priestsFB: Hey Fr. Chris! Are you busy?

FC: No Fr. Brook, what’s up?

FB: I wanted to pick your brain about a conversation I just had with one of my parishioners. Do you know Sara Smith?

FC: Sure, I was recently talking to her.

FB: She mentioned that. She came up to me and withdrew from the RCIA team and said that you had encouraged her to do so.

FC: *sigh* I didn’t exactly say that.

FB: What happened? She basically told me that after talking to you she felt unqualified to teach at RCIA. It should be noted that she gave me permission to talk to you about this.

FC: Yeah, she called me and mentioned you’d be stopping by – I wasn’t sure about what though… She was planning on teaching that hell does not exist or that one day nobody will be in it to the RCIA…

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Love Changes the Ordinary, the Mundane, and the Ugly

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Yes the picture above is an ordinary dandelion. The weed that is the bane of gardeners and lawn owners in their quest for spring and summer perfection. To adults it is nothing more than a pest to be rid of. In fact, most people would either look at this image that I took with derision or scorn. What they do not realize is that this dandelion was a gift from my 3 year old daughter. My birthday is Friday, Good Friday. She knows that it is coming, so she ran up to me with this bright yellow “flower” and presented it as an early birthday gift. My cup floweth over.

My daughter had found something of beauty and wanted to give it to me as a gift. In that moment she transformed that pest and weed into a thing of love and beauty. And I saw it. Mothers tend to see it. We see how much our children desire to share their wonder and fascination in the ordinary with us. I took the dandelion in my hand with great joy.

Christianity is where paradoxes meet and mingle. This truth is a major theme of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. I thought about it in light of my dandelion gift. Our Lord took an instrument of torture and fear and turned it into a gift of love. On Good Friday, Catholics hold up the Cross in veneration. We look upon the crucifix and experience joy and sorrow. We experience them together, not apart. One of the great mysteries of the Incarnation is the transformation and return of Creation to God. The transformation of sin into redemption. The combining of joy and sorrow. Torture is made into love.

Is this a bit much for a dandelion? No. Everything around us has been transformed in light of the Cross. This Holy Week is the culmination and fulfillment of our return to grace. All because of an act of love that changed the cross from an instrument of power and torture, into Divine Love and Divine Power. Love, in its truest sense, changes the ordinary into the extraordinary.

My daughter’s act of love changed that dandelion into a gift of self. She wanted to give me a gift. A gift to me, who is an avid gardener, and lover of all things that grow. She found a beautiful yellow weed and changed it into a flower of love. No the object itself is not changing. It is still a dandelion, but in her hands to mine, it becomes her joy and mine and a thing of great beauty.

You might not ever look at a dandelion the same way again. I hope you have a very blessed Holy Week.