Hello Readers! I will be making a cross-country trek to my home-state of Montana beginning tomorrow. I will be taking a break from writing and posting during that time so I can spend time with my family and enjoy the Rockies. My articles will still publish on Thursday each week at Catholic Exchange. I will respond to any emails I receive when I return and I can give them my full attention. Please pray for us in our travels, as I will be praying for all of you! Pax Christi.
I read an article yesterday that gave me pause. Not only because it is morally ambiguous, but because it brings into question whether or not we should cross certain lines. I don’t want to wade into the moral debate right now and I know which theologians I side with in the debate. It made me think about my struggles with secondary infertility and miscarriage. It has been a long and excruciatingly painful road, but it’s been a road of great grace and growth as well.
Motherhood is deeply engrained in women. It is one of the reasons it is so vehemently attacked in our culture as the culture unhinges itself from reality. There are some women who say they don’t want children, but I’d wager the reasons are complicated and a lot of the time selfish. We have been told that our careers are more important than anything else. No, human beings are more important and being a mother changes us at the deepest levels of reality. It forces us to look hard at ourselves and see where we need to grow and change. It teaches us how to love sacrificially, which hurts. It’s meant to because only love that hurts is real love.
This Cross is a painful one for women and men who carry it. I’ve lost four babies in miscarriage and I have multiple friends who also have had miscarriages or not been able to conceive any children. There’s something about being a Catholic who can’t “be fruitful and multiply” that causes an even deeper pain. We constantly hear about being open to life and the good of a large family. I’ve sat through homilies on it. I’ve read articles and books on it. There are countless times I have sobbed my way through Confession telling various priests that I don’t understand why every child since my daughter has died. Why can my friends and others have children in abundance, but I can’t? My own daughter frequently asks me why friends of ours can have another child and I can’t? There are constant reminders of what I can’t give my daughter–a sibling–and that my body is rather broken in this department.
This pain couples feel who either cannot have a child or who are suffering from secondary infertility after having a child or children can drive people to desperation. Even Catholics can turn to immoral practices like IVF in order to try to have children. In fact, IVF preys on this desperation for profit. Our culture is told that having children or not having children is up to us. This is of course a lie, but it’s one we all buy into in one form or another.
I see this mentality to a lesser extent when people have said to me after a miscarriage that I can always have another child. Even people in the pro-life movement with me will cast aside my miscarried children and tell me that God will eventually send me another child or to just have faith. My lack of faith isn’t the problem. In fact, it was my forcing myself to have miscarriage after miscarriage even after each one decimated my body that demonstrated my lack of faith and obedience. I wanted it my way, even though I spent nearly four years in an ever deepening postpartum depression because I wouldn’t listen. Unlike many other women whose bodies can recover more quickly after a miscarriage, it takes me at least a year. My hormones wreak havoc on me physically and mentally.
My hormone issues are complex. I can conceive children easily, but I can no longer keep them. I’m now convinced that my daughter is an even greater gift because her twin sacrificed herself and went Home so she could live. The only child I have carried to term was originally conceived with a twin, which made my hormone levels skyrocket. My OB/GYN admitted that may be the only reason that pregnancy was different from my others. Even though losing Victoria has been painful for us and Michaela, God used that pain to give us our daughter here on earth.
What I have had to accept is that I am not everyone else. My path is not the same as my friend who has five children, or two children, or three children. I always wanted a son to give to God in the priesthood. I see the great need and so many families don’t want their sons to be priests. When I was pregnant with Andrew–who I lost 2 years ago–I said if it’s your will God to even send him to places tormented by violence then I will trust in You. But, once again. This was never up to me.
We forget so often that it is not up to us. It is up to God. The more we fight against this truth, the more miserable we become. We hold on too tight and place our will before God’s will. This always leads to our misery and pain. We don’t get to understand everything in this life. The vast majority of it is mystery. I don’t know why God has chosen to give my husband and me one child and not more. What I do know is that we have to reach a point when we relinquish our will and say: “Not my will, but Your will, Lord.” This is what we get wrong in our desire to become parents or to have more children.
During the years that I was struggling with my desire to have more children and the repeated miscarriages, I would talk to various priests about it. I would express my frustration, confusion, and pain. I always knew in the back of my mind that my particular hormone issues make my case more complicated since each miscarriage caused greater postpartum, but I’d try to ignore this reality. I’d accuse myself of being selfish for not trying to have more children even though the postpartum was so bad that I’d lost sight of myself completely for 3.5 years.
I even struggled quite a bit after my last miscarriage even though I was free of the postpartum depression. The NaPro shots dulled the symptoms a bit and regular exercise helped quite a bit, but I knew that the situation was precarious. I now can’t take NaPro shots, so I have nothing to help sustain a pregnancy or offset a very real possibility of postpartum depression. Plus, I have no reason to believe NaPro will be effective for me since my last pregnancy ended in the same manner as the previous three.
I know it’s difficult to not be able to either have a child or have more children. I face it every single day. I am constantly re-aligning my line of sight to Christ so that I am not comparing myself to others. Telling me I don’t have enough faith or I need to wait and see is to ignore what God has clearly told me. For His reasons, I am not going to have more children. Adoption may happen, but now that my husband is chronically ill, we aren’t so sure. I am finally listening to God.
The same priest over the course of the last few years has told me that it appears God’s will is for us to only have one child. I finally started listening when he rather directly told me he doesn’t think I will have anymore children. First, because he’s not usually that direct and second, because he keeps saying it and I keep ignoring him. Only when I really listened did the weight I was carrying lessen. God has given me an amazing daughter and she should be my focus. This is easier said than done, but it is correct. I must live the life God is asking me to live, not keep holding out for a different one.
