The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

We Need to Stop Gossiping About Our Priests

I have been in active ministry for over ten years. I’ve had occasional breaks as my vocation has required, but I’ve worked with a variety of people and priests over those years. In all of my time serving in the parish and local community I have observed–as Pope Francis has said many times–that gossip is a cancer within the Mystical Body that we must cut out. All of us who are not yet saints engage in gossip. Unfortunately it comes easily to us in our Fallen state. It is something that is found where multiple people are gathered and it is highly destructive in an upending of Christ’s promise to be present where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). I cannot say that I have overcome this sin, but I hope to by God’s grace.

Gossip is a form a character assassination. It greatly wounds those who are its victims as well as those who are perpetrators. Rather than see people as made imago Dei, we see them through our own broken, wounded, judgmental, and pride filled eyes. We see them through our own perceptions, desires, sin, and anger. We also often engage in Schadenfreude, which is often a form of envy or essentially ‘joy at another person’s sorrow’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). Rather than cheer on the successes of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we often relish their failures. It gives us an opportunity to come together in an inversion of true community to enjoy the pain of our neighbor.

More than anything gossip is tied to the very heavy sin of pride. Gossip typically erupts in the face of disagreements with other people. We do not like what someone has done to us, so we seek vengeance. More-often-than-not, we feel that we have lost some kind of power or authority and respond in anger and vengeance. How dare so-and-so treat me this way! How dare they question me! If we pay attention to what is going on inside of us then we will quickly see the root cause of our response.

Gossip is a powerful form of vengeance. It can tear ministries apart, churches become places of deep seated sinful anger, and it can create outright wars between priests and the laity. I’ve actually seen this happen, so I am not engaging in hyperbole. Entire books could be written on the topic of gossip. This particular blog post will focus on the destructive nature of gossiping about our parish priest(s).

In our sinful state, there is always a level of tension within the Mystical Body. Our competing agendas, opinions, ideas, and wants tend to meet resistance from people with counter points of view. There are obvious issues in which heresy and heterodoxy must be rooted out and those who do not submit to Holy Mother Church in the obedience required of us need to be encouraged to pray for conversion of heart and humility; as well as make use of the Sacrament of Penance in order to worthily receive the Holy Eucharist. Setting these situations aside, tension often exists within ministries and parish communities themselves and in their relationship with the parish priest.

We live in an age when people believe they are little gods ruling the universe. This nihilistic and relativistic thinking is also prevalent within the Church. Most people do not even realize how greatly they are influenced by these philosophies that pervade our culture. The focus here is not in converting those who have fallen for the heresies of our day, rather, it is on how we treat our priests within our parish while coming to understand our place within the Mystical Body. We must consciously overcome the sinful drive within us to rule over others.

When we are baptized every single one of us enters into the common priesthood. We share in the divine offices of Christ which are priest, prophet, and king. The common priesthood–the laity and all baptized–differs greatly from the ministerial priesthood (Holy Orders). This difference is not only in degree. Lumen Gentium 10 states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) 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.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) 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.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The word “essence” is a metaphysical/ontological term. It means that at the deepest levels of reality and being the ministerial priesthood differs from the common priesthood. This passage of Lumen Gentium explains the Church’s understanding that there is a rather large difference in character or type between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood. It’s important to understand this distinction because it matters when it comes to authority (auctoritas).

Lumen Gentium goes on in Chapter IV to discuss the role of the laity in the Church. Our role differs quite a bit from the ministerial priesthood. Both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici affirm that the role of the laity is primarily secular. Our job is not primarily to run the Church–that is the role of the ministerial/hierarchical priesthood–instead we are meant to take the Good News out into the world and bring the world to Christ in our families, careers, civic engagements, and community interaction. The ministerial priesthood runs the Church, shepherds the people of God, brings the Sacraments to the worshiping community, and safeguards Church teaching through magisterial authority. We bring people to the Church.

This means that when we run ministries within our parish, we do not hold ultimate authority over anything that happens at the parish level. Most priests allow volunteers and parish staff to use prudential judgment while monitoring what takes place within their assigned church. They do not hinder freedom and creativity, but monitor and decide how best to approach certain tasks or activities. Vatican II has brought about  more cooperative work between the priesthood and the laity. This is a good within itself. The unfortunate reality is that this relationship and understanding of authority can easily become disordered because of sin. This is where gossip becomes a problem.

