Catholic Exchange: How Women Can Help Renew the Church in an Age of Scandal

We live in an age of the battle of the sexes. Women are expected to be like men and men are expected to be like women. This is the form of equality we are spoon-fed from infancy by our culture. Either that, or we are taught that men and women are in a battle for power all the while arguing that the other sex should not dominate the other. What this does is create ever widening gaps between men and women that play-out in most areas of our lives, even within the Church.

We see this debate mostly clearly within the Church in the call for women’s ordination. The argument is largely based on power. Women want power within the Church. This is the exact opposite of what Christ calls His priests to. He calls them to serve as He serves, which is at the high altar of the Cross. To seek to pour one’s self out in self-emptying love for the sake of Christ’s flock. This radical call of being configured to Christ is what we are all called to at baptism, but it takes on a much deeper dimension within the priesthood, which is why any desire for worldly power is in direct opposition to the priesthood. The ontological and scriptural arguments aside, any ambition on our part as women to grasp at worldly power through a call to women’s ordination is to misunderstand our own calling, as well as the priesthood.

Women have tremendous gifts to offer to the Church. We cannot serve in the manner we are called to if we are overly concerned with worldly power and honor. If our primary objective is to seize power from men then we have bought the lie of the Enemy and the world that men are somehow our enemy or our rival. This has been a problem since the Fall.

Women are not called to serve the Church as priests and spiritual fathers. Christ Himself was a man and He instituted an all male priesthood. We are called, however, to serve as sisters in Christ and spiritual mothers. The Church needs the unique gifts that come from women, but they must be given in a spirit of service, rather than an aspiration for power or honor.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

When God Tests Us to Prepare Us for a Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic Exchange: Turning the Other Cheek in a Digital Age

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

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

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

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

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Come Christmas, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Answer to Division is Charity, Forgiveness, and Communion

Image taken from Wiki Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross: The Answer We Don’t Really Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic Exchange: How To Approach Our Priests About the Scandals

One of the good things coming out of the evil that is the current sex abuse crisis in the Church is the call for a closer relationship between the laity and the clergy. The days of placing priests on pedestals passed with the first sex abuses crisis 17 years ago. This is a good thing because it allows us to get to work in cooperating with God’s plan for cleansing and renewing His Bride, the Church. Artificial barriers that have been put in place in the past, especially due clericalism, are breaking down as they must in order for cleansing and renewal to take place.

The priesthood is due our reverence for its sacred role and hierarchical function within the Church. Priests serve as our spiritual fathers who act in persona Christi—in the person of Christduring the Mass and in the Sacraments. They also serve as alter Christus—another Christ—to us and the world. It is because of this sacred role that they are due our respect and a properly ordered reverence. There is a considerable difference at the level of being between a priest and a member of the laity, but that does not preclude erroneous forms of separation between the two vocations.

While they should be men of considerable holiness, they are Fallen men, and their progress in the spiritual life will vary, just as it does within the laity and in the lives of religious. Most priests are not yet saints and so we must also view them in a more practical and merciful light. They afford us the same mercy and compassion as they shepherd us through our spiritual lives both through the Sacraments and in our daily dealings with one another.

All of us—laity and priests—need to find a more balanced understanding of our connection with one another in the communion we share, especially in this time of great scandal.

The laity has been demanding a greater role in response to the rampant sex abuse coming to light in various parts of the world. This is especially true in the United States. The laity wants more access to the hierarchy in order to bring their talents and gifts into the service of the Church. As long as the intention of the laity is to support and encourage the hierarchical Church, this is a great good, in my opinion. Why not embrace the different gifts that God has bestowed upon the members of the Church in order to purge and renew Holy Mother Church? Issues arise, however, when the laity oversteps its function and seeks power that God has not given to us.

