Leading People to Christ in an Overly Political Age

Tintoretto – Christ and the Adulteress, around 1546 – 1547

Holiness is contagious. Human beings are attracted to those souls who radiate the love of Christ. They may not understand why it attracts them. That light may also induce fear and shame, but there is nothing more contagious in this life than holiness. Holiness does not, however, come about through an idea or philosophical system. We do not become radiant in love through our intellectual pursuits or our politics. Holiness begins with a radical encounter with the Living God.

The Church’s primary mission is to bring all nations into conformation (communion) with the Most Holy Trinity. To lead people on the path to sanctity, which answers the longing deep within every human heart to be loved and to experience joy. Holiness is communion with the Most Holy Trinity. It is to be a close friend of God’s. He wants all people to come to Him; to find their rest and blessedness (beatitudo). The Church does not primarily transform the City of Man through natural means, although she is called to do so through the missions and vocations of her disciples. She transforms the world through this call to holiness, through discipleship. 

The world today, especially in the West, poses unique challenges to our evangelical mission in a way the Church hasn’t encountered in previous ages. We are no longer primarily evangelizing polytheistic people who sought to worship transcendent gods outside of themselves. Instead, we are faced with the task of evangelizing peoples who have predominately caved in on themselves and been fed the philosophical lie that truth is set by the individual, thus rendering each individual their own god. Leading people from the darkness of relativism and nihilism—which dominates through the will to power—is extremely difficult.

The answer to how we evangelize always has the first starting point in every age: Jesus Christ. We must seek to bring Christ to all people. This cannot be accomplished through an over- reliance on political posturing or even moralism. This is not because the moral law doesn’t matter. It is because we cannot expect those around us who have not been given the supernatural gift of faith to see the truth clearly as we do. We must lead them to an encounter with Jesus Christ first.

The reason for our faith is not the moral law. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI repeatedly pointed out that Catholicism is not a philosophical or moral system. It is a lived encounter and relationship with Christ. The mistake many of us make is in thinking that the moral law is everything. We forget that our own conversion and our own daily conversion is difficult and it is only possible through our relationship with Christ. We love Him and we want to serve Him, so we beg Him for the grace to persevere in order to grow in sanctity.

One of the dangers in the Church today—as well as in previous ages— is to foolishly attempt to lead people to the moral law before Christ. It is nearly impossible to evangelize people without leading them to Christ Crucified and Risen first. People cannot know the truth until they come to love Jesus who is the Truth. They will not submit to what seems to be an arbitrary set of rules until they know God. A man and a woman come together in marriage because they love one another and they choose to sacrifice everything for the other. The same is true in the Christian life.

This same method is used when a primarily political understanding is placed above our evangelical mission. Political systems are simply another type of philosophical system. Politics aid us in bringing about the common good, but our political convictions are not the center of our lives. In our current divisive and vitriolic political climate, it is very easy to turn politics into a false idol. It is also impossible to evangelize through political means because it will automatically alienate the other side. The Church transcends politics even as she transforms society.

The reality is, we very rarely are able to convert souls to the truth in Christ Jesus through our political posturing. Instead, we often aid in the hardening of hearts because we forget that the truth is not primarily political and we forget that those who cannot see the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. do not have the full light of faith and truth to guide them. We expect from them what it is not in our power to give. We are guides, not the distributors of grace.

St. Paul tells us the Cross is folly to the wise. Why? The Cross we are called to is a total relinquishment of self in love to God and for our neighbor. Given that it is natural for human beings to protect ourselves from suffering, the Cross looks like pure insanity to those who do not have the supernatural vision of faith. How can suffering redeem? Why should I give up my contraception, premarital sex, and other pleasures of the world for a philosophical system?

Until someone has had an encounter with Christ, they will fight back against this relinquishment. They will not see that the Church says “yes” far more often than she says “no.” As Christ’s disciples, we must seek to lead people to Jesus Christ who is made present on our altars. This is accomplished through a life dedicated to holiness and the mission that Christ gives to each one of us through our baptism. Holiness is the starting place for transforming the world around us, not endless debates about politics or our vote.

St. Teresa of Calcutta did not stop to ask the political beliefs of the poorest of the poor. She sought to love and to serve united to Christ on the Cross. St. John Paul II boldly proclaimed the truth, but in a manner that was centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Both of these saints were radiant in their person. This radiance drew people towards the Living God who is Light Itself. We are called to be this light.

The divisions of our day cannot be solved through deeper entrenchment in our political ideologies. We must seek to heal the ruptured communion that exists within the human family. Christ seeks out the lost, and our culture is lost. He admonishes the Pharisees most of all because they had been given the law and yet they failed to lead the nations to God. We run the risk of falling into this trap when we mistakenly believe that it is only the law that can save us. We run this risk when we place political ideologies above Christ. The Jews of Jesus’ day fell into this temptation repeatedly.