Most gossip about parish priests comes from a place of pride or a lack of humility. That’s where gossip tends to be rooted regardless of situation. Leaving aside the heretical priest who needs to be dealt with through the proper hierarchical channels without gossip, the issue is often one of power. A member of the laity mistakenly believes they have ultimate say over their ministry. First, notice my use of “their”. In reality we do not own our ministries. We are merely stewards serving Christ in the Church under the ministerial priesthood. Second, humility is a requirement of ministry, just as it is of the ministerial priesthood. This is a battle for all of us. If our priest tells us that he is going to do things a certain way and that he is not going to choose our particular option, then we need to accept that we may not know everything and trust that he is attempting to do what is right and good, even if it is not in line with our opinion. We must all learn to swallow our pride. I don’t agree with every choice my parish priest makes, but I respect his choice and authority to do so. Charity also demands that we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Priests are far from perfect, just like the rest of us. Most are not saints yet, but we need to look at them with charity and some level of trust. So they don’t do it the way it has always been done or the way we want it done, in the end we need to learn charitable obedience and let it go. Have we ever considered that a previous priest may have actually been doing something wrong and it needed correction? I don’t know about you, but I have not studied in depth the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) to the point that I know every required step for every Mass of every liturgical season and any given day. I still mix up technical terms for aspects of the Mass. The Mass is a primary discipline of study for priests and liturgists. I am neither.

For instance, the Liturgy is not meant to draw our human activities to the fore. It is the time of giving right praise and worship to God. We are not the center of that worship. We participate and offer it up to God. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood converge in that we offer up praise and worship to God through the ministerial priesthood. Whatever else is going on in parish life has its rightful place outside of the Liturgy. This can be confusing because unfortunately “the spirit of Vatican II” misplaced this proper ordering and now many people do not fully understand what is allowed to take place at Mass and what is not. This is through no fault of their own.

Gossiping or complaining publicly about the priest sows seeds of division. This is especially true in parishes where there is high priest turnover. Gossip inevitably leads to character assassination, sinful anger, and is harmful to the entire parish community. It also makes an already difficult task even more difficult for our priests. I’ve seen it get so bad that a priest almost left the priesthood. Deo gratias he did not! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand before Our Lord and explain how I helped someone leave their priestly vocation through my gossip and backstabbing.

Scripture makes it very clear, especially St. Paul, that we are not meant to align ourselves with a particular leader or priest because it leads to division. We are all one under Christ. Lovingly welcoming and getting to know a new priest is not a betrayal against the previous parish priest. If they are holy men, then they are not in competition with one another. They are living holy obedience to the Bishop in conformation to their sharing in his fullness of Holy Orders.

As with all people, we need to give people a chance and get to know them. In my experience most priests will explain their choices in a charitable manner while also expecting their wishes to be respected. All we have to do is ask, not demand. If we encounter a priest who has mistaken spiritual fatherhood for a dictatorship, then all we can really do is pray for them and treat them with charity and bear this burden patiently. This does happen, but it is a misunderstanding of Our Lord’s call for priests which is most beautifully demonstrated at the Last Supper. Men in both the vocation of the ministerial priesthood and men in the vocation of marriage are called to love and lay down their lives as Christ does.

It is also unjust to make assumptions about each priest. Presumption is often incorrect and sinful. Even though they all share in the same Sacrament and authority through Holy Orders, they are still individual men with unique personalities, backgrounds, gifts, interests, and even theological schooling. Some are more influenced by certain popes, saints, or thinkers, which can actually be a key to understanding them. If they are from a religious order then the Rule of that particular order is going to provide insight as to how they view their vocation and live that vocation in parish life.

In order to overcome the tendency to gossip about the parish priest it is important to consider their role and responsibilities. You and I who are in the laity will have to give account for the people God entrusted to us at our individual judgment upon death. This is typically our spouse and our children first. Priests will give account for every person they’ve been called to shepherd and explain how they shepherded them. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. It is a tall order and most of them take it pretty seriously, especially the priests of the St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decades. The “spirit of Vatican II” is dying off and the priests of today tend to be serious about holiness.

Priests have a lot that is required of them and they are extremely busy. We need to look to them with patience and charity. You and I are not the center of the universe. Our email or phone call is not the focus of their day, and depending on their personality, they may prefer to talk to you in person. The written word is very easily distorted and misunderstood. This is something I am keenly aware of as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with a priest wanting to discuss things in person. In fact, in a digital age, it’s a blessing! Figure out how each individual priest likes to communicate and adjust accordingly instead of complaining about them publicly at meetings or church gatherings.

Since our priests are not perfect–just like we are not even close to perfect–we need to bear their weaknesses and shortcomings with patience. The same is true in our families and other relationships. If there is one thing God teaches us as we progress in holiness, it is that we possess a great many weaknesses and character defects in need of fixing. A lot! It is easy to think that we are superior to someone else because we do not struggle with a particular sin or weakness, but God will quickly show us the darkness in our own hearts.  Remember that they too are on the path to sainthood and they need us to patiently bear their flaws just as they bear ours.

