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: Why the Culture Wars Don’t Evangelize Souls

200816_-_Interior_of_Saint_Bartholomew_church_in_Andrzejewo_-_painting_Jesus_I_trust_in_You_-_01

Image taken from Wiki Commons.

I recently started reading Bishop Robert Barron and John L. Allen Jr.’s book To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. I’ve read quite a few of Bishop Barron’s more theological books and I own both the Catholicism series and the most recent Pivotal Players series. He approaches evangelization in a deeply human and intuitive way. Many of his experiences are similar to my own. He emphasizes the beauty, depth, and richness of our Catholic Faith.

As I’ve written here before, beauty has had a foundational and significant impact on not only my reversion, but my spiritual journey as a whole. All of these experiences of beauty are grounded in Christ, most especially through an encounter both body and soul with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Barron leads with the beauty of the Faith fully realized in an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is a message that is so desperately needed in a culture that largely does not know how to relate to the beautiful, the good, and the true.

For Catholics one of the biggest mistakes we make in evangelization is getting too caught up in the culture wars. I made this mistake for a few years after my reversion. I thought: “If only we could explain Theology of the Body to people, then people would stop contracepting, ignoring Church teaching, the young would come back to the Church, etc.” Theology of the Body did have a profound impact on both me and my husband, but it didn’t cause my reversion. It took me a while to understand what took place within me that led me to give my life over to Christ and fully accept what the Church teaches.

The answer quite simply is that I had a real and tangible encounter with Jesus Christ. I saw Him through the beauty of the Mass. I wanted to give my life to Him because He had pierced me utterly at the deepest levels of my soul. I fell in love with Him and His Church. Only then was I ready to say: “Here, Lord. I give everything to you, even my sexuality.” Far too often, we lead with the Church’s doctrine and it doesn’t work. People are not converted by great moral theology, they are converted because they fall in love with Jesus Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it best in Deus Caritas Est:

Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.

Those of us who are actively following Christ as disciples did not become Christian or remain Christian because we fell in love with ethics and the moral law. Instead, we fell in love with Christ and came to understanding all the demands placed upon us through Love. When we love others, we seek to empty ourselves. In our relationship with Christ, we are not only turning to Him in self-emptying love, we are conforming ourselves to Him, we are becoming more like Him. It is this self-emptying and desire to be in conformation to Him that leads us to throw our birth control pills away, give up lying and cheating, seek chastity, stop stealing, turn away from materialism and the lies of the culture in order to repent.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Leading People to Christ Rarely Begins with Teaching Sexual Ethics

Parish_church_-_Sacred_Heart_chapel_Urtijei

Image taken from Wiki Commons.

As I scroll through my social media feed looking at the day’s news, I am struck by the sheer commonality of the sin of presumption on display. It appears that far too many of us–myself included at times–do not understand Our Lord’s admonition that we are not to judge other people. I don’t mean this as a form of secular tolerance, which is a form of relativism. I mean that we make actual assumptions and judgments about whole people–not behavior–constantly. This is one of the main reasons that dialogue and discourse devolves so quickly into ad hominem attacks online.

First, we cannot presume that we know someone or what they are going to do who we have only “met” online. Online communication only provides a glimpse into the complex lives of human beings. As I have written recently, authentic friendship requires something that social media cannot provide: presence. There is no way to fully come to know a person without spending time together in person at some point. The Internet provides the illusion of full connectivity, but really is only a shadow of communion.

In reality, we seldom know the deepest and most complex aspects of the people who are in our lives. Spouses, no matter how close, still largely remain a mystery to one another since they are still unique individuals–body and soul–who are united in the one-flesh union. God still works differently in each soul and that means by default that we are shrouded in mystery and depth, even though we assume that we know or understand another person completely. Even in the deepest of relationships both familial and fraternal, there are aspects of each human being that are only known by God.

This is something that should humble us when we encounter each person throughout our day. We are meeting another person made in the image and likeness of God who is capable of the greatest love and the most extreme wickedness. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Our bodies with all of their marvels are also fraught with imbalance, weakness, and decay. Our souls must learn to strive to bring our bodies into right order and to put the spiritual goods above the bodily. We are both body and soul after all. We forget all of the factors at play in each individual’s life and in our own folly, we think we can fully know and understand another person.

