The Saints and the Cross Episode 1: St. Charles Borromeo

Today I begin my video series on the saints and the Cross with St. Charles Borromeo. I also provide a lens through which we can view the present pandemic and exile by referencing St. John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris:

I’m still taking suggestions for saints you’d like to see me cover. Feel free to post them in the comments or email me.

First Article at Crisis Magazine: Flight of the Lady-Bishops

**I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog lately. I have multiple writing projects going at present, so I’ve been giving my attention to those over regular blogging. Below is the first piece I’ve published at Crisis Magazine.

***It should be noted, that while I published an article today respectfully disagreeing with my bishop, I will be making a holy hour for him before daily Mass today. I tell everyone who is frustrated with priests and bishops that the starting place for renewal is in prayer, fasting, and penance.

In mid-January, it was made public that His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout (my local ordinary) had made arrangements with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia to allow an invalid consecration of a female “bishop” at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Williamsburg. The public outcry was so intense that the Episcopalians chose to move the event to a nearby Protestant church in order to avoid further division within the Catholic faithful of the diocese.

It should be noted that Bishop Knestout does have the authority under canon law to make prudential judgments concerning the use of diocesan property for ecumenical events. The issue many Catholics had with the decision did not have much to do with the bishop’s authority, but rather the possible impact on the ministerial priesthood and further erosion of the faithful’s understanding of the priesthood in an age marred by scandal and corruption.

For the last two years, the Church has been shaken by reports of clerical sex abuse, corruption, greed, and systematic cover-ups. All of these sins of the clergy have undermined the sacred office of the priesthood—especially the office of bishop. It is the bishop who is entrusted by Christ with the fullness of Holy Orders in order to teach, govern, and sanctify the people of God. Yet the faithful’s understanding of who it is that the priest represents—what his sacred role is within the Church—has been greatly damaged as a result.

These scandals are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. The Church is facing a crisis of faith, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent letter on the scandals. This crisis is most evident in the number of Catholics who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 70 percent deny the Real Presence. The state of the priesthood today and the lack of belief in the Real Presence are inextricably linked since Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are bound together in the same reality. One would not exist without the other.

In response to the scandals and decades of poor catechesis, many Catholics have begun to take a rather distanced or indifferent approach to the priesthood. When potential solutions are proposed, many Catholics argue in favor of women’s ordination—which, as the Church has taught clearly and consistently for centuries, is ontologically impossible—or lifting the celibacy requirement on Latin Rite priests.

Read the rest over at Crisis Magazine.

Catholic Exchange: How Women Can Help Renew the Church in an Age of Scandal

We live in an age of the battle of the sexes. Women are expected to be like men and men are expected to be like women. This is the form of equality we are spoon-fed from infancy by our culture. Either that, or we are taught that men and women are in a battle for power all the while arguing that the other sex should not dominate the other. What this does is create ever widening gaps between men and women that play-out in most areas of our lives, even within the Church.

We see this debate mostly clearly within the Church in the call for women’s ordination. The argument is largely based on power. Women want power within the Church. This is the exact opposite of what Christ calls His priests to. He calls them to serve as He serves, which is at the high altar of the Cross. To seek to pour one’s self out in self-emptying love for the sake of Christ’s flock. This radical call of being configured to Christ is what we are all called to at baptism, but it takes on a much deeper dimension within the priesthood, which is why any desire for worldly power is in direct opposition to the priesthood. The ontological and scriptural arguments aside, any ambition on our part as women to grasp at worldly power through a call to women’s ordination is to misunderstand our own calling, as well as the priesthood.

Women have tremendous gifts to offer to the Church. We cannot serve in the manner we are called to if we are overly concerned with worldly power and honor. If our primary objective is to seize power from men then we have bought the lie of the Enemy and the world that men are somehow our enemy or our rival. This has been a problem since the Fall.

Women are not called to serve the Church as priests and spiritual fathers. Christ Himself was a man and He instituted an all male priesthood. We are called, however, to serve as sisters in Christ and spiritual mothers. The Church needs the unique gifts that come from women, but they must be given in a spirit of service, rather than an aspiration for power or honor.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

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.