Even so, I thought that Bishop Barron should have gone further in his piece and looked to the laity. Especially in our time, the faithful Catholic laity are called to a particular vocation to evangelize in the secular world and are especially called to evangelize the culture. This is articulated in both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici.
In no way do I think that Bishop Barron is calling for the ministerial priesthood to take up the laity’s role. However, I do think there is an issue that needs to be addressed, namely that the ministerial priesthood’s role within the Church is primarily to teach, to sanctify, and to govern the People of God and to make the Sacraments present to us. This is the primary mission of the priesthood. In so doing, the laity is equipped for their mission of evangelizing the world. The fact of the matter is, not only has Gaudium et Spes been greatly misinterpreted and poorly implemented in many corners, but Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici have been ignored in far too many parishes as well.
The ministerial priesthood is meant to help prepare those of us in the laity to go out into the world to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are sent forth at the end of Mass in order to bring people back to Christ. It’s much like the great sending forth when God speaks Creation into existence through the Word. It is the great exitus, as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas. Creation is then meant to return to God, reditus. We too as the Mystical Body are sent forth in order to bring all peoples to God through the Church. Our greatest desire should be to draw all peoples to Christ in the eucharistic banquet. Based on his previous works, Bishop Barron and I would probably agree that it is primarily the laity who are sent in that great movement (exitus) in order to bring others to the salvation extended to all peoples by Christ through His Church (reditus).
Practically speaking, the laity is not fully equipped to live it’s mission in the world. Bishop Barron rightly points out, the numbers of people leaving the Church are startling. Studies show that less than 20% of regular Church attendees are involved in ministry or donating to their parish on a given Sunday. Most of the time, the numbers are even lower than 20%. Yes, we need to evangelize the culture, but we also need to stop the hemorrhaging in our parishes. We should be drawing those who are already sacramentalized into a deeper encounter with Christ and, through the guidance of the ministerial priesthood, we must find ways to equip the laity to evangelize the world. How do we engage the people who are in the pews now, so they can go out to proclaim the Good News?
“Life is not neatly divided between beauty and ugliness, light and dark, beatitude and despair. Rather, it is a struggle and a longing, full of vicissitude and vacillation, with glimmers and glimpses which paradoxically attract and repel us, making us feel both at home and alien.” Austin Choate, “Terrence Lamick: You Will Love, Whether You Like It Or Not”
In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself struggling with a particular battle that God has told me He is asking me to fight for reasons that are completely mysterious to me. When it arises within me, I pray and ask God what He wants of me in it, especially when I falter, fail, or stumble to the ground in the face of the attacks I endure or the internal weakness I face on my part. He has repeatedly told me the answer is: “You can fight or you can walk away.” He also repeatedly tells me that I can’t do it on my own and any progress I make is in His time, not my own. I continue to choose to fight because I know the good of this battle is worth the ups and downs that I face. In fact, at one of my lowest points, God in His gratuitous love and mercy gave me a a small glimpse of the glory at the end of this battle and all battles that I will wage in this life.
Two years ago something shifted dramatically in my soul. I didn’t even know it at the time. God gave me a choice: To love as He loves or to walk away. Regular readers will already be familiar with some of this story. I had just had my fourth miscarriage and I was in the grips of grief. I had the perfect ultrasound of our little Andrew Thomas in my hands and the joy and relief of a heartbeat, only to find out on the Feast of St. Dominic–appropriate since we were going to name him after St. Thomas Aquinas–that he had died.
The agony was intense and my heart broke into so many pieces and split wide open that I didn’t know how I’d recover. His loss was my fourth miscarriage, but there seemed to be something particularly cruel about this one. Two ultrasounds confirmed a strong heartbeat. We were overjoyed, and then he was gone. My husband and I once again found ourselves in the ER grief-stricken.
My healing came about through an unexpected and deeply painful process. God called me to quickly return to the front lines of praying for an end to abortion at our local Planned Parenthood. This time he asked me to be out two days a week for 2-3 hours each day. It seemed to be a strange and difficult thing to ask of me, but I obeyed. Eventually, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion at 20 weeks.
She was due at the same time I was due to have Andrew. At first it seemed like another knife to the heart. God asked me to walk with this woman up until she gave birth (she cut off contact afterwards, but I still pray for her regularly). We talked baby names, ultrasounds, and supplies. I made the difficult decision to give her all of the baby items we had purchased for Andrew and my husband agreed.
