Catholic Exchange: Evangelizing Through Christian Friendship

As Christians, our lives and our relationships are meant to be different from the prevailing culture. We are witnesses to Christ crucified and risen from the dead, who is the cause for our joy. As the Mystical Body, the communion we share with one another is one of the ways that we are able to draw others into the love of the Most Holy Trinity and to the eucharistic banquet. When people see the love we have for one another, they should immediately see the love of God dwelling within us. 

As witnesses, we are not meant to draw attention to ourselves, but rather, to the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one of us. There should be a dynamic at work in our friendships and relationships that leads people to wonder in amazement at the love we have for one another, and it should awaken within them the desire to enter into that love. Our bonds of love in friendship—or any other loving relationship—is a reflection of God’s love for mankind. Our friendships are meant to be infectious and life-giving. And while there will always be varying levels of intimacy and affection in each one of our relationships with individuals, the joy in the love of Christ that we share in those relationships should always be inviting to others so that love and communion can deepen and flourish within the Mystical Body.

When our relationships are grounded in the love of Christ, they take on a new quality. There is a closeness that becomes evident to others. I’ve been thinking about this in my own relationships. I’ve noticed that the more my relationships are focused on the love of Christ, the more other people, even within my own parish, ask me about them. I am frequently asked if one of my closest friends is actually my biological sister. I tend to reply with: “Yes, she is my sister in Christ, but we aren’t biologically related.” Our friendship is centered on our mutual desire to grow in holiness through the paths we have each been given. The closeness we share with one another in Christ is evident, so people are convinced that we are sisters.

Another close friend of mine, who I visit with after daily Mass each day, is often confused for my mother. Fellow daily Mass goers see the love and high regard we have for one another, so they’ve come to wonder if we are mother and daughter. We’ve taken to telling people that we are spiritual mother and spiritual daughter, because it is true. Once again our relationship is first and foremost about our shared love for Christ. That love, deepened through the Holy Spirit, radiates outward and the intimacy we share in our relationship is seen by others to the point of people believing she is my mother and I am her daughter.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Guest Post: 3 Tactics to Overcome Spiritual Sloth

**Today’s guest post is from fellow Catholic Exchange contributor Matthew Chicoine.

American founding father Benjamin Franklin said, “Diligence overcomes difficulties; sloth makes them.” Laziness not only creates problems, but also worsens them. Procrastination, a cousin of laziness, is the particular type of sloth that haunts me. I make excuses to explain and justify my laziness. “I am too tired.” or “The kids drove me crazy. I just need to de-stress by watching T.V.” or “I exercised yesterday so I can take the day off today!” The list goes on and on. 

Fatigue definitely leads to sloth. Another cause is pride. My hubris leads me to believe I don’t need to take action as promptly as possible. Oftentimes, this is the case when my wife asks me to accomplish a task or schedule an important appointment. Connected closely with physical laziness is spiritual sloth. After the intensity of Lent and the joy of the Easter season wears off, I always seem to be lagging behind my prayer life around the feast of Pentecost. This article will focus on three strategies to overcome spiritual sloth and renew your prayer life. 

Exercise

According to Proverbs 12:24, “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.” Exercise helps bring me out of a sluggish slump. Simply, holding myself accountable by going for a 3 mile run or bike ride provides me energy. The same is true with our spiritual life.

 A simple way to break out of your spiritual slump is to pray. Prayer is just a two-way conservation with God. If you don’t know how to start don’t worry! Communication with God need not be complicated. Just ask for strength. Tell Him your struggles. If you are still need direction on how to start praying look to St. Josemaria Esciva. The Spanish priest wrote, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” Another creative method to pray would be to pray while exercising! Ask the Holy Spirit for the mettle to make it that next mile or rep.  

Seek Guidance

Another tactic to dispel spiritual sloth is seeking guidance from the saints and/or a spiritual director. Because of the busyness of my schedule, I personally don’t have time for a formal spiritual director. I enjoy reading the Bible or spiritual writing of a saint. St. Vincent de Paul puts it plainly, “Read some chapter of a devout book….It is very easy and most necessary, for just as you speak to God when at prayer, God speaks to you when you read.” Reading only a few pages a day will definitely prove fruitful—the key is consistency. Digest this guidance daily bit by bit.

