Numb From the Scandals? Practical Spiritual Tips on How We Can Respond

As happens to all of us at various times in the spiritual life, I temporarily took my eyes off of Christ and started staring in horror at the storms waging around me in my own life and in the life of the Church. Saturday I found myself dazed after the initial shock wore off of my husband telling me he was coughing up blood again. In the months he was symptom free I briefly forgot that this cloud of his serious chronic illness is always hanging over us. That isn’t meant to sound pessimistic. It is a reality we face, and any quiet periods we get can last only an instant. I grew complacent, so I wasn’t as ready as I should have been even though I specifically remember a nudge from the Holy Spirit a couple of months ago telling me to be prepared for another round.

Some of the fears I have carried these 1.5 years began to creep up again. Will I become a widow in the next few years? Is he going to have to stop working at some point because the disease takes over? How many more times will he end up in the hospital this year? When will the next episode occur? Why don’t the doctors in the ER listen? Are they even going to look for new damage or not? How do I talk to my daughter about this? Do I keep it from her or not? This answer came two days later when she figured it out on her own.

She’s much too smart and rather deeply connected to my emotional states for me to successfully keep it from her for long. And when she figured it out, the nightmares returned that she struggled with all of last year. That’s how her anxiety about her father’s illness manifests the most and we are working through that through prayer, discussion, and regular snuggles. She told me she would rather know when it happens and I will respect that wish as long as she seems emotionally able to handle it. He’s not in serious danger right now, but it’s still stressful while we wait to see if the other shoe is going to drop. We have returned to the waiting game.

While all of this was going on, other responsibilities started to pile up on top of me. I was getting messages about the classes I am supposed to teach in our homeschool coop while my husband was in the ER. Nobody could have known that he was in the hospital, but the timing added to my stress level. It is very difficult for me to focus on anything else when I’m waiting for news from my sick husband.

When he told me that he was being released and we would have to wait and see what his Pulmonologist says, the constant frustration we face with the medical community escalated again. I became exasperated and angry about the situation. We are in a constant battle with forces that are largely ignorant, apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile. I sympathize with anyone who deals with either a serious chronic illness or a life-threatening illness. The way the sick are treated in this country is appalling.

After things quieted down, I read the news on my iPhone and discovered the bomb that Archbishop Vigano dropped on the Church Saturday. Whether or not all or part of his allegations are true is something that needs to be investigated. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that the highest levels of the hierarchy will complete the much needed investigation in order to uncover the truth. That’s something we will all have to come to terms with until the truth comes out in God’s appointed time and in His ways. I’ve studied enough Church history know that none of this is surprising or shocking. Of course there’s rather rampant corruption in various parts of the hierarchy. It’s appalling, maddening, and disgusting, but most of us are powerless to bring about wide-spread changes.

Even with my practical take on Church history, I started to feel numb to it all. When Cardinal Cupich’s insipid interview came out the other day implying that the sex abuse scandal isn’t a high priority compared to social justice issues I was angry briefly, but then a strong sense of numbness set in. Many of them don’t get it, and worse, many do not care. During that time I also found out that my dad is struggling a lot right now with his illness and he now has Shingles, because the chronic debilitating pain he suffers from isn’t enough. It was all getting to be too much, so retreating seemed like the best course of action. This retreating included blocking myself off from any emotional response to the scandals. I put up my defensive wall.

In reality, numbness doesn’t work either. I do care and I have spent the past few weeks trying to help both as a writer and as a sister in Christ in my own parish through prayer, fasting, and action when asked by the Holy Spirit and other people. When coupled with the suffering of my family, the scandal temporarily became too much for me and that’s a normal response when our attention is needed elsewhere. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reserves have to be channeled where they are needed. Earlier this week, I needed to focus on my family and my own emotional and spiritual recovery from everything. I needed to distance myself from out there so that I could focus on right here.

In thinking through my response and returning to the Sacrament of Confession last night, I was able to see that our focus more-often-than-not is meant to be right here, not out there. You and I can’t force corrupt leaders in the Church to resign. We don’t have that power. We can’t force them to investigate the allegations in question. Corrupt men do not care about the truth the way you and I do. They fear the truth and so they will do whatever they can to prevent it from coming to the light of day. The problem for them is that God is Truth, so eventually the truth will come out, even if it takes decades or centuries. God will cleanse his Church of the current heresies, which are primarily focused on disordered sexual inclinations. These men will eventually meet justice, if not in this life, then in the next.