We in the laity must remember that our role will always remain a much needed advisory role. God has given authority to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. That means our priests who share in Holy Orders with their bishop have the ultimate say in our parishes and the bishop has ultimate say in a diocese. We cannot demand the ability to make decisions that are not ours to make, no matter how great the crisis. We should, however, offer counsel and guidance to our priests as we are able and as the gifts God has given to us allow.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

When the Enemy Comes for Us and the Need for One Another

I have not been writing a lot the last couple of weeks. I’ve started various posts, but been unable to find the words to finish them. I hit a rather intense period spiritually in which I found myself taking assaults on all sides. I even ended up having two of the most horrifying demonic nightmares that I have had in years. I’ve had them on occasion for about 15 years or so, some truly terrifying. They will leave me weakened until I can figure out–through prayer–the best way to show strength in the face of the either outright lies in them or the horrifying battles I must contend with in them.

Most recently in one of the dreams I found myself in a dark wood with my daughter trying to beat snakes off of her that were biting her that then turned on me, grew in size, and started attacking my face as I struck them with a large stick. I know it was demonic because of the dream that preceded it, which I have no desire to write about. I had awoken myself from the preceding dream because I identified it for its demonic form, blessed myself, called on Our Heavenly Mother and then fell back asleep. That’s when I was met with snakes. The Enemy had revealed himself. Even though it was terrifying, I was glad to be able to clearly see who was attacking me.

We need to rest.

Last week I was emotionally and spiritually drained. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing and following the scandals, as well as helping people respond to the scandals in whatever way I can in my own parish. I entered into a 40-day penitential season in atonement for the sins of the Church. After entering into that period of prayer and fasting, the stresses of life started to pile up. My husband is showing signs of a flare up of his disease. My dad has been dealing with Shingles on top of his RA. We have had to figure out if homeschooling our daughter is the right fit for her. Spiritual attacks in various forms started to arise, culminating in these terrible dreams. By the end of last week, I was so battle worn that I felt like I could barely stand.

Sometimes these spiritual battles can be difficult to work through and discuss with other people. My closest, trusted holy friends do not experience things at the intensity level that I do, and neither does my husband. Don’t mistake me. I am not some kind of holy soul. Not even close. Most days even though I want to grow in holiness, I’m praying in God’s mercy for Purgatory. I’m selfish, proud, stubborn, quick-tempered, distracted, and too attached to aspects of this world. I’ve discovered weaknesses and darkness within me that I didn’t know existed, which is why when people start talking about how we are good people, I immediately think of the line in my own heart between good and evil. I don’t want to be some vague notion of good. I want to be holy and most days I’m not objectively good. I don’t mean that to be overly scrupulous, I mean to say that I’m not there yet. Someday by God’s grace I will be truly holy.

Engaging in Spiritual Warfare.

Sometimes I don’t think we are prepared by our leaders for the battles we will wage in the spiritual life. We focus on the good aspects, the consolations we receive, of which I have been blessed in abundance at times through no merit of my own. What we don’t hear about is when the Enemy comes for us. When he will launch a frontal and brutal assault against us, and at times, our spiritually fruitful relationships with other people. Since it’s not talked about, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that came at me beginning two years ago. I had to study spiritual warfare on my own in order to begin understanding some of the attacks I was taking spiritually and to understand some of the attacks I must endure and persevere through now. There will be weeks when I feel like I am low crawling across the battlefield with very little energy left.

It is only in the Sacraments and time of rest where my reserves are repleted. On those weeks, I will go to Mass as much as possible, even two times for the Sunday obligation. This past week required my dual attendance as well as a nearly four-hour kayak paddle on my favorite lake in the area. I needed to be able to sit on the water, watching the sunrise, and the fog slowly lifting over the Appalachian Mountains. I needed to leisurely paddle across the lake with one of my closest friends. I needed timelessness. No rush. No stress. I had a graduation party for myself to plan, but I didn’t think about it or worry about it while I was on the lake. I took the time I needed to recoup. I knew that I had just taken an intense beating and the glory of God’s creation would help bring me strength.