The entire process was a letting go on my part. There were many tears and my heart ached in ways that were unimaginable, but I obeyed. I gave everything I had to her and in turn my own grief was turned into joy as I held that baby boy for the first time who had survived our abortion culture. No, he wasn’t my Andrew, but God brought about redemption through my suffering. He allowed me (and my husband when able) to love this woman despite my own pain and give her as much love and support as possible in order to help her choose to keep her son. He’s now 1.5 years old.
The decision to love in this case was agonizing. It wasn’t the feel good, romantic, warm-fuzzy sort of love that our culture is obsessed with. It was a purifying love that required God to cut me deep so that I could bleed out His love upon this woman despite my grief. And ever since I made that decision the intensity of my spiritual life has increased exponentially. I’ve had to confront both external attacks from the Enemy of a more obvious nature than at any other point in my life while also coming face-to-face with my own weaknesses and failures to love others as I ought to.
While this particular situation has passed, God is still calling me to love as He loves and that always requires a form of purification. Our own sinfulness and weakness means that all of our relationships must go through the fire of refinement, even relationships that at the deepest levels of reality are good and holy. We get in the way through our Fallen nature, so God has to constantly lead us to the right path and pick us back up when we falter. The point is to continue to begin again with every new fall and to persevere to the end with Him by our side.
The last couple of weeks, I have been spending time praying through Romans. I’ve been trying to understand some of the things God has asked me to endure and through multiple passages in Romans He gave me an answer. One of those passages is Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peacewith God through our Lord Jesus Christ,through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In all of my prayer the word “endure” has come to my mind regularly. When I read this passage and prayed with it on multiple occasions, I came to see that this was the answer to my need for endurance in my struggles. The goal is ever before me, but as I struggle spiritually and I battle my own sinfulnes and weakness, it can be difficult to remain steady. I falter. God is refining me through what I endure, even in the times I fail and must come back to Him in the Sacrament of Confession. He is strengthening me through enduring trials and temptations. More than anything, He is teaching me to rely more fully on Him in everything. Whether in desolation or consolation, it’s not up to me, I’m required to love.
I got this same message when I was kayaking with my daughter Friday morning. I was frustrated and there are times when I need to take that frustration out on the lake, a trail, or my elliptical machine. My daughter sat in the front of the tandem kayak I had to rent because my new kayak doesn’t track well with her in it. While she sat looking out, I was praying in frustration and exasperation and paddling as hard as my body would allow. All the while asking God what He wants from me and if I am actually doing what He is asking of me or not. I then clearly heard Him say: “I’ve asked you to love as I love.” I stopped paddling and sighed. “Ok, Lord.”
My weaknesses and failures matter in the I need to overcome them by His grace, but that’s the whole point. My desire is to overcome my brokenness so that all may be pleasing, good, and holy in His sight. That is the driving force that propels me forward because I love Him. It’s not that I am never going to be weak. I will be. It’s whether or not I’m willing to fight the battle that is required of me, and I am. Not only for my sake, but for others. I’m willing to endure, even when it takes everything I have and then some. I always remain in the hope that Christ will help me to endure, even when I fall. My hope is ultimately in Him, not myself.
Not to be outdone in the generosity of the grace He pours into us, Our Lord made sure that I got the message loud and clear. I struggle to trust insights I gain in prayer at times, not because I don’t trust God–although I need work here–but because I don’t trust myself and my own propensity for self-deception. Through prayer with Romans, Christ has made it clear for two weeks at Adoration what He is asking of me. He told me again on the lake, and then He said it back to me through the priest in Confession this past Saturday.
When I went to Confession on Saturday I wasn’t feeling particularly well. The last couple of days I’ve been dealing with pain that I deal with from time-to-time. I was feeling a bit beaten down from the spiritual battles I wage, so I rather unceremoniously listed my sins. I go face-to-face at times and I decided to go on Saturday since I was in pain, although I would have rather have gone behind the screen that day. When I looked up after confessing my sins I saw Christ in the priest, which is what I really needed in that moment. I needed to see Christ sitting across from me, not Father, not my friend, but Christ in him. This has happened before, but this time when he gave me feedback he told me exactly what God has already told me in my recent prayer experiences. In fact, it was almost verbatim.
