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.

When God Tests Us to Prepare Us for a Mission

How does God prepare us for the mission He has in mind for us? One of the ways He does this is by testing us. God allows certain things to happen in our lives to see if we will be faithful and endure what He is asking of us. He uses suffering, temptations, weaknesses, failures, and battles in order to strengthen us and to show us the path He is calling us to walk. The last year of my life has been one of those tests.

While I was in the midst of this period of testing, I didn’t understand what was going on. I experienced the most beautiful consolations coupled with intense spiritual warfare off-and-on for months. The worst of it hit when the scandals began to break last summer. There were times I thought I was going crazy or had somehow found myself in very serious spiritual danger. I had periods of immense fear, but I learned that it was by confronting this fear head on and taking a firm stand that peace and strength would flood into my soul. The more fortitude God gave to me the greater my capacity for charity towards others grew. It was during this testing that I learned tangibly “perfect love casts out all fear.”

I had experiences in Confession that were nothing short of surreal. I could hear God clearly pushing me forward time-and-time-again in Confession. No period of my life has been anything like this past year. Thankfully, God provided me with a much needed spiritual director–one of my parish priests–to help me navigate these very rough and confusing seas.

Even as I struggled to understand what was happening to me, God continued to tell me to endure and persevere. All I could hear very clearly in my prayer was that God was calling me “to love as He loves.” So I pushed on, despite periods of spiritual warfare that brought me to my knees. I focused on learning to love as He loves even though I did not know where He was leading me.

About a month ago, God clearly broke in at a Mass being celebrated in honor of Epiphany at our local Madonna House. I could see Christ very clearly in the priest celebrating the Mass. This has been a common theme of what has been going on with me spiritually, but it has been rather intense at certain times and I’ve not been able to understand what is going on. I’m not very good at pondering–a Marian trait that she is teaching me that I must learn–because I analyze everything. I’m systematic in the way I think and that is useless when faced with God breaking into my life in such profound ways.

Later in the afternoon on the same day, I was cleaning out our family van to prepare it to sell when I picked up a Rosary for Priests that had been tucked away in a pocket on the passenger’s side. I immediately saw the connection between what had happened at Mass and why this pamphlet was now in my hands. I didn’t fully understand, but God was showing me the way and I had finally opened myself up enough to Him for Him to show me what He is asking of me.

That day I began praying the Rosary for priests every single day and some days all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. A couple of weeks later I was talking to my husband about all of my friends having sons and how much I always wanted a son to give to the priesthood, but I now understand that God is not going to answer that prayer. My husband looked at me and said: “I think you are supposed to be a spiritual mother to priests. It seems like what you’ve been going through is because of that. You see priests in a completely different way than most people.” I laughed. In my own ridiculous pride I responded with: “Our priest is 11 years older than I am. How am I supposed to do that? Sisterhood is much easier for me to understand especially since I was in the military.” He shook his head in the way he does when he knows I’m being stubborn and blind.

The next day I happened to be scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when an article caught my attention written by one of my fellow Catholic Exchange contributors, Kathleen Beckman: “Spiritual Battles Beg For Spiritual Responses.” I read it and immediately understood what God is asking of me. I told my husband what I had read and he told me to I order her book right away.

Since I’m a little slow and stubborn, God made sure that I got the message loud and clear when the following day I went to Confession with my regular Confessor. During that Confession he told me that it seems as though I’ve found my secondary vocation to pray and fight for the priesthood. He even referenced St. Therese who he knows I have a devotion to. I had to laugh, as did my husband, since it took me no less than three signs in the same week to finally get what God was trying to tell me.

Why did God finally reveal this secondary vocation to me after everything I’ve been through? It’s because I was finally ready and because I battled through every single test that presented itself. Before I could be ready, I had to make it through the most difficult, especially in times like these, which is the temptation to division. God needed me to understand that I must be willing to engage in this fight for His priests no matter what happens. No matter what I must endure. No matter how much I get hurt. No matter if I get rejected, betrayed, cast off, ridiculed, gossiped about, or endure periods of intense spiritual warfare. This battle is not about me. It’s about His priests and His will.

I needed to learn that in a time when the priesthood is under immense demonic attack and when the lures of the world are a great temptation for them as much as for us, when horrors are coming out about the evils committed by some priests and bishops, when the weaknesses, apathy, and corruption of some are creating deep wounds within the Mystical Body and within the priesthood itself, God needed me to clearly understand what I was undertaking. He needed me to be willing to say: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” For me to be willing to do whatever He asks of me and to endure and persevere regardless of what gets thrown my way and regardless of what the Enemy tries to do to me.

The fight for the priesthood is a spiritual one and it is the front lines of the spiritual war today. I’ve been in the abortion fight for years and the spiritual warfare I experienced in that battle is nothing compared to what I endure fighting for priests in prayer, sacrifice, and in supporting them. The Enemy will use any and all means to prevent this mission because he hates the priesthood.