Frequent the Sacraments

A third way to defeat spiritual sloth is something Catholic already are supposed to partake in—the sacraments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1210, 

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life:1 they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

At a bare minimum Catholics attend Mass weekly. There the faithful receives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ as nourishment to sustain them for the week. During our journey on earth we fall into sin—marring our soul. Both physical and spiritual damage requires proper healing in order to avoid future decay. The sacrament of Confession restores us back into communion with God and our neighbors. 

St. John Paul II declares in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, “To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed-penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood-to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God” (no. 13). Being forgiven from your sins elicits a freedom. We become freer to choose God’s will over our selfish desires after receiving the sacramental graces of Penance.

If you are struggling with spiritual sloth do not despair. Ask God for help and aid will be given to you. Frequent prayer leads to greater stamina during the dry times of our spiritual journey. Look to the writing of the saints for guidance and receive the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Confession. These three tactics are simple ways to defend against and defeat spiritual sloth. The most difficult part of any exercise is to start. Take that first step and begin renew your spiritual journey today!

**You can read more of Matthew’s writing at Catholic Exchange and at his blog The Simple Catholic.


Catholic Exchange: The World Needs the Witness of Celibate Priests

Last week, Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News fame announced that he has decided to leave the priesthood and is petitioning for laicization. In response to the very public announcement of his decision, I was immediately struck by how little so many respondents understood the nature of the priesthood. I was also disheartened to see so many Catholics throwing out popular cultural maxims such as “just follow your heart”, “you do you”, and the inevitable calls for an end to the vow of celibacy. 

Our response to a priest leaving the priesthood should lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes of condemnation and “follow your heart.” Neither response does justice to such a complex issue.

Fr. Morris’ decision ultimately rests between him and God, but we also cannot pretend that the choice by a priest to leave the priesthood doesn’t have a deep impact on the faithful and on his brother priests who do stay true to their vows and who remain as the Church continues to be ravaged by scandal. 

A priest leaving the priesthood causes pain, confusion, division, and scandal. The decision may be necessary, but we cannot equate a priest leaving the priesthood to someone simply changing jobs. The priesthood is intimately connected to communion, which means any decision made by a priest impacts others, many others, for good or for ill. In relation to the priesthood, the maxim “follow your heart” is nothing short of destructive and counter to the vows he took at ordination.

Dying to Self

When we are baptized into the Church, we become a new creation. Our old life of sin and death is washed away as we die with Christ and are regenerated in the waters of Baptism. We are then called to become a living sacrifice and to become like Christ in our daily lives. We also become members of the Mystical Body, which is one body united to Christ as the Head. We no longer live for ourselves. This takes on an even deeper meaning within the priesthood as these men, called by Christ, surrender their entire person to Him and His Church at ordination.

The Latin Rite’s requirement of a vow of celibacy for priests is a further call to self-emptying love and spiritual paternity. It is a radical form of dying to self in the image of Christ. By relinquishing a family of their own, Latin Rite priests give themselves completely over to Christ and the Church so that they can become spiritual fathers to Christ’s flock through a complete abandonment of self for the needs of God’s people. They give up a wife and children of their own so that God’s people may become their spiritual children and the Church their Bride in the image of Christ the Bridegroom. The vow of celibacy leads the priest to become an even greater reflection of Christ who abandons Himself completely to the will of the Father.

The celibacy requirement is not simply a “lofty ideal” or “an outdated practice”. It is a sacrifice made by these men that infuses immense grace into the Church through their constant emptying of self in conformity to Christ in service to us. They are witnesses to the higher spiritual goods and a reminder that one day marriage will end and we will all be united as one in heaven. Marriage is a great good, but it is not the ultimate good. 

Our ultimate good is found in loving and serving God. Happiness can only be attained by living in communion with God and in accordance with His will. He is meant to be the very center of our lives. Our culture places an inordinate emphasis on romantic love and sex while largely rejecting God. In many ways, romantic love—which typically is reduced purely to sex—has become the only form of love and happiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Charity and Communion: Enduring Versus Trying to Fix Suffering

The nature of suffering and its connection to growing in the virtue of charity is something that I spend a lot of time pondering. This connection has become even more prevalent in my spiritual life in relation to the Cross for a variety of reasons. We have a tendency when we are faced with suffering–especially someone else’s suffering–to try to fix it, offer theological maxims, or practical advice. We do anything we can to keep ourselves at a distance from the suffering person. 