Another way to help in overcoming the tendency to gossip is to remember that we do not need to provide our priest or fellow parishioners with every opinion we possess. I come from a very opinionated family. This can be a real struggle, but my opinions do not necessarily comport with the truth. They may be my own personal desires or understanding, but not be true, correct, or the only way. If there is one thing being a graduate student in theology has taught me it is how little I know. We women especially seem to feel the need to tell the men in our lives any opinion that comes to mind. This is the same with priests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something to one of my priests and later regretted it. I didn’t need to say it. It was wholly unnecessary, unhelpful, or even critical. I’m also rather blunt (I’m slowly getting better about this!) and I won’t mean to say things a certain way and it will be taken completely out of context. If we keep in mind that our opinions probably don’t matter in the long run then we can prudently consider when to express our opinion and when not to.

The most significant way to avoid turning to gossip about our priests is in learning holy obedience. We are called to obedience to God and Holy Mother Church. This means that we must learn to submit in obedience. We are not God or gods. This also means that if we are friends with a particular priest we need to know exactly when they are responding to something in the role of the priesthood and when they are acting as a friend. This distinction is vital to avoid conflict and it requires the willingness to humbly submit to authority outside of ourselves. Remember, even if your priest is also your friend, he differs greatly from you in his vocation. His primary role is priest first and friend second. Obedience, charity, and humility are necessary for maintaining these relationships and for growing in holiness. It also requires a clear understanding of the distinction in order to avoid misplaced anger. Far too many people get upset with their priest because he is also their friend and they confuse the two roles. This can become problematic for people who work in parish offices. In cases when authority is exercised we also have to see past the man and see the priestly office he holds and submit. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to submit and accept his authority.

I’d like to specifically offer some thoughts to my fellow sisters in Christ on how we treat our priests. St. John Paul II brilliantly outlines the role of women in Mulieris Dignitatem. He explains that each woman is called to spiritual motherhood, regardless of if she is a biological mother or not. This is a unique aspect of our nature. We are meant to pray for, encourage, befriend, and help our priests through spiritual motherhood. We are not, however, called to mother them. Every single one of them has a mother on some level, so they don’t need a bunch of women trying to mother them.  It’s important that we understand how to live spiritual motherhood in relation to them without overstepping lines. When they do not respond to our mothering, temptation can arise to begin gossiping about them. Ladies, we are terrible at gossip. It’s tied to our more overt social nature. We have to pray to overcome this weakness.

I’ve contemplated the topic of gossip for years now. I went through a very difficult period when I was gossiped about and stabbed in the back by people I trusted within the Church. If you’ve been the victim of gossip then you know how quickly things turn into falsehoods and outright lies. It’s painful and God used that pain to reveal to me just how destructive gossip is for the Mystical Body. I have sat in on far too many meetings or been to parish events where pockets of people are complaining and gossiping about the priest. He may even be in the same room. Anymore, I try to find ways to encourage people to avoid this sinful practice, help them to consider something they may not know about him, or I refuse to engage in it. We cannot come together in charity to love and serve God if we are busy killing (Pope Francis) the reputation of another, especially the priest appointed over us. Without our priests there would be no Sacraments and no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next time you feel tempted to gossip about your priest consider two things. First, what has it been like in your life to be the victim of gossip? Two, would you say the things you are saying about your priest to Christ? A blessed Advent to you all!

 

 

Catholic Exchange: Healing the Wounds of Rejection

It happens to every penitent who frequently seeks forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. We trudge, once more, to the confessional door and upon our entry, lament to the priest that we are once again confessing the same sins. It’s been a week, a month, a year, and it’s the same sins. We are tired of confessing the same sins over and over again with little or no perceived progress. Those of us who write a list down during our examination of conscience, fight the temptation to keep it for next week or the following week’s Confession, since we know the sins will be the same. This would be wrong, however, since we are absolved of those sins and forgiven by Our Lord. Rip that piece of paper up or throw it in the fireplace! Progress in the spiritual life is slow going and it can feel more like back-sliding than steps up the mountain.

One of the great struggles in the spiritual life is coming to understand why we commit certain sins over and over again. There are the theological answers: pride, we are Fallen, we flee from God, we don’t trust in God’s goodness and love, we violate our own nature, weakness, etc. These are all true, but one of the greatest struggles we face as human beings is the reality that we do not truly know or understand ourselves. We are great at self-deception. We do not fully understand our motives. Many of us have been deeply wounded since childhood, which means we’ve developed habitual sins in the face of suffering. A good many of us never make the effort to try to understand why we sin in certain ways.

There are certain sins we tend to commit when we are suffering, hurt, or are under tremendous stress. Psychology is filled with explanations for why some people eat and drink to excess, turn to pornography, lose themselves in video games or social media, watch copious amounts of television, or recklessly spend money. Many of the points made by modern psychology are helpful, but what are some of the spiritual answers for why we engage in these behaviors when we hurt?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Keep Getting Back Up

I realized that my writing may make people think I have it more together than I actually do. The thing about writers is, we see great truths–especially in the grips of suffering–and want to share those insights with others. That doesn’t mean we’ve actually mastered what we write about. I am no exception.