When God calls us to a mission, He tests our mettle to make sure we can handle what is asked of us. More than anything, it is a test to show us that we must rely solely on Him. In this fight, it is also essential to be thoroughly immersed in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She crushes the head of the serpent and she battles for her sons in the priesthood. She is our guide in this war and she will lead us ever more deeply into the Sacred Heart of Her Son.

Like all missions, I had a choice that I had to make. God wasn’t going to force me to make it. He simply showed me the way and then I had to make the choice. After the trials, temptations, moments of anger, frustration, confusion–even consolations can be very confusing!–suffering, and pain, it was only then that I could see that the battle is worth it. That’s often how things work. We don’t think it’s worth the pain in the moment. We want to walk away or flee. It’s much easier to write off something as too difficult, but God purifies us through suffering. It is only through willingly enduring everything God asks of us that we grow in deeper charity, faith, and hope.

When I stepped back and looked over the past year or more, I realized that I’ve already been living this vocation, but I’ve not understood it as God’s call for me. Even so, the battle has only just begun. I must rely on Christ and Our Lady to show me what is being asked of me and learn to do it in humble obedience and charity. A vocation is always a dying to self. It is where we learn to place others before ourselves. I’ve already learned this lesson once in this new vocation, but it is an essential aspect of all vocations that God gives to us. We cannot accept a mission from Him if we are not willing to learn to die to self.

This secondary vocation is directly tied to my primary vocation of wife and mother. By sacrificing and praying throughout my day for the priesthood and any specific priests God assigns to me throughout my lifetime, I also offer up my husband and my daughter. The suffering we endure because of my husband’s illness and the pain of my miscarriages and lost hopes of a son for the priesthood can now be united to the Church’s need for holy priests and the very real needs of priests themselves. These two vocations bring peace and joy since they are so intertwined. I’m thankful that God has entrusted so great a mission to me and to countless others.


Catholic Exchange: Our Ego Keeps Us from the Greatness We Were Made For

Our souls are expansive. They are able to reach depths that we cannot fully fathom. When we begin to see this part of ourselves we often experience fear and awe. We do not know what to do with this part of ourselves because we are often blind to it in our daily lives. We are blind to it  because — more often than any of us would like to admit  — we allow our ego to rule us.

The ego keeps us from seeing the great love God has for us and the gift of giving ourselves over to others in love. The ego keeps us from the greatness we are made for. It keeps us blind to the true depths within each one of us.

The ego is where all of our fear, pride, vanity, grasping, envy, and selfishness dwell. It is the part of us that tells us to cling to what we want no matter what, even to the point of discarding and hurting other people. Our egos keep us from loving the people around us as we should because we’d rather hold onto some small modicum of control than give freely to the people God puts in our path.

Center of the Universe

It is within our vocations whether lay, religious, or priestly that we learn to confront this part of ourselves.

The ego causes us to place ourselves at the center of the universe. It leads us to grasp at the smallest and pettiest of things, because when we allow our ego to be at the center of our being unchecked, we live in a place of fear and distrust; we see God and others as a threat. Bishop Robert Barron in his book And Now I See explains:

“But what exactly is the problem with the way we think and see?…perhaps a simple answer can be given in these terms: we see and know and perceive with a mind of fear rather than with a mind of trust. When we fear, we cling to who we are and what we have; when we are afraid, we see ourselves as the threatened center of a hostile universe, and thus we violently defend ourselves and lash out at potential adversaries. And fear — according to so many of the biblical authors and so many of the mystics and theologians of our tradition — is a function of living our lives at the surface level, a result of forgetting our deepest identity.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Turning the Other Cheek in a Digital Age

The Internet and mainstream media have been set ablaze with the latest outrage that seems to be manufactured every five minutes. Each side rushes to judgment and paints the other group as the villain. Meanwhile supporters canonize the person or persons they agree with and the vitriol reaches an intensity that should startle every person of goodwill. Round-and-round it goes, this cycle of anger in our culture and even within the Church.

This piece is not specifically about the Covington Catholic controversy. Nor will I make any judgments about what transpired. The aim of this piece is to offer an alternative tactic that goes back to Our Lord Himself, but that is applicable in an age when any one of us could become the topic of a social media frenzy should a video be taken of us that could provide an ambiguous depiction of us that can easily be taken out of context or manipulated to appease the angry masses.

Our careers could be ruined, our families and friends threatened, and we could become the target of the social media mob if we are not careful. If you think I’m overreacting, keep in mind that I happen to pray regularly at the Planned Parenthood where a teenager was assaulted during a 40 Days for Life campaign that made national news. A town of 90,000 people. That video became viral in a matter of minutes and people were ready to draw and quarter those involved depending on what political side they happened to be on. This is what it is like to live an an age of never-ending digital consumption and intentionally manufactured outrage. Someone is always watching, even when we don’t think that is the case.

There are some situations during which we can’t avoid confrontation. However, while I was at the March for Life, I witnessed and exercised an approach that will help us to avoid becoming social media fodder in the future. It’s how Our Lord responded to similar situations that arose during His ministry and Passion. It is one we seldom want to use because we all desire tangible justice.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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.