It’s important that we come to accept God’s will in our lives. If we don’t, then we will suffer, not because God is being malicious, but because we can only be truly happy living in accordance with His plans. Some of the kindest and motherly women I know have never been able to have their own children. What I have noticed about all of them is that they give their love to all children they come to know. They shower them with great love, care, and affection. Many of these children don’t get that affection at home, so these women are a gift to those children. In God’s infinite wisdom, he saw the gifts of these women and asks them to spread their love outward beyond their immediate family. While my personality is different from these wonderful women, I sense that God has something He wants of me too. I just don’t know what it is yet.
We have to remember that motherhood and fatherhood are great goods, but they are not the highest goods. God is the highest Good. He is Goodness Itself. Loving and serving Him is the meaning of our lives and at times we place the goods of this life above Him. If we are placing our will above His then we are putting our desire for children above Him. We are not following His call “to be fruitful and multiply” if we are ignoring the individual call He has in mind for each one of us. There are limits that we must live in relation to fertility and parenthood.
Even if parenthood is a great good, it cannot come at the cost of compromising our moral understanding or violating God’s law. We can’t constantly rail against God because it leads to our own misery. At some point we have to stop beating against Him and rest quietly in His arms. We have to give it all back to Him and remember that the glories of Heaven will make all of the pain, agony, toil, loss, and confusion all worth it in the end. That’s living faith, hope, and charity.
I had another one of those encounters that I’ve mentioned in previous writing with someone while I was out tonight. The thunderstorm we had knocked out the computer systems at store I was at and they discovered it right as I went up to pay. The system needed multiple re-boots and I could have left and gone to Walmart, but instead I stood there patiently and told them it wasn’t a big deal. The manager was visibly anxious and the other gentleman felt bad, but tried to be laid back about it. I told them both it wasn’t their fault and I used to work in IT, so I understand.
That’s when the one gentleman looked at me and said I have a Bachelor’s in Computer Science, but I’m not allowed to touch the systems except to re-boot it. I wondered how he ended up working in this store instead and then he started talking to me about how much he hated Computer Science and he had done it to form a connection with the father he never knew who died. Now he’s shackled with tons of student loans. I mentioned that I worked with computers in the military and he then told me about how much he wanted to be in the military, but they discovered he has heart disease and couldn’t go in.
He’s 30-years-old and newly married and hates that he never could get in the military. His whole family was military and I could tell he feels like a failure for not being able to serve. He thinks his life would have been more put together and he’d be further along. I agreed that the military does provide some stability in career. I told him I understood his disappointment. I then rather brazenly (I surprised myself!) said while looking right into his eyes: “Just remember. That doesn’t define you.”
We chatted a bit more before everything came back online and I had to get going. But I talked to him for a good 10-15 minutes and learned a lot about him in that short amount of time. I told him and his boss that I hoped their night was more peaceful and that the computer failure is not their fault and it was no big deal that I got hung up there. I wanted to encourage them should other people come in the store who are not quite so patient.
I’m an introvert and I keep having these connections with people I encounter when I am out. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit, because a great sense of patience and peace washes over me when they happen. I no longer feel a sense of urgency or even exhaustion and I am tired tonight. Instead I am fully present in the moment and focus solely on that person.
For some reason, I was meant to talk to this gentleman, his name was Josh. Please pray for him and his wife. People carry tremendous burdens and feel the need to reach out to other people, but often can’t because we are in such a rush and glued to our technology all of the time. The latter is ironic since I’m posting this here. People are amazing and filled with such incredible depths. More than anything, people need Christ. My prayer is that Josh at least heard me when I told him that he isn’t defined by not serving in the military. I truly hope so.
Image taken from Wiki Commons.
I recently started reading Bishop Robert Barron and John L. Allen Jr.’s book To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. I’ve read quite a few of Bishop Barron’s more theological books and I own both the Catholicism series and the most recent Pivotal Players series. He approaches evangelization in a deeply human and intuitive way. Many of his experiences are similar to my own. He emphasizes the beauty, depth, and richness of our Catholic Faith.
As I’ve written here before, beauty has had a foundational and significant impact on not only my reversion, but my spiritual journey as a whole. All of these experiences of beauty are grounded in Christ, most especially through an encounter both body and soul with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Barron leads with the beauty of the Faith fully realized in an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is a message that is so desperately needed in a culture that largely does not know how to relate to the beautiful, the good, and the true.
For Catholics one of the biggest mistakes we make in evangelization is getting too caught up in the culture wars. I made this mistake for a few years after my reversion. I thought: “If only we could explain Theology of the Body to people, then people would stop contracepting, ignoring Church teaching, the young would come back to the Church, etc.” Theology of the Body did have a profound impact on both me and my husband, but it didn’t cause my reversion. It took me a while to understand what took place within me that led me to give my life over to Christ and fully accept what the Church teaches.
The answer quite simply is that I had a real and tangible encounter with Jesus Christ. I saw Him through the beauty of the Mass. I wanted to give my life to Him because He had pierced me utterly at the deepest levels of my soul. I fell in love with Him and His Church. Only then was I ready to say: “Here, Lord. I give everything to you, even my sexuality.” Far too often, we lead with the Church’s doctrine and it doesn’t work. People are not converted by great moral theology, they are converted because they fall in love with Jesus Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it best in Deus Caritas Est:
Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.
