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.

Catholic Exchange: Christ’s Call to Love & Communion in an Age of Scandal

As we begin a New Year with the Church embroiled in ever deepening scandal, we all must ask ourselves: What can I do in response? What can I do in the face of so much evil, incompetence, injustice, and lack of charity?

The solutions are difficult and will take decades — if not centuries — to take hold so that renewal can take place. The saints God will raise up in response to the rot within the Church will come forward, but in His time. What are we to do now, in this age, in response to the seemingly endless array of scandals?

The answer is given to us by Our Lord Himself when He tells us that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” This does, first and foremost, mean martyrdom or truly dying for those we love as Our Lord did. But for most of us, it means dying to self daily in our relationships with the people God puts in our path. The answer is fleshed out throughout Sacred Scripture and expounded upon by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John.

We now live as brothers and sisters in Christ bound together in Baptism strengthened through the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The greatest of these being charity. This means that we are called to live in authentic, deep, abiding charity in communion with one another. We are brothers and sisters in Christ whose love is meant to be so great in Him that we are willing to die for one another bodily or through sacrificing for one another in our daily lives.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: When Advent Feels More Like Lent

This time of year can present challenges to all of us as we approach the Christmas season. More and more Catholics are trying to slow down and enter into the period of waiting and preparation in the Advent season. As the secular Christmas season continues to spiral out of control, a lot of people are seeing the wisdom of this season of stillness and waiting.

The problem is that, for many of us, Advent can begin to feel more like Lent than Advent. We may find ourselves wrestling in the desert rather than waiting silently by an empty manger. The state of the Church in the past few months in the United States, and in many other countries, has resulted in a Lenten period all its own due to the abominable crimes that have come to light. So it isn’t all that surprising that many Catholics are feeling like they are in Lent rather than Advent at present.

What do we do when Advent feels more like Lent? 

If you, like me, entered into Advent and woke up in Lent, don’t worry. God is working in us to bring about much needed healing and growth that will be necessary for growing in holiness. There will be times in our lives, even as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, when we will have to wage interior battles. These intense periods often feel like a wrestling match because it is in these times when God is asking us to give something up or to give something over to Him that only He can heal or resolve. We desperately want to do it ourselves, but in reality Our Triune God is the only one who can resolve these areas of our lives. We are called to trust in Him and relinquish our grip.

The stresses of daily life, health issues, grief from the loss of a loved one, habitual sin, damaged relationships, the scandals rocking the Church, marital struggles, and a whole host of other situations can lead us to a period of aridity and struggle in the desert. The long nights of late fall, the frenetic energy of this time of year, and the suffering we carry means that this time of year can be particularly difficult for many of us. For those with no family or friends to celebrate the holidays with, the loneliness can become unbearable.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Come Christmas, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Sacred Scripture is filled with unlikely messengers. Men and women who are never the “right” messenger. They are too old, too young, too male, too female, not from the right town, not a priest, they are a priest, not a king, they are a king. There’s always something wrong with them according to their listeners. As we work our way through this final week of Advent towards the great feast of Christmas, we see many of God’s messengers who were simply cast aside or ignored because they didn’t fit the mold the listeners wanted. God works through those who are willing and often those are the people we least expect, but the people we need the most in that given moment. St. John the Baptist paved the way for us this past Sunday, but many did not like the message and he met with a prophet’s death.

Come Christmas it will be rough and tough shepherds in the field who will see and hear the heavenly hosts and “make haste.” It is the King of the Universe made flesh who will be placed in a food trough in a town that means House of Bread who will become our heavenly food. He is a king with no palace and no visible army. He is the prophet whose message is too difficult to bear and the priest who sacrifices Himself. Like the prophets before Him, He will not be the right messenger for many. When we focus too much on the messenger and not the message, when we allow ourselves to be blinded by our own fears and prejudices, we fail to see how God is working and we promptly ignore or get rid of the messenger and the message.

God works most efficaciously through the Sacraments and the prayers of the Church, but He works most prevalently in our daily lives through the people around us. It is in our neighbor that we see the light of Christ dwelling within. It is often our neighbor who is a messenger carrying a message that we need to hear, but they aren’t the messenger we want from God. We want God to operate on our pre-defined terms, which is the exact opposite of how He typically works in our lives.