I was too tired to process all of it at the time, but as I considered it later on, I was astounded. The Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that I was getting the message loud and clear. Father even made allusions to aspects of St. Paul’s letters that were identical to what I’ve been studying and praying with. He affirmed to me that we know the goal, but we falter at times and the spiritual life is up and down. Sometimes we are called to endure things we don’t understand, but we must endure them with Christ. In that moment the things God has been telling me in prayer all found a cohesive connection to one another and He affirmed me in my struggles and told me to keep going. My choice is always the same when I’m asked to fight a battle within myself or for others: Love as He loves or walk away. I choose to love, which means I choose to fight.
The choice is always the same for all of us as we hope to progress in holiness. We must learn to love as Christ loves. That means areas of our lives must be purified and that process is painful. We must contend with the darkness within us, the weaknesses we discover, the temptations that come at us, and the areas of our personality that are a stumbling block for us and for others. Our relationships with other people must come to mirror the love the Blessed Trinity. Loving in that way given our weakness is difficult, but that’s what Christ is ultimately asking of us. I can say from the glimpse Christ gave me through no merit of my own, it is worth the battle. It is worth it to learn to love as Christ loves, even if we fail, fall, and become weak. As long as we keep getting back up and enduring to the end through our reliance on Him, our reward will be great.
There is no love greater than the love we have in Christ. We settle for counterfeits all of the time. As the quote at the beginning of this piece makes clear. We are both drawn in and repelled by what God offers us. There are times we struggle with the ultimate goods of this life because we are willing to settle for lesser goods or even sin. The spiritual life isn’t really black and white. It’s our struggle to turn fully to God even as we are distracted by what is good in this life or we choose something where good is lacking because we think it is what we want, need, or simply desire. We know the goal, but we still waver and fall. In all of it we are told that we are going to love whether we like it or not. How we go about learning to love and actually loving is up to us, but God will teach us the right way regardless.
In fact, sometimes we are drawn in by other people where we are taught that we must love and not in a superficial sort of way that is nothing more than emotional affirmation for ourselves. This isn’t love, it’s egoism. No, sometimes we are to love in the hard, nitty gritty, clench your teeth through the struggle, and rightly order sort of love. That’s why our culture largely doesn’t understand the nature of love. Love is self-emptying. It is purifying. It sacrifices the needs, wants, emotions, and desires of the one who loves for the other. It gives freely without any expectation of return. It is this aspect that we struggle with the most. We want to grasp it and get something back, but we are meant to love freely without expectation.
Yes, love must and should be reciprocal, but there are times we love other people much more deeply than they love us. There are times we love people who are incapable of returning that love properly. Love is a communion of persons that is meant to be grounded in Christ, but in our broken world this is difficult to achieve. Regardless, we are called to give freely and completely of ourselves. That is the lesson of the Cross. Our Lord pours Himself out completely, even while knowing that many will turn away from Him and not return His love. We must do the same. This requires courage, faith, hope, charity, and self-forgetfulness. We have to free ourselves of expectations and simply give, even if the other person does not return that love fully or even if they cast it off. We are to love as He loves. That’s the task we’ve been given in all of it’s terrible beauty and glory.
You and I always have a choice to make every single morning: Will I love as He loves or will I walk away? In those moments when we make the wrong choice, we must return to His love in the Sacrament of Confession. In the moments we say “yes” to loving as He loves, we must be ready to endure whatever is required of us. We must rely on Him completely. The battles we will wage in loving in such a way are both interior and exterior and they will take everything we have and a total dependence on Christ. These battles take many forms and we have to recognize them for what they are so that we can allow Christ to refine our broken love into the luminous love of His Sacred Heart. His Sacred Heart is likened to a fire precisely because our love must be refined and purified of it’s imperfections and that fire is cleansing and painful. Only then can we be truly radiant and enter fully into the love of the Holy Trinity. It’s a new day. What choice will we make today?
Rather frequently, I hear people make arguments about aspects of the spiritual life, the Church, morality, or relationships that are predicated upon a particular individual’s feelings. Some will complain that the Mass doesn’t make them “feel” good or the Church’s teaching doesn’t cause a flood of the emotions they are looking for in their lives. I’ve had friends tell me that their relationship with Jesus requires them to “feel good” on some level.
The problem is, our emotions or “feelings” — as we call them colloquially — are an unruly taskmaster and a dangerous guide in the spiritual life. It is true that our emotions are an aspect of being a human person, but they are in no way meant to overrule our intellect or our will. It is not uncommon for our emotions to lead us into temptation and take us down paths that are destructive.
