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.

Bridging the Divide Between the Sexes on Our Worldviews

Recently I have had discussions with my husband and a close female friend of mine who is also married with children. We’ve been talking through the differences between the way men and women communicate and understand the world and relationships with other people. I’ve worked with a lot of men over the years and many of my closest friends have been men. I don’t have any brothers, since I have two sisters. Through both marriage and my friendships, I’ve noted that there’s always been a barrier in understanding between men and women. It’s a barrier that is very difficult to make clear to either sex. We often make parodies of it, fight about it, or ignore it.

This difference is most easily seen and understood in married life, but it also manifests between co-workers, friends, in ministry, and any other area where men and women interact. Many of the fights men and women have center around the same types of things and the difference in worldview, communication style, and understanding. This often reveals a barrier between a husband and the wife in how a particular topic or issue is approached or comprehended. The same is true in other interactions between men and women. In many cases, both parties acknowledge this gap in understanding and simply find a way to compromise without ever dealing with the gap itself.

The most common complaint women will make is about how they simply want to vent about a problem because women often work through things relationally or socially. We talk it out and in the process sort out the problem. Men on the other hand want to fix the problem since they are problem-solvers. The problem is, most problems women work through don’t have a clear solution and men are left trying to work against their nature through discipline and listen to their spouse, friend, co-worker, daughter, or sister work through the issue. While this is indeed a struggle–and an understandable one–in my mind, it doesn’t get to the issue of how the two sexes actually understand the world.

Men are global thinkers. They focus on the big picture. There are all of these things that need to be done and they are prioritized a certain way in order to fit into the whole. The hierarchy of importance is much larger for men than it often is for women. Our focus is usually smaller scale. We are more focused on the smaller tasks that are given to us. We focus on the relationships around us and if we have been asked to do a particular thing, we put our energy into doing it well. Men place value on the overall picture, while women value the work they may be doing on a smaller scale. It is why we are mothers and are primarily charged with the nurturing of souls and men are not. We are caretakers. We are able to focus on the smaller scale dimensions and not get lost in the big picture or the rest of the world “out there”. This would be detrimental to the souls and people in our care if all we thought about was “out there”.

These two world views fit together and are complementary when they are balanced properly and when a mutual respect and understanding of these differences is understood. More-often-than-not, we either don’t understand the differences or we forget them when conflict arises. I can only speak as a woman, but one of the most destructive things a man can do to a woman is minimize the tasks she has been given or taken on simply because they aren’t as important as X, Y, or Z. We don’t compare our tasks to everything else. If we did, then our tasks wouldn’t ever get done because we’d be too busy comparing what we are doing to everything else of more “importance.”

Why is this damaging? Men attach value on the things they see of most importance in order to achieve the big picture. If a woman minimizes the big picture and says it doesn’t matter, then a man is going to bristle because he knows it’s important. Women objectively get that the big picture matters, even if it isn’t our primary focus and mission. Men unfortunately minimize the “seemingly” smaller tasks of women quite often. I usually give men a pass since–although I get frustrated at times too–unlike much of modern feminism, I don’t view men as a threat, rival, or an enemy. I get we are different, but recently I started to consider why women have coined the term “mansplaining.” I don’t agree with where it’s roots lie, but I see at least part of the reasoning for it.

I suspect it comes out of this difference in understanding of the world and our missions. Men will inadvertently–or even intentionally, depending on the man–talk down to women who focus on the things they have said they will do or have been assigned to do that are a part of the big picture, but not the big picture itself. Men will solely focus and compare it to the “big picture” and minimize and even dismiss the work a woman is doing. Comparing our work to the big picture is almost always interpreted by women as a man dismissing our effort as useless or unimportant. He will tell us how everything else is more important and this is utterly irritating to a woman, because we also know that our part is of value. This is really destructive when a husband views his work as of more importance than what his stay-at-home wife is doing to raise their children. Both tasks have been assigned for the good of the family and are indispensable.

In a woman’s mind she is putting everything into and trying to do the task well, but has now been told that it’s not worth while. This typically illicits both anger and hurt in women. Husbands will do this to wives when a woman is struggling in a particular aspect of her vocation. Focus on the overall goal or picture is what they will tell us. That’s fine and good, but women aren’t wired to focus on the big picture all of the time. We are more detail oriented. We are more relationship oriented. We are focused on each individual task assigned to us. If we’ve been given a project, we will put our entire selves into it in order for it to be done well.

My husband struggles to understand why I will sometimes put off a chore around the house in order to spend quality time with our daughter. I will place that relationship before a chore because I see something that our daughter needs at an emotional level. My primary love language is also quality time. I’ve focused on my daughter’s individual needs over the overall goal of taking care of our home (big picture). He is correct that the chores need to get done, but oftentimes women instinctively know to place other human beings before a task that needs to be done. This may not always be the case, but it seems to be much easier for a woman to understand than a task-oriented man.

These same issues arise in the workplace and in ministry. There’s nothing like a meeting to reveal these differences in understanding. Women will focus on the relational, emotional (this can be good, but a lot of times not), or smaller tasks that are needed to achieve the whole. We are bottom up thinkers while men are top down thinkers. Women build up, while men go out and conquer. Scripture is very instructive here in that the women are often building up the men–that bottom up approach–while the men sort out how to go out into the world to bring the world to Christ. Women are called to do the same, but our approaches vary quite a bit. It’s also one of the aspects of masculinity that makes the all male priesthood instituted by Christ logically consistent to me.

This distinction between the sexes is extremely important for building and maintaining communion within the Mystical Body. Women cannot focus too much on the smaller tasks, the emotional response of other people, relational aspects, and the details too much or men are not going to respond or want to be active in a ministry run in that manner. The same is true for men in the way they respond to women. Telling a woman that what she’s offered to do is not important compared to everything else is destructive for morale. Women do not want to work in those conditions because they do not see their effort as being valuable to the men in the group. Even if men don’t mean it in that manner–although oftentimes they do–women will take it as a direct attack on her person. This is an innate aspect of our nature. We can’t help that our focus is where it is and so when we are told it’s not as important as something else–when it is important to us–we shut down. It’s difficult to want to keep helping if that help is seen as minor, when in reality, the small tasks help form the whole and the mission cannot be achieved without both the small picture and the big picture working together: Complementarity.

The solution is for both sexes to come to understand these differences and figure out a way to bridge that divide. Women need to acknowledge that the big picture is essential and to support the men in our lives through that goal. By the same token, men need to understand that in constantly comparing our “minor” tasks to the big picture they are in fact hurting the women in their lives. It is human nature to want to disengage when the value is taken away from our work. This isn’t some silly emotional response that men often simply attribute to the emotional nature of women or that we aren’t thick-skinned enough. This is in fact tied directly to our nature. If you minimize our efforts, then our response will be anger and hurt because you’ve directly attacked an aspect of our womanhood.

We are never going to fully understand one another on this issue, but if we are truly seeking communion in Christ through the Mystical Body whether it be in our marriages, friendships, parish communities, or our secular responsibilities, then we need to at least acknowledge that this difference in understanding exists and patiently try to find solutions that will appease both men and women. When conflicts do arise, we need to forgive quickly so that any damage done to that communion can be repaired as quickly as possible.