Parents, for instance, often know that God uses our children to speak to us. There have been many times when I have made a mistake as a mother and God will use my daughter to remind me to do better. In our busy and distracted age it is often children who remind us to look up and look out at the beauty around us. God works through our spouses, our parents, brothers, sisters, friends, priests, and complete strangers. He seeks to reach us, but often we do not pay attention or we ignore it because we don’t like the messenger He chose in a given situation. How can he or she be the one God chose to deliver this message? Why her or him? It doesn’t matter. God chose them.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot because God asked me to be one of His messengers in a situation that is rather extraordinary. In fact, I still don’t understand why He chose me other than the fact that I was willing to do what needed to be done at all costs. That seems to be the requirement of doing God’s will and delivering a much needed message to someone. I am a fighter by nature and I’m willing to do what is necessary for charity when God asks it of me. That is all His doing. My willingness is the only reason I can somewhat understand why I was asked, but as is often the case, I wasn’t the “right” messenger. In fact, I’ve seldom been the “right” messenger. Most of us are never the “right” messenger in the moment we are asked to share what God wants us to share and so we can only hope that we’ve planted the seeds we were supposed to and pray and wait.

There is so much division in the Church right now that all we focus on is the messenger. They are too much of a bishop, too much of a priest, not a priest, not a member of the laity, too much a member of the laity, a woman, a man, a young woman, an old woman, a young man, an old man, and this goes on and on. We do not truly see one another as brothers and sisters. We see one another as “other” and so we continue to push one another away in fear, anger, blindness, and we allow the Enemy to create greater division between all of us. We allow the communion we share to be damaged or destroyed. We allow fear to destroy charity, forgetting that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

When are we going to stop and start listening to the message? Will we be able to hear the message come this Christmas if we are too focused on the message bearer? Do we focus so much on the message bearer themselves that we cannot see how and why God is using them to bring His love to us? Why do we not see the messenger as our brother or sister in Christ? We all do it. We all ignore the message because we don’t like the messenger or the message.

We don’t want the Divine Love to break in too much into our lives. We only want it to be just enough, but God never works with just enough. He pours Himself infinitely out upon us. We have to open ourselves up to Him. We have to turn the faucet on so the Divine Love can flow both within us and out towards others. Yes, He works with what we are able to handle, but often we don’t think we can handle as much as God knows we can handle. He seeks to stretch and challenge us in ways that are needed for us to progress in holiness. It hurts because we fight it. We think we can’t do it because we lack faith and trust.

When we come to celebrate the Christmas Liturgy together in a week’s time, let us open up our hearts, minds, and souls to the great Messenger, the Son of God, who came to dwell among us in order to unite us to Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The one who draws us into the Triune Love where our ultimate joy, peace, and fulfillment lies. Let’s see His messengers with the eyes of faith and charity rather than focusing on whether or not the priest is gifted in homiletics, the homily is well written, or the delivery is subpar. Let’s look at our neighbor who bears the imago Dei and allow God to show us His great love in a time of great pain, fear, and division. God loves us through our neighbor.

It is not us versus them. We should not assume or think the absolute worst in our neighbor. We need to remember that any division in our hearts comes from the Fall and from the Enemy. God does not seek to scatter. He seeks to draw us into deep, abiding communion with Him and with one another. God is not the God of fear. He is the God of peace. He will challenge us, but in ways that invite us to go deeper into His mystery and to go deeper into the Divine Love and love of neighbor.

Let’s pray for the fortitude to answer God’s call when He asks us to be one of His messengers. There’s usually a cost involved for us, some are small and some are much larger. Being a messenger requires sacrifice, especially since we will often be reviled, ignored, or cast out. We are all in good company when we look to Sacred Scripture and the saints. More than anything, we have Christ who was betrayed, abandoned, and crucified for us.