When an individual tells me how essential it is for them to “feel” the presence of God or to experience Him subjectively in the Mass or in prayer, I tend to ask them some questions. First, I ask them how many times a day they experience an emotion? Do those emotions always comport with what is going on in reality? Do our bodies impact our emotional state e.g. level of sleep, stress, even what we’ve eaten? Is God our emotions? Does God cease to love us if we don’t “feel” good on a given day? What about the very real dark night experiences of some of the holiest souls in our Tradition? Can our emotions be impacted by our encounters with other people? There are a lot of other questions that should and can be considered when it comes to deciphering how much our emotions can impede our ability to understand reality, love and serve God properly, love our neighbor as we ought, and progress in holiness.
Part of the spiritual life is learning to temper, control, or discard our emotional states. We can’t always control our emotions, so at times we are called to endure until an emotional state passes. Much of the time an emotion we experience in a given situation is irrelevant to what is actually happening outside of ourselves. The Mass is a good example.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
Our culture seeks to hide suffering behind closed doors. The elderly are left in nursing homes while the unborn are “humanely” disposed of in abortuaries. We pretend that suffering can be fixed with a small pill, a drink, one more car, another cheeseburger, or dull it with copious amounts of television, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. I see the attempts to hide suffering in the media. We are supposed to keep our children protected from the suffering of this harsh world. This is a lie parents tell themselves and it is an attempt to avoid reality. It is impossible to hide the Fallen nature of this world from our children.
We worship the God-man, who suffered a torturous death on a Cross. Our churches–at least they are supposed to–have a Crucifix front and center as a reminder of the central reality of Our Faith that is the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Our homes are also often adorned with this instrument of torture, as a minute-by-minute reminder of the price and sacrifice offered in love for each one of us. As Catholics, there is no hiding the reality of suffering. It’s front and center in our Faith.
Children already know dragons exist. The idea that we can hide pain and suffering from our children comes up against reality once our children come into contact and develop relationships with other children. They see quickly how difficult human relationships are in our Fallen state. Each child comes to learn that they will eventually be left out, mocked or made fun of, left to the mercy of another’s moods or whims, hurt, and that the people we love eventually let us down, move, or even die. It is impossible to hide these realities from children. They know. And, like us, they also know that it’s not supposed to be this way. They rail in angry frustration at the injustice of it all because they know instinctively that we are made for more.
We can’t protect our children from suffering. Last year my own daughter went through a death scare with my husband when he became extremely ill at a rapid rate. At five-years-old she confronted the reality of her own father’s mortality. Thankfully, he survived and is now in what appears to be remission, even though he will have Wegener’s Granulomatosis for the rest of his life and it could take off at any point. It’s something that is always in the back of our minds.
She knows the realities of suffering in her daily life. She knows the pain other people inflict on one another through the disagreements and occasional nastiness of her friends. She sees it when her father and I let her down when our own sinfulness hurts her. She cries the tears of pain when she learns that her best-friend is moving on her birthday and she cries in frustration when she isn’t treated as well as she should be by a friend or their family.
As her mother, I can’t pretend that suffering isn’t a reality for each one of us. I can’t sugar coat it, and often, I don’t even have the power to make it any better. In fact, this has been one of the greatest lessons of surrender that I have learned as a mother. Many of the moments when she is hurting all I can do is hold her close and cry with her. I am not called to protect her from the suffering. I am called to teach her how to embrace it and offer it up to Christ. I do so by standing steadfast alongside her as she cries in agony, even as my own heart bleeds inwardly, longing to relieve her pain.
It is in those moments that I catch a tiny glimpse of what Our Heavenly Mother endured at the foot of the Cross. She shows me how to stand strong in the midst of intense suffering. Our Mother shows me how to love my daughter through the pain and to embrace her Cross alongside her. I remind my daughter to offer it to Christ and to allow Him to help her through it. It isn’t easy. Our Fallen tendency is to flee from the Cross, but as Christians, we are called to embrace it. We are meant to walk together in communion. So often we make the same mistakes of the first Apostles, except St. John. We flee when we are called to endure.
As parents we have to learn to relinquish our own will when our child suffers. It is impossible for us to suffer for them. We can only suffer with them. Suffering is a part of the sanctification process for all of us. It teaches how to love. Suffering shows us what love costs and it is through this pain that we learn to love more deeply. We can’t truly love if it doesn’t lead us to sacrifice a part of ourselves on behalf of the other.