Those of us who are actively following Christ as disciples did not become Christian or remain Christian because we fell in love with ethics and the moral law. Instead, we fell in love with Christ and came to understanding all the demands placed upon us through Love. When we love others, we seek to empty ourselves. In our relationship with Christ, we are not only turning to Him in self-emptying love, we are conforming ourselves to Him, we are becoming more like Him. It is this self-emptying and desire to be in conformation to Him that leads us to throw our birth control pills away, give up lying and cheating, seek chastity, stop stealing, turn away from materialism and the lies of the culture in order to repent.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.
I came to the end of my day today and felt frustrated. I was irritable from the chronic hormone issues I battle and the poor dietary choices I made today. What we put in our bodies has a huge impact on our mental and physical well-being. The more I pay attention, the more I see the connection in myself. I’m also about to go on a cross country trek to my home-state of Montana and that always comes with stress and angst. I didn’t do a very good job of paying attention to how all of these factors were impacting me today and I allowed my spiritual reserves to deplete more than I should have.
The tell-tale sign for me is if I don’t immediately start my day praying Lauds on my iBreviary app. If I get up without starting with prayer, my day is already off to a rocky start. I ended up spending my morning writing the last emails I plan to write for parish activities I am involved in until I get back from my trip in mid-July. I also wrote my Catholic Exchange piece that will publish tomorrow. I was productive, but by the time we were supposed to leave for daily Mass, I felt drained. I wasn’t as motivated as I usually am to get to Mass, but we went and it’s always a blessing once I get there, even if it’s a struggle initially.
After daily Mass, my day still didn’t correct. I got frustrated because I felt like I kept on making mistakes, especially in my communication with other people and I was ready for bed by 7:30 pm. A lot of the fatigue is hormonal, but I realized that I hadn’t focused enough on Christ throughout my day. I didn’t pray for guidance on certain matters and I didn’t prudently consider how to approach certain things. I was distracted and my attention was divided away from my daughter. Days like these I wish I could get a do-over and I often think that when I kiss my daughter good-night while she’s fast asleep before I crawl into my own bed.
We really do not fully know ourselves. We think we do, but in reality we don’t pay enough attention to completely understand ourselves. This includes our emotions, motives, thoughts, bodies, souls, and actions throughout the day. It took me deliberately considering everything that is impacting me right now to get to the bottom of how I felt by the evening. I try to emphasize the use of reason over emotions in making decisions, but today I was all over the map and my emotions took over by late afternoon. Like so many other women who battle debilitating hormone imbalances, there are times it is very difficult to control. Days like today, I probably could have controlled better with more focused prayer. This is not the case every time my body goes haywire–there are days I just have to endure it and offer it up to God–but today prayer would have helped a great deal.
In order to maintain some level of peace throughout my day, I have to constantly turn to Christ. I picture His Sacred Heart in my mind in order to draw myself into communion with Him at different points throughout my day. I didn’t do that today. I think I tried once, but then allowed my divided attention to win out. There was a huge difference in my day because I focused too much externally without making sure that my spiritual reserves were full.
Prayer teaches us about God, but it also teaches us about ourselves. It helps us to come to understand and know ourselves more fully. God reveals things to us about ourselves so that we can overcome our weaknesses and learn to rest in His peace even as the boat we are in is tossed about on the waves. If we don’t pray on any given day, then we don’t readily see when we need to change course. My lack of focus and inability to communicate effectively today should have been a sign to me that I was doing something wrong, namely not praying and focusing on Christ enough.
Daily Mass is an integral part of my spiritual life, but I need continual prayer throughout my day, even if it is a Hail Mary or Our Father for someone or a minute of two of focused mental visualization of Christ to re-align my day. In fact, the more I cling to the Sacraments and attempt to grow in holiness, the more I need frequent reception of the Sacraments and the more I see how much I need to pray. St. Paul’s call to pray without ceasing is much clearer and the threshold of what we need spiritually grows more demanding over time because we are focused on God.
It’s important for all of us to make sure our spiritual reserves are constantly being filled through prayer, study, and the Sacraments. The Church’s tradition of doing a nightly examen is also a good way to look at the successes and failures of any given day. This is one of the ways we prayerfully come to understand more about ourselves and where we need work while also giving us the opportunity to thank God for the blessings of each day.
Thankfully, by God’s grace I can begin again tomorrow. I will do what I always do after days or weeks like today, walk back into the Confessional. It’s Thursday so Confession is available at my parish tomorrow night. Deo gratias!
Image taken from Wiki Commons.
It is easy in our daily lives to discount the seemingly minor encounters or experiences we have throughout any given day. We are so busy going through the motions that we often forget to pay attention to where God is blessing us and showering us with His gratuitous love. He is always trying to draw us closer to Himself, but in our brokenness and the monotony of daily living we often don’t see it. I know that there are far too many days when I am merely going through the motions and not paying attention.
I had an experience last week while I was in Virginia Beach that served as a reminder that God is a loving Father who rejoices with us in our delight and who seeks to give us great blessings. Sometimes those blessing come in roundabout ways and through suffering and sometimes they come in daily gifts such as looking into your child’s eyes with love or engaging in a conversation with a friend. These blessings also come in Creation. They are the most often overlooked, I think.
We are so busy driving from one place to another and checking off our to-do lists that a lot of the time we forget to look up and look out. Mass can even become a drudgery and a part of this rat-race that is daily life. This typically occurs when our prayer life has grown stagnant, cold, or non-existent. How can we expect to find God at Mass if we ignore Him the rest of the week? We have to constantly live the mystery in order to move into the greater depths offered to us in the Mass and in prayer.