This is the type of pride that leads to presumption. I’m not speaking of presumption of heaven here. I’m talking about presuming, or assuming, that we know what another person will do, think, say, or who they are as a person. I have been a part of so many online discussions and situations in person where I have assumed I knew what someone was going to do or that this person or that will always choose this way or that way. This type of thinking is extremely destructive in relationships.

More-often-than-not, our assumptions about other people are our own projections, prejudices, weaknesses, or judgments because we don’t agree with the other person. Disagreement is fine and good, judging a whole person and discarding them based on pre-conceived notions is wrong. Even if someone commits grave evil, we still have an obligation to learn to forgive and love them as ourselves. This doesn’t mean they will necessarily be a close friend or family member, but it does mean that we discard any judgment we harbor that belongs to God. We can say objectively that a behavior is sinful, but we don’t discard people simply because of sinful behavior. By God’s grace, anyone can undergo conversion of heart. We also don’t assume that people will always choose evil, or will always make the same mistakes, or that they are a lost cause. This is to give up hope, which is the sin of despair.

I was reading a thread this morning talking about the friendship between Robert George and Fr. James Martin, which got me thinking about both presumption and how much preaching sexual ethics primarily is a misguided form of evangelization. I largely disagree with the ambiguity in Fr. Martin’s teaching. I think lack of clarity is dangerous and that charity demands that we clearly and proudly proclaim the truth Christ has revealed to us. Even so, my disagreement with Fr. Martin is about his ideas and his teaching. I do not discard him as a person and pass judgment upon him. I have no idea what he will do or say in the future.

As I read this thread, people were complaining that Dr. George’s befriending Fr. Martin was a waste of time. ‘He clearly ignores Church teaching and George will be made to look a fool when Martin comes out openly supporting “same sex marriage.” To be fair to Fr. Martin, his ambiguity has kept him from outright heterodoxy. He makes the typical mistake in a misguided approach to accompaniment in thinking that compassion equates to confirming identity politics and that telling people outright the truth is hurtful. Christ wouldn’t agree with him. Any cursory reading of the Gospels makes this clear.

It is fine to disagree with Fr. Martin–I do–it is another to presume that he will become an outride heretic in the future, which is what I read this morning. He is already being judged by the court of social media. Our Faith should teach us something very important about this life. Our conversion and the conversion of everyone else on this planet is always a work in progress. Saul persecuted Christians and then had a radical encounter with Christ and became St. Paul. St. Augustine lived the live of debauchery and sexual immorality and became a Doctor of the Church. Sexual immorality doesn’t preclude conversion. Just because our sins are not the same as our neighbor’s does not mean that conversion is impossible for them.

I suspect Fr. Martin is making the same evangelical mistake that those who oppose him on the right make in trying to convert the culture. That is, assuming that talking about sex is going to lead to conversion. Nobody reads the Bible and thinks “I get it. I need to temper my sex life!” to borrow from the thinking of Bishop Robert Barron, whose understanding of evangelization is similar to my own. You don’t lead with sexual ethics. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work and there’s a reason why it doesn’t work.

Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics. It is about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who has given the world a Church, the Catholic Church. This encounter with Christ draws people into the life of the Church, which requires each person to completely upend their lives. Becoming a Christian is deeply demanding and enters into every single aspect of our lives. Conversion starts with an encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, once we are in love with Him and desire to give our lives to Him, we can begin to see where we need to change our lives to be conformed and in communion with Him.

Without this encounter and deep friendship with God, our faith becomes stale, oppressive, and heavy. Our love of God will show us how to live sexual morality and to do it in self-emptying love, even though it can be difficult. Without this encounter Christianity becomes a list of rules to check off, which often is an empty shell. Faith is dynamic. It dramatically changes our lives for the better, but we can’t convince people of this truth unless they come to know Christ first and sexual ethics in light of the love they have for Christ.

Everyone who obsesses about Fr. Martin and who presumes to be able to read his soul–which is a rather large sin–gets pulled into this same mistake. Reaching people who are struggling with all forms of sexual sin–homosexuality is not somehow worse morally than other sexual sins such as adultery or heterosexual fornication–is never going to happen if we aren’t leading with Christ. He is the only one who can help us conquer the darkness and weakness within each one of us. Falling in love with Him is what gives us the strength and grace we need to move past our sins. It’s a life-long process, but if we never introduce people to the saving message of the Gospel, then they can’t see a way out and it seems impossible to overcome something that appears at first glance to be so tied to our identity.

