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.

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.

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.

Teaching My Daughter Why Charity is Worth the Fight

My daughter looks almost entirely like my husband, except for the shape of her eyes and the freckles that dot across her cheeks and nose. She isn’t a fan of the freckles because no one else in her class has them, but I told her she got them from me and that God made her the way she is, so that makes them beautiful. She’s battling the innate Fallen need to conform to the world. It’s a new battle for her since she was homeschooled until the beginning of this year when she entered Second Grade. Now she simply wants to fit in and be like everyone else.

None of us are made to fit in and be like everyone else. We are made for communion with one another, but conformity to a worldly ideal is not the same thing. Often this desire for conformity is based on materialism, jealousy, fear, comfort, and more than anything, the desire to be loved by others. The problem is, worldly conformity isn’t love. It is a slow killing of love because it requires us to sacrifice even good aspects of ourselves for the sake of being like everyone else. Even heaven is hierarchical. The more we love in this life, the more we share in the glorious vision of the Most Holy Trinity. Being conformed to the world is a cheap counterfeit compared to our true call of conformation to Christ.

My daughter looks exactly like my husband, but her personality is alarmingly similar to my own. She’s intellectually a good balance of the two of us, which will help her later on, but she is stubborn, willful, passionate, has a strong sense of justice, and a deep capacity to love. I say this with some trepidation because I know what she’s in for in this Fallen world. I also know that she is going to have to wage some tough battles to temper the rough edges of her stubborn and willful personality. If she can harness it for good, it will serve her well on the path to holiness. She will be less likely to stay down when she falls. She will turn to Christ and begin again with each new fall, no matter how hard of a fall.

Her sense of justice will help to guide her through the great injustices of this life, but it will also be a struggle for her because there are so many injustices in this world that are not made right until the end of time. She will still have to fight for what is good and right,  but know that the victory is Christ’s, even if she suffers losses on this side of eternity. It is why names have power and my husband and I knew very clearly that she was to be named after St. Michael the Archangel. He will fight by her side whenever she seeks his aid.

The place where she will struggle the most is with charity. This world constantly seeks to destroy that which comes from authentic charity.  She will find out–and already has–that her great love for her friends will often not be returned, be at the same level as hers, or outright rejected. The greater the capacity for love that God gives to us, the more we will come to see why He constantly tells us not to be afraid. In our Fallen state, we are terrified of true charity. All of us.

We want things to be comfortable and easy, but we don’t grow in charity through comfort and ease. We grow by willing the good of the other and a lot of the time that means some kind of pain on our part or imposition of pain on someone else. Love is not a warm feeling. It is deeply challenging. It shows us where we are weakest, our failures, and the darkness within that needs to be purged. In this life, charity also means there will be times of utter, sometimes astonishing betrayals at the hands of others. For the Christian, we should expect this since the ultimate act of Divine Love was met with the greatest betrayal of all time. But we don’t understand, which is why we want to flee when it happens to us. It’s why the pain of the scandals has led some to leave the Church. That betrayal cuts through us like a knife and it is difficult to heal from such deep wounds.

My daughter with her great God-given capacity for charity will taste the bitterness of betrayal, but my hope is that I will be able to show her that no matter the pain, it is worth it in the end. The measure of this life is our charity. It is not her fault if others fail to love her as long as she has done what God has asked her to do. I’ve had to learn the hard way not to blame myself for the failings of others.

My hope is that God will show her that the more she opens up to Him in charity, the more He will fill her up, even in times of bitter defeat. He will require much of her, but it is much greater to live in the depths than to live in shallows. We don’t think so in this life, but in the next life all will be set to right and we will see what we fought for in our daily lives. We will see clearly why we fought to love as Christ loves, regardless of the consequences. The pain we endure in this life is temporary and the Divine Physician will bind those wounds and send us once more into the depths to where He calls us to open ourselves fully to His love and love of others. The greatest test in this life is learning to love those who do not love us or those who betray us.

When we think of loving others, we think primarily of a romantic form of love. It is what our culture is obsessed with, and the married state is a beautiful gift and vocation, but the greatest love we have is love of God and His love for us. We cannot fully live our vocations without Him at the very center. We want love to feel good all of the time. That’s one of the reasons divorce is so common. Love fades is what people say. No, emotions ebb and flow and then the work really begins. The actual love and self-emptying begins.

In reality, when we ask God to teach us to love as He loves, to love as the saints love, we are asking Him to teach us to love our enemies. It’s easy to wage battles for the people we have great affection for, but it seems almost unbearable to love someone who turns from a friend into an enemy. In this case, enemy can mean a wide variety of things, it can even mean simply someone we have a falling out with for some reason. That love is excruciating. It has to be because it is purifying. It is a true emptying of self, ego, pride, and the desire for vengeance. It is to simply bear the deep pain inflicted and still meet that person in love, regardless of if they return that love or not.

What did Christ do when He returned after the Resurrection? He appeared to the Apostles who abandoned Him in His darkest hour. He did not yell, rant, rave, or seek vengeance. He appeared in their midst and said simply: Shalom. Peace. What is done is done. He simply endured all of the agony, betrayal, and complete abandonment on the Cross and came back in forgiving love. It’s nearly impossible for us in our Fallen state, but possible with Christ. He shows us the way to love.

God has for months been building up to teaching me this lesson through a situation in my own life. In prayer He has constantly told me to “love as He loves.” Things would get harder and He would always tell me the same thing. He constantly told me that I have a choice, but what is required of me is charity, true charity. He was leading me to the Cross and telling me that I am to love as He loves. The Cross where every ounce of His blood is poured out, while knowing many will turn away from Him. Knowing that He was offering the Divine Love to those who cast lots for his clothes, and those who scourged Him, and those who mocked Him and placed a Crown of Thorns upon His head, and those who drove nails into His body. That is Love. In order to love like Christ, we must allow Him to teach us what love means and what it costs. The Cross is what love requires and it is what love costs.

My daughter will struggle to embrace the capacity for charity that God has given to her, just as I have struggled. That deep desire is God-given, but in reality it will not be fully satiated until the next life in the sense that our desire for abiding communion with others is difficult in this Fallen world. It’s rare. Spiritual friendships are rare in this life. We can be completely filled up by God and the more we grow in love of Him the more we see how that is truly what we seek. In fact, we must turn away from our desire to primarily be filled up by people and turn to God for our fulfillment. Only then can we turn back to others in authentic love. My daughter’s desire to fit in stems from her desire to be loved totally and completely. It’s a desire we all struggle with in this life. That longing can only be fulfilled by God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” St. Augustine

The saints came to see that self-emptying love is given regardless of how it is received by the other. St. Teresa of Calcutta did not ask herself whether or not the man dying in the street loved her in return. He may have even attempted to reject her help and screamed at her. She loved and served him anyway. It is that kind of love that we are all supposed to learn and the only way to learn it is through being hurt by others and accepting that pain, but still loving. I pray that God teaches her that lesson much sooner than I have learned it. I’m the type of person who will drop everything for someone in need, but I still struggle mightily in betrayal. May God continue to teach us to love as He loves.

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.