I know that my days when prayer is last on my list are much worse than the days when I begin the morning praying Lauds and opening my Bible. I’ve grown so accustomed to attending daily Mass that I miss it when I travel and can’t attend. I was gone all last week and since I can’t drive my husband’s work vehicles and that’s what we took to the beach for his conference, Mass wasn’t an option. Instead, I woke up every morning at 5:20 am and walked out onto the beach by myself in the early dawn light while my husband and daughter slept. I sat down on my beach chair, surrounded by ghost crabs cautiously watching me with their adorable steely-eyed stares, and waited for the sun to rise.
I began praying Lauds a few minutes before the sun rose at 5:44 am, so that I could be praying it exactly as the sun broke the horizon to begin it’s ascent. Moments like these have been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I love sunrise and sunset, but there is something particularly special about sunrise.
While I prayed in the morning I also asked to see some dolphins that day. It brings me great childlike joy to watch them playing and hunting off shore. Virginia Beach is known for its bottlenose dolphins. I wanted to go sea-kayaking with them at sunset one evening, but I fractured my fibula and severely sprained my ankle back in mid-April, so my Physical Therapist said absolutely not. Sea-kayaking typically requires a launch into the surf in my previous experiences and even though I am out of the boot for good, I am not cleared to jump for another month. I was disappointed and my husband promised that he will watch our daughter so that I can go next year. She’s not quite old enough to go out on the ocean, yet.
Since kayaking was out of the question, I simply asked God to see the dolphins the way I’ve seen them for years, swimming and hunting around some time between 6:30 am and 10:00 am. He answered my prayer in abundance. I saw them swimming for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then the weather turned gusty and rainy for the rest of the day. Tuesday the surf was too rough to see them, but Wednesday was glorious.
The sunrise was incredible and the waves had calmed down quite a bit. My daughter and I were out on the beach all morning. I started seeing the dolphins around 8:30 am and they stayed out for most of the day. About 11:00 am I was standing in the ocean while my daughter played in the sand behind me. I wasn’t even up to my knees at this point when all of a sudden three dolphins popped up directly in front of me. They couldn’t have been 10 feet from me. I gasped in excitement as they jumped through the wave in front of me and I turned to Michaela and excitedly yelled “Dolphins!” at her. She stood up just in time to see them start racing down the shoreline. We were amazed they didn’t get beached, that’s how close to the shore they were. Michaela went sprinting after them down the beach. I would have, but I can’t run on my ankle yet so I quickly walked after her keeping my eyes on the dolphins and her. They ran towards a group of swimmers who mistook them for sharks while all of us tried to yell that they were dolphins not sharks. The dolphins then turned and went back out to deeper waters. I was struck with amazement and joy be the encounter.
Two friends of mine from that area–one a former Marine Biologist–told me this is very rare and a great gift. They don’t usually swim that close to shore. The whole day I was filled with happy excitement, telling everyone at my husband’s conference what had happened. Those dolphins were a gift. I had prayed to see dolphins. I only meant offshore like in the past, but this time God gratuitously answered my prayer. It can’t be a coincidence with all of that beach line and thousands of people up and down the beach that those dolphins happened to pop up right in front of me of all people.
Having a fractured fibula has been a more intense spiritual experience than I expected. I am a rather active person and I love to be outside. When I broke it, my kayak and my bike had to be put away. I couldn’t even take my daughter for a walk on the Greenway near the river. I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting in bed or in the living room. The first couple of weeks I was completely dependent on the generosity of my friends who brought us meals since cooking was out of the question on crutches. I found myself face down on the ground on multiple occasions when I was learning how to walk on the crutches. The word that constantly came to mind was humilitas, God is teaching me humility.
Even with all of this difficulty, it’s been a spiritually fruitful time. Any progress I’ve made is God’s doing, but I turned to more frequent prayer, especially when I couldn’t get to daily Mass the first few weeks. I started to set my day to the rhythm of prayer and to accept the period of inactivity as an opportunity to spend more time with Christ. This inactivity was a good time to establish new habits that could flow into my daily routine when my period of activity returned, as it has now.
It was quite a blessing to be free of the boot and standing on the beach watching the sunrise. It was even more astonishing to be standing so close to dolphins that I could have reached out and touched them. And not to be outdone in generosity, my last morning in VA Beach as I watched the sun rise one more time, the dolphins came out of the bay and were swimming just off shore as the sun began to rise. They hadn’t been out at sunrise any other morning, but that last morning I saw 10 of them out in search of breakfast.
It would be easy to reduce this to coincidence or science. That’s exactly what our culture would do. The dolphins obviously need to eat throughout the day and a tour boat seems to be what caused the dolphins to become trapped leading them to the shore, but there’s no way they would have ended up in front of me of all people if I hadn’t asked with the faith of child to see some dolphins on my visit. I have a very strong connection to God through the beauty of nature. He has a habit of showering me with graces through the beauty of the outdoors and this was no different. I don’t get up before sunrise simply for the sunrise. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a sensory one for me: body and soul.
God is this gratuitous with His beauty every single day. We are the ones who fail to notice it. In fact, far too many of us have grown numb and can no longer enter into and experience objective beauty. The sunset is merely the sun setting for the evening. The flowers are simply signs of spring and summer. The mountains are there every day. The ocean is the same ocean we see day-in-and-day-out or the prairie or the desert or the plains, etc. We have to maintain childlike innocence in relation to Creation to see the wonders and beauty God gives to us through it.
We have to open our hearts to the Divine Lover who seeks to woo all of us through the gifts of the universe. He reaches down to us body and soul through the senses. The material universe is a sign of His glory. The Sacraments are matter and form. They reach us body and soul. God always reaches us as we are created. We are the ones who end up off balance by an over-dependence or an under-dependence upon the material as it works in conjunction with the spiritual.