Christ is risen! We have been saved by the power of the Paschal Mystery and we are spiritually fed in the Holy Eucharist, which is Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we fall–which we will do repeatedly–we can go to the Sacrament of Confession to be forgiven, to learn more about ourselves, and to be made new. Everyone can in fact be a saint by God’s grace. That is the universal call for each and every single person and that desires is enkindled by coming to love God and to accept the infinite love that He pours out on each one of us day-in-and-day-out.

Sometimes our sins seem impossible and the battles we wage spiritually and bodily are so intense that we think we cannot get back up ever again, or we have convinced ourselves that we are incapable of change or progress, and that God made us a certain way and that’s the way it is. These are the lies of the Enemy and the lies we tell ourselves. He is the radiant Truth in the face of these lies. Christ is the answer. He is the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the One who leads us through the storms of life and who strengthens us in the battles we must wage.

This life is the Cross, but it is lived in the hope and joy found in Him. In the immense joy and peace He offers. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, hurt, have dry spells or dark nights, be greatly tempted, sin and fall, but it does mean we will persevere and that one day we will enter into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. It means that we will become who He made us to be. Our weaknesses, sins, temptations, proclivities, etc. have been washed in His blood and in the end we will be as pure as snow if we follow Him. That’s the hope we offer to a dying world. Teaching sexual morality is essential for helping people to learn how to live as a Catholic, but we need to lead people to Christ first. Nobody died a martyr purely for sexual ethics. They died for love of Jesus Christ, so why aren’t we lifting Him up and drawing people to Him?

Suicide, Depression, and the Need for Christ in the Culture

Depression and suicide are in the news again this week as two high profile people took their own lives: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Being a woman who loathes purses and prefers cargo pants and capris for carrying things, I don’t know much about Kate Spade. I have watched multiple shows of Anthony Bourdain’s and found them quite interesting, although I must confess, he never struck me as a particularly happy person underneath it all.

If you want to know more about people, pay attention to their eyes. I try to make very direct eye contact with people for four reasons. First, it makes me a better listener and forces me to listen more closely to what someone is saying to me. Second, it lets the person know that they have my full attention. Third, I learn a lot about people from their eyes. I can read moods more clearly and see when underneath it all, someone is struggling or when they are happy or content. I have also discovered the holiest people I know through their eyes. There is a distinct quality to them and we have to pay attention since these people also tend to be the most unassuming and quiet. Fourthly, it helps me to connect at a deeper level with people, especially my friends. Give it a try. You may be able to help someone who is going through a difficult time because you see past their words to the actual person, including someone fighting clinical depression.

Mental illness is a topic that is hard for me to articulate and it’s not something that I see easy solutions to. It is extremely complex and comes from physiological, emotional, genetic, environmental, behavioral, and spiritual dimensions. There is no one-size fits all solution.

I’ve had two very serious bouts with clinical depression. One in 2004 when I was diagnosed with PTSD from being a 9/11 relief worker, which also came with clinical depression. And 3.5 years of debilitating postpartum depression and anxiety after I had Michaela and which every miscarriage I had made worse.

Mine is not chronic. It is tied to hormones and situations. I’ve been out of it for a while now and while I have a melancholic, introvert nature and the long darkness of December drives me crazy, I no longer have clinical depression. I have friends and family who do, however.

I firmly believe the answer ultimately rests in Christ. Not as a cure, but as the Source of hope, faith, strength, and perseverance. I wouldn’t have made it through my dark nights without Him and the help of His Mother. Being a Catholic allows us to transform our suffering through the Cross. It is redemptive and that means everything when you are in a very dark abyss, and that’s exactly what clinical depression is in that moment, in my experience. The abyss robs people of hope and without Christ it is very difficult to even find hope in the darkness. We need to bring the light to those trapped in the abyss of mental illness and others in despair.

And as unpopular as it might seem, I don’t think all suicide is the result of clinical depression. There are people who kill themselves out of spite, broken-hearts, fear, financial distress, and the list goes on and on. Clinical depression is a whitewash we put on an extremely complex issue. It helps to assuage our guilt, and just like all of the other ills in our culture, it keeps us from any real and lasting introspection. There are absolutely a lot of people who commit suicide from mental illness, but not all.

