Another God Inspired Encounter with a Complete Stranger

I had another one of those encounters that I’ve mentioned in previous writing with someone while I was out tonight. The thunderstorm we had knocked out the computer systems at store I was at and they discovered it right as I went up to pay. The system needed multiple re-boots and I could have left and gone to Walmart, but instead I stood there patiently and told them it wasn’t a big deal. The manager was visibly anxious and the other gentleman felt bad, but tried to be laid back about it. I told them both it wasn’t their fault and I used to work in IT, so I understand.

That’s when the one gentleman looked at me and said I have a Bachelor’s in Computer Science, but I’m not allowed to touch the systems except to re-boot it. I wondered how he ended up working in this store instead and then he started talking to me about how much he hated Computer Science and he had done it to form a connection with the father he never knew who died. Now he’s shackled with tons of student loans. I mentioned that I worked with computers in the military and he then told me about how much he wanted to be in the military, but they discovered he has heart disease and couldn’t go in.

He’s 30-years-old and newly married and hates that he never could get in the military. His whole family was military and I could tell he feels like a failure for not being able to serve. He thinks his life would have been more put together and he’d be further along. I agreed that the military does provide some stability in career. I told him I understood his disappointment. I then rather brazenly (I surprised myself!) said while looking right into his eyes: “Just remember. That doesn’t define you.”

We chatted a bit more before everything came back online and I had to get going. But I talked to him for a good 10-15 minutes and learned a lot about him in that short amount of time. I told him and his boss that I hoped their night was more peaceful and that the computer failure is not their fault and it was no big deal that I got hung up there. I wanted to encourage them should other people come in the store who are not quite so patient.

I’m an introvert and I keep having these connections with people I encounter when I am out. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit, because a great sense of patience and peace washes over me when they happen. I no longer feel a sense of urgency or even exhaustion and I am tired tonight. Instead I am fully present in the moment and focus solely on that person.

For some reason, I was meant to talk to this gentleman, his name was Josh. Please pray for him and his wife. People carry tremendous burdens and feel the need to reach out to other people, but often can’t because we are in such a rush and glued to our technology all of the time. The latter is ironic since I’m posting this here. People are amazing and filled with such incredible depths. More than anything, people need Christ. My prayer is that Josh at least heard me when I told him that he isn’t defined by not serving in the military. I truly hope so.

Looking Past the Monotony of Daily Living In Order to See God’s Gratuitous Love

Dolphin_at_Dalkey_Island

Image taken from Wiki Commons.

It is easy in our daily lives to discount the seemingly minor encounters or experiences we have throughout any given day. We are so busy going through the motions that we often forget to pay attention to where God is blessing us and showering us with His gratuitous love. He is always trying to draw us closer to Himself, but in our brokenness and the monotony of daily living we often don’t see it. I know that there are far too many days when I am merely going through the motions and not paying attention.

I had an experience last week while I was in Virginia Beach that served as a reminder that God is a loving Father who rejoices with us in our delight and who seeks to give us great blessings. Sometimes those blessing come in roundabout ways and through suffering and sometimes they come in daily gifts such as looking into your child’s eyes with love or engaging in a conversation with a friend. These blessings also come in Creation. They are the most often overlooked, I think.

We are so busy driving from one place to another and checking off our to-do lists that a lot of the time we forget to look up and look out. Mass can even become a drudgery and a part of this rat-race that is daily life. This typically occurs when our prayer life has grown stagnant, cold, or non-existent. How can we expect to find God at Mass if we ignore Him the rest of the week? We have to constantly live the mystery in order to move into the greater depths offered to us in the Mass and in prayer.