Since we largely cannot bring about change at higher levels, what are we to do? We must practice the Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. We need to build prayerful, holy, devout communities at the local level. Our parishes must become vibrant beacons of hope in dark times. We must work to undo the evil done by predators and corrupt men through the holiness of our own witness. We need to allow God to work in us, so that others see the light of Christ shining forth from us. We allow ourselves to be conformed by the mysteries of the Mass and enter into deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we cooperate with God’s cleansing and renewal of the Church.

First, we need to stop fighting with one another. In our anger and frustration about the situation we are taking it out on one another. This is typical of families in times of stress and strife, but we need to work to overcome this Fallen tendency. Let’s stop nit-picking at one another. In charity, we need to be willing to close our mouths and over-look minor shortcomings in our brothers and sisters. We need to practice more humility and stop feeling the need to correct every little thing that we don’t agree with or that we see as a problem. This is especially true in ministry and community. We are going to have to figure out how to work together and put our own egos in check. All of us. Myself included.

Second, prayer is an essential aspect of holy communities. We need to be people of regular and frequent prayer. This includes as individuals, but also as communities. The Mass is our primary form of communal worship, but we also need to find other ways to come together in prayer to offer reparations for the sins of the Church and to bring about a greater sense of the communion we share in Christ. Eucharistic Adoration is an excellent example. My own parish is having a special Holy Hour in atonement tomorrow evening. Rosary groups, Bible studies, Divine Mercy, etc. are all great ways to come together in deeper prayer so that we can be conformed in charity and truth in order to strengthen our communities.

Third, we need to practice loving patience with our brothers and sisters whose faith is failing or shaken right now. The supernatural virtue of faith is a grace that only comes from God. It is not ours. We can’t give it to ourselves. If we have a strong faith through these storms it is because God has given it to us and we are to use that gift to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not need to judge those who are tempted to leave the Faith. We need to lift them up and help them overcome that temptation if we are able. We don’t have to fully understand this inclination, but we do need to be loving witnesses of the truth of Christ and His Church to those who are wavering.

Fourth, we should be lifting up the good and holy priests in our lives through prayer, fasting, service, and encouragement. They are our spiritual fathers and our brothers. We need to be praying for all the clergy, but we have the ability to specifically lift up the men in our lives who have chosen to lay down their lives in service to Christ and us. They most especially need our prayers as they shepherd our communities through this period of intense confusion and pain. We cannot undo the evil of the priests who chose the diabolical over Christ, but we can support the priests in our parishes who are ardently seeking holiness and who want to lead us to Christ. These men are not the enemy and we need to make sure that in our anger we are able to differentiate between the good and the evil in our midst.

Fifth, and this should be first, we are meant to be a eucharistic people. The Mass should be the very center of our lives. We can no longer be cultural or punch-card thype Catholics. Comfortable Catholicism is dead. In an age of scandal, our faith will not withstand this cleansing unless we are conformed to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our parishes must become communities of the Holy Eucharist where we are truly nourished and strengthened by Christ’s bodily presence among us and we come to understand how deeply we are united to one another in Him. It is from His Presence that we will be able to meet the great spiritual challenges we will all face for the rest of our lives. This isn’t going away. This is not going to have a quick fix. We will live in the shadow of these scandals for decades and the Church will continue to hemorrhage because of it, but our hope remains in Christ as He purifies His Bride.

Struggling with numbness, anger, shock, pain, and a sense of being overwhelmed is normal for times such as these. I’ve had every emotion imaginable since the McCarrick scandal broke in June. It’s what we do with those emotions that matters. We must harness them for good and not allow them to rule us. The Sacrament of Confession is the ideal place to bring the anger we are dealing with or other struggles. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit will give us the healing we need and I have found the penances that I’ve been given lately are what is needed for me to get back up and begin again. This Sacrament, along with frequent reception of Holy Communion will help give us the grace to continue to fight the good fight.