We can’t protect them from suffering, but we can lead them to the One who will help them to persevere, provide them peace, rest, joy, and love them as they are meant to be loved. Other people, even people who love us and who we love, will let us down and hurt us. It is only in Christ that we learn to receive the love we are made for and through Him we learn to love others as we ought to.
My daughter is going through one of those difficult times when she is suffering pain and disappointment and I can’t take it away. What I can do is love her through it and stand fast when the tears start flowing. I can show her my own vulnerability and the tears I shed on her behalf as her loving mother. In some small way, I pray we are both brought closer into the loving embrace of Our Heavenly Mother, whose great desire is to lead us to the Most Loving and Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus Christ.
In the past few weeks I have come into contact–both in person and in social media–with people who have felt the need to lecture me on their individual learning in areas of the Catholic faith. I stepped in at a Catholic bookstore when a man was telling a woman in full communion with Rome that she should go to SSPX Masses. I tried to explain to him that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to wade into complicated areas with a group that has not been fully rectified with the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made progress in that area, but not nearly as much as this gentleman believed.
He then went into a tirade about how he had read all sorts of things and knew more than I did, even after I tried to tell him that I am in fact a theologian who has studied the documents of Vatican II quite a bit, because he had launched into an attack on those documents. The discussion was futile. It was like talking to a brick wall. He knew better than I did and that was that.
I’m sure he does know more on some things than I do. Everyone does. However, he demonstrated a weakness to me that is very common in the line of thinking of that particular crowd. This is true in both social media and in person. I can attest that the hostility many of us face from these folks online is just as prevalent in person, which I must admit, took me aback quite a bit. The weakness is a form of turning in on oneself.
Fr. Chad Ripperger, an exorcist and FSSP priest has warned this particular group of people, who are of a more traditional strain–as in only the Latin Mass, all else is invalid, Vatican II is wrong, etc.–that a martyr complex or persecution complex is destructive. This is precisely what tends to present in these circles. The rest of us–apparently myself included–are the enemy who is keeping everyone from the fullness of Catholicism. I personally veil in the Novus Ordo and I prefer a balance of English and Latin in the Mass e.g. Sanctus, Mysterium, and Agnus Dei. I’m not a fan of the banality of Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte, and David Haas. Those are merely my preferences, however. In the end these decisions are up to the individual priest and the bishop. We can’t allow our disagreement with certain choices to trap us in anger. I’ve done this before and it causes nothing but harm.
The danger I see is that far too often these folks read or study in isolation. I rarely see appeals to Sacred Scripture or Magisterial teaching, ether that or they cherry-pick documents. Whenever someone tries to explain the development of doctrine, as articulated by Blessed John Henry Newman, it is discarded. I’m not entirely sure these folks realize that Christology, for instance, took centuries to develop and is still developing in certain areas. The psychological dimensions of Jesus Christ are being examined by many theologians at present, as an example.
These people often focus on their own abilities to understand things. It’s a focus on “I” read this or “I” know this. It is often predicated upon a private revelation they studied, which is a good as far as it goes, but private insights and revelations are not Magisterial teaching and are not binding on the faithful. If I have a private experience of God, you are not bound to follow what He has revealed to me. You aren’t even bound to believe that it happened to me.
If the Church approves a private revelation, then we can at least trust that it does not contradict the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and it is a safe message to incorporate into our spiritual lives. We must always keep in mind, however, that our faith is not entirely encompassed in the message of Fatima, or the still not fully approved apparitions at Mejugorje, or any other private revelation given as a great grace to the saints. Our faith is understood through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. The three legged stool if you will. Once we unhinge ourselves from one of these legs, the stool will topple over.
There is nothing wrong with being an autodidact. Every faithful Catholic should have a regular habit of studying great spiritual works. Most importantly, all Catholics should be spending regular time praying and reading Sacred Scripture. Issues arise when we do so in isolation without ever seeking guidance from others, especially orthodox learned priests, theologians, teachers, spiritual friends, or catechists. We are made for communion with one another. This means that we should take our studies and what we learn to other people. This offers us the opportunity to humbly accept correction–I am corrected on a regular basis, as it should be–and to make sure that we are not in fact erroneously understanding something.
Spiritual teachers are an indispensable aspect of the spiritual life. It’s for this reason that priests receive formation from other priests, theologians, and philosophers. It is why theologians are required to undergo years of study under learned and trusted teachers. We need to balance our self-study with discussions and learning with other people. This includes those who may not be book-ish, but whose simple faith is a guiding example to us. I learn a lot from my husband who never cracks open a work of theology.