Christ issues invitations to sinners. He only flips tables once, but He repeatedly seeks the lost sheep of Israel and the world. The woman caught in adultery is an example of how we must approach the wounded and lost in our own culture. Jesus is not standing over her admonishing and chastising her. Rather, he is crouched down in the dirt. He admonishes those who want to stone this woman through his questions about their own sins. Each person present drops their stone and walks away aware of their own sinfulness. Jesus then looks up with His gaze of love and frees this woman from her sins. She is then transformed by His love. He is below her and looks up at her. His love reveals her sinfulness and she accepts His invitation of love. How often do we instead stand over our political or moral opponents Lording over them?

A few years ago, weeks after my fourth miscarriage, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion. I was in the throes of intense grief at having lost another child, a son, after seeing his heartbeat twice on the ultrasound monitor. It was then that Christ showed me a woman in greater need than myself who was scared, unsure, and being pressured to get an abortion. Our lifestyles were very different. She had a past of petty crimes. Our moral understanding was polar opposite. She did not know Christ other than in the fact that she had heard His name, but didn’t know Him personally.

It would have been impossible for me to help her avoid killing her own child if I had used a philosophical or moral worldview rather than seeing her with the eyes of Christ. Instead, I had to walk with her and help her in whatever way I could. I had to be a radiant light in the darkness to her. I had to emptying myself completely out in love for her.

She chose life for her son and I was blessed to hold him in my arms shortly after he was born. Afterwards, she chose to end our relationship even after I tried to check in on her. I did not change her moral view. She didn’t have a radical conversion. Instead, I planted seeds and then had to leave them to God to tend. Her conversion isn’t up to me. It is up to God and His timing.

Screaming at one another on social media or around the family dinner table accomplishes very little in an age of division. As a mother and a spiritual mother, I’ve had to learn the hard way how often the only thing I can do is seek to be constant, loving, and patient with others. We can’t ram the truth down anyone’s throat. We can share it boldly in love, but we cannot force anyone. That isn’t love. God doesn’t force us to love Him and we can’t force others to love Him either. We can’t make people see what we see. We must pray for the gift of faith for others and for ourselves. More than anything, we must live the truth in such a way that any light within us leads people to Christ.

This is why I am against the over-emphasis on politics by so many Catholics today. Not because politics don’t matter. They do matter in the measure with which our political system can be directed towards the common good. Politics do not make up most of our lives, however. You couldn’t tell based on social media threads.

We cannot evangelize through a political lens, nor is being Catholic primarily political. We are Catholic because we have encountered Christ and fallen in love with Him. We want to serve Him. We want to dwell forever with Him in eternity and to lead all souls to Him. We see the truth because we have been given that gift from the Holy Spirit. We didn’t earn it. We accepted the invitation He has given to us. The same invitation we need to help others accept in the measure we are able to in accordance with God’s will and timing.

The Cross and the Saints Episode 9: St. Augustine

Today, as promised, I talk about St. Augustine who was St. Monica’s son. He is a great saint for those who are struggling with lust and the sins of the flesh. He had a dramatic and beautiful conversions which is recounted in his Confessions. I highly recommend reading it during this time at home. He is also a wonderful saint for all of us as we constantly seek conversion of heart. This process of conversion of heart is a moment-by-moment struggle as we try to turn to God in all things. St. Augustine, ora pro nobis.

The Saints and the Cross Episode 8: St. Monica

The next saint in the series is St. Monica. For those of you struggling with wanting your children, family, friends, and others to return to the Church or convert, St. Monica is the saint for you. She shows us how our prayers, sacrifices, and love will be used by the Holy Spirit for their sanctification and ours. We must trust that He is always at work and sometimes we need to get out of the way and allow the people He sends to help our loved ones do His work. No matter what, we can trust God is working in the lives of our loved ones.

*Precision in language matters a great deal to me in both my writing and speaking. I inadvertently–a slip of speech–referred to the Holy Spirit with their rather than His. No, I was not trying to use gender-neutral language. God has revealed Himself through the masculine even though He also possesses all feminine qualities within Himself as well. It was a small enough mistake that I decided not to re-record the whole thing.

The Saints and the Cross Episode 7: St. Joan of Arc

Happy Third Sunday of Easter! Today I talk about the next saint in my series: St. Joan of Arc. This one is for my daughter who loves the martyr saints. St. Joan of Arc is a wonderful example to us of how to follow God’s will even when those around us do not understand it fully. She was tasked with doing extraordinary things in the face of extreme odds, but her faithfulness to God, led her to accomplish all that He asked of her. She eventually gave her life for Christ as a martyr when she was burned at the stake. May we all use this time to prayerfully discern where Christ is calling us to serve Him for the salvation of souls.

First Article at Crisis Magazine: Flight of the Lady-Bishops

**I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog lately. I have multiple writing projects going at present, so I’ve been giving my attention to those over regular blogging. Below is the first piece I’ve published at Crisis Magazine.

***It should be noted, that while I published an article today respectfully disagreeing with my bishop, I will be making a holy hour for him before daily Mass today. I tell everyone who is frustrated with priests and bishops that the starting place for renewal is in prayer, fasting, and penance.

In mid-January, it was made public that His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout (my local ordinary) had made arrangements with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia to allow an invalid consecration of a female “bishop” at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Williamsburg. The public outcry was so intense that the Episcopalians chose to move the event to a nearby Protestant church in order to avoid further division within the Catholic faithful of the diocese.

It should be noted that Bishop Knestout does have the authority under canon law to make prudential judgments concerning the use of diocesan property for ecumenical events. The issue many Catholics had with the decision did not have much to do with the bishop’s authority, but rather the possible impact on the ministerial priesthood and further erosion of the faithful’s understanding of the priesthood in an age marred by scandal and corruption.

For the last two years, the Church has been shaken by reports of clerical sex abuse, corruption, greed, and systematic cover-ups. All of these sins of the clergy have undermined the sacred office of the priesthood—especially the office of bishop. It is the bishop who is entrusted by Christ with the fullness of Holy Orders in order to teach, govern, and sanctify the people of God. Yet the faithful’s understanding of who it is that the priest represents—what his sacred role is within the Church—has been greatly damaged as a result.

These scandals are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. The Church is facing a crisis of faith, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent letter on the scandals. This crisis is most evident in the number of Catholics who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 70 percent deny the Real Presence. The state of the priesthood today and the lack of belief in the Real Presence are inextricably linked since Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are bound together in the same reality. One would not exist without the other.

In response to the scandals and decades of poor catechesis, many Catholics have begun to take a rather distanced or indifferent approach to the priesthood. When potential solutions are proposed, many Catholics argue in favor of women’s ordination—which, as the Church has taught clearly and consistently for centuries, is ontologically impossible—or lifting the celibacy requirement on Latin Rite priests.

Read the rest over at Crisis Magazine.

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.

Catholic Exchange: The World Needs the Witness of Celibate Priests

Last week, Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News fame announced that he has decided to leave the priesthood and is petitioning for laicization. In response to the very public announcement of his decision, I was immediately struck by how little so many respondents understood the nature of the priesthood. I was also disheartened to see so many Catholics throwing out popular cultural maxims such as “just follow your heart”, “you do you”, and the inevitable calls for an end to the vow of celibacy. 

Our response to a priest leaving the priesthood should lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes of condemnation and “follow your heart.” Neither response does justice to such a complex issue.

Fr. Morris’ decision ultimately rests between him and God, but we also cannot pretend that the choice by a priest to leave the priesthood doesn’t have a deep impact on the faithful and on his brother priests who do stay true to their vows and who remain as the Church continues to be ravaged by scandal. 

A priest leaving the priesthood causes pain, confusion, division, and scandal. The decision may be necessary, but we cannot equate a priest leaving the priesthood to someone simply changing jobs. The priesthood is intimately connected to communion, which means any decision made by a priest impacts others, many others, for good or for ill. In relation to the priesthood, the maxim “follow your heart” is nothing short of destructive and counter to the vows he took at ordination.

Dying to Self

When we are baptized into the Church, we become a new creation. Our old life of sin and death is washed away as we die with Christ and are regenerated in the waters of Baptism. We are then called to become a living sacrifice and to become like Christ in our daily lives. We also become members of the Mystical Body, which is one body united to Christ as the Head. We no longer live for ourselves. This takes on an even deeper meaning within the priesthood as these men, called by Christ, surrender their entire person to Him and His Church at ordination.

The Latin Rite’s requirement of a vow of celibacy for priests is a further call to self-emptying love and spiritual paternity. It is a radical form of dying to self in the image of Christ. By relinquishing a family of their own, Latin Rite priests give themselves completely over to Christ and the Church so that they can become spiritual fathers to Christ’s flock through a complete abandonment of self for the needs of God’s people. They give up a wife and children of their own so that God’s people may become their spiritual children and the Church their Bride in the image of Christ the Bridegroom. The vow of celibacy leads the priest to become an even greater reflection of Christ who abandons Himself completely to the will of the Father.

The celibacy requirement is not simply a “lofty ideal” or “an outdated practice”. It is a sacrifice made by these men that infuses immense grace into the Church through their constant emptying of self in conformity to Christ in service to us. They are witnesses to the higher spiritual goods and a reminder that one day marriage will end and we will all be united as one in heaven. Marriage is a great good, but it is not the ultimate good. 

Our ultimate good is found in loving and serving God. Happiness can only be attained by living in communion with God and in accordance with His will. He is meant to be the very center of our lives. Our culture places an inordinate emphasis on romantic love and sex while largely rejecting God. In many ways, romantic love—which typically is reduced purely to sex—has become the only form of love and happiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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.