This Christmas let’s begin to work towards our neighbor rather than discarding or ignoring the messengers God places in our own lives. From one messenger to another let’s seek to open ourselves up to what God wants to show us through the people around us. Let’s take off our blinders, turn from fear, and bask in the glorious light God radiates to us through others. It is through the glorious message of Christmas that God reaches down to us, so that we can reach up towards Him and out towards one another.


The Answer to Division is Charity, Forgiveness, and Communion

Image taken from Wiki Commons

I’ve been spending this Advent trying to enter into stillness and waiting. I am very bad at both. I’m a person of action, so being told that I’m to sit still and wait for God’s mission for me has been difficult. It’s felt more like a wrestling match than stillness.

A lot has happened within my vocation and spiritually for me this year. In the last few months everything I thought I would be doing crumbled in front of me. My daughter is now in Catholic school, so I’m not homeschooling her any longer. She’s really happy in school, so it was the right move for her. I’m no longer serving in ministry and all projects I had in the works ceased except for one in February. Everything I thought I was supposed to be doing or would be doing collapsed and I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what God’s will and mission is for me now. Given the intensity of my spiritual life this year, there is clearly a mission, but I’m not ready for it yet. All I know is this: “Communion is the thing.”

This period came with a lot of turmoil, confusion, and pain for a whole host of reasons. In it all I’ve found myself meditating on how Christ forgives and how He moves past the horror we inflicted upon Him on the Cross and how we move past the pain we inflict upon one another. He doesn’t forget. When He appears in the Upper Room after the Resurrection He shows His disciples the wounds He received on the Cross, but He says Shalom, twice. Peace be with you.

He does not dwell at length on what transpired. He acknowledges it to them by showing them His wounds, but He extends His peace and then He gives His Apostles the ability to extend that very same peace and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession by the power of the office of Holy Orders. There is no vengeance. He knows they’ve betrayed and abandoned Him, but He extends His peace to them. He makes the healing move necessary back towards them even though He is the injured party. He seeks to forgive before forgiveness is even sought. He is quite literally the injured party as the Son of God and He in turn shows that He is forgiveness Itself.

This isn’t easy for us in our Fallen state. We want justice. We want people to actually care that they’ve hurt us. We want understanding. We want the charity we are entitled to as human beings. In reality, a lot of times, even in marriage, we don’t get it. We can’t make people care about the things they’ve done or even care about us as people. Since we are made imago Dei, we know at the deepest level that this is not how it is supposed to be, so we wrestle and fight back against those people who hurt us. Unfortunately, we also struggle with the urge to placate our wounded pride and ego. We battle the desire for vengeance, which comes from our sinful selves not the glory within.

The only way to stop this cycle is to move outwards. St. John of the Cross– whose feast day we celebrate today–said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” The answer to how we learn to forgive and still commune with others is self-emptying love. After one person hurt me considerably a few weeks ago, God immediately presented me with an opportunity to serve this person, to sacrifice for this person, and to share a gift with this person during a difficult time for them. I had a choice. Hold onto my pain and anger or give. Thanks be to God I chose to give. I chose to love. I don’t always, but all glory to God for any goodness within me!

It wasn’t easy at first, but it was precisely in my choosing to simply act in love towards this person that peace was restored and I no longer simply saw them as a person who had inflicted pain on me. The blindness that pain causes was lifted and I could see the person in front of me, not only my pain. It was my Shalom exhaled out and given to them. It didn’t fix what happened. Everything that has been done is done, but it halted the cycle of anger and division that erupted because of it. It healed the division that destroys communion. Yes, I still get twinges of pain from it, but because I chose to serve this person in love, it is much easier to accept that hurt when it arises and move past it in acceptance. Resentment towards others harms us and it harms others through our interactions with them.

We live in a time of great division in the Church. People are rightly hurting and angry about the sex abuse scandals, but the solution is not more division. The answer is communion grounded in charity. It means forgiving one another, even the horrific events that have transpired. Not because we turn a blind eye and not because we shouldn’t seek justice and truth, we must, but because the more we allow sinful anger, resentment, and fear to take the lead the more injustices will occur. If we aren’t careful we will run the risk innocent people getting hurt. If we aren’t careful, the division that the Enemy seeks to place between the clergy and the laity, the clergy and the clergy, and the laity and the laity will widen. This is about communion. How we respond together is going to shape the path forward.

