Catholic Exchange: St. Benedict and the Benedict Option for Today

If it wasn’t clear before that the culture of the West is opposed to the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, the recent decision to legalize “gay marriage” in the United States made it quite apparent. The decision was decades in the making and cannot solely be blamed on the homosexual agenda. It goes back to contraception and no fault divorce, both of which have eroded marriage in profound ways over the decades. For Catholics, much of it is due to dissent from Humanae Vitae by clergy and laity, as well as an abandonment of moral teaching. The question for Catholics today is: Where do we go from here? The reason we need to ask this question is because there is little doubt that we will be pushed to the fringes in the coming decades. Our moral understanding and focus on Christ means that we are in opposition to the world. Christ told us:

“I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword…” Matthew 10:34

The world has always been in opposition to the Good News. The world crucified God. The Church has been set against the world since her founding by Our Lord, and that was no different during the life of St. Benedict whose feast day we celebrate on Saturday, June 11.

St. Benedict is most widely known for his rule and as the “Father of Western Monasticism”. He lived circa 480-560 and his influence on the world was great. Even though his rule was not the first, it was the most widely used in the west for centuries. St. Benedict’s rule was comprised of several rules which could be applied to a variety of monasteries and locations. His rule’s primary emphasis was on: moderation, the integration of prayer and work, and the socialization of the monastic life.

Once monasticism was introduced to the west by St. Athanasius, it spread quickly. By the time St. Benedict composed his rule, monasteries were in Africa, France, and even Ireland. Monasticism preserved much of Europe during the Dark Ages when there was much tumult and chaos. It was through monasticism that manuscripts were preserved, as well as art, architecture, and music were developed. It was here that culture survived and lived for many years. St. Benedict could not have known how great of an impact his rule would be on the west. Blessed John Henry Newman said of him:

“St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time, or by any rare specific, or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often till the work was done, it was not known to be doing…Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they could have saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees, the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, and abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: St. Thomas More, A Saint for the Persecuted Church

Today is the feast of St. Thomas More. He is one of the great English saints of the Church and he is a wonderful saint for those individuals who are undergoing persecution for their Christian faith. St. Thomas More was born in 1478 in London where his father was a lawyer and judge. He received a stellar education at St. Anthony’s school and became a household page for John Morton who was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. The Archbishop saw potential in More and nominated him for a place at Oxford University. He began his studies at Oxford in 1492 where he received a top notch classical education. His education and training would take him far in his adult life. He was a lawyer, politician, author, and eventually caught the eye of King Henry VIII and was appointed Lord Chancellor of England.

As a young man he considered the call to become a monk. He took this discernment very seriously and his friend Erasmus wrote of this period:

Meanwhile he applied his whole mind to the exercises of piety, looking to and pondering on the priesthood in vigils, fasts, and prayers and similar austerities. In which matter he proved himself far more prudent than most candidates who thrust themselves rashly into that arduous profession without any previous trial of their powers. The one thing that prevented him from giving himself to that kind of life was that he could not shake off the desire of the married state. He chose, therefore, to be a chaste husband rather than an impure priest.

Once More had settled the matter of his vocation, he became dedicated to his work and future family. He was eventually elected to Parliament in 1501 and married Jane Colt in 1505. They had four children together before she died in 1511. He dedicated his life to providing her with a strong education and bestowed that gift upon his daughters as well. In a surprising move, he re-married one month after her death. He was then married to a widow named Alice Middleton. She was older than him and devoted her time to carrying for his children, her daughter, and eventually Anne Crescare of whom he became guardian.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: Loving God through the Magisterium

One of the great struggles for many Catholics, especially in the West, is the hierarchical structure of the Church. We are called to submission and obedience to the Church. These are, of course, pejoratives in much of our culture, so many view the Magisterium and hierarchy with disdain, suspicion, and hostility. Some of this is a result of the sinful nature of men and women. The sins of the Church are on public display and so we blame the source instead of the person. While it may be understandable, it is incorrect to do so. The Church’s hierarchical structure is a great gift that was begun by Our Lord Himself. We must learn to separate the sins of men from the Church herself.

One of the great theologians of ecclesiology in the last century was Henri De Lubac. He was a French Jesuit and a masterful theologian. He was Hans Urs von Balthasar’s teacher, another great theologian of the last century. Henri De Lubac gives a clear, concise, and loving explanation of the Church in his book, The Splendor of the Church. De Lubac shows his great love of the Church and invites his readers into a passionate encounter with her, including the hierarchical structure of the Church. He also gives a vibrant explanation of why obedience is absolutely necessary in the Christian life. All that we have been given is from God and all that we have must be returned to God.

It is God himself, giving himself to us in the first place so that we may give ourselves to him; insofar as we welcome him into ourselves we are already not our own. This law is verified in the order of faith more than anywhere else. The truth that God pours into our minds is not just any truth, made to our humble human measure; the life he gives us to drink is not a natural life, which would find in us the wherewithal to maintain itself. This living truth and this true life find foothold in us only by dispossessing us of ourselves; if we are to live in them we must die to ourselves; and that dispossession and death are not only the initial conditions of our salvation, they are the permanent aspect of life as renewed in God.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: Mary, Mother of the Persecuted

Today I am writing for Catholic Exchange on how Our Lady can be our guide during periods of persecution.

