Catholic Exchange: Our Ego Keeps Us from the Greatness We Were Made For

Our souls are expansive. They are able to reach depths that we cannot fully fathom. When we begin to see this part of ourselves we often experience fear and awe. We do not know what to do with this part of ourselves because we are often blind to it in our daily lives. We are blind to it  because — more often than any of us would like to admit  — we allow our ego to rule us.

The ego keeps us from seeing the great love God has for us and the gift of giving ourselves over to others in love. The ego keeps us from the greatness we are made for. It keeps us blind to the true depths within each one of us.

The ego is where all of our fear, pride, vanity, grasping, envy, and selfishness dwell. It is the part of us that tells us to cling to what we want no matter what, even to the point of discarding and hurting other people. Our egos keep us from loving the people around us as we should because we’d rather hold onto some small modicum of control than give freely to the people God puts in our path.

Center of the Universe

It is within our vocations whether lay, religious, or priestly that we learn to confront this part of ourselves.

The ego causes us to place ourselves at the center of the universe. It leads us to grasp at the smallest and pettiest of things, because when we allow our ego to be at the center of our being unchecked, we live in a place of fear and distrust; we see God and others as a threat. Bishop Robert Barron in his book And Now I See explains:

“But what exactly is the problem with the way we think and see?…perhaps a simple answer can be given in these terms: we see and know and perceive with a mind of fear rather than with a mind of trust. When we fear, we cling to who we are and what we have; when we are afraid, we see ourselves as the threatened center of a hostile universe, and thus we violently defend ourselves and lash out at potential adversaries. And fear — according to so many of the biblical authors and so many of the mystics and theologians of our tradition — is a function of living our lives at the surface level, a result of forgetting our deepest identity.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

People Do Change, We Must

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Image: Wiki Commons

There is an adage in our culture that is prevalent in movies, books, even daily conversations. It is: “People never change.” It is even quite common for Catholics to make this statement. If this is true, then we are all in trouble. Scripture and our Faith tell us otherwise. People deeply attached to sin and disorder are made new in Christ. Individuals who have been discarded, abused, hurt, sick, lost, and committed great evils do indeed change. We underestimate how much seasons of illness impact a person. We also forget that people carry very deep wounds that only the Divine Physician can heal. It is much easier to live in our assumptions and presumptions about people and constantly compare them to their failures or weaknesses, but this is wholly unjust and is a sin against charity. Authentic love is constant regardless of these failings. It does not accept them, but love is not revoked in the face of failures either.

Anyone who makes frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession/Reconciliation) comes to realize how weak they truly are and how much they need Christ. It is true that we tend to fail in the same ways over and over again until God provides the grace and we need to develop the habit of the virtue necessary to overcome a certain vice or character flaw. This means that change is slow and on-going. Very few of us have radical conversion stories. Even St. Augustine’s Confessions demonstrates the struggle each person has with particular sins. It is easy to forget that our progression in holiness is dependent on God’s working within us on His timeline, not our own.

There are indeed times when changes must happen rapidly. This takes place when tragedy strikes or an unexpected and life-altering diagnosis occurs. In those moments we are faced with monumental decisions about ourselves, our loved ones, the people around us, and the future. These times tend to reveal the best and the worst in us and we have to fight for the best to win. Our self-centered Fallen nature will rear its ugly head when what we wanted is either impossible or irrelevant. We must pray for the strength to persevere when we would like to give up and to embrace God’s will over our own. Very few people go through their entire lives without wanting to give up in the face of tremendous adversity at least once or twice or a hundred times.

Change is actually inevitable. I am not the same person I was even three years ago. There are aspects of my personality that do not change, but a fog I walked in for 3 years lifted and I could finally see myself again. I came out of that fog higher up on the path and stronger for it despite the misery I endured. We walk in valleys and up to, and on, mountain tops in this life. We become different depending on what we face, but the deepest reality of who we are as created imago Dei does not change. Our unique incommunicable and unique personhood is not lost in the face of tragedy, illness, mental illness, abandonment, and suffering; rather, we are refined and the unique person we are is made more beautiful in God’s furnace of love.

This refinement only works if we desire joy and if we learn to embrace the hardships and sufferings that will come our way. It is a process and we will fail to accomplish at times and struggle with self-pity, anger, and frustration. We must fix our eyes on Heaven and remember that this is temporary. Each moment of every single day we are moving towards Heaven or hell. We know intuitively when we have made the wrong choice, unless we have completely deadened our conscience. Every step in either direction changes us into the person we will be in the next life. If we choose not to change in either direction that is also a choice and the wrong one.

Our purpose in this life is to be a saint. We are made for goodness, truth, beauty, and happiness, but we can only attain those gifts from God if we relinquish ourselves and allow Him to dwell within us. We must choose each day to change for the better. When we fail–which is inevitable–then we ask God to pick us back up and march ourselves back to the Confessional. Change only occurs if we never give up. The Enemy wants us to stay face down in the mud sobbing about our failures or our lost dreams. We have to say “no” and get back up. Thankfully, God gave me a rather stubborn personality. This is good and bad, but I am thankful that it makes me less likely to stay down for long.

I love to hike and I love mountains. I grew up in Montana so the Rockies are deeply embedded in my psyche. I love living in the Appalachians, but there is a rugged, strange, dangerous, awe-inspiring, and compelling quality to the Rockies. The idea of the holy mountain we are climbing in this life is an old image. It’s found in the Old Testament since God was understood in relation to specific mountains i.e. Moses. Purgatory has also been called a holy mountain. Anyone who has hiked on granite peaks like the Rockies knows that there are long ascents, slippery shale crossings, snow, run off, mud, sudden afternoon thunderstorms, not-so-friendly wildlife, random summer snow storms, and winds. The views are phenomenal and they provide strength to continue onward when the climb becomes steep. Those who climb mountains like Mount Everest know that as you go higher the more treacherous the trip becomes.

The spiritual life seems to be similar to these treacherous climbs. The attacks, temptations, and reality of our weaknesses come to the forefront the more we climb. The Enemy changes tactics on us and at times we can mistake light that is really darkness (St. Ignatius of Loyola). The hidden places of darkness within us that we didn’t know about or never wanted to confront come out into the light. They have to so that God may shed His healing light and wipe away every darkness within us. Many of the saints experienced greater attacks from the Devil and struggled mightily with interior darkness as they continued the ascent. They relied solely on God amidst profound desolation.

The higher we climb, the more God reveals to us that we must give our entire selves to Him alone. The path becomes more difficult as we are asked to detach from more and more in this life, so that it is Christ who dwells fully within us. This takes a lifetime to accomplish since we are attached to much, some of which we don’t realize until we are faced with it at certain points on the journey. In our sinfulness, we do not realize that this detachment is the path to joy.

To be Catholic is to change. To be human is to change. There are relationships that may never fully heal and some people may choose the wrong path, but they are changing as they age. It is impossible not to. The deep changes, the necessary changes require God’s grace in our lives. The pruning away at the dead branches weighing us down becomes greater and greater as time goes on. In the end we may feel like a rose bush cut to the root, but any gardener knows the rose will come back in greater glory after an intense pruning. The same is true of us. With each new pruning, we change for either good or bad. It is up to us to rely on God in leading us to the good as we battle our selfishness and our own plans that are not united to His will for our lives.

We must also remember that people are not required to change in the manner we desire. We cannot force our will upon other people and make them into something in our own image. We must pray for others who have hurt us or who we may not agree with at times, but we cannot turn them into something they are not. God has plans for each individual based on the gifts and personality that He has bestowed upon us. Not everyone in the world is meant to be like us. Thank God for that! The last thing we need are carbon copies of me all over the world. In humility, we should recognize why people are meant to be different from one another. Oftentimes people will be upset when we make changes for the better, when we progress in holiness. Christ promised this too! Not everyone will understand, but we must continue on the path that He has laid out for us.

A very blessed last week of Advent to you as we wait in hope for the celebration of the coming of Our Savior at Christmas and while we wait ever watchful for the day He returns at the end of time.

Catholic Exchange: Easing the Loneliness of Stay-at-Home Moms

In our desire to convince people of the rightness of our position in certain matters, we can unwittingly lead people to believe that the spiritual life is meant to be easy. Far too often, we build things up with high and false expectations that damage the people we are trying to help. Instead of being honest about the very real struggles of our vocations, we brush these struggles off, ignore them, or pretend they do not exist, all for the sake of convincing people that certain choices are good, right, and/or superior.

In reality, the good speaks for itself, but that does not mean the path to holiness is easy. One of the areas in which I think we avoid full disclosure and honesty is in the struggles stay-at-home moms face in their vocation.

I am a stay-at-home mom and many of my friends are stay-at-home moms. I have noticed—as have many of my friends—that in our desire to convince people that staying home is good and worthwhile, we portray the realities of day-to-day life in unrealistic terms. We pretend that we are constantly smiling at our children with joy and happily thanking God for the gift of doing the dishes, laundry, and sweeping the floor for the umpteenth time in one day. Instead, many of us are muttering under our breath as we clean up the most recent mess. We are all works in progress! Most of all, we ignore the fact that many stay-at-home moms are lonely. Yes, lonely.

Western culture has led to a radical decline in community. As the idea of rugged individualism and the idea that we can do it ourselves took hold, the notion of coming together in community all but disintegrated. This is true both inside of the Church and in Western culture. Now most stay-at-home moms are islands largely isolated from one another. There are movements within parishes to get mothers together. This is a good first step, but I think we need to be honest about the struggles many Catholic mothers—good Catholic mothers—face in their isolation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Men Are in Desperate Need of the Church

I realize that I didn’t post my Catholic Exchange piece from last week to the blog. Here it is:

Our culture launches a brutal assault against men. It comes from two different fronts with seemingly contradictory attacks. The first is the radical form of feminism that has grown in prominence over the course of the last 40-50 years. This radical feminism spreads the narrative that men are sexist, pigs, brutish, predatory, inferior, barbaric and on and on. Social media is filled with these kinds of vile mischaracterizations of men that go after the jugular of masculinity. Watch closely in your favorite sitcom: the wife is usually the strong intelligent leader of the family while the husband is a bumbling idiot.

On the other front, we have a culture that is obsessed with hedonism in which men are told to lust freely after women, or men. Pornography is normal, as are things like masturbation, adultery, and promiscuity. The massive pornography industry, along with the advertising industry, has exploited and profited off of the visual tendency of men. These images are everywhere, from social media to television to grocery stores to billboards. It is impossible to avoid it. Lust isn’t just an issue outside of the Church, as much as we would like to think so, to our own detriment. This is happening in our own pews. Far too many of our brothers in Christ are waging a terrible battle and we largely ignore their struggles, either out of ignorance, because we have taken on the culture’s view of men, fear, naivete, or apathy.

The failure of finding authentic masculinity and femininity 

In the wake of Vatican II — while far too many people greatly misread, misapplied, and distorted conciliar documents such as Gaudium et Spes —radical feminism found sway within the Church. A great project to feminize the Church began, and while the Church needed to embrace authentic femininity, in many corners it has largely disregarded its own heritage and applied cultural principles of feminism as opposed to the theological understanding of feminism so beautifully taught by St. John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem and his Theology of the Body. Instead, many women took the helm on far too many projects and left men to their own devices; everything has to have a female touch and typical masculine traits are discouraged.

Everything needs a balance of authentic masculinity and femininity which find their perfection in the Blessed Trinity. God is pure spirit. The “He” is found in the relations of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, not in a biological sex or gender (St. Thomas Aquinas). God has revealed Himself to us as a relation of Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church’s understanding has always been that the sexes are equal in dignity by virtue of being made imago Dei, but differ at a biological and an ontological (the level of being, existence, reality) level in their masculinity and femininity. Both sexes possess masculine and feminine traits, but each of the sexes embodies these traits not only physically, but spiritually. Biological sex is also a reflection of spiritual realities. The Church is not either/or, she is a both/and in her teaching. The Church is the only vestige left that embraces authentic femininity and masculinity.