I know that my days when prayer is last on my list are much worse than the days when I begin the morning praying Lauds and opening my Bible. I’ve grown so accustomed to attending daily Mass that I miss it when I travel and can’t attend. I was gone all last week and since I can’t drive my husband’s work vehicles and that’s what we took to the beach for his conference, Mass wasn’t an option. Instead, I woke up every morning at 5:20 am and walked out onto the beach by myself in the early dawn light while my husband and daughter slept. I sat down on my beach chair, surrounded by ghost crabs cautiously watching me with their adorable steely-eyed stares, and waited for the sun to rise.

I began praying Lauds a few minutes before the sun rose at 5:44 am, so that I could be praying it exactly as the sun broke the horizon to begin it’s ascent. Moments like these have been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I love sunrise and sunset, but there is something particularly special about sunrise.

While I prayed in the morning I also asked to see some dolphins that day. It brings me great childlike joy to watch them playing and hunting off shore. Virginia Beach is known for its bottlenose dolphins. I wanted to go sea-kayaking with them at sunset one evening, but I fractured my fibula and severely sprained my ankle back in mid-April, so my Physical Therapist said absolutely not. Sea-kayaking typically requires a launch into the surf in my previous experiences and even though I am out of the boot for good, I am not cleared to jump for another month. I was disappointed and my husband promised that he will watch our daughter so that I can go next year. She’s not quite old enough to go out on the ocean, yet.

Since kayaking was out of the question, I simply asked God to see the dolphins the way I’ve seen them for years, swimming and hunting around some time between 6:30 am and 10:00 am. He answered my prayer in abundance. I saw them swimming for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then the weather turned gusty and rainy for the rest of the day. Tuesday the surf was too rough to see them, but Wednesday was glorious.

The sunrise was incredible and the waves had calmed down quite a bit. My daughter and I were out on the beach all morning. I started seeing the dolphins around 8:30 am and they stayed out for most of the day. About 11:00 am I was standing in the ocean while my daughter played in the sand behind me. I wasn’t even up to my knees at this point when all of a sudden three dolphins popped up directly in front of me. They couldn’t have been 10 feet from me. I gasped in excitement as they jumped through the wave in front of me and I turned to Michaela and excitedly yelled “Dolphins!” at her. She stood up just in time to see them start racing down the shoreline. We were amazed they didn’t get beached, that’s how close to the shore they were. Michaela went sprinting after them down the beach. I would have, but I can’t run on my ankle yet so I quickly walked after her keeping my eyes on the dolphins and her. They ran towards a group of swimmers who mistook them for sharks while all of us tried to yell that they were dolphins not sharks. The dolphins then turned and went back out to deeper waters. I was struck with amazement and joy be the encounter.

Two friends of mine from that area–one a former Marine Biologist–told me this is very rare and a great gift. They don’t usually swim that close to shore. The whole day I was filled with happy excitement, telling everyone at my husband’s conference what had happened. Those dolphins were a gift. I had prayed to see dolphins. I only meant offshore like in the past, but this time God gratuitously answered my prayer. It can’t be a coincidence with all of that beach line and thousands of people up and down the beach that those dolphins happened to pop up right in front of me of all people.

Having a fractured fibula has been a more intense spiritual experience than I expected. I am a rather active person and I love to be outside. When I broke it, my kayak and my bike had to be put away. I couldn’t even take my daughter for a walk on the Greenway near the river. I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting in bed or in the living room. The first couple of weeks I was completely dependent on the generosity of my friends who brought us meals since cooking was out of the question on crutches. I found myself face down on the ground on multiple occasions when I was learning how to walk on the crutches. The word that constantly came to mind was humilitas, God is teaching me humility.

Even with all of this difficulty, it’s been a spiritually fruitful time. Any progress I’ve made is God’s doing, but I turned to more frequent prayer, especially when I couldn’t get to daily Mass the first few weeks. I started to set my day to the rhythm of prayer and to accept the period of inactivity as an opportunity to spend more time with Christ. This inactivity was a good time to establish new habits that could flow into my daily routine when my period of activity returned, as it has now.

It was quite a blessing to be free of the boot and standing on the beach watching the sunrise. It was even more astonishing to be standing so close to dolphins that I could have reached out and touched them. And not to be outdone in generosity, my last morning in VA Beach as I watched the sun rise one more time, the dolphins came out of the bay and were swimming just off shore as the sun began to rise. They hadn’t been out at sunrise any other morning, but that last morning I saw 10 of them out in search of breakfast.

It would be easy to reduce this to coincidence or science. That’s exactly what our culture would do. The dolphins obviously need to eat throughout the day and a tour boat seems to be what caused the dolphins to become trapped leading them to the shore, but there’s no way they would have ended up in front of me of all people if I hadn’t asked with the faith of child to see some dolphins on my visit. I have a very strong connection to God through the beauty of nature. He has a habit of showering me with graces through the beauty of the outdoors and this was no different. I don’t get up before sunrise simply for the sunrise. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a sensory one for me: body and soul.

God is this gratuitous with His beauty every single day. We are the ones who fail to notice it. In fact, far too many of us have grown numb and can no longer enter into and experience objective beauty. The sunset is merely the sun setting for the evening. The flowers are simply signs of spring and summer. The mountains are there every day. The ocean is the same ocean we see day-in-and-day-out or the prairie or the desert or the plains, etc. We have to maintain childlike innocence in relation to Creation to see the wonders and beauty God gives to us through it.

We have to open our hearts to the Divine Lover who seeks to woo all of us through the gifts of the universe. He reaches down to us body and soul through the senses. The material universe is a sign of His glory. The Sacraments are matter and form. They reach us body and soul. God always reaches us as we are created. We are the ones who end up off balance by an over-dependence or an under-dependence upon the material as it works in conjunction with the spiritual.

Watch a child. They stare at a dandelion as if it contains a whole universe within it. Somewhere along the way we decided that isn’t how adults act or we respond in apathy. There is a reason Christ says that we must be child-like. Only those who open their entire being up to Him in wonder and love can be filled up by Him. The dandelion, even if it annoys us because of the pristine lawn we aspire to, is a reminder of the goodness and beauty of God. We can see the detail, intricacies, and coloring in this “mundane” object that many people disdain. Each flower, animal, mountain ridge, river, crashing wave, etc. is filled with the intricate ordering of of a universe made by God ex nihilo by a sheer act of gratuitous self-emptying love. We are loved into being each day, but we have to open ourselves up to it.

We have to find the courage to plunge into the depths and it is scary. As C.S. Lewis says in The Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan: ‘He isn’t a tame lion, but he is good.’ Besides the depth found in the Mass, the greatest creation with us on this earth is found in our fellow human beings. Each person contains within themselves uncharted depths and the image of God. If we pay attention and we open ourselves up to others freely in charity, we can truly see Christ in other people. It is breathtaking and it reveals the vastness of the human soul made by God.

There is wonder, awe, beauty, and joy in communion with our fellow man grounded in Christ. God’s gratuitous love is extended to us through the people we encounter each day and the people who we form deeper bonds with such as our family and friends. Do we see the people God has given to us as He sees them? Would we see dolphins popping up in front of us after a simple prayer as a gift from Him? Life contains much monotony, but that monotony is transformed when we see God’s movement in every single moment of our day.

Suicide, Depression, and the Need for Christ in the Culture

Depression and suicide are in the news again this week as two high profile people took their own lives: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Being a woman who loathes purses and prefers cargo pants and capris for carrying things, I don’t know much about Kate Spade. I have watched multiple shows of Anthony Bourdain’s and found them quite interesting, although I must confess, he never struck me as a particularly happy person underneath it all.

If you want to know more about people, pay attention to their eyes. I try to make very direct eye contact with people for four reasons. First, it makes me a better listener and forces me to listen more closely to what someone is saying to me. Second, it lets the person know that they have my full attention. Third, I learn a lot about people from their eyes. I can read moods more clearly and see when underneath it all, someone is struggling or when they are happy or content. I have also discovered the holiest people I know through their eyes. There is a distinct quality to them and we have to pay attention since these people also tend to be the most unassuming and quiet. Fourthly, it helps me to connect at a deeper level with people, especially my friends. Give it a try. You may be able to help someone who is going through a difficult time because you see past their words to the actual person, including someone fighting clinical depression.

Mental illness is a topic that is hard for me to articulate and it’s not something that I see easy solutions to. It is extremely complex and comes from physiological, emotional, genetic, environmental, behavioral, and spiritual dimensions. There is no one-size fits all solution.

I’ve had two very serious bouts with clinical depression. One in 2004 when I was diagnosed with PTSD from being a 9/11 relief worker, which also came with clinical depression. And 3.5 years of debilitating postpartum depression and anxiety after I had Michaela and which every miscarriage I had made worse.

Mine is not chronic. It is tied to hormones and situations. I’ve been out of it for a while now and while I have a melancholic, introvert nature and the long darkness of December drives me crazy, I no longer have clinical depression. I have friends and family who do, however.

I firmly believe the answer ultimately rests in Christ. Not as a cure, but as the Source of hope, faith, strength, and perseverance. I wouldn’t have made it through my dark nights without Him and the help of His Mother. Being a Catholic allows us to transform our suffering through the Cross. It is redemptive and that means everything when you are in a very dark abyss, and that’s exactly what clinical depression is in that moment, in my experience. The abyss robs people of hope and without Christ it is very difficult to even find hope in the darkness. We need to bring the light to those trapped in the abyss of mental illness and others in despair.

And as unpopular as it might seem, I don’t think all suicide is the result of clinical depression. There are people who kill themselves out of spite, broken-hearts, fear, financial distress, and the list goes on and on. Clinical depression is a whitewash we put on an extremely complex issue. It helps to assuage our guilt, and just like all of the other ills in our culture, it keeps us from any real and lasting introspection. There are absolutely a lot of people who commit suicide from mental illness, but not all.

No matter the needs of an individual in their treatment plan, we have an obligation to be sharing the Good News in a world of despair. Why aren’t we evangelizing more? We have the answer to the longing of every human heart: Christ Jesus. He may not cure those who are mentally ill, but He will certainly shoulder the burden and bring each person to the unending joy of everlasting life. That’s Who and what we are made for and we can only find true and lasting happiness in communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Lord’s love burns at an unimaginable intensity for each one of us. He is gently calling all people to Himself. As His disciples, we must go out and share this great burning love with the people in our lives. Only Christ can transform our culture and shed light into the dark places within each one of us. Only He can shoulder our burdens and lighten our load and only He can show us the great power of the Cross in our own lives. Everyone needs Christ. May God have mercy on all those who take their own life.

Catholic Exchange: Christmas-The Light in the Darkness

During Advent every year I try to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel as they waited for the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, David, and the prophets. We live in a time after the Paschal Mystery, but we do still wait for Christ in the Second Coming. We approach Christmas each year knowing that Christ has come and He is reigning over the universe. We live in the light of the Son of God who became a baby, died a prophet’s death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.

The Israelites lived for centuries suffering exile, persecution, and darkness. As in our own Fallen lives, much of what they suffered was self-inflicted because of sin, but God repeatedly comes to their aid and our aid despite the battle we wage against the darkness in our own hearts. God never forgets us, nor ceases to forgive us when we come to Him with contrite hearts. Christ is the light of the world, or as Lumen Gentiumbegins: “Christ came to be the light to the nations (LG 1).”

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord is the time we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring light to a Fallen world. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

Christmas is the stealthy landing behind enemy lines in which God condescends Himself to become a babe in a manger in order to bring about the salvation of the world. He descends into the utter darkness, weakness, and helplessness of the human condition so that He may shed a great light upon us and draw us into friendship with Him. This is accomplished in the most unexpected way imaginable!

There is little doubt as we look at the world around us that we live in Enemy territory. The news is a constant barrage of violence, injustice, disease, natural disasters, and suffering. Every single day people suffer immensely. In truth, the greatest suffering and tragedy to befall each one of us is sin. From a material perspective this doesn’t seem to be the case, but in truth it is spiritual wounds that cause the most damage to us and our relationships. Christ tells us: “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more (Luke 12:2-4).” Sin is what we do in darkness, but all will be brought into the light of God. It is this darkness that Our Lord seeks to free us from by His divine light.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

We Need to Stop Gossiping About Our Priests

I have been in active ministry for over ten years. I’ve had occasional breaks as my vocation has required, but I’ve worked with a variety of people and priests over those years. In all of my time serving in the parish and local community I have observed–as Pope Francis has said many times–that gossip is a cancer within the Mystical Body that we must cut out. All of us who are not yet saints engage in gossip. Unfortunately it comes easily to us in our Fallen state. It is something that is found where multiple people are gathered and it is highly destructive in an upending of Christ’s promise to be present where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). I cannot say that I have overcome this sin, but I hope to by God’s grace.

Gossip is a form a character assassination. It greatly wounds those who are its victims as well as those who are perpetrators. Rather than see people as made imago Dei, we see them through our own broken, wounded, judgmental, and pride filled eyes. We see them through our own perceptions, desires, sin, and anger. We also often engage in Schadenfreude, which is often a form of envy or essentially ‘joy at another person’s sorrow’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). Rather than cheer on the successes of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we often relish their failures. It gives us an opportunity to come together in an inversion of true community to enjoy the pain of our neighbor.

More than anything gossip is tied to the very heavy sin of pride. Gossip typically erupts in the face of disagreements with other people. We do not like what someone has done to us, so we seek vengeance. More-often-than-not, we feel that we have lost some kind of power or authority and respond in anger and vengeance. How dare so-and-so treat me this way! How dare they question me! If we pay attention to what is going on inside of us then we will quickly see the root cause of our response.

Gossip is a powerful form of vengeance. It can tear ministries apart, churches become places of deep seated sinful anger, and it can create outright wars between priests and the laity. I’ve actually seen this happen, so I am not engaging in hyperbole. Entire books could be written on the topic of gossip. This particular blog post will focus on the destructive nature of gossiping about our parish priest(s).

In our sinful state, there is always a level of tension within the Mystical Body. Our competing agendas, opinions, ideas, and wants tend to meet resistance from people with counter points of view. There are obvious issues in which heresy and heterodoxy must be rooted out and those who do not submit to Holy Mother Church in the obedience required of us need to be encouraged to pray for conversion of heart and humility; as well as make use of the Sacrament of Penance in order to worthily receive the Holy Eucharist. Setting these situations aside, tension often exists within ministries and parish communities themselves and in their relationship with the parish priest.

We live in an age when people believe they are little gods ruling the universe. This nihilistic and relativistic thinking is also prevalent within the Church. Most people do not even realize how greatly they are influenced by these philosophies that pervade our culture. The focus here is not in converting those who have fallen for the heresies of our day, rather, it is on how we treat our priests within our parish while coming to understand our place within the Mystical Body. We must consciously overcome the sinful drive within us to rule over others.

When we are baptized every single one of us enters into the common priesthood. We share in the divine offices of Christ which are priest, prophet, and king. The common priesthood–the laity and all baptized–differs greatly from the ministerial priesthood (Holy Orders). This difference is not only in degree. Lumen Gentium 10 states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The word “essence” is a metaphysical/ontological term. It means that at the deepest levels of reality and being the ministerial priesthood differs from the common priesthood. This passage of Lumen Gentium explains the Church’s understanding that there is a rather large difference in character or type between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood. It’s important to understand this distinction because it matters when it comes to authority (auctoritas).

Lumen Gentium goes on in Chapter IV to discuss the role of the laity in the Church. Our role differs quite a bit from the ministerial priesthood. Both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici affirm that the role of the laity is primarily secular. Our job is not primarily to run the Church–that is the role of the ministerial/hierarchical priesthood–instead we are meant to take the Good News out into the world and bring the world to Christ in our families, careers, civic engagements, and community interaction. The ministerial priesthood runs the Church, shepherds the people of God, brings the Sacraments to the worshiping community, and safeguards Church teaching through magisterial authority. We bring people to the Church.

This means that when we run ministries within our parish, we do not hold ultimate authority over anything that happens at the parish level. Most priests allow volunteers and parish staff to use prudential judgment while monitoring what takes place within their assigned church. They do not hinder freedom and creativity, but monitor and decide how best to approach certain tasks or activities. Vatican II has brought about  more cooperative work between the priesthood and the laity. This is a good within itself. The unfortunate reality is that this relationship and understanding of authority can easily become disordered because of sin. This is where gossip becomes a problem.

Most gossip about parish priests comes from a place of pride or a lack of humility. That’s where gossip tends to be rooted regardless of situation. Leaving aside the heretical priest who needs to be dealt with through the proper hierarchical channels without gossip, the issue is often one of power. A member of the laity mistakenly believes they have ultimate say over their ministry. First, notice my use of “their”. In reality we do not own our ministries. We are merely stewards serving Christ in the Church under the ministerial priesthood. Second, humility is a requirement of ministry, just as it is of the ministerial priesthood. This is a battle for all of us. If our priest tells us that he is going to do things a certain way and that he is not going to choose our particular option, then we need to accept that we may not know everything and trust that he is attempting to do what is right and good, even if it is not in line with our opinion. We must all learn to swallow our pride. I don’t agree with every choice my parish priest makes, but I respect his choice and authority to do so. Charity also demands that we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Priests are far from perfect, just like the rest of us. Most are not saints yet, but we need to look at them with charity and some level of trust. So they don’t do it the way it has always been done or the way we want it done, in the end we need to learn charitable obedience and let it go. Have we ever considered that a previous priest may have actually been doing something wrong and it needed correction? I don’t know about you, but I have not studied in depth the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) to the point that I know every required step for every Mass of every liturgical season and any given day. I still mix up technical terms for aspects of the Mass. The Mass is a primary discipline of study for priests and liturgists. I am neither.

For instance, the Liturgy is not meant to draw our human activities to the fore. It is the time of giving right praise and worship to God. We are not the center of that worship. We participate and offer it up to God. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood converge in that we offer up praise and worship to God through the ministerial priesthood. Whatever else is going on in parish life has its rightful place outside of the Liturgy. This can be confusing because unfortunately “the spirit of Vatican II” misplaced this proper ordering and now many people do not fully understand what is allowed to take place at Mass and what is not. This is through no fault of their own.

Gossiping or complaining publicly about the priest sows seeds of division. This is especially true in parishes where there is high priest turnover. Gossip inevitably leads to character assassination, sinful anger, and is harmful to the entire parish community. It also makes an already difficult task even more difficult for our priests. I’ve seen it get so bad that a priest almost left the priesthood. Deo gratias he did not! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand before Our Lord and explain how I helped someone leave their priestly vocation through my gossip and backstabbing.

Scripture makes it very clear, especially St. Paul, that we are not meant to align ourselves with a particular leader or priest because it leads to division. We are all one under Christ. Lovingly welcoming and getting to know a new priest is not a betrayal against the previous parish priest. If they are holy men, then they are not in competition with one another. They are living holy obedience to the Bishop in conformation to their sharing in his fullness of Holy Orders.