We all need that quiet time on the mountain with Our Lord. That quiet time happens in prayer anywhere, but most frequently for me that time is before the Blessed Sacrament or in God’s creation. There are times I quite literally need to be warmed by the sun and I will close my eyes and soak in as much light as possible because I know all of it comes from God. It is through this rest that I am then able to discern how to make a show of strength–which is essential in times like these–to respond to the attacks I am enduring. These periods of rest bring stillness, peace, clarity, and proper ordering back into the soul.

These are dark days for the Church. We are being asked to engage in spiritual combat with “powers and principalities” and if by God’s grace we are making progress or helping in the fight, the Enemy may take notice of our successes and come for us in a more personal way. We always battle temptations, some of which we never expect until we are faced with them and must seek God’s grace to overcome them. The spiritual life is not easy, nor is it a constant straight line. It is up and down and comes with many falls, failures, and disappointments. In the end, what matters is that we get back up. We look to Christ in hope and let Him help us to rise again and continue in the battle. We seek rest and peace in Him. He will bind our wounds and strengthen us for the next round because there will be another round and another and another, but with each new barrage we will find ourselves growing stronger and our trust and strength in Christ greater still.

Living Communion in the Church.

We also must come to rely on one another, to truly learn to love one another as Christ loves. Fraternal/sororal love between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ is a great gift and it is one of the great blessings we are given in this life. We are meant to lean on one another, to seek the face of Christ in others, and to draw strength from good and holy friendships within our communities. One of the most striking features of the Epistles of St. Paul is this deep love within the community. It is spoken of freely. It is something that is sorely lacking in our own communities.

This love is one of the many ways we enter into even deeper communion with God and one another. We must be willing to do battle in those relationships as we overcome our own selfish and sinful ways in order to make those friendships holy and pleasing to God. Holy relationships require more of us as we learn to die to self in them. These are friendships that are ordered towards Heaven and must constantly be re-oriented as we fulfill the requirements of our vocations and the demands of our daily lives. They require vulnerability and an openness to God’s working in our lives that may be different from our other relationships.

Love is demanding, which is why holy relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ require more of us than a friendship of utility. They also require courage in an age when true friendship is largely misunderstood and our culture calls us repeatedly to rugged individualism. We cannot possibly wage the spiritual battles required of us in this time of great moral and spiritual turmoil without deep bonds with one another that are grounded in Christ. We need one another. We are brothers and sisters in arms who are engaged in battle for the sake of Christ’s Church and for souls. Battles forge deep and lasting bonds between brothers and sisters. Let’s remember this truth as we find new ways to confront the great evil within the Church. Let’s look for good and holy relationships that allow us to see Christ in others and to walk confidently into battle arm-in-arm. By God’s grace, our reward will be great in the end.

Numb From the Scandals? Practical Spiritual Tips on How We Can Respond

As happens to all of us at various times in the spiritual life, I temporarily took my eyes off of Christ and started staring in horror at the storms waging around me in my own life and in the life of the Church. Saturday I found myself dazed after the initial shock wore off of my husband telling me he was coughing up blood again. In the months he was symptom free I briefly forgot that this cloud of his serious chronic illness is always hanging over us. That isn’t meant to sound pessimistic. It is a reality we face, and any quiet periods we get can last only an instant. I grew complacent, so I wasn’t as ready as I should have been even though I specifically remember a nudge from the Holy Spirit a couple of months ago telling me to be prepared for another round.

Some of the fears I have carried these 1.5 years began to creep up again. Will I become a widow in the next few years? Is he going to have to stop working at some point because the disease takes over? How many more times will he end up in the hospital this year? When will the next episode occur? Why don’t the doctors in the ER listen? Are they even going to look for new damage or not? How do I talk to my daughter about this? Do I keep it from her or not? This answer came two days later when she figured it out on her own.