Watch a child. They stare at a dandelion as if it contains a whole universe within it. Somewhere along the way we decided that isn’t how adults act or we respond in apathy. There is a reason Christ says that we must be child-like. Only those who open their entire being up to Him in wonder and love can be filled up by Him. The dandelion, even if it annoys us because of the pristine lawn we aspire to, is a reminder of the goodness and beauty of God. We can see the detail, intricacies, and coloring in this “mundane” object that many people disdain. Each flower, animal, mountain ridge, river, crashing wave, etc. is filled with the intricate ordering of of a universe made by God ex nihilo by a sheer act of gratuitous self-emptying love. We are loved into being each day, but we have to open ourselves up to it.
We have to find the courage to plunge into the depths and it is scary. As C.S. Lewis says in The Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan: ‘He isn’t a tame lion, but he is good.’ Besides the depth found in the Mass, the greatest creation with us on this earth is found in our fellow human beings. Each person contains within themselves uncharted depths and the image of God. If we pay attention and we open ourselves up to others freely in charity, we can truly see Christ in other people. It is breathtaking and it reveals the vastness of the human soul made by God.
There is wonder, awe, beauty, and joy in communion with our fellow man grounded in Christ. God’s gratuitous love is extended to us through the people we encounter each day and the people who we form deeper bonds with such as our family and friends. Do we see the people God has given to us as He sees them? Would we see dolphins popping up in front of us after a simple prayer as a gift from Him? Life contains much monotony, but that monotony is transformed when we see God’s movement in every single moment of our day.
Image taken from Wiki Commons.
As I scroll through my social media feed looking at the day’s news, I am struck by the sheer commonality of the sin of presumption on display. It appears that far too many of us–myself included at times–do not understand Our Lord’s admonition that we are not to judge other people. I don’t mean this as a form of secular tolerance, which is a form of relativism. I mean that we make actual assumptions and judgments about whole people–not behavior–constantly. This is one of the main reasons that dialogue and discourse devolves so quickly into ad hominem attacks online.
First, we cannot presume that we know someone or what they are going to do who we have only “met” online. Online communication only provides a glimpse into the complex lives of human beings. As I have written recently, authentic friendship requires something that social media cannot provide: presence. There is no way to fully come to know a person without spending time together in person at some point. The Internet provides the illusion of full connectivity, but really is only a shadow of communion.
In reality, we seldom know the deepest and most complex aspects of the people who are in our lives. Spouses, no matter how close, still largely remain a mystery to one another since they are still unique individuals–body and soul–who are united in the one-flesh union. God still works differently in each soul and that means by default that we are shrouded in mystery and depth, even though we assume that we know or understand another person completely. Even in the deepest of relationships both familial and fraternal, there are aspects of each human being that are only known by God.
This is something that should humble us when we encounter each person throughout our day. We are meeting another person made in the image and likeness of God who is capable of the greatest love and the most extreme wickedness. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Our bodies with all of their marvels are also fraught with imbalance, weakness, and decay. Our souls must learn to strive to bring our bodies into right order and to put the spiritual goods above the bodily. We are both body and soul after all. We forget all of the factors at play in each individual’s life and in our own folly, we think we can fully know and understand another person.
This is the type of pride that leads to presumption. I’m not speaking of presumption of heaven here. I’m talking about presuming, or assuming, that we know what another person will do, think, say, or who they are as a person. I have been a part of so many online discussions and situations in person where I have assumed I knew what someone was going to do or that this person or that will always choose this way or that way. This type of thinking is extremely destructive in relationships.
More-often-than-not, our assumptions about other people are our own projections, prejudices, weaknesses, or judgments because we don’t agree with the other person. Disagreement is fine and good, judging a whole person and discarding them based on pre-conceived notions is wrong. Even if someone commits grave evil, we still have an obligation to learn to forgive and love them as ourselves. This doesn’t mean they will necessarily be a close friend or family member, but it does mean that we discard any judgment we harbor that belongs to God. We can say objectively that a behavior is sinful, but we don’t discard people simply because of sinful behavior. By God’s grace, anyone can undergo conversion of heart. We also don’t assume that people will always choose evil, or will always make the same mistakes, or that they are a lost cause. This is to give up hope, which is the sin of despair.
I was reading a thread this morning talking about the friendship between Robert George and Fr. James Martin, which got me thinking about both presumption and how much preaching sexual ethics primarily is a misguided form of evangelization. I largely disagree with the ambiguity in Fr. Martin’s teaching. I think lack of clarity is dangerous and that charity demands that we clearly and proudly proclaim the truth Christ has revealed to us. Even so, my disagreement with Fr. Martin is about his ideas and his teaching. I do not discard him as a person and pass judgment upon him. I have no idea what he will do or say in the future.
As I read this thread, people were complaining that Dr. George’s befriending Fr. Martin was a waste of time. ‘He clearly ignores Church teaching and George will be made to look a fool when Martin comes out openly supporting “same sex marriage.” To be fair to Fr. Martin, his ambiguity has kept him from outright heterodoxy. He makes the typical mistake in a misguided approach to accompaniment in thinking that compassion equates to confirming identity politics and that telling people outright the truth is hurtful. Christ wouldn’t agree with him. Any cursory reading of the Gospels makes this clear.