I have officially reached the status of overwhelmed after everything we have been through in the last year, seven years, really. And when I get overwhelmed, I crash and burn hardcore. It is because I know what the end is supposed to look like that I will tend to leap out prematurely and forget that this life is about small steps forward, not giant lunges over valleys. I also have breaking points when the weight of my Cross gets to be too much and I find myself crying face down in the dirt.

Thank God for Confession! The enemy wants to convince us that we are unforgivable, that we will never succeed, that holiness is impossible, and that God cannot possibly love us if He allows this much suffering. Oh, I hear the enemy ringing in my ears. He is rather relentless. He’s the one who tells me to avoid Mass or Confession or do it later. And I said “no” to him today by going to Mass even though I failed so utterly yesterday that I wanted to throw in the towel. And I walked up to my priest after Mass and asked if he could hear my Confession today; not tomorrow or the next day when it is offered in two parishes locally. Today.

God doesn’t expect us not to fail. We are weak, broken, sinful, and wage intense battles. The point is to get back up. GET BACK UP! When we fall , we must ask Him to help us once again trudge up this monstrous mountain towards holiness. Mercy does not overlook sin. God’s justice helps us seek forgiveness and His mercy binds the wounds we receive when we sin.

So when you read my writing, I am not writing as someone who has succeeded on the path. By God’s grace, one day I will hear “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I write to help others on the path with me. The very same people who are overburdened and hurting. Those people who are weak and struggle with habitual sins. The people who battle anger, like me. The people who want to be a saint, but keep falling. Christ helps us back up. When we fail, don’t allow the enemy to keep you down in the dust. Ask Christ to forgive your failings and give you the strength to get back up once again. St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that ‘we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.’ So if like me, you’ve found yourself once again lying face down in the dirt, then get back up, get thee to Confession, and begin again.

Confronting Hard Truths About Facebook and Myself

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the last couple of years knows that I battle being addicted to Facebook. Yes, addicted. I think a lot of people are addicted, but we don’t like to admit it, myself included. Social media is a part of the post-modern experience. At face value it is indeed a good. It allows us to connect worldwide in real-time and to reconnect with people from our past. It is a blessing to see how people we knew decades before are doing at this point in their lives. All of this is good, but I think we  need to be honest with ourselves about a few things.

We live in a lonely culture.

We are able to connect in real-time, and yet, we are more lonely now than ever before. We can spend hours engaged in discussions, arguments, or reading news feeds, but feel completely and utterly disconnected. A computer screen does not provide the needed interaction of authentic relationship with a person who is present to us fully. We can get a million “Likes” to something and it will not put a dent in that loneliness or sense of isolation. In reality, deep down, we realize that our Facebook friends are more of a type of acquaintance than true friendship. Our Facebook friends may offer us prayers and kind thoughts during difficult times, but only a few of them will walk into the darkness with us. This is, of course, human  nature. We avoid suffering at all costs. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that we are in a sort of shadow relationship with our Facebook friends. We are social beings by nature. We need community, but authentic community in which we interact with people in person and engage in relationships with those people.

We have stopped listening to one another.

Listening is something we all struggle to do in our interactions. In our pride, we want to have an immediate response at the ready before considering all of the information being presented. We already have our ideas, preconceived notions, and biases at the ready. We also desire to protect ourselves from any perceived attack, even if it is meant merely as a charitable reminder or correction. We all seem to do this in both social media and in our daily relationships.

The problem with this lack of listening in social media is that it is dividing us even more with each passing day. When we begin a discussion with someone–whether a friend or a stranger–we do not meet on even ground. There is no mutual understanding or defining of terms. I have discovered that discussions go much more smoothly if they are entered into with an understanding of mutual respect and a clear defining of terms to be used. If we enter into a conversation in social media with someone without these two principles in place, the conversation will devolve very quickly. It then turns into a group of people ganging up on one person or one person ranting and raving at the others or a whole host of other problematic situations will occur. Ad hominems, presumptions, misunderstandings, and irrationality inevitably take over the whole conversation.

Facebook and the like allow us to talk, and talk, and talk. We have a platform and we use it. It is hard to admit to ourselves that in reality, nobody cares, or if they do, it is not that much. A passing “Like”, emoji, or thumbs up does not equate to genuine concern or interest. Typically we “Like” and move on to “Like” a dozen more things before shutting off social media for a few minutes and then reaching for our phone again or laptop.

We do not appeal to prudence.

The Queen of the Virtues is prudence. She is the most important of the cardinal virtues for all of the other cardinal virtues flow from her. Prudence means truly discerning how to respond in a situation. Think of prudence in relation to wisdom. For a Catholic, this includes considering God’s will or proper responses in a given situation. We cannot be just if we are not prudent. True justice is founded on prudence and charity. We cannot be truly courageous if we are not prudent, because we may get ourselves killed in the process. We cannot be temperate if we do not first understand prudent choices, because the Passions would like nothing more than to have free run of our lives. Prudence is the crucial habit that needs to be learned in virtuous living and in going deeper into the spiritual life.