I know that I can’t change the state of the Church myself. Most of us are not in positions of power to do so, and for those who are in those positions, we must pray that they will be able to follow Christ’s will and help purge the Church of corruption. The rest of us, must wage the fight at home in our own families and communities. We need to be powerful witnesses to the transforming love of Christ and bring about reform within ourselves and our local parishes. Change and reform will come from the local levels raising up holy communities and it will spread like wildfire throughout the Church in God’s time. Renewal will happen, but it is not up to us as to how or when that will occur. We simply must soldier on and never lose hope in Christ Our Savior.

The Constant Powerlessness of Serious Chronic Illness

My husband quietly pulled me aside this morning and asked me to walk with him to our van. He needed to tell me that he had been coughing up blood again, but that he didn’t want our daughter to know about it at this point in time. He was about to leave for the ER. It’s been a familiar scene for our family for 1.5 years and it will continue to be one for the rest of my husband’s life.

It was greatly disappointing nonetheless since we got a break from his symptoms for a few months and the medications he is on were doing their work to prevent further damage to his lungs. It was time to test for remission, so he’s been off of his medications for a couple of months. Unfortunately, the doctors have yet to be able to get him into remission for more than a month or two at a time. It’s one of those situations where we have great hope. We know others have gone years without symptoms and they have gone into remission. We always hope against hope that will happen for Phil, but instead of happening, we end up where we did this morning. I must confess that I was profoundly disappointed.

This morning hit me a lot harder because I had spent a couple of hours last night trying to help our daughter deal with some of the grief, pain, frustrations, and jealousy that she carries. She’s been down ever since her best friend moved on her birthday last month. It’s been a big adjustment for her and the pain of losing her four siblings (all miscarriages) and having a chronically ill father have been eating at her. I can see it in her eyes and it guts me every time I look at her. I can see it, but so far I’ve been unable to successfully help her fix it.

I frequently talk to her about how God’s plan differs for each one of us and that each family is different. Some people are asked to carry more than others. Some families have one child and some have fifteen or twenty children. Some families have parents with a chronic illness. My own father has been sick my entire life and now my husband is chronically ill. I keep telling her to offer it all back to Christ. To give everything over to Him in trust and love. He will heal those wounds. He is the One she can always turn to.

After talking to her, I know that her anger about the situation, her loneliness, and the fact that she spends far too much time comparing our family to everyone else’s are all making it difficult for her to turn to God. She’s far too much like me. She wants to know why? And most of the time we don’t get to know why. I breathed that same word out through tears this morning as I waited to hear news from my husband. I screamed it in agony during my miscarriages. I have yelled it in frustration so many times. The only answer that ever comes is the Cross, which is finally enough for me, but it is a difficult answer for a 7-year-old to fully comprehend.

I told her to befriend St. Therese. A woman who knows quite a bit about suffering and whom I know would be a loving and devoted friend to my daughter. Michaela has asked me to help her learn how to offer her struggles up to Christ and how to befriend a saint, so I will continue to try to help her each day. Even though I understand the immense value of redemptive suffering, I still wish that I could take all of her sorrow away. I know I can’t and that’s a part of how God sanctifies me. In loving her, I learn to embrace her Cross with my own. That’s a part of loving people. The part we are all terrible at. The part we flee from, but the part where God truly shows us the immense transforming power of grace and charity.

My husband is home, and as is so typical of his disease, he is doing well this afternoon. He coughed up patches of bright red blood for a few hours. The ER did what it always does; takes our money and offers no answers or solutions. My husband will call his Pulmonologist on Monday to ask for a CT scan so we can see how badly damaged his lungs are right now and then he will go back on the terrible, but life-saving drugs that keep his lungs from dying and the rest of him with it.

Chronic illness is to live powerlessness. It is a constant reminder that we are not in control. It is to enter into the great mystery of suffering, a mystery we largely experience alone. I can’t fully understand my husband’s suffering, just as he cannot ever fully understand mine. His suffering is largely mysterious to me. I can walk with him. I can love him and take care of him, but I can never fully understand. Only Christ can enter into those depths of my husband’s soul.

That reality is a part of the powerlessness we face and that’s one of the reasons why we flee. We fear what we cannot fully comprehend. We fear intense pain. We also fear vulnerability and opening ourselves up fully to that pain. We don’t want to suffer, so we avoid walking beside others or we refuse to allow others to walk beside of us. We don’t open up ourselves. We often realize too late that is a huge mistake to make because God places people in our lives for that very reason.

The only answer that makes any sense in the face of suffering is love, but we must be willing to walk into that suffering in love and stand fast. We must be willing to accept love from others. The ultimate answer to why is the Cross, which is Love. May we all find the fortitude and charity to stand together at the foot of the Cross and embrace the powerlessness we all face in this life.

Catholic Exchange: A Call to Spiritual Arms in Response to the Sex Abuse Scandals

What do we do now? That is the question facing all of us within the Mystical Body in response to the ever growing scandals being brought to light. No doubt we are angry, but we must channel and harness that anger lest it become wrath and remain at the level of blind rage long-term.

As long as we are ruled by rage, we are unable to prudently decide a course of action. We often also go deaf and ignore the calls of our true shepherds who seek to guide us through this hurricane.

Spiritual Warfare

The calls for reform, letter writing campaigns, protests, and other similar responses are good. However,they are not the primary means by which we win this battle. The Church needs to be purified from this evil. But that purification requires our willingness to enter into the great spiritual warfare that is going on around us. It has always been our mission, but often we become blinded by the material aspect of our nature and set aside or abandon the spiritual. That, or we  simply forget that the spiritual is higher than the material.

This war is against Satan. It is not simply a matter of Fallen men choosing to do diabolically evil acts. Satan is always after the priesthood and he’s always after each one of us. Every hour of every day, he seeks to drag us to hell.

 

The Enemy wants us to turn on one another. He seeks to sow greater seeds of division. He wants the laity to distrust the priesthood. He wants the priesthood to distance itself from the laity. That’s the whole point.

If we cannot harness our outrage for good and beg for the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes to see as Christ sees, then we will be impotent in the face of the Enemy. The spiritual battle is where purification will spring forth. It will be a long battle. One we will wage for the rest of our lives, but it is the battle we are all called to at Baptism.

We must not forget that the Church is “militant”. She is “the army of Christ”, the “levy of the living God”; “the levy of the great King”, in which we were enrolled at baptism and confirmation.

Henri de Lubac, Splendor of the Church, 185.

Prayer and Fasting

Evil never gives up power easily and without a fight. Our letters and outcry won’t matter at all unless we are first and foremost praying and fasting in atonement for the sins of the Church. Our Lord Himself tells us that certain sins must be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).

We must view this fight through the eyes of faith, not the organs that allow us to see the material world around us. The Church battles “powers and principalities” internally and exteriorly. The scandals reveal to us the breadth and depth of the fight before us and the rot that infects the Mystical Body.

“The Church is unceasingly torn by internal as well as exterior conflict”; the “mystery of iniquity” is at work without as well as within. The great struggle that had its prelude in heaven is fought out among men through the whole of time. People do not like their apathy thus disturbed and they are afraid of too lofty a vocation; the bonds of flesh and blood take some breaking. The world views as an insult and provocation anything that does not conform to its own ideas; feeling itself threatened by the least of the Church’s spiritual conquests, it is never without reaction to them.

Ibid, 187

This reality is true within the hierarchy, within the laity, and in the world. Far too many people grow apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile to the vocation we are all called to, which is sainthood. This conflict plays out in many ways, and tragically, even to the point of demonic sexual abuse of minors and other people. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that the Enemy disguises himself as “an angel of light” and his followers will disguise themselves as righteous leaders. While it is shocking to hear of the horrific deeds committed, it is not surprising once we understand the rules of the battlefield we are all standing on. We are fighting the powers of hell inside of the Church today. It’s been the same way since the institution of the Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Avoiding Wrath About the Sex Abuse Scandals

Many of us are still reeling from the report of widespread and decades-long sex abuse in Pennsylvania that came out last week. Compounded with the credible accusations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, reports of corruption and sexual deviancy in our seminaries, and the continuing wave of priests who are coming forward reporting what they have endured during their time as priests, it is clear that a massive festering wound is infecting the Mystical Body of Christ and the corruption can be found at some of the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. It does not appear that we have reached the apex and most of us continue to brace for the next round of rot to come out in the news.

People are angry, disgusted, saddened, heart-broken, confused, and disoriented. It seemed this issue was resolved in 2002 when everything blew wide open, but it is clear that certain issues have not been addressed, such as homosexual activity in the priesthood. Since it is an all male institution–by God–it is much more difficult to root out, especially in an age such as ours where this is seen as an acceptable form of expressing one’s sexuality. Oftentimes, what infects the culture also infects the priesthood.

That is not to say that some men with same sex attraction cannot rightly order their inclinations because their desire for holiness supersedes those inclinations, but very serious discussions about this issue need to be had within the College of Bishops and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s call for men with ‘deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies’ to be denied entry in the priesthood need to be taken seriously. There is also an issue of those who are leading active homosexual lifestyles in the priesthood. A purge is obviously needed, the same could be said of heterosexual activity in the priesthood, but as many others have pointed out, these men typically leave the priesthood if it is ongoing. The vast majority of this scandal is related to males abusing males of various ages. It’s the elephant in the room.

Anger is a completely understandable response to the onslaught we are currently taking in the Church. We expect the ministerial priesthood to mirror itself after Christ. And while most priests are not saints quite yet, and they will battle serious temptations like the rest of us, this type of abuse of power, diabolical sexual exploitation, and utter disregard for the dignity of the human person is appalling at an astonishing level. It is evil. It is, in the words of both Dr. Robert George and Bishop Morlino, “sacrilege” of the sacred office of Holy Orders. Priests are expected to fight the good fight and battle temptations so that they can love their flocks as Christ loves them. Temptations do in fact teach us lessons on rightly ordered love if we allow them to. Sacred Scripture points to the rewards of enduring and persevering to the end. We seek a Crown of Glory. Our choice is always Christ or the world.

More than anything, a priest is charged with the spiritual welfare of his flock. These actions not only harm the physical dignity of the body of each victim, they cause immense damage to the spiritual state of the victims. There is no Cartesian dualism in Catholicism. Body and soul, these evil acts attack the very heart of the human person. Actions of this kind are the inversion of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This should be logical to even the most poorly of catechized Catholics, but it has not always been so obvious to priests and bishops alike throughout the Church where scandals have come to light. We still don’t know the extent of the cover-ups–we may never know–but it is clear that the people involved chose the world over Christ and a great many people paid the price for that choice. And if there is not justice in this life, there will be justice in eternity.

Those of us who are angry understand the great horror of the situation, but we need to make sure that we are keeping our anger in check and not falling into the deadly sin of wrath. Why? For many reasons. We cannot root sin out with sin and wrath is a deadly sin for a reason. Wrath at its core seeks vengeance, not justice. Anger is an inherently difficult passion to rule. Once it takes over–because we have not sought the spiritual discipline to keep it in check–it rules us. Wrath also causes a form of blindness. We are no longer able to differentiate between who is actually to blame and sweeping generalizations. We then fall into other sins such as calumny and gossip. Or the even deadlier sin of pride in thinking we know better than everyone else. In our desire to seek vengeance under the guise of justice, the anger within us continues to grow the more we dwell on it. It festers.

There is a lot of wrath going on in response to this scandal and wrath is not going to get us anywhere. I myself–after weeks of maintaining a leveled response to the scandals in which I was able to temper my anger–fell into wrath after the St. John’s Seminary scandal broke and the PA Grand Jury Report came out. The horror of it overwhelmed me and my anger rose at an intensity that I could no longer control. I was no longer able to see who was actually trying to shepherd us through this crisis. I started making assumptions such as saying “all bishops” are involved or they should have all known about it. That’s the same as implying that I should know all of the sins of my husband. I don’t, nor could I. I started to wonder how much our priests were keeping from us, which fosters distrust and suspicion. I ignored genuine calls to respond to this crisis at a spiritual level and every statement I read from a bishop or the Vatican rang hollow. Now, some of them are truly awful and rather than being spiritual beacons are lawyer-speak or PR marketing. I’m a former lawyer’s daughter, I can spot lawyer-speak a mile away.

When I realized what had befallen my soul, I took it immediately to the Sacrament of Confession. I walked in feeling blinded by my wrath. I had developed a sort of tunnel vision and could no longer differentiate between the good and the bad and I started blaming people who may or may not be guilty. I was getting close to judging souls. I was particularly wrathful towards our bishops, even my own. This is a very real danger for all of us during this time. I never grouped my own parish priests in with others–except occasionally wondering if they know things we don’t–because I know them personally and I know they are good shepherds and men who are dedicated to the priesthood and trying to become saints. They are both greatly pained and burdened by this crisis and are doing their best to lead my parish through the spiritual and moral chaos.

The solution to the wrath in my soul is the very thing many of my brothers and sisters in the laity are railing against right now. They are angry that we are expected to do penance and make reparations for these abominations. I understand that at a human level, but as a theologian, I know this is to greatly misunderstand what we entered into at Baptism. We are no longer on our own. There is no longer simply me. It is we. We are united to one another at the deepest levels of reality. Sin harms the entire body. Our sins–even though they may not be as egregious–harm the Mystical Body. Wounds of the magnitude we are dealing with require a communal response and reparations from the entire Mystical Body. God is mercy, but He is also justice and these sins call out for Divine Justice. Our reparations bring about mercy, healing, and justice by allowing God to work through us within the Church. They also stay His hand.

Yes, writing to the bishops and blowing wide open these scandals is essential. The darkness must be brought out into the purifying light. It will be painful for a while and this will take generations to root out in order for a renewal to happen within the Church. There is no quick fix. There will be no speedy reform. Church history is very instructive for us impatient Americans. Chances of a mass resignation of bishops is very unlikely. Rather in periods of massive moral and spiritual corruption, God raises up saints such as St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict, and St. Teresa of Avila. Most of us are not St. Catherine of Siena and we don’t have the ear of the pope or the graces God gave her to be successful in her work. The saints often work in mysterious ways and we need to keep that in mind. We should practice some humility before we start likening ourselves to her or other saints. Are we saints? I’m certainly not. We should all be actively striving to become one.

We do have to find ways to direct our anger and heartache properly. We need to be purged of wrath and seek healing from the Divine Physician in the Sacrament of Penance when that deadly sin befalls our souls. We must come to God in prayer and seek His will for our response. It may not be the one we want. Most of us aren’t going to be nailing demands to the bishop’s rectory in our diocese or even confronting the corruption in person. For the vast majority of us, the answer will be to strive for holiness and in so doing we will purify the Church and help lead the people around us to holiness. He’s going to ask us to perform penances and acts of reparation. He’s going to call us to pray and support the priests in our parishes who are shepherding as best they can in an impossible situation. He’s going to ask us to come together as never before in the communion that we are meant to be living, but in our individualistic society fail to live properly. Those of us with steadier faith will need to help to steady our wavering brothers and sisters.

Wrath keeps us from praying. It leads us to sinful judgment and I’ve seen far to many of my brothers and sisters grouping all priests together. They already bear the weight of walking around in public shamed for the collar they wear. While this is the least of the worries for the priests I know since they are most concerned about the victims and their flocks, this is still a heavy burden to carry and we should do our level best to shoulder it and make it lighter by our support. We their brothers and sisters must avoid judging the vast majority of priests who are in fact innocent. We also miss out on the very real spiritual guidance they are offering to us as our spiritual fathers in these dark days if we allow wrath to blind and deafen us. They are meant to help lead us to heaven. They can’t do that if we close ourselves off from them.

The penance I was assigned this past Saturday was exactly what the Holy Spirit knew I needed. It was the Feast of St. Helena and I was assigned offering atonement through a type of prayer to the Cross. Father suggested the Stations of the Cross. I still left Confession burdened, but I walked into the main sanctuary and began praying the Stations of the Cross. With each new Station the wrath I was carrying left my soul and by the end peace had been restored. I spent 30 minutes reading St. Matthew’s account of the Paschal Mystery while I waited for Mass to begin. I spent an hour in a mini-Lent. After receiving Holy Communion in the Mass, I finally felt strong enough and able to begin again and this time I understood what I must do.

I am not the only one in whose soul God has placed a desire to offer penance and reparations as an active response to the pain within the Church. Since Saturday, the need to enter into a Lenten period has increased in my soul and sure enough yesterday I discovered that other brothers and sisters in Christ have been called to do the same thing. It is how we can channel and rightly order our anger and pain.

Beginning tomorrow on the Feast of Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, many Catholics–many fellow writers–are encouraging the Mystical Body to begin a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Christ Himself tells us that certain sins can only be rooted out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). This is an opportunity for us to help begin to bring about healing and renewal in the Church. Spiritual weapons are vastly more effective at bringing about the purge needed than even the most eloquent of emails to the USCCB. That doesn’t mean we should stop voicing our concerns and desire for reform. I simply mean that we cannot hope for change if we are not entering into the very dark and real spiritual warfare embroiling the Church. We also need to be willing to play the long game. This will not be completely purged in my lifetime or even my daughter’s. You can find information about this period of prayer and fasting here.

I personally believe that God is calling me into a period of greater silence for the next 40 days, so I will be fasting from social media and television as well. I plan to write as I am able to and I will continue my regular Thursday contribution at Catholic Exchange. I pray this time is fruitful for all of us who enter into the tremendous Cross the Church is enduring in our age. Our hope is in Christ and we can enter more deeply into love and communion with Him by our prayers and sacrifices. I will be praying for all of you throughout this period. May God bless you always. Pax Christi.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

Catholic Exchange: Supporting Our Parishes is an Act of Love

One of the biggest struggles many Catholics face each year is how to financially support our parishes and dioceses, while also giving to the poor and needy, and providing for the needs of our families. This topic results in a wide range of opinions, some of them heated.

The most recent sex abuse scandals, including the horrifying Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania, has made it even more difficult for many people to want to support their parishes or dioceses financially. This withholding is seen as a just response to the scandals and it is true that money talks. Withholding financial contributions is an effective mechanism for bringing about change, but in doing so we need to consider prudently, justly, and charitably what we hope to accomplish and the consequences of withholding our financial support, especially within our own parishes.

There are in fact just reasons for not donating to a certain cause, even within a diocese, but we should prayerfully discern if this is what God is truly calling us to do. We are stewards of the parishes we are members of and we share in that responsibility together as a community. If we do not provide for the material needs of our parishes, then they will no longer be able to function and provide for the needs of the worshipping community now and for future generations. In truth, our sharing in the material gifts and goods that God has given to us is an act of love towards God and our neighbor.

Our decision should be measured and prudent, so that we don’t end up hurting our own communities and the efforts of the many good and holy priests serving our parishes.

Financially supporting the Church in love

There is much more to supporting the Church financially than simply an obligation or a duty. In fact, a sense of duty only moves us so far. We are meant to support our parishes and the Church out of love—caritas. It is within our parishes where we are nourished by the Word of God and the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the celebration of the Mass. It is in our parishes—as the worshipping community—that we enter into the great mysteries of our faith as one body and encounter the Living God. It is in that encounter where we learn to love as Christ loves and that love sends us outward into the world.

Love dwells in relationship and relationships always require something of us. There is nothing more demanding and life-giving than our relationship with Christ who draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity and who binds us to one another in the love between the Divine Persons.

In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along her path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his Word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence, and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first, and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17

This community of believers is comprised of those men and women who have entered into the Sacrament of Baptism in order to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ. We are no longer on our journey alone, rather, we are now in communion—communio—with the rest of the Mystical Body. We most readily live that communion through our parishes when we come together in the Liturgy, Sacraments, prayer, service, and community. In order for the Sacraments to be made present to us, to attend Mass, enter more fully into communion through ministry, and delve deeper into what we believe, we must have buildings and resources at our disposal. This is an aspect of being a member of the worshipping community.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

There Are No Words For The News Out of Pennsylvania

I know a lot of Catholic writers are responding to the the release of the Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania yesterday. I honestly don’t have any words. I can’t bring myself to read the report. Some of the excerpts that I’ve read horrified me so much that I couldn’t read any further. All I could think was that these deeds came straight out of hell. If anyone still thinks Satan is a myth or a symbol, yesterday’s report should wake them from their slumber. Lives have been utterly destroyed. Demonic, vile, evil acts have been perpetrated on children by predators who were supposed to be the very spiritual fathers God gave to them to aid them on the path to heaven. Our bishops continue to bumble about. How can they not be utterly and completely horrified, appalled, and deeply pained by what is going on? Where are our shepherds?

The wound in the Mystical Body is great. The Enemy has struck a direct hit on the priesthood once again, which is a direct hit on the Church. Driving a wedge between the laity and the priesthood is an effective tactic for sowing division. The world sees us as irrelevant, or worse, evil. The entire Body of Christ is hurting. It will take generations to recover from such treachery, betrayal, and heinous acts. What are we to do? Pray and fast for the victims, the perpetrators for their repentance and conversion, as well as justice to be done for those still living, as well as for our priests, our bishops, and the entire Church.

