Are We Building One Another Up in Social Media?

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently and realized that I know very little about the people I’m friends with in social media. I don’t seek out Facebook friends I haven’t known personally, but since I’m a writer and connected to other writers, I will get a few new friend requests a week from fellow Catholics. I don’t mind and I’ve added quite a few of these people, but I’m also selective since I actually share posts about my life, my family, and my daughter.

The original idea behind websites like Facebook or the now defunct MySpace, was the opportunity to connect with other people. To catch up with long lost friends from decades prior. Since I served in the military, I literally know people who live across the globe, so it has been nice to see what people are up to these days decades later.

The problem I now see is that rather than social media being a place to connect with others, it’s devolved into a constant stream of political posts. Our identity and our lives are not predominately political, regardless of what our culture tells us. Politics play an essential role in promoting the common good and we should stay informed and work to overcome injustice, but it in no way makes up the vast majority of our lives unless we actually work in politics.

My Facebook newsfeed is a war of constant opposing political posts. I myself have joined the American Solidarity Party and I rarely post anything political anymore. I use to, all of the time, and I lost friends for it. I understand why now. It’s not so much that we had differing views. It’s the fact that 10 years ago when I worked in politics, it was all I posted. All I would share is my political ideology, and I was an ideologue.

A lot of people who send me friend requests–like me years ago–largely only posts political posts. I must admit I groan a little bit. When a new outrage wagon comes rolling into town, my newsfeed explodes and I usually have to walk away until it’s gone. It makes social media miserable to only see my friends and family posting their competing narratives while those of us who tend to take a more middle-of-the-road approach are attacked from both sides. Regardless of what folks claim, there is no political party in the U.S. that conforms fully to Catholic Social Teaching. That means there’s no Catholic party. People are free to argue conscience and their views, but no one can claim their party is Catholic, even if abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day.

I enjoy discussing current events and many of my posts are related to what is going on in the Church, but I also post a lot of satire because we need more levity in a polarized digital age. More than anything, I try to share what is going on in my life both in the day-to-day and spiritually. I’m a Catholic writer, so the spiritual life is the most important thing to me other than my family. I share the good and the bad.

Since most of my Facebook friends focus solely on politics or current events, I know absolutely nothing about their lives. All I know is what political party they are affiliated with. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the whole point of connecting with other people. Shared interests are one thing, but complete tunnel vision and focus on one topic makes it very difficult to connect with other people on anything other than a superficial level. Often we use social media to be a reflection of our own political beliefs, rather than using it to learn more about other people or to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I always find it interesting when someone finally posts a personal post, usually a prayer request, and they put in “I rarely do this, but I need prayers.” Since when is requesting prayers from the Mystical Body supposed to be rare? Why do we view prayer as a burden? It’s the most real thing that a person may post. It’s a reminder that there is a living, breathing person made imago Dei behind the posts. Why should relying on one another be rare? Why does social media need to be a constant stream of current affairs and political fights? It’s a tool that can be used for so much good.

When I started sharing my family’s struggles with others and requesting prayers things changed for us. I’m convinced the prayers of my friends in social media, my parish, and elsewhere were the reason my husband was diagnosed quickly and he’s still here. We are the Mystical Body. We are meant to lift one another up.

Why is asking for prayers considered shameful? In our weakness we are made strong according to St. Paul. Showing that we are human and struggling with the afflictions of this life is a witness to the need for Christ and one another. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or seen as a burden to others. We can’t go it alone. That’s one of the major lessons of the spiritual life. I’d rather know more about what is going on in someone’s life than read 15 political posts from them.

Part of the reason we are becoming more divided and polarized is because we no longer view social media as a place to connect with others. Instead, it’s becoming our own individual sounding board where we can throw out our political beliefs at high speed. Have any of us changed someone’s mind through all of these posts? I never have. I never did back in the days when that was what I mainly posted.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing them and engaging in debate. My concern is simply that all I see are political posts. I know nothing about most of the people who have requested my friendship on social media. So I guess the question would be: why do you want to be friends with me on social media or anyone else for that matter? I ignore the vast majority of political posts in my newsfeed and I head straight for theology, Church news, the outdoors, or satire. Are we building community or are we simply adding to a list? It’s worth considering. And for the record, I’m happy to pray for you anytime.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

God Is In The Details: My Secondary Vocation to Spiritual Motherhood

It’s amazing how the smallest of details are a part of God’s plan for our lives. We often ignore the minutiae in the busyness of our lives, but God is there working on our salvation in what appears to simply be a day on the calendar. We can see it in the lives of the saints who die on significant feast days or many died at the age of 33. I have come to see in my own spiritual life that certain feast days are filled with greater graces and often I will be asked to do something on one of those days that I wouldn’t do on any other day. Marian feast days and Holy Week are the greatest of these in my own life.