She’s much too smart and rather deeply connected to my emotional states for me to successfully keep it from her for long. And when she figured it out, the nightmares returned that she struggled with all of last year. That’s how her anxiety about her father’s illness manifests the most and we are working through that through prayer, discussion, and regular snuggles. She told me she would rather know when it happens and I will respect that wish as long as she seems emotionally able to handle it. He’s not in serious danger right now, but it’s still stressful while we wait to see if the other shoe is going to drop. We have returned to the waiting game.

While all of this was going on, other responsibilities started to pile up on top of me. I was getting messages about the classes I am supposed to teach in our homeschool coop while my husband was in the ER. Nobody could have known that he was in the hospital, but the timing added to my stress level. It is very difficult for me to focus on anything else when I’m waiting for news from my sick husband.

When he told me that he was being released and we would have to wait and see what his Pulmonologist says, the constant frustration we face with the medical community escalated again. I became exasperated and angry about the situation. We are in a constant battle with forces that are largely ignorant, apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile. I sympathize with anyone who deals with either a serious chronic illness or a life-threatening illness. The way the sick are treated in this country is appalling.

After things quieted down, I read the news on my iPhone and discovered the bomb that Archbishop Vigano dropped on the Church Saturday. Whether or not all or part of his allegations are true is something that needs to be investigated. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that the highest levels of the hierarchy will complete the much needed investigation in order to uncover the truth. That’s something we will all have to come to terms with until the truth comes out in God’s appointed time and in His ways. I’ve studied enough Church history know that none of this is surprising or shocking. Of course there’s rather rampant corruption in various parts of the hierarchy. It’s appalling, maddening, and disgusting, but most of us are powerless to bring about wide-spread changes.

Even with my practical take on Church history, I started to feel numb to it all. When Cardinal Cupich’s insipid interview came out the other day implying that the sex abuse scandal isn’t a high priority compared to social justice issues I was angry briefly, but then a strong sense of numbness set in. Many of them don’t get it, and worse, many do not care. During that time I also found out that my dad is struggling a lot right now with his illness and he now has Shingles, because the chronic debilitating pain he suffers from isn’t enough. It was all getting to be too much, so retreating seemed like the best course of action. This retreating included blocking myself off from any emotional response to the scandals. I put up my defensive wall.

In reality, numbness doesn’t work either. I do care and I have spent the past few weeks trying to help both as a writer and as a sister in Christ in my own parish through prayer, fasting, and action when asked by the Holy Spirit and other people. When coupled with the suffering of my family, the scandal temporarily became too much for me and that’s a normal response when our attention is needed elsewhere. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reserves have to be channeled where they are needed. Earlier this week, I needed to focus on my family and my own emotional and spiritual recovery from everything. I needed to distance myself from out there so that I could focus on right here.

In thinking through my response and returning to the Sacrament of Confession last night, I was able to see that our focus more-often-than-not is meant to be right here, not out there. You and I can’t force corrupt leaders in the Church to resign. We don’t have that power. We can’t force them to investigate the allegations in question. Corrupt men do not care about the truth the way you and I do. They fear the truth and so they will do whatever they can to prevent it from coming to the light of day. The problem for them is that God is Truth, so eventually the truth will come out, even if it takes decades or centuries. God will cleanse his Church of the current heresies, which are primarily focused on disordered sexual inclinations. These men will eventually meet justice, if not in this life, then in the next.

Since we largely cannot bring about change at higher levels, what are we to do? We must practice the Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. We need to build prayerful, holy, devout communities at the local level. Our parishes must become vibrant beacons of hope in dark times. We must work to undo the evil done by predators and corrupt men through the holiness of our own witness. We need to allow God to work in us, so that others see the light of Christ shining forth from us. We allow ourselves to be conformed by the mysteries of the Mass and enter into deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we cooperate with God’s cleansing and renewal of the Church.