It is fine to disagree with Fr. Martin–I do–it is another to presume that he will become an outride heretic in the future, which is what I read this morning. He is already being judged by the court of social media. Our Faith should teach us something very important about this life. Our conversion and the conversion of everyone else on this planet is always a work in progress. Saul persecuted Christians and then had a radical encounter with Christ and became St. Paul. St. Augustine lived the live of debauchery and sexual immorality and became a Doctor of the Church. Sexual immorality doesn’t preclude conversion. Just because our sins are not the same as our neighbor’s does not mean that conversion is impossible for them.
I suspect Fr. Martin is making the same evangelical mistake that those who oppose him on the right make in trying to convert the culture. That is, assuming that talking about sex is going to lead to conversion. Nobody reads the Bible and thinks “I get it. I need to temper my sex life!” to borrow from the thinking of Bishop Robert Barron, whose understanding of evangelization is similar to my own. You don’t lead with sexual ethics. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work and there’s a reason why it doesn’t work.
Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics. It is about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who has given the world a Church, the Catholic Church. This encounter with Christ draws people into the life of the Church, which requires each person to completely upend their lives. Becoming a Christian is deeply demanding and enters into every single aspect of our lives. Conversion starts with an encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, once we are in love with Him and desire to give our lives to Him, we can begin to see where we need to change our lives to be conformed and in communion with Him.
Without this encounter and deep friendship with God, our faith becomes stale, oppressive, and heavy. Our love of God will show us how to live sexual morality and to do it in self-emptying love, even though it can be difficult. Without this encounter Christianity becomes a list of rules to check off, which often is an empty shell. Faith is dynamic. It dramatically changes our lives for the better, but we can’t convince people of this truth unless they come to know Christ first and sexual ethics in light of the love they have for Christ.
Everyone who obsesses about Fr. Martin and who presumes to be able to read his soul–which is a rather large sin–gets pulled into this same mistake. Reaching people who are struggling with all forms of sexual sin–homosexuality is not somehow worse morally than other sexual sins such as adultery or heterosexual fornication–is never going to happen if we aren’t leading with Christ. He is the only one who can help us conquer the darkness and weakness within each one of us. Falling in love with Him is what gives us the strength and grace we need to move past our sins. It’s a life-long process, but if we never introduce people to the saving message of the Gospel, then they can’t see a way out and it seems impossible to overcome something that appears at first glance to be so tied to our identity.
Christ is risen! We have been saved by the power of the Paschal Mystery and we are spiritually fed in the Holy Eucharist, which is Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we fall–which we will do repeatedly–we can go to the Sacrament of Confession to be forgiven, to learn more about ourselves, and to be made new. Everyone can in fact be a saint by God’s grace. That is the universal call for each and every single person and that desires is enkindled by coming to love God and to accept the infinite love that He pours out on each one of us day-in-and-day-out.
Sometimes our sins seem impossible and the battles we wage spiritually and bodily are so intense that we think we cannot get back up ever again, or we have convinced ourselves that we are incapable of change or progress, and that God made us a certain way and that’s the way it is. These are the lies of the Enemy and the lies we tell ourselves. He is the radiant Truth in the face of these lies. Christ is the answer. He is the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the One who leads us through the storms of life and who strengthens us in the battles we must wage.
This life is the Cross, but it is lived in the hope and joy found in Him. In the immense joy and peace He offers. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, hurt, have dry spells or dark nights, be greatly tempted, sin and fall, but it does mean we will persevere and that one day we will enter into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. It means that we will become who He made us to be. Our weaknesses, sins, temptations, proclivities, etc. have been washed in His blood and in the end we will be as pure as snow if we follow Him. That’s the hope we offer to a dying world. Teaching sexual morality is essential for helping people to learn how to live as a Catholic, but we need to lead people to Christ first. Nobody died a martyr purely for sexual ethics. They died for love of Jesus Christ, so why aren’t we lifting Him up and drawing people to Him?
Image taken from Wiki Commons.
This morning I was driving around town running errands when I saw a man panhandling at a rather popular intersection for such activity in this area. I was a lane over, so I couldn’t have safely given him anything and I only had a few quarters on me at the time. Instead, I did what I could do and prayed for him and looked right at him in the process. It got me thinking about some discussions I have seen or been a part of in social media and a discussion I didn’t want to overhear as I tried to pray before Mass a few weeks ago.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I am neither a Republican or a Democrat. If Bishop Robert Barron is a post-liberal, then I am a post-conservative since I’ve never been a liberal. I see the good and the evil in both liberalism and conservatism. I was raised in a staunchly Republican home, with pro-life morality front and center. I tried my hand at a political career when I interned at the prestigious Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill in 2009. I quickly realized that politics is not for me. I don’t have the stomach for it and there are many good Catholics who are much better at it than I am.
A while back I took my graduate course on Catholic Social Teaching and what I had been struggling with for a long time in regards to the Republican establishment came to light. I wasn’t able to articulate it before, but then after reading every social encyclical from Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si, as well as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, I started to understand why I was struggling to continue on as a conservative as it is understood in America today. Where the Left dehumanizes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the “useless”, the Right dehumanizes the poor, the immigrant, and the civilian in combat zones, while pushing consumerism and materialism. The latter two are an issue on both sides of the political spectrum.
Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single political party in existence that could fulfill all of the needs of Catholic Social Teaching because it is a secular enterprise and the Church teaches that it should be that way. In this country, neither political party embraces the entirety of our Church’s teaching and there is always compromise in political life as we work towards the common good. My issue is that neither party today seems to be fully ordered to the common good, or most importantly, a sound understanding of the dignity of the human person. The beginning of our Church’s social teaching is with the dignity of the every human being.