I’m starting to see these small details and how they weave into the very fabric of how Christ is leading me towards Him. I never paid attention before, largely because of my own self-absorption and partly because I didn’t consider how God is always working even when I don’t see it. I was born in Helena, MT and handed guardianship of three holy relics of the True Cross at 33 years of age. The holy relic that was the instrument of Our Lord’s death and our salvation found by *St. Helena* in the 4th century. I only drew the connection nearly 5 years later and it was like being struck by lightning.

On March 23, 2012, a Friday, I had my second miscarriage. A child I firmly believe to have been a son: Caleb Augustine. I have had the deepest longing in my heart to have a son to give to Our Lord in the priesthood. Since I can’t have anymore children, I was confused as to why this longing was so deeply imbedded within me. On March 23, 2018, a Friday, after a significant experience that happened to me during the Mass that dramatically changed my spiritual life, I was handed my secondary vocation of spiritual motherhood to priests. God only revealed the connection between these two dates to me this past weekend as we approach that anniversary this weekend. The realization has been nothing short of mind-blowing for me. God doesn’t miss any details. The same priest was even with me on both days at two different parishes six years apart.

On the painful anniversary of losing my first son–I believe I lost my second son on August 8, 2016 on the feast of St. Dominic when we had already named him for a Dominican as Andrew Thomas (see those small details are actually big ones!)–six years to the day, God handed me the secondary vocation of being a spiritual mother to His priests in a time of crisis, scandal, pain, and confusion. To pray and sacrifice for them in love, as so many others have done before me, including one of my closest friends in the Communion of Saints: St. Therese of Lisieux. God is working in every area of our lives every single day.

I miss my babies, but God has already blessed me a great deal through this secondary vocation. As I told the ladies last weekend at the retreat when I discussed Mary and Spiritual Motherhood, being a spiritual mother comes with great joys and sorrows, just like being a biological/adoptive mother. It requires sacrifice and since it’s a vocation it is also a path to learning how to die to self in love. Spiritual motherhood comes from Our Lady who teaches us how to open our hearts up more expansively, even in the midst of grief. 

When I realized that I would not be able to have more children, I wondered in prayer if I’d ever experience that level of joy again as the day when I first held my daughter. So many of my friends are still being blessed with children and I am not. In my grief, I wasn’t sure. The answer is yes. Spiritual motherhood is yet another path to charity and it comes with incredible joy. In order to be able to open myself up to that joy God had to teach me how to let go of what I wanted, including my desire for more children. When I let go and gave everything back to God, just as Our Heavenly Mother did at the foot of the Cross, Christ was able to break open deeper wellsprings of charity within me that I didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to let go of what we want, but God’s ways are not our own and He is not to be outdone in generosity.

Teaching My Daughter Why Charity is Worth the Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a Time of Great Scandal, Remember God Works in the Quiet Places

For the past month, I’ve been struggling mightily with the failures of priests in the Church, not just the abusers and our leaders, but the fact that times like these often lead to more collateral damage because the Enemy seeks to divide and wound even more in the aftermath of such revelations. He likes to kick us while we are down and we let him. Those we thought were strong, fail us. More victims pile up until men of courage and true charity step up. It’s how Church history has gone since the Cross.

I was struggling yesterday when I looked up and in my rearview mirror I saw the two school chaplains vested–both younger priests–praying with one another and blessing one another before Mass. It gave me hope. Yes, in times like these we come to see that “the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity”, but quietly in the still places of the world, holy men are praying together, striving towards holiness, preparing and offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and seeking to be the saints God desires them to be. God blessed me so much by allowing me to witness such a quiet and beautiful moment in a time of agony for me. I’ve always had such high regard for the priesthood, which is why I’ve been deeply saddened as of late for a variety of reasons.