We must demand the light be let into the dark places within the Church, but then we must be ready to work towards forgiveness. That blinding light will come with deep suffering for all of us as we confront those dark places, but it is a healing light. We must look to Our Lord’s example of how we are to forgive even the most egregious of sins. We murdered God and He came back in forgiveness. There is nothing another human being can commit that can pale in comparison to the horror and evil of this fact. Reform, justice, transparency, conversion, etc. are all needed, but we must be willing to come together in deeper communion in order to get there. These horrors should not cause us to scatter from one another. They must help bind us closer together in love of God and love of one another. 

There is a great temptation to resort to an “us versus them” mentality. This happens when the laity places itself in opposition with the clergy and views them with suspicion and paints all priests with broad unjust strokes. It happens when priests treat the laity as the enemy or as clueless about the realities and demands of the ministerial priesthood. This is exactly the same thing as when the laity argues we shouldn’t listen to priests about marriage and sexuality because Latin Rite priests are celibate. This type of thinking by all parties is destructive and causes division within the Church.

The laity and the clergy are complimentary and an integral part of the Mystical Body. There are no Sacraments without the ministerial priesthood and there are no members offering sacrifice and praise with and through them without the laity. There is no bringing the world into conformation with the Holy Trinity without both the clergy and the laity working together. There is no us and them. We are one body in Christ. We are all on the path to holiness together. We need to stop making assumptions and judgments about one another and draw more closely together. We need to move outwards in charity towards one another. Authentic charity, not sentimentality, superficiality, or banality. Rugged individualism or entrenching will only make things worse. We need one another.

Christ has given us the answer in the communion we share with one another. That communion will require sacrifice, forgiveness, and true charity of all of us. It will mean setting aside our pain so that we can move towards one another. It’s not only what God requires of us, it is the very answer we are seeking. Our pain is healed by acting in self-emptying love and forgiveness. It is healed by choosing caritas over and over again. This isn’t sentimentality that makes us feel good about ourselves. This is the nitty gritty difficult path that we are actually called to. It requires everything from us. The darkness we are descending into as the Mystical Body will mean that we need to stay bound to one another guided by the healing Light of Christ. Communion is the very thing that God will use to strengthen, guide, and purify His Church during these dark days, but we must be willing to come together regardless of the costs.

The Cross: The Answer We Don’t Really Want

The entire litmus test for this life is the very one we don’t want. It’s love or charity (caritas). It is the very meaning of our lives. It is what grounds every moment of every day, but even as we say it’s what we want, we are also repelled by it. Why? Love always costs us everything. Love is the Cross.

As Christians, we believe that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took on human flesh in the Incarnation in order to bring about our salvation by dying on the wood of a Cross and rising again from the dead three days later. This is the absolute center of our faith. We proclaim it in the Nicene Creed (or Apostle’s Creed) at every Mass. We give our Amen when the priest extends to us the body and blood of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, declaring our belief in this reality. It surrounds us completely, but the Cross itself is largely held at arms length in our lives.

We don’t really want it and by extension we don’t really want the demands of love. Our culture is obsessed with love. Free love, everyone should be able to love, etc, but we don’t want actual love. The love that underpins all of existence is not based on feelings, sentiment, or warm fuzzy emotions, it is based on self-emptying. It is based on suffering. It is to forget one’s self for another’s good.

Of course we don’t want that love. It hurts. It requires everything we have and more. Love is to sit by your husband’s hospital bed wondering if you will be planning his funeral soon, but to enter into the pain of that moment anyway. Love is pouring out everything for the stranger who wants to abort her baby, but who God has called you to walk beside as you grieve the loss of the child you desperately wanted even to the point of giving this stranger all of your own baby items because God required it of you. It is the searing pain that cuts so deep we don’t think we will survive. It is pouring out everything we have and our entire being to God and others.