First, we need to stop fighting with one another. In our anger and frustration about the situation we are taking it out on one another. This is typical of families in times of stress and strife, but we need to work to overcome this Fallen tendency. Let’s stop nit-picking at one another. In charity, we need to be willing to close our mouths and over-look minor shortcomings in our brothers and sisters. We need to practice more humility and stop feeling the need to correct every little thing that we don’t agree with or that we see as a problem. This is especially true in ministry and community. We are going to have to figure out how to work together and put our own egos in check. All of us. Myself included.

Second, prayer is an essential aspect of holy communities. We need to be people of regular and frequent prayer. This includes as individuals, but also as communities. The Mass is our primary form of communal worship, but we also need to find other ways to come together in prayer to offer reparations for the sins of the Church and to bring about a greater sense of the communion we share in Christ. Eucharistic Adoration is an excellent example. My own parish is having a special Holy Hour in atonement tomorrow evening. Rosary groups, Bible studies, Divine Mercy, etc. are all great ways to come together in deeper prayer so that we can be conformed in charity and truth in order to strengthen our communities.

Third, we need to practice loving patience with our brothers and sisters whose faith is failing or shaken right now. The supernatural virtue of faith is a grace that only comes from God. It is not ours. We can’t give it to ourselves. If we have a strong faith through these storms it is because God has given it to us and we are to use that gift to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not need to judge those who are tempted to leave the Faith. We need to lift them up and help them overcome that temptation if we are able. We don’t have to fully understand this inclination, but we do need to be loving witnesses of the truth of Christ and His Church to those who are wavering.

Fourth, we should be lifting up the good and holy priests in our lives through prayer, fasting, service, and encouragement. They are our spiritual fathers and our brothers. We need to be praying for all the clergy, but we have the ability to specifically lift up the men in our lives who have chosen to lay down their lives in service to Christ and us. They most especially need our prayers as they shepherd our communities through this period of intense confusion and pain. We cannot undo the evil of the priests who chose the diabolical over Christ, but we can support the priests in our parishes who are ardently seeking holiness and who want to lead us to Christ. These men are not the enemy and we need to make sure that in our anger we are able to differentiate between the good and the evil in our midst.

Fifth, and this should be first, we are meant to be a eucharistic people. The Mass should be the very center of our lives. We can no longer be cultural or punch-card thype Catholics. Comfortable Catholicism is dead. In an age of scandal, our faith will not withstand this cleansing unless we are conformed to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our parishes must become communities of the Holy Eucharist where we are truly nourished and strengthened by Christ’s bodily presence among us and we come to understand how deeply we are united to one another in Him. It is from His Presence that we will be able to meet the great spiritual challenges we will all face for the rest of our lives. This isn’t going away. This is not going to have a quick fix. We will live in the shadow of these scandals for decades and the Church will continue to hemorrhage because of it, but our hope remains in Christ as He purifies His Bride.

Struggling with numbness, anger, shock, pain, and a sense of being overwhelmed is normal for times such as these. I’ve had every emotion imaginable since the McCarrick scandal broke in June. It’s what we do with those emotions that matters. We must harness them for good and not allow them to rule us. The Sacrament of Confession is the ideal place to bring the anger we are dealing with or other struggles. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit will give us the healing we need and I have found the penances that I’ve been given lately are what is needed for me to get back up and begin again. This Sacrament, along with frequent reception of Holy Communion will help give us the grace to continue to fight the good fight.

I know that I can’t change the state of the Church myself. Most of us are not in positions of power to do so, and for those who are in those positions, we must pray that they will be able to follow Christ’s will and help purge the Church of corruption. The rest of us, must wage the fight at home in our own families and communities. We need to be powerful witnesses to the transforming love of Christ and bring about reform within ourselves and our local parishes. Change and reform will come from the local levels raising up holy communities and it will spread like wildfire throughout the Church in God’s time. Renewal will happen, but it is not up to us as to how or when that will occur. We simply must soldier on and never lose hope in Christ Our Savior.