If we have fallen into protectionism, isolationism, anger, or vengeance then we are desperately in need of guidance. There are some people who have become so blinded by their anger at the Church that they relish the day they think when it will come burning down. Not only is this anti-scriptural, it’s to fall into the trap of sinful anger and wrath. These are traits that are quite common in certain circles. If we find ourselves pulling away from the Magisterium, for instance, then we have put ourselves in danger. We are then heading towards the same mistakes of the Reformation. We place ourselves above Our Lord in thinking that we know better than He did when He gave the keys to St. Peter. We somehow know better than 2000 years of Church Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
If we believe that we can ignore an Ecumenical Council, then we once again are in danger. This is one of the reasons I urge people to read and study Church history. Far too many people think only with our current age in mind without being able to put it into the much needed wider context of the whole history of the Church. Periods after Ecumenical Councils are notoriously rocky. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI even said it takes 100 years for a Council to be fully implemented correctly. This period in history is not somehow significantly worse than others. The heresies may be slightly different or old heresies have found prominence again. There is not a golden age of Catholicism where everyone was leading holy lives and our leaders were all pristine saints. The Early Church faced division and violent martyrdom. There’s a reason the saints are held up as pillars of light to emulate in our dark world.
This practical understanding does not in any way excuse the sins of the hierarchy and the faithful. It is in fact possible to understand on a practical level the weaknesses of human beings and to be righteously angry in the face of great evil. The former is simply to understand how Fallen men and women work through their salvation with Christ in fear and trembling, often in a very broken, weak, and sinful way. The path to holiness is to battle the sin that lies in our own hearts and to be purified. That cleansing process takes a life-time, and even then, we may still need much time in Purgatory. That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious consequences when we choose grave evil. It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be very real consequences for when members of the hierarchy cause great scandal or that measures shouldn’t be put in place to prevent such scandals. There absolutely need to be! It’s important to remember that Christ Himself spoke frequently of the realities of Hell.
I simply mean that at a practical level, we do have to keep in mind that the path to holiness is a constant battle with sin, temptation, weakness, character defects, other people, the world, and the Enemy. I’m not a saint, yet. Are you? It’s not an easy path and anyone who says it is hasn’t fully understood that the Cross and the Resurrection are a package deal. Often those of us who focus on other people’s sins–we all do it–do so in order to avoid looking at ourselves. If we spend most of our time looking outward, then we are avoiding the very real work required interiorly and it is work. This is also something that needs to be done with knowledgeable, holy, and orthodox guides.
If we truly want to change the world and the Church, that is not going to be accomplished by ranting at other people both in person and in social media. In fact, that type of aggressiveness does more to harm our mission than to help it. If we truly want to transform the world and bring people to Christ then we must be actively pursuing holiness. That means a willingness to conquer the darkness in our own hearts and wage the intense battle that is required of us to do so. We have to stop focusing so much on the evils out there to the point that they rob us of peace. We can’t fight the battles out there if we haven’t fought the battles within our own hearts. Do we see the plank in our own eye? In the end we will persevere because it is Christ who fights with us and for us. With Him all things are possible. Even the most hardened of hearts can become radiant and holy. We must remember that this cannot be accomplished in isolation. We rely on Christ and His Mystical Body to succeed. We cannot walk the path in isolation.
Hello all! I am doing a bit of preliminary research on the topic of friendship in the digital age. I’d love to get some feedback from my readers on the topic. If you have a few moments, please answer the following questions either in the comment section or through the contact form under CONTACT on the top of the page. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions!
1. How do you think friendship has changed in the digital age?
2. Are your friendships more or less fulfilling?
3. Are you lonelier even with instant communication capabilities?
4. Do you see many of your social media friends in person? If so, how often?
5. Do you have close relationships with people physically present to you?
6. Have you experienced spiritual friendship with others? Friendships that either helps/helped you grow in holiness directly or that seem to have mystical elements to them.
7. Overall do you think social media and other online communications have helped, hindered, or not impacted the nature of friendship/relationships?
8. Do you think there is a loneliness epidemic in our culture? Briefly explain your answer.
9. How do you define or understand friendship? What’s expected of an authentic friendship?
One of the greatest battles we face in the spiritual life is knowing and understanding ourselves. “Know thyself” appeared on the temple at Delphi in Ancient Greece. It’s influenced philosophy for centuries and it is an essential aspect of the spiritual life, as long as it is properly ordered to God and a life of holiness. This is not packaging for self-help. It is a very real struggle we all face as we enter more deeply into the life of God and progress on the path He has set out for us.