Social media is almost the anti-thesis of prudence. We say whatever comes to mind without any appeal to prudence. Yes, we are all works in progress, including myself. We are all sinners, but that is not a get out of jail free card or an excuse. We know better, so we acknowledge our weakness, but we don’t justify it. I often lack prudence and it always gets me into trouble. As Catholics, we do not have a right to do and say whatever we want. We are obliged–through the gift of the supernatural virtues–to learn the habit of prudence. Not every comment on Facebook we disagree with needs to be responded to. I am talking to myself here too. I am a work in progress, so please keep in mind this is not some kind of morally superior lecture. I am right there in the gutters with everyone else. These are merely insights I have gained from my own broken, and at times, sinful use of social media. Not every thought that comes to our heads needs to go out into cyberspace. We do have an obligation to consider how our thoughts and actions will impact the people around us.

Does social media help me on the path to holiness?

All of these insights come down to the main question that I must ask myself as someone who is clearly addicted to Facebook. This is the same question we must all ask ourselves in every moment of the day. Will this X, Y, or Z help me attain holiness? Some people are masters of properly ordering social media and they are able to use it for God’s purposes. I know that I am not one of those people. God has made it plain to me, and yet, in my shame and weakness I persist. Internet usage is a constant in my regular Confessions. Unequivocally Facebook does not help me on the path to holiness. It is a hindrance. It makes me think too much about myself and my own thoughts, which are not nearly as exciting as they seem in my head or in black letters glowing on my computer screen. Nobody cares! I am going to tell myself this again: NOBODY CARES! There I said it. What a relief!

I think that far too many Catholics do not understand that our mission is holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. That is not a goal reserved for a lofty few. It is the end for which all of us are created. If we approach our daily living from this standpoint we would begin, by God’s grace, to order our lives to that purpose. I know this truth, but there are times I fall into habits that take me away from that mission. Facebook takes me away from my vocation and the mission. I have asked God to make me a saint and that means relinquishing my will to His will. He has asked me to cease and desist Facebook. I will not progress, and I may back slip, if I do not take heed.

Facebook can become a near occasion of sin.

Facebook is a near occasion of sin for me because of the incessant outrage. The constant need to be angry or upset about something, anything. The onslaught of news and division can be downright overwhelming. This is a distraction aimed at keeping us from focusing on Christ and the mission of bringing the world to Him. The world has been a horrifying, bloodthirsty, and violent place since the Fall. The Bible and human history are filled with humanity’s evil, stupidity, arrogance, blindness, and depravity. We have been wounded by the Fall and we live in a world that struggles with sin. We still wait for the Second Coming of Our Lord at any moment. That is one of the main purposes of Advent. To remind us to wake up! Christ will come again and we do not know the hour, so be alert!

Spending hours upon hours dwelling on the Fallen world is not good for me and I would argue it is not good for anyone. I worry about some of my Facebook friends. I see their loneliness. I know their loneliness. I see their pain and struggles. They may not realize that I see them.We reach out for human interaction for someone to “see” us and our pain, but Facebook does not provide the needed compassion and charity. My Facebook friends cannot truly see my grief and pain. The tears I shed on a nearly daily basis as I grieve my lost babies and struggle to accept my infertility do not appear in my newsfeed. A crying emoji wouldn’t quite do justice to my struggles. They do not sense the ache I feel at all of their children and pregnancy announcements. Not because I am envious, although I have my moments, but because I am a mother who wants to love more children.

I know deep down most–not all–of my Facebook friends do not truly see me, understand me, or love me as a friend is meant to love. I think this is something we all need to acknowledge and accept. This is understandable. We are no longer in the same place in our lives or geographically. Facebook allows for facades and the pretense of everything is dandy and fine. Nobody wants a “downer” to share what it is really like in periods of intense grief. It is an illusion and that is precisely why so many people are lonely and feel empty in a world of immediate connection.

I struggle like a lot of people to use Facebook properly. I have not mastered prudence enough to be temperate in my Facebook usage. Another sign that I am stumbling up the path with everyone else. Have you considered your own social media interactions and usage? Is it a hindrance or a good for you on the path to deeper communion with Christ? I think we all need to pray for God to help us develop the habit of considering every element in our lives through our eschatological purpose, which is to be a saint, so that we can enter into full communion with the Blessed Trinity at the end of our lives.