No matter the needs of an individual in their treatment plan, we have an obligation to be sharing the Good News in a world of despair. Why aren’t we evangelizing more? We have the answer to the longing of every human heart: Christ Jesus. He may not cure those who are mentally ill, but He will certainly shoulder the burden and bring each person to the unending joy of everlasting life. That’s Who and what we are made for and we can only find true and lasting happiness in communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Lord’s love burns at an unimaginable intensity for each one of us. He is gently calling all people to Himself. As His disciples, we must go out and share this great burning love with the people in our lives. Only Christ can transform our culture and shed light into the dark places within each one of us. Only He can shoulder our burdens and lighten our load and only He can show us the great power of the Cross in our own lives. Everyone needs Christ. May God have mercy on all those who take their own life.

Catholic Exchange: Evangelization and Reaching the Broken

A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.

As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.

Our great need for mercy.

These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

I Will Not Be Joining the New Pro-Life Movement Anytime Soon

I will not be jumping on the New Pro-Life Movement bandwagon anytime soon. Mainly because I find the constant bandwagons of the Catholic blogosphere tiresome and intentionally divisive. I have studied moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching in-depth. The two are intimately linked with the dignity of the human person grounding all other aspects of her teaching. That means the right to life holds supremacy and we work from there to achieve the common good through the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a hierarchy and “seamless garment” arguments only work if the dignity of the human person is at the top of everything else.

Like most movements like this, it seems to be predicated largely upon straw men. The idea that the Republican Party is evil (of course it is, it is run by Fallen men, sin is a part of secular institutions just like the Church. The only thing that keeps the Church from collapsing under the weight of our sins is the Holy Spirit sent by the Glorified Christ) and the folks in the movement clearly support the sacrilege of someone like Fr. Pavone fuels their arguments. Never mind that there are fringes of all movements both inside and outside of the Church.

In reality, a great many of us left the Republican Party years ago sensing the immorality of both parties and decided to begin truly living CST and our mission–as explained in Christifideles Laici–on the ground rather than relying on an immoral and corrupt system in need of major change. We can only change the system from the ground up and that means evangelization, charity, and sacrifice. In-fighting doesn’t accomplish much at the ground level.

What many of these folks forget is that in bringing the Culture of Life to the world, God calls people to different missions under that umbrella. We cannot be stretched across the vast deep that is the Culture of Life. For instance, I have had four miscarriages and suffer from secondary infertility. I understand the gift of motherhood at an ontological level in a way many do not. I know what it is like to lose a child, four children. I also study philosophy and theology, so I can swim deep into the reality of motherhood, as a gift from God, and share it with others. God called me directly to the abortion fight, much like he calls others to slow the tide of euthanasia or other “medical” issues, soup kitchens, refugee ministries, inner city programs, prison ministry, etc.

The idea that those working against abortion–and are in need of saving from more “enlightened” Catholics–do not live CST is a straw man at best and malicious at worst. Our community lives the four pillars of Catholic social teaching by praying in front of PP in order to share the dignity of the human person made imago Dei with everyone. When someone comes into our care (whether a pregnant woman, boyfriend/husband, child, or abortion worker), we employ the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity with an eye on the common good by coming together to find these men and women work (many in our own businesses), medical assistance, childcare, adoption options, education programs, baby and needed items for living, food, financial assistance for debts, bills, or other issues, working with women newly out of prison, friendship and community to those from broken families with poor social networks, and any other need that arises well after the child is born.

I myself am in the middle of walking a journey with a mother who has the same due date that I would have had if Andrew had not died. Yeah, hardcore entering into the Cross and offering it up. I do it regardless of the pain and continue to do it through a lot of tears, but that is what Christ asks us to do. Self-sacrifice. Bloviating in social media does not equate to entering into the suffering of the poor, lonely, and struggling within our communities. And the figureheads of a movement do not automatically point to reality on the ground. I am also a writer, but I am under no illusions that my writing equates to works of mercy.

The idea that the pro-life movement on the ground is out of touch with CST is utter bunk. Many of us help the homeless, do prison ministry, and help in other ways as time allows us outside of the mission given to us by God. We can’t do everything and others have been called to work in different areas of poverty. We have an extensive Haiti mission in our church that I would love to join, but God has called me where He has called me. I see poverty up close and personal with my service to single mothers. Most of these women come from broken and dysfunctional homes, so the healing of marriage is essential, since CST goes from the individual to the family to the local community on up to the federal government and international community. That’s subsidiarity. We are trying, and failing at times, to be the hands and feet of Christ within our communities. I will happily continue to do work in the pro-life movement as we live it here in solidarity and I will continue to study and pray with the Church’s social encyclicals, documents, and the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching.