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.


Scandals Always Begin With “Small” Sins

Recently one of my closest friends came to me to confide a very devastating situation that she had been made aware of regarding someone else. She was stunned and understandably shocked. Like most of us, she wanted to know how people could fall into such deep dark places with little or no remorse. It’s the same question the vast majority of Catholics are asking themselves in the wake of the never-ending revelations of sexual abuse of minors and adults by some priests and bishops. As I’ve said in other posts, the scandals are devastating, maddening, shocking, and horrifying. It’s even more so within the priesthood because the diabolical elements of it mean that sacrilege also takes place which deepens the wounds within the Mystical Body.

How do people end up committing such scandalous and sinful acts? Part of the problem is, we have largely discounted and ignored the very real spiritual warfare that whirls around us on any given day and in every moment of our lives. Even high ranking members of the hierarchy and theologians have brushed off Satan as a myth or a symbol. The Enemy is quite pleased with this type of thinking because it allows him to have even more free reign within the Church. There’s no point of fighting against a symbol.

This ignores the fact that Satan is very real and seeks our destruction at every turn. He seeks the destruction of the priesthood with voracious hatred since it is through their ministry that Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity is made present to God’s people. It is through them that our sins are forgiven by God and we are given the grace and strength to continue on the path to holiness.

It is disconcerting that the Jesuit superior general, himself a priest, is completely blind to the gravity of the situation. It also reveals a serious lack of understanding among some members of the ministerial priesthood. If they don’t know who they are up against, then they will be even more vulnerable to falling into the snares he sets for them.

Satan is the liar, the seducer, the accuser, the murderer, and the scatterer. It has been this way since he was cast out of heaven by St. Michael. He seeks to drag each one of us away from the glorious Light and Love of God into the deepest pits of hell. We don’t think so because we think we are doing just enough in our daily lives to be “good” people. The problem is, that often it is the appearance of “good” people that masks the evil lurking underneath. This is why the scandals are so shocking. “He was such a good priest.” “I thought they were happily married.” “I never thought he/she could do such a thing.” And perhaps in the beginning they weren’t capable of such evil, but there came a moment in each of their lives when they needed to fight back and they chose to enter into temptation instead.

Scandalous behavior and grave sins do not usually begin right away. There is a slow slide into them as the Enemy preys on our weaknesses and seeks to lead us down dangerous paths. He whispers in our ear and attempts to seduce us so that we will commit certain sins. These sins seem benign to us at the onset, but they are the beginning of the trap he is attempting to set for us.

Many of us are not consciously aware of his tactics because so many people are ignorant of how spiritual warfare works in our daily lives. It’s something we have to learn through prayer, study, and guidance from a spiritual director and Confessor. The more we progress in holiness the more intense the fight becomes. It is often through large temptations that God allows us to be tested in order to strengthen us, lead us further down the path, and grow in perfect charity. The question put to us in these tests is will we choose God or the world? Regardless of how intense that fight may be at times, God is drawing us closer to Him if we let Him.

Our culture in the same vein as the Enemy, tells us that these small sins aren’t really sins. The man or woman lusting after someone running down the local Greenway trail isn’t the same thing as looking at pornography. Right? They’re just being human. Then all of a sudden the man (or woman) finds himself looking at images on the screen and it goes downhill from there. It started “small.”

Our relationships with others are the same way. We always have to be on guard and sure that we are rightly ordering the affections we have for other people. The Enemy will attempt to seduce us if he sees a possible weakness within us. And make no mistake, the demons are watching our every move and observing everything we do in order to prey on our weaknesses. Plus, their intellects are far superior to our own and we are often out-witted. Thanks be to God that our hope is not in ourselves but in Christ Jesus.

All of us have to be on guard and come to understand the ways in which we are weakest. We must constantly ask God to strengthen us in those areas and fall on Him in total dependence and trust. If we try to go it alone, then we will fall into temptation and before we know what we’ve done, we can find ourselves deep into gravely sinful and scandalous situations. It is not that we are never going to be tempted in this life. We will and in ways we never could have expected or foreseen. It’s how we respond to those temptations that matters. Our lives are often shaped in new ways by persevering through temptation.

We are called to fight back. It is by constantly rightly ordering our desires and our relationships that we will come to holy charity. Far too often people fall into grave sin and scandal because they are seduced by the lies of the Enemy and the good they see before them becomes their only focus. They turn away from God and seek the things of this world.

Once the Enemy has control over someone then even more horrible sins can be committed including the horrors that are coming to light in the reports about clergy sex abuse. The priesthood is as such that the Enemy seeks its destruction by also causing great sacrilege to the Sacraments. It’s why so many of this evil is committed in relation to the Sacraments whether it be a Satanic inversion of the Mass or the disgusting abuse during the Sacrament of Confession.

Every single one of us is going to fail and fall in our struggle towards heaven, but we have to constantly be on guard that we do not slide into grave and scandalous sin through the subtle seduction of Satan. We must pray for God to renew us and for our hearts to be converted each day. God will reward us for our efforts and our willingness to persevere. He knows in our Fallen state that we battle imperfectly, but if we rely on Him then He will be the one who keeps us from the type of darkness and sin that is coming to light in the Church, both in the clergy and in families. We may look in horror at these scandals, but it’s important to always keep in mind that those scandals began somewhere subtle and small and gave way to diabolical darkness. Our own small sins can easily lead us into mortal sins if we are not careful. We must look to our own hearts and the areas where we need the healing light of grace.

This is why frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession is imperative in the spiritual life, especially when we are battling serious temptations. The Enemy will try to keep us from the Sacraments by whatever means necessary, but we must answer in a firm “no” and get ourselves to Confession and receive Holy Communion as much as possible. These two Sacraments arm us and strengthen us for the intense battles this life requires of us.

The path to holiness is not easy. It is where we learn to crucify our own will for the will of God. That means saying “no” to lower goods of this life for a bigger “yes” to God. We often think that those lower goods are worth more than God, but that is a lie from the Enemy. The rewards of persevering and rightly ordering our desires and our relationships is far greater than anything we can temporarily attain in this life.

The next time you are tempted remember that the Enemy is offering you–or me–a counterfeit, an empty shell. This applies to any number of temptations, but especially in those situations that lead to widespread scandal and pain. Whatever it is that is being offered, it is a trick, a seduction, and a lie. Instead, God is calling us to turn in greater trust and love of Him, so that He can rightly order our souls.

We cannot truly love others as we are meant to if our souls are not rightly ordered to God first. This is where the Enemy gets the upper-hand at times. He sees this disorder within us and tries to lure us away with false desires and temptations. When this happens turn to Our Lord and to Our Lady. She crushes the head of the serpent and she will come to our aid if we cry out to her. St. Padre Pio is also particularly efficacious in spiritual warfare in my experience.

Scandals like what the Church is facing today began with small slip ups and sins. They occur when we are not discerning the spirits who are working in our lives. Just because something feels good, does not mean we are supposed to give in. Oftentimes the Enemy will move our emotions and convince us that something is a good that is in fact a lesser good or evil. I suspect, but I’m not sure, that this technique is the most common in leading people astray. We rely too heavily on our emotions and so we trust in good feelings, when we should probably be saying: “Be gone, Satan!”

Yes, all scandals are shocking and they reverberate throughout the Mystical Body. So many people are hurt by them. It’s important that we remember, however, that those small sins we are ignoring or waving away are the beginning of bigger sins. That “harmless” flirtation with a co-worker is that moment of choosing to rightly order that relationship or not. The minute we become aware of what we have done we need to ask God to rightly order our soul and our affections towards others. We must always be on guard. I cannot stress this enough.

It always begins small and the spiritual battle begins in that moment, even if it ends up becoming one of the most intense battles we are ever asked to wage. The point is to turn to God and not give in. Far too many priests and bishops in these scandals allowed those small slip ups to turn into very serious sin and they chose the Enemy over Christ. Let us pray for the grace and strength to choose Our Lord regardless of the battles He asks of us that are meant for our sanctification and growth in perfect charity. Pray fervently for our bishops and priests.

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.

Catholic Exchange: A Call to Spiritual Arms in Response to the Sex Abuse Scandals

What do we do now? That is the question facing all of us within the Mystical Body in response to the ever growing scandals being brought to light. No doubt we are angry, but we must channel and harness that anger lest it become wrath and remain at the level of blind rage long-term.

As long as we are ruled by rage, we are unable to prudently decide a course of action. We often also go deaf and ignore the calls of our true shepherds who seek to guide us through this hurricane.

Spiritual Warfare

The calls for reform, letter writing campaigns, protests, and other similar responses are good. However,they are not the primary means by which we win this battle. The Church needs to be purified from this evil. But that purification requires our willingness to enter into the great spiritual warfare that is going on around us. It has always been our mission, but often we become blinded by the material aspect of our nature and set aside or abandon the spiritual. That, or we  simply forget that the spiritual is higher than the material.

This war is against Satan. It is not simply a matter of Fallen men choosing to do diabolically evil acts. Satan is always after the priesthood and he’s always after each one of us. Every hour of every day, he seeks to drag us to hell.

 

The Enemy wants us to turn on one another. He seeks to sow greater seeds of division. He wants the laity to distrust the priesthood. He wants the priesthood to distance itself from the laity. That’s the whole point.

If we cannot harness our outrage for good and beg for the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes to see as Christ sees, then we will be impotent in the face of the Enemy. The spiritual battle is where purification will spring forth. It will be a long battle. One we will wage for the rest of our lives, but it is the battle we are all called to at Baptism.

We must not forget that the Church is “militant”. She is “the army of Christ”, the “levy of the living God”; “the levy of the great King”, in which we were enrolled at baptism and confirmation.

Henri de Lubac, Splendor of the Church, 185.

Prayer and Fasting

Evil never gives up power easily and without a fight. Our letters and outcry won’t matter at all unless we are first and foremost praying and fasting in atonement for the sins of the Church. Our Lord Himself tells us that certain sins must be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).

We must view this fight through the eyes of faith, not the organs that allow us to see the material world around us. The Church battles “powers and principalities” internally and exteriorly. The scandals reveal to us the breadth and depth of the fight before us and the rot that infects the Mystical Body.

“The Church is unceasingly torn by internal as well as exterior conflict”; the “mystery of iniquity” is at work without as well as within. The great struggle that had its prelude in heaven is fought out among men through the whole of time. People do not like their apathy thus disturbed and they are afraid of too lofty a vocation; the bonds of flesh and blood take some breaking. The world views as an insult and provocation anything that does not conform to its own ideas; feeling itself threatened by the least of the Church’s spiritual conquests, it is never without reaction to them.

Ibid, 187

This reality is true within the hierarchy, within the laity, and in the world. Far too many people grow apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile to the vocation we are all called to, which is sainthood. This conflict plays out in many ways, and tragically, even to the point of demonic sexual abuse of minors and other people. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that the Enemy disguises himself as “an angel of light” and his followers will disguise themselves as righteous leaders. While it is shocking to hear of the horrific deeds committed, it is not surprising once we understand the rules of the battlefield we are all standing on. We are fighting the powers of hell inside of the Church today. It’s been the same way since the institution of the Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.