My conscience led me to the American Solidarity Party and this post is not meant to persuade anyone of their political choices. I will only say, that an actual study of the Church’s teaching is needed to fully form one’s conscience and most of us don’t ever put in the effort to really understand it with an open heart, free of our pre-conceived political beliefs. That’s why the USCCB was discussing the abysmal statistics of those who have read their document on Faithful Citizenship.
I recently posted a summary of Catholic Social Teaching on immigration and all of my conservative friends tried to argue that it wasn’t Church teaching, even though I linked to the Vatican’s website with the document on Catholic Social Doctrine. I decided the debate was one I should walk away from since it wasn’t going to go anywhere, just as when I try to engage with folks on abortion. This isn’t meant to be dismissive. We all have our blind spots. I have quite a few myself.
The poverty issue is complex and immigration/migration is an aspect of poverty. Many migrants flee from violence, abject poverty, and instability seeking a better life. A right, the Church teaches all human beings have in order to reach the fulfillment found in God. The Church at the same time teaches that states have a right to protect their borders. Both migration and border protection must be done with justice and charity in mind. There are three components to immigration. All need to be met. This is where the balance is lacking on both sides of the political spectrum.
One of the biggest issues I have with conservatism as it stands in America today is its lack of understanding and oversimplification of poverty. So often people on that side of the political spectrum say: “Get a job!” This is their solution for all poverty, as if this will fix everything. “McDonald’s is hiring. You should be able to support your family on that wage!” Meanwhile the folks espousing this wouldn’t dream of having to support a family of 4, 6, 8, 10 on an $8 per hour wage. The gentleman standing at the intersection this morning would have been met with such conservative derision.
A few years back, I brought this question to my Confessor in Confession. He has since passed from this life, but he was a Redemptorist who had spent nearly three decades in Africa serving the poor. He lived in a violent area. One of the priests in his house was murdered. He had seen poverty in ways most of us here in the U.S. can’t fully fathom. He was also staunchly pro-life. He understood Catholic Social Teaching and refused to be limited politically or morally. I am in the same place, which is why both my conservative and my liberal friends get upset with me. St. John Paul II said ‘he knew he was doing something right when both sides had issues with him.’ I agree.
I asked this priest what we should do about panhandlers. They may buy drugs or alcohol with the money we give to them. Father’s response was: “That’s not up to you. You cannot presume or pre-judge someone. You are called to be charitable. You have no idea what they will do with it.” Presumption is a sin. We are not supposed to assume we know what someone else is going to do. This makes us become protectionist, arrogant, and lacking in charity. We become that person’s judge. It is a violation of justice.
Poverty is complex and people find themselves living in poverty for many reasons. Many conservatives do not seem to understand that a great many people in this country and around the world work, but they are still poor. Poverty does not equate to generational welfare dependence, which is an issue, but a separate one. Mental illness, abuse, neglect, poor wages, gang violence and other violence, corruption, physical illness, crime, suffering, and yes, addiction or other factors can lead to poverty and homelessness. Not every person who is living in poverty is homeless. These are the most extreme cases.
It is because the Church understands that poverty occurs with people who are working that she calls for a living wage. All people have a right to shelter, food, water, medical attention, and property. All of the goods in this life are universally held since they belong to God. The poor have a right to the goods in this life. It’s known as the universal destination of goods. This is why if a starving child steals an apple they are not held accountable for stealing. They had a right to that food and it wasn’t given to them or available to them through a living wage and their very survival depended upon it.
While a living wage will lift many people out of poverty, there are those who cannot seem to help themselves and the “get a job” approach shows more about us than it does about them. When we de-institutionalized mental institutions, we largely left them to the streets. I’m not claiming that we should be locking these people up, but I am pointing out that these are the very people who often cannot hold a job because of their illness. The same is for addicts, who also need love and care. We must always keep in mind the free will of the individual and if they refuse our help, then we do what we can and continue to pray for them. Sometimes the addiction and the mental illness go hand-in-hand since self-medication is common in dealing with the horrors of certain types of mental illness.
We need to stop labeling groups of other people as “other.” Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of dehumanizing others. We need to see the person begging for money as a person made imago Dei, rather than deriding them. It’s the same with the unborn, who are cast aside by those on the Left. The solutions to our culture’s problems are multi-faceted and the Catholic understanding of political life is not limited to one problem.
While the moral law is hierarchical in nature and abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day, it is not the only issue. We have an obligation to help the poor and the migrant as well. We are supposed to help those lost in crime or addiction. Social justice–a liberal favorite–is not the core of our Catholic faith either, Christ risen from the dead is the center, which is most fully realized in the Holy Eucharist on this side of eternity. Christ calls each one of us to the mission field. Some are meant to fight against abortion, euthanasia, etc. and others in the various issues related to poverty or violence.
In order to discern how we can best live out Catholic Social Teaching we need to be people of considerable prayer and closeness to the Sacraments. We need to educate ourselves with open hearts and open minds as to what Holy Mother Church actually has to say in all matters of social teaching and the moral law. We are not Republicans or Democrats first, we are Catholics first. If our political leanings are influencing our understanding the Church teaching, then we have it backwards. We can still belong to a political party–we should be involved in political life according to the Church–but we need to do so with humility and a sound understanding that our party in no way is the Catholic party.
The next time you see someone begging for money, focus on seeing them as a person made in the image and likeness of God. A person made for the glory of Heaven and who is infinitely loved by our Triune God. Christ will judge us based on the measure we give out. If we are too busy judging everyone who is poor, a migrant, an unborn child, the elderly, and those who we consider to be useless, then we will be judged in that manner too. We are meant to bring all peoples to Christ. We can’t do that if we can’t even see the human being in front of us.