It is to willingly wage an intense battle against powers and principalities for someone who can’t understand that depth of charity because love in essence is to desire that those around us become saints. Worldly, even sinful inversions of love, are easier to understand than hard fought holy love in this Fallen world. That kind of love we flee from because that’s the love that comes from God. Love truly is to will the good of the other, even when that good is rejected and we are left alone. I know this not only as a theologian. More than anything, I know it as a Christian disciple who has seen this play out time-and-time-again in my own life. It is the Cross God has called me to. It is the Cross He handed to me when I quite literally held His True Cross in my hands, not once, but twice. Both times producing the same result.

We want our safety. We want comfortable Christianity where we don’t have to risk much, especially in a time when we are all trying to stay above water. All of us in the Church are treading water. The real answers are hard ones and they require us to move from our complacency to the path we were always supposed to be walking: the path to sainthood. It is personal holiness and deeper communion that will bring about the much needed purgation and renewal in the Church, but these are the two things we don’t want to have to do.

All of us want easier answers. We want to be able to point a finger at someone else and blame them for the mess we are in, when in truth, we are in this mess because all of us have failed to live up to the call Christ gave to us in our Baptism; when we died to self and became a new creation in Christ. The call to holiness means confronting the darkness within us and allowing Christ to transform us. It means enduring the pain and agony of the Cross so that our brokenness can be purified and refined so that it is holy and pleasing to God.

The Enemy wants all of these dark places to hold us back, to keep us trapped, and afraid. Shame and fear are how the Enemy keeps us from moving forward into deeper love of God and of others. What the leaders in the Church–and all of us–fail to see is that if we allow the light of God to penetrate all of our weaknesses, darkness, and failings then He will give us the strength to get back up and begin again. We are not held back by God for our failings. We are strengthened through them and our love is purified, so that we can love as He loves.

It is through trials and the struggles that love deepens. This is what the saints understood better than us. They knew that the only way to grow in love of God and others is to be willing to fight the good fight, knowing they’d fail at times. Through this fight, through embracing the Cross, they came to see that they became entirely dependent on God, entered fully into His love, and by extension came to love others with the love of Christ. To do so, they chose to enter the fight that is the path to holiness. The same fight you and I are called to today.

In order to grow in holiness and in order for us to love one another as Christ loves we must embrace the very thing we are all desperately fleeing from the same way the vast majority of the Apostles did: the Cross. We must be willing to suffer together, confront our failings together, battle the world, the Enemy, and ourselves together, and be willing to fight the most intense fight of our lives. We must be willing to allow our love to be intense–even though it’s terrifying–and we must be willing to endure and persevere in our love for God and others.

There is a reason battle imagery is used so often in spiritual warfare throughout the Church’s history. We are in a war and most of us–including our leaders–are blind to it. We have come to believe that most of what goes on in our lives is material, when in truth, most of what goes on in our lives is supernatural. That temptation you or I battle often is the lie of the Enemy. He will attempt to seduce us, lie to us, accuse us, and shame us. And the more we become aware of it, the more intense the battle becomes because the last thing he wants is for us to be able to see him or his minions in the open. We underestimate how much he hates us. More than anything we underestimate the power of Christ to transform us through such hardships and fights.

Every aspect of our spiritual lives is tied to the Cross in this life. We enter into those Crosses in confident hope because we know that all will be made right in the end. We know that the battles we wage now, the victories and the losses, will be used by God for His plan and as a reflection of His glory. This is why we can praise him in our pain, trials, failings, rejections, betrayals, and afflictions. We know the pain now will give way to joy, even if it is not until the next life. In order to enter into this reality, we must be willing to play the long game. We must be willing to accept that we may not see victory in this life. Instead, we must fix our eyes on Christ crucified–our thorny-crowned Captain–and walk deeper into the piercing love He shows us by His sacrifice. It is why even if everyone around us rejects us, we can go on in faith, hope, and charity.

None of this is easy. We will want to quit. There are countless times, especially in the last few years, when I have had to fight through a lot of pain and confusion in prayer. I’ve repeatedly asked God if I can walk away when an affliction, hardship, or temptation seems to be too much for me. His response is always the same. “Yes, Constance, you can walk away or you can learn to love as I love.” Every single time without fail this is what Our Lord tells me in prayer.