The only answer to such evil is the Cross. We must enter into the great mystery of the Cross together and stand fast as the much needed purification of the Church takes place. It will be extremely painful. This isn’t even close to over. In the end, Our Lord will bring good out of this evil and the Church will be cleansed so that she can boldly live her mission once more. This purge is needed and only then will we be able to move forward. Our hope is in Christ. Love always wins. The victory is won, even as we must endure the battles here until the Second Coming. Hope in Him.

As a side note, I’m going to go ahead and publish my piece I wrote for this week for Catholic Exchange tomorrow on financially giving to our parishes in a movement of caritas (love) and communio (communion). A lot of writers are encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ to withhold money from the Church as a response to the scandals. While I can see how one can in good conscience refrain from giving to a diocese where a bishop is embroiled in scandal or doing nothing in response to the scandal, I can’t support us withholding money from our parishes, especially where good and holy priests serve. If there’s heresy or scandal in a parish, sure. That I can understand, but in our anger, hurt, and betrayal we cannot inflict deeper wounds on our own communities.

My own parish is staring down a massive campaign to fund repairing the leaking roof of our gorgeous historic church. The scandals do not change that we must support our parishes in order to keep them running. Giving from the financial gifts God has given to us is not simply an obligation, it shows our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ through the communion we share. I don’t want to see my brothers and sisters in the pews or my spiritual fathers/brothers in the priesthood suffer because we are angry. Wrath will get us nowhere. To heal we must demand reform, accountability, an investigation, consequences, repentance, and more from our bishops. At the same time, we must be seeking lives of holiness and learning to live the communion we share in the love of the Divine Persons. We cannot allow these horrors to divide us. We must come together as one in Christ. Prudence and charity must inform our sense of justice in times like these. May God bless you always on this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

St. Maximilian Kolbe: Heroic Witness to Our Lady

**This originally published on the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe in 2015. I thought that I would repost it, especially since this week I won’t be blogging as much since my daughter and I are getting her school year started. My weekly Catholic Exchange contribution will publish on Thursday.**

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born on January 8, 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland. His entire life was centered on his great love and devotion to Our Lady through her Immaculate Conception. At the age of six he had a vision of her:

That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.

—Regis Armstrong and Ingrid Peterson, The Franciscan Tradition, 50

Kolbe and his older brother entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and he made his final vows to the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity in 1914. He was then sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University where he pursued a doctorate in Philosophy. He then continued on to receive a doctorate in Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure in 1922.

Throughout his studies he remained steadfast in his devotion and commitment to Mary and consecration to her. He had taken the additional religious name Marie. His devotion to her grew as he witnessed attacks on Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV at the hands of Freemasons. It was then that he founded the Militia of the Immaculata in order to combat Freemasonry, as well as other enemies of the Church. The movement was founded for the evangelization of the world through the intercession of Mary. His devotion was so great that he even added a prayer to the Miraculous Medal:

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. And for all those who do not have recourse to thee; especially the Masons and all those recommended to thee.

During the midst of his studies, Kolbe was ordained to the priesthood and he returned to the newly independent Poland where he taught at seminary. He continued his dedication to Our Lady and vehemently opposed Leftist ideologies, including Communism. While there he battled his second round of Tuberculosis and upon his recovery lived in a weakened physical state until his death.

After his recovery, he made multiple missionary trips to East Asia. He struggled to garner a following to Jesus Christ and His Church in China, but was able to establish a monastery in Japan. The monastery actually survived the nuclear blast on Nagasaki. In 1936 Kolbe’s poor health forced him to return to Poland.

World War II began for him with the invasion of Poland and Kolbe remained in the monastery with a few of his brothers in order to serve in the area. They opened a small hospital for the wounded and sick. He was briefly arrested and refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste which would have given him the same rights as Germans if he claimed his own German ancestry; Kolbe’s father was German. He then began his work that would most directly lead to his eventual imprisonment in a concentration camp.

His monastery hid and protected people throughout Poland including 1000-2000 Jews. He also continued his religious publications, even though they were limited by the new Nazi regime. Many of the works they published were anti-Nazi in nature. On February 17, 1941 his monastery was shut down and along with four others, Kolbe was sent to Pawiak prison. On May 28 he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.