We often pride ourselves in being objective in our understanding of things, but in reality, more-often-than-not we are not nearly as objective as we believe ourselves to be. Human beings are complex. We deal with a whole host of competing factors from biology to environment to family background to personality traits to our own spiritual temperament and path to intense suffering. We are masters of self-deception. We often think we know ourselves better than we actually do, and worse, we often think we know more about other people than we do. This is something the saints have understood, which is why the vast majority of them had spiritual directors or regular confessors they relied on for objectivity and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
As our battle intensifies in order to grow in holiness and trials increase, we very quickly realize that things are not necessarily what we thought they are or they turn out in ways we didn’t expect. Christ works to shed light into the deepest darkest places within us and we find things we never consciously were aware of, hid, or never thought we’d confront. It is easy to look out at the world around us and point to that evil, but it is another thing to look to the evil within ourselves. That is the painful part. We’d rather look out there, but Christ is calling us to first purify our own hearts, so that we can love and serve Him and others.
The rise of social media and instant communication–for all of its goods, which vary–has given us a false sense of pride. A great many of us think we know more than we actually do and we go out of our way to tell other people when they are wrong. I was rather insufferable for years using social media. I still have days when I am not nearly as charitable as I am supposed to be, but I can look back on some of the years when I too lorded over people and truly regret doing so. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us and He has worked quite a bit in me during recent years.
A lot of the emails or comments I receive on my writing points to our lack of objectivity. I don’t expect people to agree with me all of the time. I certainly don’t agree with everything I read. I have blind-spots, make poor arguments, lack clarity, or there are times I’m sure that I am wrong. The problem is, the vast majority of the long ranting emails I receive are because a person has completely missed the point of my piece. The issue is always the same: They cannot be objective about the topic for some reason, but they can’t see it. The emails are always of a condescending tone. Some have called me a heretic others claim to be giving loving, but firm correction, as if we can possibly do that for someone we don’t know in person. The Holy Spirit is not calling any of us to be lord of the Internet. Fraternal correction is rarely successful on the Internet and for good reason. There is a difference between lively debate and ranting. Unfortunately, the difference is not as widely understood as it used to be.
If we have an emotional response to something, we are immediately compromised. It is very difficult once emotions take hold to form reasoned judgments. We have to wait for the emotions to subside. If they don’t, then we know we are not currently in the position to respond to something objectively. We all have areas of our lives, especially related to pain and suffering, when we cannot respond through a clear use of reason. Emotions play a very important part of our experience as human beings, but they are a poor indicator of what is going on in reality. They often cause us to become blind and to make or project assumptions onto other people. We all do this, but it is largely ineffective and can be destructive.
I struggle a great deal with rejection for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to go into here. I realized in recent months how much that hinders my ability to make objective judgements about situations at times. My Confessor even at one point told me that I have to stop projecting my feelings and emotions onto other people. He’s absolutely right. It’s unjust to do so, because it doesn’t allow me to see people as they are and only makes me see them through my own brokenness.
It also taught me an essential aspect of growing in holiness. In order to progress, we must be willing to truly confront every aspect of our souls, even the painful and dark places. We all have these places and Christ wishes to heal us and make us into the saints He desires us to be so that we can live in the love and communion of the Most Holy Trinity. We can’t enter into that communion fully and freely if we are hindered in any way. The path to holiness is the school of love. It’s where we learn to confront ourselves through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our relationship with Christ. If we refuse to confront ourselves and allow Christ to heal our brokenness, then we will not be able to learn to love as He loves.
The last two years of my life have been intense from a spiritual perspective. Something shifted for me when I made the decision to help a woman avoid an abortion while I was grieving a miscarriage. The Enemy took notice and the barrage he has sent my way has led me through battles I couldn’t ever have foreseen. It also means that I am at a point when I need a regular spiritual director. God made that plain to me. I need someone who can objectively help me work out the inner workings of my soul because I am a master of self-deception. It is difficult for me to understand a lot of things that are going on in my soul and in my relationships with others. I know this, which is why I constantly pray for clarity and I call out to Our Lord seeking His aid and asking Him to preserve me from self-deception.