Another’s suffering makes us uncomfortable. It awakens fear within us and powerlessness. It destroys the illusion that we have any power or control. Suffering leaves us completely vulnerable. We don’t think this is the issue at the time when we confront someone who is suffering. We think that we are simply being helpful, but I truly believe that how we respond to suffering has a lot to do with our own lack of self-awareness about our motives and responses, as well as how we view and embrace/avoid suffering. Have we truly embraced the Cross in our lives including the crosses others?

Two figures who have loomed large for me in the last year are Our Heavenly Mother and St. John; both of whom stood at the foot of the Cross while Our Lord endured His Passion and death. The first reason for their influence in my spiritual life is because of my secondary vocation as a spiritual mother to priests. Our Lady’s example is the prime example of spiritual motherhood of any kind, but especially to the priesthood. My Marian consecration opened up the path to this vocation.

St. John is the priest who endured the Passion when no others would. He is an essential figure and intercessor for priests today in the midst of so much scandal. He is the father of mysticism and one word summarizes all of his writings in Sacred Scripture: agape (divine love). He knew the requirements of charity at a deep level and He embraced those demands alongside Our Heavenly Mother.

Our Lady and St. John’s example at the foot of the Cross is an essential lesson for all of us in learning how to endure and embrace suffering. We have a tendency to try to fix suffering or offer theological or practical advice to the suffering. There are times for this, but by-in-large, when the suffering is greatest, we are called to simply endure the suffering alongside of them. This is the real call of charity in suffering in communion. We can’t fix or take away someone’s suffering. We are called to love them and walk with them. That’s it.

The suffering Christian typically knows–at least at a basic intellectual level–the reasons for suffering or the fact that it is a by-product of the Fall. Part of what makes suffering greater is the knowledge that this is not how it is supposed to be. We are made for communion with God and that was ruptured with the Fall which ushered in sin and death. We know Christ has redeemed us, but that we must also endure our own Passion and death in this life in order to be with Him forever in the next.

There is a point, however, when suffering becomes so heavy and great that the use of reason becomes impossible. This is the moment when theological explanations or “practical” advice are utterly useless. The person who is suffering must simply endure and embrace the intensity of the agony until that moment of agony passes. It will pass and the use of reason will return for a time. 

There are no words of explanation, theological platitudes, or practical advice that are of any use in these moments because the person has hit the point of unbridled pain and agony. They know these answers already, but the pain is so great that all they can do at the time is hurt. Instead, the person looking from the outside uses these explanations as a way of establishing distance and to comfort their own fear rather than enter into the suffering of the other person.

We must all learn how to embrace suffering together. Our Lady and St. John endured the Cross with Our Lord and entered into the mystery of suffering, the place where silence is the only response. I think we all must learn to be comfortable with that place. The only way to overcome this fear within us is through agape. 

St. John’s writings are essential in responding to suffering in love. We have to reach the point when all we can do is look at the suffering person and tell them: “I’m sorry you are hurting so much. I know its heavy.” And then fall silent alongside of them and endure the moment of agony together. This is to love as Christ loves.

I know for myself, with the suffering God asks me to endure, that I reach moments when theological explanations actually frustrate me more, and I’m a theologian. There comes a time when I need someone to simply look at me as I am, to see me in my suffering and find the courage to look me in the eyes and say: “I’m sorry. I know it hurts.” It is an acknowledgment of the pain and to see me as I am rather than as someone to push back because of fear or discomfort. To do this for someone is to look directly at the Cross in all of its horror and glory and to choose to endure it with them in the communion we are called to as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

All of us do this to one another at times: spouses, family, friends, priests, etc. If we allow the divine life to fill us up and embrace our call to love as Christ loves, then He will give us the courage to enter into one another’s suffering with all of its powerlessness and vulnerability. It is there where we will begin to learn the true depths of charity and communion. 

Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John, ora pro nobis.