A Letter to University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space from a Veteran

Dear University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space,

Today is Veteran’s Day. On this particular Veteran’s Day, university students and their professors across the nation are crying that they are traumatized by the results of Tuesday’s election claiming they need “safe” spaces to deal with the horror of Donald Trump’s election (There are dictionaries on campus to help with defining words like horror, tragedy, trauma, pain, and suffering in case they are needed.) Students are not attending classes and their professors are encouraging this infantile behavior by cancelling their classes and “protesting” with them. It is fitting in the face of this adolescent behavior to contemplate what I was doing when I was 18-22 years of age (I served 6 years, but most college students are 18-22).

I enlisted in 1999, during peace-time. I needed to pay for college, and while that was my initial reason for enlisting, that quickly changed as I learned of the real sacrifice of serving in the military. I am thankful that my military service did in fact pay for my Bachelor’s degree and it is now paying for my nearly completed Master’s degree. I am not saddled with $100,000 in debt I can never repay with a BA in Underwater Basket Weaving.

I was a linguist and my position required mainly desk work. That desk work meant that when I was 20 years old I was in charge of complex classified systems at a large government agency. I was doing work graduate students only dream of–I hadn’t even finished college at the time–but I was already fluent in a second language. You are claiming exhaustion and trauma from an election. I worked rotating 12 hour shifts for years without even knowing what day it was while entrusted–along with all of my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines–with the task of keeping this nation safe.

At 20 years of age the unthinkable happened. A real trauma and tragedy: 9/11. Overnight we went from peace-time to war-time. I found myself standing in front of the burning rubble of the Pentagon with 400 grieving family members. We stood in front of the tomb where 184 people had been murdered. Trauma is not when you don’t get your way. Trauma is a response to actual violence. An election going as elections go in a Republic is not a trauma. It’s the electoral process of this nation.

Three years after 9-11 I found myself trapped in the pain and real trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had actual, not made up, PTSD. My relief work proved deeply painful and I had to pay a great sacrifice; one that so many of my fellow Veterans pay and carry today. You don’t have any idea what the need for a “safe” space is when you’ve never woken up from nightmares in a state of sleep paralysis alone in your bed across the ocean from your family or you had to run out of a movie theater, cower in a corner, and have a panic attack at the entrance because you didn’t expect the 9-11 movie trailer. The same goes for combat Vets when they see combat scenes. Hollywood can occasionally get something right, and they are pretty good at portraying flashbacks. You have no idea what it is like to give so much and carry that kind of tremendous weight your entire life. Being an undergraduate at a school where you are coddled, isn’t trauma. War, terrorism, violence, natural disasters, abuse, cancer are real traumas. Those of us with PTSD in the military, kept doing our jobs while getting treatment. We didn’t get to stop acting like adults in the midst of that suffering and neither do the men and women battling the scars of war today.

You and your friends are safe in your warm dorm rooms whimpering about your losses and how this country is going to fall apart and all of those “racist” voters will destroy this country. It’s much easier to label people than engage in actual intellectual debate based on reality and facts. I didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump, I exercised my free right to go third party, but I accept the election results because that is what we do in a free nation. The way you are acting implies your desire for a dictatorship based on your feelings and relativistic beliefs predicated upon nihilism. I know people of all backgrounds and races who voted for Trump. Just because you want something to be true does not make it true.

While you are playing beer pong and comforting one another in response to that “awful” Donald Trump, I have friends who have committed suicide from the trauma of war. I have friends who have died suddenly from injuries that occurred in war zones or on humanitarian missions. I have three cousins who gave years of their lives to war in the Marine Corps. I have friends who have been shot, blown up, and lost friends in IEDs. I have family still serving in the military.

Today we remember the people who serve or have served this great nation and who understand sacrifice in the face of tremendous pain and suffering. So, it’s time to put your big boy or big girl pants on and accept what has happened. It’s time to be an actual adult. You have no idea what a “safe” space is or what real trauma, tragedy, and suffering is like. I do and so do countless others.

Sincerely,

A U.S. Navy Veteran

Miscarriage and Abortion: To my Interlocutors

I know that it is hard to understand me. Things I say and do are maddening. It is easy to push me away and to reduce my actions, words, and love, yes love, to hatred or envy. Often when we make choices out of fear, power, ignorance, or even apathy, we turn on others because they reveal those choices to us in some way. This is why when someone like me honestly shares the truth about pain and loss, I am accused of hatred or envy. I get it. In openly discussing the reality of miscarriage and the loss of a real person, I am implicating abortion. This implication is abhorrent to some, ignorant to others, and a long awaited sense of freedom and healing for so many.

I was supposed to grieve silently and on my own. I am supposed to take my cues from the abortion culture and pretend that I didn’t lose a child, or if it was a child, to grieve behind closed doors. I won’t grieve silently anymore, and neither should anyone else. In doing so, my desire to share my suffering in the service of others was greatly misunderstood by many. I knew this would happen, but I am not who you say that I am.