There is little doubt that the situation for Christians in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, and other countries is dire. The number of martyrs for this year alone has reached well into the thousands. In the West attacks on Christian conscience have left multiple business owners with no livelihood or exorbitant fines. To the person who is paying attention to the times, there can be little doubt that the persecution promised by Our Lord is very real in our present age.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el’zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
Matthew 10:24-25 (RSV)

Persecution of the Church has been a reality since the beginning of the Church. If Our Lord and Savior was crucified, what makes us think that our fate should be any different? That persecution may come in a variety of forms, but one thing that is certain, there will be periods in our lives in which we will be maligned for our faith. In those moments we should turn to Our Heavenly Mother. She is the Mother of all Christians and she is the Mother of the persecuted.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Don’t forget to enter my Marian book GIVEAWAY for the month of May. Details can be found here.

Catholic Exchange: Cultivating Wonder in Our Daily Lives

Today I am happy to be writing for Catholic Exchange on one of my favorite topics: Wonder.

Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads a child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree that they have seen. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. It is tied to monotony. But, who has it right? I say the child.

In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. It is in Scripture that God can be heard most clearly, most specifically in Jesus Christ. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles as we search for truth.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Mother’s Day and Miscarriage

I am going to share this again. I am totally not trying to toot my own horn here. Mother’s Day is coming up and that can be a difficult time for many women. If you have had miscarriages, then you are a mom. Your children have just been given the gift of the Beatific Vision without a sojourn here. I know that doesn’t take the pain away, believe me, I know. Share this with your friends who have had miscarriages. Remember at Mass on Sunday that you children are celebrating the Heavenly Liturgy with us as Christ presides over every single Mass. Here is my meditation on the Rosary and miscarriage that is up over at Catholic Exchange.

Last month we recognized Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility comes in many forms: those who cannot have children, those who suffer repeated miscarriage, and those who cannot have more children after they have one or two. There are many different types of infertility and it is something that I know well. It is the great Cross of my adult life. I have been given one beautiful and amazing daughter and I have had three miscarriages. Dealing with infertility or the death of a child in the womb, stillbirth, or after birth is deeply painful. It is only in light of the mystery of the Cross that our pain and anguish can make sense. After my last miscarriage, I began to meditate on The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in relation to miscarriage.

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the hardest parts of miscarriage is all of the waiting.  When you initially suspect you are losing your child, you have to wait to confirm with the doctor.  Then the ultrasound confirms that your baby has died.  The waiting starts anew for the miscarriage to begin, or be over.  After the miscarriage itself you wait for the agony of the grief to subside.  You wait to feel joy, peace, or even whole again.  So much waiting.  It is difficult, but uniting this to Christ’s agony the night before he died can help bring you comfort.  With my last miscarriage, I was exhausted and hurting from all of the waiting.  I was waiting to bleed out my child.  It was agonizing for me.  Think of how Christ felt knowing that he was about to be tortured and crucified.  Most importantly think about how much weight he felt taking on all of our sins.

Look at what Scripture says about the Agony in the Garden. Matthew 26:36-46 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Look at how Our Lord felt.  He was overwhelmed with sorrow.  Isn’t that how it feels to lose a child?  Don’t you too want someone to keep watch with you in that hour of loss?  The pain is unbearable.  Lift your pain and suffering to Christ.  He knows how you feel.  He wants to comfort and wait with you in that hour of need.  He always wants to be there for you.  It is hard, but try. Give the agony over to him.  I know how hard it is to just give the grief over to Him.  You may feel anger, betrayal, or incredible sadness. Or, like me, you may feel all of these emotions.  Give it all up to Him.  Every single emotion, thought, feeling, action.  Ask Him to sit with you in your agony.  Ask Him to welcome your child into His Kingdom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

St. Catherine of Siena and The Thirst for Holiness

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Today we celebrate the feast of St. Catherine of Siena who is one of the four female Doctors of the Church. One of the great literary works found in the Catholic tradition is The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue is private revelation dictated by her to her secretaries while she was in a state of ecstasy and it was completed in 1370. It is a work rich in fruit and spiritual depth and includes four treatises on the topics of: Divine Providence, discretion, prayer, and obedience. There is too much wonderful material to cover in so short a piece, so I will focus on material found in the Treatise on Divine Providence, namely the call to personal holiness through prayer and suffering.

St. Catherine was born in 1347 and was the twenty-fifth child of Giacomo and Lapa Benincasa. She began receiving visions from Our Lord at the age of 6, when she saw Jesus seated in glory along with members of the Church Triumphant: Peter, Paul, and John. It was then that Catherine resolved to give her whole life to Christ. Her parents desired that she marry, but she remained resolute in her abandonment and surrender to God. Eventually her parents recognized the workings of God in her life and they relinquished her to God through prayer. Catherine decided to follow the great Dominican Founder, St. Dominic, and became a tertiary (now known as Lay) Dominican. She fully embraced a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She remained with her family as she served the poor and sick in her community. It was in her service to the sick and suffering servants that she recognized the love of the Crucified Christ.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Shock and Awe of Becoming a Contributor for Catholic Exchange

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I learned a few lessons yesterday as I began my contributor relationship with Catholic Exchange. The story of how I ended up writing periodically for them is one that I can only look back at in wonder. A few weeks before I was asked by the editor to become a contributor, I had emailed a good friend of mine and told him that my writing goal for this year was to get a piece published on Catholic Exchange. I had seen on their editorial page that they take submissions, as do a whole host of other Catholic websites, some of which I am waiting to complete my Master’s before I write more scholarly submissions. My friend thought it was a great idea and wished me success. I had set the thought aside as I began to prepare for final essays and exams for the January semester. Then something completely unexpected happened.

I read Catholic Exchange articles throughout my week because their focus is on deepening the Catholic faith of their readers and inviting others to investigate the greatness that is Christ and His Church. I happened to see an article that stopped me in my tracks in that the title was a theological error. For some reason I felt compelled to write a theological response on my own blog and share it on their Facebook page and in the comments section.  I didn’t expect a response and had written it so that readers could see a theological argument in response and study the subject more. I will not re-hash my post here, as it was quickly corrected by the author and editor. What happened next greatly humbled and amazed me. The editor contacted me to tell me a correction had been made and asked if I wanted to become a contributor for the website. I was stunned and over-joyed. This was a site I read regularly that I felt truly represented the Catholic mission to the world in its refusal to fall strictly into polemics. They are striving to help us grow in holiness. After a few years in polemics, I had found their website and had seen what type of writer I truly wanted to be.

I was exhausted from the battles that Catholics wage with one another constantly over every minute detail. I see that parts of social media are tearing the Mystical Body down rather than lifting it up. I contemplated this last night after having survived my first day as a contributor for a major Catholic site that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I was stunned by the level of support and sharing my piece generated, as well as the other amazing authors at Catholic Exchange. I saw that thousands of people were reading and sharing the articles from yesterday. It made me wonder, do sites focused on polemics generate this kind of buzz? I looked over a few of the major Catholic political sites and saw very quickly that they are not nearly as popular. While this was an anecdotal and small pool of research, I could see that people are thirsting for the authentic Catholic Christian message. Yes, polemics are interesting. I still sit back and watch the arguments on my friends’ social media pages, but arguments don’t quench that thirst. Messages of hope, reflections on Scripture, the lives of the saints, and deepening of theological understanding feeds the soul in social media and in real life. The world is noisy and places like Catholic Exchange invite their readers into the silence of God. That is precisely why they are so popular. They are feeding Christ’s sheep.

My experience of joining them as a contributor was one of deep humility and shock. I struggle with pride, intellectual pride, and God completely stunned me with this direction in my writing. I quickly discovered that this is one of His tools for teaching me humility. I was nervous when my post was published. I was worried that I had made unintentional errors, and I actually did. They were quickly fixed. As a natural debater, I learned that I don’t have to respond to every comment posted. In fact, I really didn’t want to engage in debate since that is not the goal of my writing these days. I merely want to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with others and let God do the work. So while I responded to a few comments on my article yesterday, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need to and that is how I will keep things in the future unless any major questions arise. I want people to offer fraternal correction when necessary and I will happily contact the editor to make sure my mistakes are fixed, but I want my writing to help with silence and peace, not turn into fights over minutiae. So this natural born debater learned to trust and let things go. If the editor has approved my piece, then it is fine. Both of us are orthodox and never intend to lead people astray.

To write for a large website is to offer yourself up to the readership. It is to trust that God is using the talent he has given me to serve Him, not myself. I write because I want people to deepen their love of the Blessed Trinity. I am also human and I have to fight pride daily. There is a real danger of pride in being a writer. We can lose sight of the mission, but I see now that God is using this to teach me humility. I don’t like every writer that I read, so it is impossible for everyone to like my writing all of the time. People will tell me such and that is a great reminder to be humble and serve God, not myself. It is also deeply humbling to see so many people using this website to grow in their Catholic faith.

As a writer and a student, I tend to walk forward in fear and trembling. This is what we all should be doing, but I am amazed at what God has done with me in the past few months, especially as I go further into my Master’s program. I am learning so much and it makes me want to share it with others. I am growing in wonder and amazement as I delve deeper into the truths of Christ and His Church. I will even be teaching high school theology online this coming fall for Kolbe Academy Home School.

Yes, my primary vocation is wife and mother. That is the greatest gift, but I am thankful that he is using me precisely in my vocation. I can teach and write from home. He is fulfilling that deep intellectual yearning that He gave me, but also keeping me firmly planted at home with my daughter and husband. What a tremendous gift! The last few years have been hard. I suffered three miscarriages, post-partum depression, and a long period of refinement in the furnace of suffering, as one of my Confessors called it. The grief was painful and I was constantly reminded of Christ on the Cross. Through all of that suffering Christ has conformed me more closely to Himself that I may serve Him in charity, truth, and humility. So here I am in awe of what He is doing in my life. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed Easter season.