I woke up before sunrise when my husband pulled back the curtains in our beach level hotel room in Virginia Beach. I already planned to wake up early so that I could sit on the beach alone watching the sun rise before our daughter woke up for the day. I’m a morning person anyway, so waking up the 30 minutes early wasn’t a big change. When I looked out and saw the early dawn colors along the horizon above the crashing waves, I quickly grabbed my sandals and chair and went out the sliding glass doors to the beach.
It was a cool morning and it was a good thing that I thought to pack a long sleeved shirt. June in Virginia Beach is always unpredictable. Yesterday the morning started calm and tranquil. We were able to watch the dolphins hunting just off shore. We even saw two babies swimming in unison with their mothers. The Atlantic Ocean seemed to be more like a lake than an ocean.
That changed suddenly when the wind came gusting in at about 9:45 am. One of my daughter’s sand toys when flying down the beach never to be seen again. That kind of calm usually means something is coming. This morning the waves are crashing intensely against the shore and a Rip Tide Warning extends from here to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the crashing of the angry waves and the silence of sunrise. I sat in my beach chair watching the colors transition from a deep purple and pink, to red and orange, to the golden yellows that signal the rising of the sun. I prayed Lauds as the sun was rising. The Antiphons and Psalms were fitting for so glorious a sunrise as they spoke of God’s great Light and the joy of meeting a new day at dawn. A good many of us don’t meet the day at dawn, but there is something special about that time of day. As a kayaker, it’s my favorite time to be out on the water.
Each dawn reminds us of the joy of the Resurrection. The darkness of the night has given way to the peace and beauty of morning. As we awake from our nightly slumber–a reminder of our eventual death–we are met with the light of a new day. We don’t yet know what God has planned for us on any given day, but the rising sun is a reminder that we always dwell in His Light, truth, and joy. Even as the waves crash with all of their might against the shores of our lives, the calm tranquility of Our Triune God draws us ever closer. Each new day is an opportunity to dwell in greater communion with Him and with others as He shapes us into the glorious creation He intends each one of us to be.
1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ©It is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness.
Depression and suicide are in the news again this week as two high profile people took their own lives: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Being a woman who loathes purses and prefers cargo pants and capris for carrying things, I don’t know much about Kate Spade. I have watched multiple shows of Anthony Bourdain’s and found them quite interesting, although I must confess, he never struck me as a particularly happy person underneath it all.
If you want to know more about people, pay attention to their eyes. I try to make very direct eye contact with people for four reasons. First, it makes me a better listener and forces me to listen more closely to what someone is saying to me. Second, it lets the person know that they have my full attention. Third, I learn a lot about people from their eyes. I can read moods more clearly and see when underneath it all, someone is struggling or when they are happy or content. I have also discovered the holiest people I know through their eyes. There is a distinct quality to them and we have to pay attention since these people also tend to be the most unassuming and quiet. Fourthly, it helps me to connect at a deeper level with people, especially my friends. Give it a try. You may be able to help someone who is going through a difficult time because you see past their words to the actual person, including someone fighting clinical depression.
Mental illness is a topic that is hard for me to articulate and it’s not something that I see easy solutions to. It is extremely complex and comes from physiological, emotional, genetic, environmental, behavioral, and spiritual dimensions. There is no one-size fits all solution.
I’ve had two very serious bouts with clinical depression. One in 2004 when I was diagnosed with PTSD from being a 9/11 relief worker, which also came with clinical depression. And 3.5 years of debilitating postpartum depression and anxiety after I had Michaela and which every miscarriage I had made worse.
Mine is not chronic. It is tied to hormones and situations. I’ve been out of it for a while now and while I have a melancholic, introvert nature and the long darkness of December drives me crazy, I no longer have clinical depression. I have friends and family who do, however.
I firmly believe the answer ultimately rests in Christ. Not as a cure, but as the Source of hope, faith, strength, and perseverance. I wouldn’t have made it through my dark nights without Him and the help of His Mother. Being a Catholic allows us to transform our suffering through the Cross. It is redemptive and that means everything when you are in a very dark abyss, and that’s exactly what clinical depression is in that moment, in my experience. The abyss robs people of hope and without Christ it is very difficult to even find hope in the darkness. We need to bring the light to those trapped in the abyss of mental illness and others in despair.
And as unpopular as it might seem, I don’t think all suicide is the result of clinical depression. There are people who kill themselves out of spite, broken-hearts, fear, financial distress, and the list goes on and on. Clinical depression is a whitewash we put on an extremely complex issue. It helps to assuage our guilt, and just like all of the other ills in our culture, it keeps us from any real and lasting introspection. There are absolutely a lot of people who commit suicide from mental illness, but not all.
No matter the needs of an individual in their treatment plan, we have an obligation to be sharing the Good News in a world of despair. Why aren’t we evangelizing more? We have the answer to the longing of every human heart: Christ Jesus. He may not cure those who are mentally ill, but He will certainly shoulder the burden and bring each person to the unending joy of everlasting life. That’s Who and what we are made for and we can only find true and lasting happiness in communion with the Most Holy Trinity.
Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Lord’s love burns at an unimaginable intensity for each one of us. He is gently calling all people to Himself. As His disciples, we must go out and share this great burning love with the people in our lives. Only Christ can transform our culture and shed light into the dark places within each one of us. Only He can shoulder our burdens and lighten our load and only He can show us the great power of the Cross in our own lives. Everyone needs Christ. May God have mercy on all those who take their own life.