It has been a painful road, but that is the nature of this life. Suffering is an aspect of being human that comes to us all. It is what we do with the pain that matters. I choose to share it, not only for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents who grieve miscarried children, but for women and men who have had abortions or who are contemplating an abortion. My bringing to light the miscarriage-abortion problem is not a condemnation. I condemn no one, but I have an obligation to save women, men, and unborn babies from abortion. This obligation is not born of envy and hatred. It comes from love. I want to address two accusations from my interlocutors. First, that I am envious of women having abortions and second, that I hate abortion supporters and those who choose to have an abortion.

First, envy by its very nature will not drive a person outside of themselves in the service of others. Envy is to covet, desire, or want to take something that is not ours. It is to hold what someone else has in such a high regard, that we do damage to ourselves. We no longer see the good within us, because we want what someone else possesses. Envy is deadly for a reason. It causes us to cave in on ourselves and to focus on what we have not been given or earned. Envy steals gratitude and robs us of happiness. I do not pray at abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood in these parts, out of envy. How could I? Why would I want to share anything with a person of who I am envious?

It is true that for a woman like myself, and I know countless other women, it is difficult for us at times to be present at a clinic where women are choosing to deliberately end the lives of their own children. We live in a world where I apparently can only have one child, who I am eternally grateful for, but where millions of women who can keep a pregnancy kill their children and their own motherhood of their own free will. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt me, but I am not envious. Their children, your children, are not mine, although my husband and I would adopt them in a heartbeat. I do not have a claim to them and I know this, so I am not driven by envy. I would stay home and write angry articles and blogs, rather than go pray in front of an abortion clinic. I wouldn’t share my own suffering in the service of others, instead I would rant and rave about what I don’t have in my own life. Some of you took the sharing of my pain as complaining, but you completely misunderstood my desire to help others who suffer as I do. Reducing me to a whiner is to completely disregard my purpose and my point, and quite frankly, it is to let yourself off-the-hook in trying to understand me.

In our culture, civil public discourse has been completely abandoned. Social media has become a place for people to spew vitriol in a vile manner because it is easy to hide behind apparent anonymity on the Internet. We should know by now that nothing we do or say on the Internet is ever truly anonymous or private. This has created an environment where anyone who disagrees with us automatically hates the other person or a group of people. This is a way to discard, discredit, or label a person. More often than not, however, this charge is false and it betrays the accuser’s own anger and inability to listen to opposing viewpoints. In the case of someone like myself–and the vast majority of those who pray diligently in front of abortion clinics, provide resources or time to crisis pregnancy centers, who gather items for poor women in crisis pregnancies, or who even write or speak on this topic–it is to confuse hatred and love.

Like envy, hatred does not drive us outside of ourselves. If we choose to publicly unleash our hatred on a particular issue, our message is automatically ineffective and revealed for what it truly is: An impotent clanging gong. Hatred is not accompanied by charity. Hatred is not sustaining and it consumes us, not the people we are trying to attack. I do not hate you. I honestly do not hate anyone, not even terrorists, and I saw the horrors of 9-11 in person as a relief worker. Hatred destroys us and I know that, so I do not fall for that trap. No, I love you, your baby, the father of the baby, and your family and friends. I don’t stop to ask whether or not that love is deserved. I love the people who have screamed at me. When I pray at the local Planned Parenthood the sign I hold is one I made and it says “You and your baby are loved beyond measure” and my daughter holds a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the baby Jesus. I am not there to condemn you, but to be a loving and peaceful presence during a time of fear and confusion.

Love is not a feeling. Feelings may accompany love, but love in itself is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and change from moment-to-moment. Love is to will the good of another. It is to desire the genuine good for someone else and to go outside of ourselves in the service of that good. My miscarriages have taught me the deepest compassion and love for women seeking an abortion. It may seem “logical” to the culture for my pain to turn to hatred and envy, but it has not. The opposite has occurred. My pain has been transformed into a deep desire to help those women I see walking in and out of Planned Parenthood in my community.

As I said, love is to desire the good of another. That means my desire in love, the reason I am in front of our abortion clinic, is because I want those women to know that fear does not have the ultimate say. Whether it is fear of poverty, motherhood, dropping out of school, anger from family and friends, pressure from the boyfriend, husband, or parents, fear of medical conditions or whatever it is driving that choice, we all have the ability and courage to stand up to fear and pain. What is lost in choosing an abortion is tremendous. It is not only the loss of a child, your child, it is the loss of motherhood. It is a loss of the greatest opportunity to love and be loved.

Motherhood transforms a woman into the greatest person she can be, whether it is through biological, adoptive, foster, or even spiritual motherhood, for those women who cannot have children, those who have chosen chastity in the service of God, and those women who serve children in a variety of ways. In having children, our lives move away from being so much about ourselves, and they are changed into the service of another. This may sound daunting and burdensome, but we were made to and for love. In truth, the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return. There is a profound joy in motherhood that cannot be attained anywhere else. We only have to be open to love, sacrifice, pain, and joy.