We forget that we not only face the Fallen state of the flesh, we also struggle against the world, and spiritual attacks from the Enemy. It’s hard to tell what is what as we move up the holy mountain. That’s where spiritual direction and/or a regular Confessor (I’ve chosen both) becomes indispensable in the spiritual life. It’s why I tend to go to Confession with the same priest over-and-over again. It’s why I prayed for a spiritual director and God finally answered me recently with a first candidate. If we are serious about the spiritual life, then we have to be willing to go places we don’t want to go. Those places lie within our own hearts.
We should try to remember that everyone around us is waging a great battle. This is harder to see in the virtual world of the Internet, but we don’t know people as well as we think we do online. We cannot possibly know an author from one 1500 word essay and often we have blind-spots we aren’t willing to confront that keep us from understanding what they are trying to say. I experience the same thing when I read something that frustrates me or makes me feel uncomfortable. Far too often, I read things through my own limited understanding, which means that I am not objective. It’s why I rarely comment or email authors anymore unless it’s work related. I’ve commented once or twice on glaring theological errors because authors really should do their due diligence and study Church teaching before they hit publish. Souls are on the line.
I don’t mind so much when people rant at me. I laugh when people call me a heretic, because nothing could be further from the truth. I know that some people send me long emails because they are hurting and need to vent. I pray for all of them, especially the most vitriolic. I’ve gotten some nasty ones. I’d only remind people that before we hit send on anything in the virtual world or before we make a judgement about someone we see or know in our community, we should keep in mind that our feelings, thoughts, or understanding may in fact be erroneous. Our own pain or understanding often blinds us to reality.
This is why we need good spiritual guides, whether spiritual directors, spiritual friends, or trusted holy friends who can help us along the way. More than anything, we need the courage to ask Christ to show us who we are and who we are meant to be. The two will be different at this point in time. He will show us how things are supposed to be, but we must wage the battle to get there. Objectivity is a part of that battle and it is something that seems to come with wisdom, but even then we can never truly be sure we are correct in our assessments of other people or our own motives. The spiritual life is a life-long path that teaches us how to rely totally on Christ and to realize that our own understanding is often the wrong one and we must fall on prayer and guidance to begin to see reality as it truly is both in relation to ourselves and to others. This also provides all of us with a much needed lesson on humility.
**I just came across an essay over at Dominicana on the need to control our emotions in the spiritual life, especially as we grow in faith and union with God. Our feelings are not God. Our faith in God cannot be contingent upon the tumultuous roller coaster of emotions, nor can our understanding of reality. It’s a great battle we all have to wage. It’s not easy by any stretch and I’m no exception. It’s a great read! You can find it here.
The Church in the United States is once more stunned to learn of scandal within our leadership as news of accusations of sexual abuse by Cardinal McCarrick continue to be reported. The news coming out of Chile has been bad enough, but now a high ranking member of the hierarchy is accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse. Those of us in the Church continue to feel anger, sadness, confusion, and, quite frankly, disgust, about a problem that just will not seem to go away.
People outside of the Church now have even more ammunition to lob our way, which makes it harder for us to evangelize in an ever more hostile culture like our own. Many are asking: When will this evil finally be purged from the Church? The truth is that evil will only be fully purged from the Church when Christ returns.
The dangers of despair
I read various threads in social media about this latest scandal and one of the greatest concerns I had was about those people who are struggling with despair and a loss of faith. Some people are even contemplating leaving the Church for some other denomination or leaving Christianity for good. This is one of the great evils of public scandal within the hierarchy of the Church. It harms the faithful directly and can lead people to the sin of despair. Sin always has communal dimensions, but when it is tied directly to our leadership its reach is far and wide.
When I was stationed in England, at the height of the American Church’s abuse scandal, I worked with a gentleman who had left the Church because of the scandal. He was angry, repulsed, hostile, and had become anti-Catholic. Underneath, I could see great pain and disappointment. He couldn’t stomach that some priests had abused children and this caused him to leave the Faith. There was little I could do to help change his mind. The damage was done.
The McCarrick situation seems to follow the more common issue of a man in power abusing other adults, but the media has made sure the majority of people think that the vast majority of victims were children, even though they were not. This in no way minimizes the seriousness of the situation or the crimes. Abuses of power and coercion for sexual gain, or any other type of gain, is gravely sinful and evil, even more so when children are involved. It is merely to clarify the situation because precision does matter. It also allows us to explain this terrible situation to our interlocutors.