He told me the same thing when I almost resigned from my ministry last week. The same thing whenever I’ve been hurt and betrayed by others, when I had to watch my husband suffer, when I had to give all I had to a stranger, when I agonized over the loss of my four babies, when I’ve held my daughter in her agonies, when I have been mocked, derided, or the victim of gossip, when I have felt alienated because of the depth of my charity and my desire to bring people deeper into the mystery of God, or when a friend admitted to me recently that she had betrayed me and abandoned me for a while because the intensity of my faith life and my charity proved too much for her at the time (all unbeknownst to me). The latter is all God’s doing. Any goodness and love in me comes from Him.

In essence what is God saying? He’s saying “Get back up. I’ve called you to love.” That’s what is required of you, me, and of all of us. It’s as simple and as deeply painful as that. When I feel the most beaten down, when I want to quit, God reminds me to keep going. The answer to all of our questions is love. We are to love with everything we have and more through grace. We can only love if we are willing to hurt. Love is not a remote, distant endeavor. Willing the good of another is to see them for all of the good and bad within them and still desire to see them succeed on the only path that matters: heaven. It’s to walk together despite those failings. This means forgiveness is necessary and it must be extended freely and repeatedly. We are all meant to help each other succeed. This is something married couples know well and it’s something real friends come to embrace once they see what real friendship is supposed to look like.

As brothers and sisters in Christ we are meant to fight side-by-side, not with one another. We are not in competition with one another. Our goal is supposed to be the same for all of us. Before we can embrace that goal, we must first ask God to place us firmly on the path to holiness and pray for the grace and strength to endure what will be required of us. It’s not an easy path. We can’t go into it thinking it will be or we will fail utterly. Instead, we must come to see that Our Lord is everything and then order our lives around that reality. Once we give everything to Him, we can embark on the journey and in so doing begin to walk with those around us. We can go on the journey because Christ is the one walking beside us.

As God works in each one of our lives to transform us into the saints we are meant to be, we will see our parishes flourish. We will see the renewal we all desire begin to unfold slowly in God’s time. We will see the love of the Cross transform all of this darkness into a new dawn. We will see the world through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of Christ, and we will be able to love as He loves. This is the answer we are seeking, but it’s the one we don’t want, because at the very center, looming large, is the Cross.

The Struggle to Write as God Intensifies My Spiritual Life

I have received quite a few emails and comments from readers encouraging me to keep writing. I’ve read every single one of them even if I didn’t get a chance to respond to you personally. I greatly appreciate your messages!

The past few months have been a time of rather intense and immense spiritual growth all of which God has accomplished in me. He gets all credit, honor, and glory. He’s taken me to places I never could have imagined, expected, or even known that I desired. He’s also required a very deep purging and purification on my part in various areas. It’s been intense. He’s not even close to finished with that process. All of this is aimed at Him answering my prayer to be able to love as He loves and to become a saint one day.

The things that have gone on I have shared in bits and pieces with a few different people and my priests know small parts, one as my Confessor and the other as my spiritual director. I don’t fully understand what God is asking of me at this point in time, so I’ve been careful in what I tell different people, for good reason. And the full extent is only known by God and me. Although, I’m slowly entrusting more-and-more to my spiritual director.

When God is asking us to grow in charity towards Him and others, betrayal and rejection are inevitable. In fact, it seems to become more common. It’s one of the ways He challenges us to grow in love. Going deeper into divine love and by extension fraternal charity is deeply scary. It’s one of the reasons the Apostles fled. It’s one of the reasons our impulse in those instances is to flee, whether we encounter it in others or God asks it of us. I have had to fight with every ounce of my being not to flee from what God has been asking of me and doing in my life. It is only in standing firm that I get anywhere. When I allow fear to take hold, I fall.