I would never say that choosing motherhood is easy. It is not. It comes with tremendous sacrifice. There is nothing that has taught me more about my selfish nature, a nature we all have, than motherhood and marriage. Yes, my career path changed drastically when I became a mother. I did a lot in my Twenties. I served in naval intelligence, went to college, interned at The Heritage Foundation, lived in Europe, and the world was my oyster, but even with all of my accomplishments I knew that I wanted something more. My daughter is that more.

My daughter is greater than anything else I have ever done or been given. She teaches me daily in the art of wonder, beauty, self-sacrifice, and innocence. There is nothing in this world like hearing someone call you “Mommy” and in hearing your child tell you they love you each day. It is this joy, mingled with immense suffering through the four babies I have lost in miscarriage, that drives the compassion inside of me to pray at abortion clinics, collect supplies for women in need, and write about this topic knowing that I will be attacked for my honesty.

I know what lost motherhood feels like. I know what it is to lose an unborn child. I also know the abundant love of motherhood. No, I don’t hate you or envy you: I love you. I know that love can seem unbearable, unwanted, or burdensome. At the deepest level of our existence, we are made for love, genuine love, and that is what I am doing at Planned Parenthood and in my writing alongside the countless others striving to build a Culture of Life. I am striving, imperfect as I am, to will the good of another.

Thank YOU for Sharing Your Stories

In the past week, I have received more emails and comments from readers than I have in the last year and a half as a regular contributor at Catholic Exchange and in my years as a blogger. People from all over the world have written to me about their experiences with miscarriage. More often than not, these families have suffered grief in silence and not even shared it with family members. Most of them felt like they had to keep their pain to themselves. A good many of these people are Catholics; members of the Church that tells us to be open to life and to celebrate each life, and yet, so many suffer in private.

I am not entirely sure why this miscarriage unleashed a fury of writing inside of me. I have barely been able to stop since I learned that I lost my baby, Andrew, two weeks ago. If I am not blogging or writing articles for other websites, then I am writing pages upon pages in my journal. It’s as if the pressure of so much loss and pain has been released and it is coming out at an astounding rate. In sharing my own agony, I have been able to share in yours. Thank you for your courage to write to me or even to write public comments in an arena that is often unjust, uncivil, and insensitive.

What all of this has revealed to me is that there is a serious disconnect going on in our culture, and at times, within the Church when it comes to miscarriage. As I wrote at The Federalist today, abortion has a major part to play in this problem. Since unborn life has been dehumanized and discarded within our culture, miscarriage is not recognized as the loss of a human being. The families who have experienced miscarriage, and who have not been blinded by the ideology of abortion, know they have lost a child. The problem is, that when the loss occurs, they feel that they have no one to turn to, not even the Church.

I don’t have all of the answers to this complex issue, but I am trying to find as many of them as I can. I, and a few other brave writers, have identified this issue and are trying to bring it to light. It will be a process. In sharing the pain of miscarriage, we are automatically stepping onto the battlefield within our culture over the dignity of the human person. In sharing our own stories, we will be attacked by those who hold abortion to be sacred, and it is a religion for some. It is this assault that I fear has kept so many people silent. No more.

The lives of our babies are precious, unique, and beautiful. We have every right to mourn their passing and the loss of motherhood and fatherhood here on earth. We will live the rest of our lives wondering who our sons and daughters would have become, while hoping to meet them someday before the Beatific Vision. The hope of eternity does not mean we do not suffer and ache because of the death of our unborn children. Death is a product of the Fall and not a part of God’s original design and desires for us. That means death is painful. It is painful in losing someone and it is painful in that it will come to each one of us eventually.

I will continue to write on this issue and to clarify the abortion-miscarriage connection. I also want to advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage in any way I possibly can. I want families to know that they are not alone and grieving over a lost child to miscarriage is completely natural and warranted. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is a journey. I don’t know where it will lead. That is up to God. I am still in the throes of grief myself, but I am trying, granted imperfectly, to use my pain for good.

Thank you to all of you who have shared your stories with me. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you individually. Part of that is because my own grief makes it difficult for me to write everyone back at this time, but I do hope to respond in time. All of your emails and comments are read. I briefly engaged a few naysayers at The Federalist today and was able to maintain a good sense of humor and a level head in the face of great ignorance and insensitivity. That must be God’s grace, because my grief should have warranted a different response. I guess I realize that in my walking onto the battlefield, I have to learn to deflect such attacks without emotion. The problem is that our culture cannot engage in reasoned discourse, so all arguments are seen as emotional. Engaging while grieving is definitely a test of mettle and patience. It is the perfect learning ground. I study philosophy and theology regularly and as a formal graduate student. I have the tools at my disposal to focus on reason over emotion and I want to keep it that way, even when truly hateful things are leveled my way. Above all, prayer for conversion is key. God bless all of you.