Men by virtue of their masculinity—and this is a great good—are defenders, protectors, providers, and deeply oriented towards ritual. I know this not only as a Catholic, but as a U.S. Navy Veteran. These traits are universal and, while our culture seeks to tear down the qualities that make men men, we have an obligation as Catholics to live in conformity to truth and reality. Men have a very distinct and crucial role to play in the Church. It is time we stop expecting men to be anything other then men. It is time to start allowing men to participate in the life of the Church through their distinct expressions of masculinity.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Lessons on Motherhood from the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord. It is a feast day that draws us into a deeper love of Our Lord and Our Heavenly Mother. It is also through the Visitation that mothers can enter more deeply into the joy of their vocation, as well as the joy of ministering to one another on the journey. After the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat to God’s plan of salvation, she proceeds “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful passage. It is the coming together of two women, united by joy and the promise of salvation. Two women sharing the great gift of motherhood. One bears the son who will pave the way for the coming of the Lord and the other is the New Eve whose son will take away the sins of the world. They greet one another as kinswomen united in a deep communion. The encounter between these two women invites us to be drawn closer to God by the gift of not only their pronouncement, but their pious love for one another. Their womanhood and motherhood is an example for all, but mothers can learn quite a bit through the Visitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: The Ascension and Our Journey Home

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord oftentimes is an understated event in the Church’s liturgical year. We profess the reality of this historical and supernatural event each Sunday as we profess the Creed. It is a significant event, in fact, it is the climax before He sends the Paraclete. In returning to the Father, Jesus leads us into the Father’s presence and forever tears the veil dividing mankind from God. It is through the Ascension in light of the Paschal Mystery that we are able to go home. Our Lord, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, in His Glorified Incarnate form, brings us to the Father. We are now able to enter into the Heavenly sanctuary and behold the Beatific Vision at the end of our holy lives.

The Ascension reminds us this is not our home.

In the glory, awe, mystery, and joy of the Resurrection we celebrate the gift of our salvation. We have been redeemed in Christ. The Lord’s Ascension reminds us that earth is our temporary home. We are sojourners with our gaze fixed on the faraway land. We seek the white shores, the place of peace, eternity with our Beloved. Christ has paved the way for us and He calls each one of us to follow Him back to the Father, so that we may truly rest in the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 661

We are now able to follow Christ back to our permanent home in Heaven. We too are called to return to the Father.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Waiting on the Lord During Easter

Christ is risen! Alleluia! We have entered into the great and joyful season of Easter. It is a time of re-birth and hope as we live the Resurrection. We rest in the truth and wonder that sin and death are conquered by Jesus Christ and that all things are being made new. Even in this great joy, there are many of us who are still in a period of waiting. While God renews the face of the earth, we must still live in a Fallen world. Our joy is often tinged with uncertainty and suffering. It is indeed possible to feel joy and sorrow at the same time. Joy contains within it the sting of homesickness as God reminds us that this is not our final home. Beauty is often mingled with heart-break as our souls soar towards Heaven, but still await the Beatific Vision. How do we live our joy and our waiting?

Rest in the Word of God.

Many of us are waiting on the Lord to act or respond in a certain area of our lives. It may be a cancer diagnosis, desire for a child or parent to return to or enter the Church, a new job, a relationship, infertility, or any other number of situations. My husband and I are waiting, patiently and not so patiently, on God’s will in adoption. The joy of the Easter season can contain within it, periods of the Cross. We can rest assured in this period of waiting that God is conforming us to Himself and drawing us close.
Since it is Easter and the celebration of the reason for our hope, meditating on the Word of God is critical. Take time to read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Imagine being at the tomb on that first Easter morning. Walk with the Apostles as they meet the risen Lord. Hear the Lord call you by name, as He did St. Mary Magdalene. We must allow the Word of God to permeate our souls as we wait for answers. Meditating on the Resurrection allows God to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter.

Pray without ceasing.

We are called to trust in God. Remember that we killed God and nailed Him to the Cross and He came back in forgiving love to redeem each one of us. He loves each one of us and everything He does is for our own good and sanctification. Keeping this truth in mind allows us to turn to Him in every aspect of our daily lives. We must learn to breathe out prayers every moment of the day. It can be as simple as speaking the name of Jesus or offering up the dishes for our prayer intention or the needs of others. In moments when our waiting seems overwhelming, we need to turn to Our Lord in prayer. He knows the needs and wants deep within our hearts, but He wants us to ask for them. We can speak openly with Him, even in our struggles and frustrations. He wants to draw close to us and to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter, even in our waiting.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.