Catholic Exchange: Find Sainthood in a Life of Hidden Sacrifice

Many of us live hidden lives of sacrifice to God and in service to others. We go about our days completing the tasks that are required of us. Those tasks may be at work, school, church, or within our families. Our accomplishments are only known by God and the few people who are truly close to us. In a world that prides itself on notoriety and recognition, these sacrifices are seen as minor or, to some, as meaningless.

All members of the Mystical Body share in the royal priesthood of Christ by virtue of our Baptism. This means that we are called to offer our lives in sacrifice to Him and for our neighbor. AsLumen Gentium states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”. The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.

To live a holy life is to offer everything to God, consecrating each moment of each day to Him. The menial and mundane tasks of our daily lives—from writing emails to sitting in meetings to washing dishes to folding laundry—are aspects of how we offer ourselves to God. 

When these tasks are done with Christ in mind, as an offering of love to Him and as a sacrifice for others, we enter more fully into our participation in the common priesthood we are called to. We are conformed more closely to Christ the High Priest who offers himself fully to the Father.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Are We Building One Another Up in Social Media?

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently and realized that I know very little about the people I’m friends with in social media. I don’t seek out Facebook friends I haven’t known personally, but since I’m a writer and connected to other writers, I will get a few new friend requests a week from fellow Catholics. I don’t mind and I’ve added quite a few of these people, but I’m also selective since I actually share posts about my life, my family, and my daughter.

The original idea behind websites like Facebook or the now defunct MySpace, was the opportunity to connect with other people. To catch up with long lost friends from decades prior. Since I served in the military, I literally know people who live across the globe, so it has been nice to see what people are up to these days decades later.

The problem I now see is that rather than social media being a place to connect with others, it’s devolved into a constant stream of political posts. Our identity and our lives are not predominately political, regardless of what our culture tells us. Politics play an essential role in promoting the common good and we should stay informed and work to overcome injustice, but it in no way makes up the vast majority of our lives unless we actually work in politics.

My Facebook newsfeed is a war of constant opposing political posts. I myself have joined the American Solidarity Party and I rarely post anything political anymore. I use to, all of the time, and I lost friends for it. I understand why now. It’s not so much that we had differing views. It’s the fact that 10 years ago when I worked in politics, it was all I posted. All I would share is my political ideology, and I was an ideologue.

A lot of people who send me friend requests–like me years ago–largely only posts political posts. I must admit I groan a little bit. When a new outrage wagon comes rolling into town, my newsfeed explodes and I usually have to walk away until it’s gone. It makes social media miserable to only see my friends and family posting their competing narratives while those of us who tend to take a more middle-of-the-road approach are attacked from both sides. Regardless of what folks claim, there is no political party in the U.S. that conforms fully to Catholic Social Teaching. That means there’s no Catholic party. People are free to argue conscience and their views, but no one can claim their party is Catholic, even if abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day.

I enjoy discussing current events and many of my posts are related to what is going on in the Church, but I also post a lot of satire because we need more levity in a polarized digital age. More than anything, I try to share what is going on in my life both in the day-to-day and spiritually. I’m a Catholic writer, so the spiritual life is the most important thing to me other than my family. I share the good and the bad.

Since most of my Facebook friends focus solely on politics or current events, I know absolutely nothing about their lives. All I know is what political party they are affiliated with. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the whole point of connecting with other people. Shared interests are one thing, but complete tunnel vision and focus on one topic makes it very difficult to connect with other people on anything other than a superficial level. Often we use social media to be a reflection of our own political beliefs, rather than using it to learn more about other people or to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I always find it interesting when someone finally posts a personal post, usually a prayer request, and they put in “I rarely do this, but I need prayers.” Since when is requesting prayers from the Mystical Body supposed to be rare? Why do we view prayer as a burden? It’s the most real thing that a person may post. It’s a reminder that there is a living, breathing person made imago Dei behind the posts. Why should relying on one another be rare? Why does social media need to be a constant stream of current affairs and political fights? It’s a tool that can be used for so much good.

When I started sharing my family’s struggles with others and requesting prayers things changed for us. I’m convinced the prayers of my friends in social media, my parish, and elsewhere were the reason my husband was diagnosed quickly and he’s still here. We are the Mystical Body. We are meant to lift one another up.