My constant friend and companion along this journey–the one I’ve found who understands what I’m going through right now–is St. Teresa of Avila. St. Therese is also a strong force in my spiritual life. God showed me at Adoration this past week that He has led me to the second water, once again through no merit of my own. This means that a stillness I’ve never known has entered my soul, even as I was deeply hurt by multiple people this week in my effort to serve Christ as He wants. I still cried a lot, but a steadiness and peace stayed with me even as I endured the pain. He’s given me the grace to pray for every single one of them, to forgive, and to accept the pain it’s caused that I know will pass in time. It was quite providential that these were the two verses God had me pray with over the last few days. It was all God’s doing that I started praying through the First Letter of St. Peter this week given what I found myself up against on multiple occasions:

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:12-14

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

“Let your love for one another be intense” this is actually a different translation than the one I’ve been praying with, but it’s more fitting. A friend of mine recently told me that the intensity of my love and the intensity of my spiritual life will lead to me being rejected by a lot of people. No, I’m not a mystic. That isn’t what I mean. She wrote me a letter explaining something she had discerned through the help of St. Therese and St. Faustina in prayer where she was told to holdfast as my friend, even if it’s difficult. She doesn’t understand my spiritual life, but she’s willing to walk beside me.

She then confessed that she herself had betrayed me and distanced herself from me and my friendship for a year because of what friendship with me demanded from her. She saw her spiritual life change dramatically by being in my company, unbeknownst to me and through no fault of my own. It was all God’s doing. I was completely ignorant until a few weeks ago. Her revelation to me hurt me a lot, but God used it to fortify me for what is to come. Even though her words to me were a warning that my spiritual life would be deeply difficult, it’s given me a glimpse and helped me to understand in a small way what I’m going to be up against because of the path God has called me to. A path I could never have foreseen.

Her letter helped me to see how many of my relationships have played out and how they are continuing to play out in this way. By virtue of the personality and soul God has given to me, real (holy) friendship with me requires a swimming into the depths. It’s not something I intended, but it is apparently something God wants because those depths are in fact to seek true charity grounded in communion with Christ. It is only this year that I realized how my blog came to be called Swimming the Depths. God is asking me, and some of the people around me, to go into the deep and that is terrifying. I’ve pulled back and pushed back a lot, but when I finally let go God gives me the fortitude, charity, and peace that I need in specific circumstances in order to allow Him to work in my life. How often we impede God’s working in our lives through our fear and blindness!

Part of going into the depths is the willingness to go deeper into charity. When our love for others is “intense” it is actually much easier to forgive. The radiant love of God welling up and surging forth from inside of us burns away the iniquities of those around us from our sight. That doesn’t mean we don’t still hurt and mistrust, but it does mean that we can in charity–through grace–extend the forgiveness the person needs whether they are aware of it or not at the time. This ability is a grace that only can come from God since our immediate response to pain and betrayal is to walk away from those people. Instead, holy love requires us to stand fast even as the other person rejects us, even when they cannot see what God has allowed you to see.

Much of this probably makes little sense. It is the reason that whenever I have thought about writing, I cannot summon the words. I have to force myself to write my weekly contribution for Catholic Exchange right now because words keep failing me. Whenever I’ve tried to in some way explain a piece of it, I keep hearing ‘that’s nice, but I don’t understand what you are saying.’ Or worse, ‘depart from me.’ With the exception of the few instances of the Holy Spirit working through my Confessor and my spiritual director and the willingness of my friend to listen even as she doesn’t understand. My husband and I are very different spiritually and while his guidance has been indispensable, it’s still difficult for me to articulate to him.

I’ve also been beaten down a lot by the envy of other people and I must admit it’s brutal. This is not to make me sound like a victim. I’m not. It’s simply that I did not expect it and so I’ve had to learn to make peace with that reality so that I can push forward in God’s mission for me despite the very large obstacles that have been put in my path. I never knew until recently that spiritual envy is a thing. I can’t claim to be holy, but I’ve known holy people and my desire is to be like them, not to destroy them.

Growing spiritually can require us to go it alone wholly dependent on Christ for a while. It doesn’t mean that we isolate ourselves. That would violate what we are a part of in the Mystical Body, but it means that we may have to keep things to ourselves that we’d love to share simply because the people around us are not ready or do not want to hear it. It’s the difference between those who are to be fed on milk and those who are ready for solid food, as St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Hebrews. It can be a rather lonely path at times, but thankfully Christ makes up what is lacking. Please pray for me as I pray for you.