Why is asking for prayers considered shameful? In our weakness we are made strong according to St. Paul. Showing that we are human and struggling with the afflictions of this life is a witness to the need for Christ and one another. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or seen as a burden to others. We can’t go it alone. That’s one of the major lessons of the spiritual life. I’d rather know more about what is going on in someone’s life than read 15 political posts from them.

Part of the reason we are becoming more divided and polarized is because we no longer view social media as a place to connect with others. Instead, it’s becoming our own individual sounding board where we can throw out our political beliefs at high speed. Have any of us changed someone’s mind through all of these posts? I never have. I never did back in the days when that was what I mainly posted.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing them and engaging in debate. My concern is simply that all I see are political posts. I know nothing about most of the people who have requested my friendship on social media. So I guess the question would be: why do you want to be friends with me on social media or anyone else for that matter? I ignore the vast majority of political posts in my newsfeed and I head straight for theology, Church news, the outdoors, or satire. Are we building community or are we simply adding to a list? It’s worth considering. And for the record, I’m happy to pray for you anytime.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

God Is In The Details: My Secondary Vocation to Spiritual Motherhood

It’s amazing how the smallest of details are a part of God’s plan for our lives. We often ignore the minutiae in the busyness of our lives, but God is there working on our salvation in what appears to simply be a day on the calendar. We can see it in the lives of the saints who die on significant feast days or many died at the age of 33. I have come to see in my own spiritual life that certain feast days are filled with greater graces and often I will be asked to do something on one of those days that I wouldn’t do on any other day. Marian feast days and Holy Week are the greatest of these in my own life.

I’m starting to see these small details and how they weave into the very fabric of how Christ is leading me towards Him. I never paid attention before, largely because of my own self-absorption and partly because I didn’t consider how God is always working even when I don’t see it. I was born in Helena, MT and handed guardianship of three holy relics of the True Cross at 33 years of age. The holy relic that was the instrument of Our Lord’s death and our salvation found by *St. Helena* in the 4th century. I only drew the connection nearly 5 years later and it was like being struck by lightning.

On March 23, 2012, a Friday, I had my second miscarriage. A child I firmly believe to have been a son: Caleb Augustine. I have had the deepest longing in my heart to have a son to give to Our Lord in the priesthood. Since I can’t have anymore children, I was confused as to why this longing was so deeply imbedded within me. On March 23, 2018, a Friday, after a significant experience that happened to me during the Mass that dramatically changed my spiritual life, I was handed my secondary vocation of spiritual motherhood to priests. God only revealed the connection between these two dates to me this past weekend as we approach that anniversary this weekend. The realization has been nothing short of mind-blowing for me. God doesn’t miss any details. The same priest was even with me on both days at two different parishes six years apart.

On the painful anniversary of losing my first son–I believe I lost my second son on August 8, 2016 on the feast of St. Dominic when we had already named him for a Dominican as Andrew Thomas (see those small details are actually big ones!)–six years to the day, God handed me the secondary vocation of being a spiritual mother to His priests in a time of crisis, scandal, pain, and confusion. To pray and sacrifice for them in love, as so many others have done before me, including one of my closest friends in the Communion of Saints: St. Therese of Lisieux. God is working in every area of our lives every single day.

I miss my babies, but God has already blessed me a great deal through this secondary vocation. As I told the ladies last weekend at the retreat when I discussed Mary and Spiritual Motherhood, being a spiritual mother comes with great joys and sorrows, just like being a biological/adoptive mother. It requires sacrifice and since it’s a vocation it is also a path to learning how to die to self in love. Spiritual motherhood comes from Our Lady who teaches us how to open our hearts up more expansively, even in the midst of grief. 

When I realized that I would not be able to have more children, I wondered in prayer if I’d ever experience that level of joy again as the day when I first held my daughter. So many of my friends are still being blessed with children and I am not. In my grief, I wasn’t sure. The answer is yes. Spiritual motherhood is yet another path to charity and it comes with incredible joy. In order to be able to open myself up to that joy God had to teach me how to let go of what I wanted, including my desire for more children. When I let go and gave everything back to God, just as Our Heavenly Mother did at the foot of the Cross, Christ was able to break open deeper wellsprings of charity within me that I didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to let go of what we want, but God’s ways are not our own and He is not to be outdone in generosity.