As with all people, we need to give people a chance and get to know them. In my experience most priests will explain their choices in a charitable manner while also expecting their wishes to be respected. All we have to do is ask, not demand. If we encounter a priest who has mistaken spiritual fatherhood for a dictatorship, then all we can really do is pray for them and treat them with charity and bear this burden patiently. This does happen, but it is a misunderstanding of Our Lord’s call for priests which is most beautifully demonstrated at the Last Supper. Men in both the vocation of the ministerial priesthood and men in the vocation of marriage are called to love and lay down their lives as Christ does.

It is also unjust to make assumptions about each priest. Presumption is often incorrect and sinful. Even though they all share in the same Sacrament and authority through Holy Orders, they are still individual men with unique personalities, backgrounds, gifts, interests, and even theological schooling. Some are more influenced by certain popes, saints, or thinkers, which can actually be a key to understanding them. If they are from a religious order then the Rule of that particular order is going to provide insight as to how they view their vocation and live that vocation in parish life.

In order to overcome the tendency to gossip about the parish priest it is important to consider their role and responsibilities. You and I who are in the laity will have to give account for the people God entrusted to us at our individual judgment upon death. This is typically our spouse and our children first. Priests will give account for every person they’ve been called to shepherd and explain how they shepherded them. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. It is a tall order and most of them take it pretty seriously, especially the priests of the St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decades. The “spirit of Vatican II” is dying off and the priests of today tend to be serious about holiness.

Priests have a lot that is required of them and they are extremely busy. We need to look to them with patience and charity. You and I are not the center of the universe. Our email or phone call is not the focus of their day, and depending on their personality, they may prefer to talk to you in person. The written word is very easily distorted and misunderstood. This is something I am keenly aware of as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with a priest wanting to discuss things in person. In fact, in a digital age, it’s a blessing! Figure out how each individual priest likes to communicate and adjust accordingly instead of complaining about them publicly at meetings or church gatherings.

Since our priests are not perfect–just like we are not even close to perfect–we need to bear their weaknesses and shortcomings with patience. The same is true in our families and other relationships. If there is one thing God teaches us as we progress in holiness, it is that we possess a great many weaknesses and character defects in need of fixing. A lot! It is easy to think that we are superior to someone else because we do not struggle with a particular sin or weakness, but God will quickly show us the darkness in our own hearts.  Remember that they too are on the path to sainthood and they need us to patiently bear their flaws just as they bear ours.

Another way to help in overcoming the tendency to gossip is to remember that we do not need to provide our priest or fellow parishioners with every opinion we possess. I come from a very opinionated family. This can be a real struggle, but my opinions do not necessarily comport with the truth. They may be my own personal desires or understanding, but not be true, correct, or the only way. If there is one thing being a graduate student in theology has taught me it is how little I know. We women especially seem to feel the need to tell the men in our lives any opinion that comes to mind. This is the same with priests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something to one of my priests and later regretted it. I didn’t need to say it. It was wholly unnecessary, unhelpful, or even critical. I’m also rather blunt (I’m slowly getting better about this!) and I won’t mean to say things a certain way and it will be taken completely out of context. If we keep in mind that our opinions probably don’t matter in the long run then we can prudently consider when to express our opinion and when not to.

The most significant way to avoid turning to gossip about our priests is in learning holy obedience. We are called to obedience to God and Holy Mother Church. This means that we must learn to submit in obedience. We are not God or gods. This also means that if we are friends with a particular priest we need to know exactly when they are responding to something in the role of the priesthood and when they are acting as a friend. This distinction is vital to avoid conflict and it requires the willingness to humbly submit to authority outside of ourselves. Remember, even if your priest is also your friend, he differs greatly from you in his vocation. His primary role is priest first and friend second. Obedience, charity, and humility are necessary for maintaining these relationships and for growing in holiness. It also requires a clear understanding of the distinction in order to avoid misplaced anger. Far too many people get upset with their priest because he is also their friend and they confuse the two roles. This can become problematic for people who work in parish offices. In cases when authority is exercised we also have to see past the man and see the priestly office he holds and submit. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to submit and accept his authority.

I’d like to specifically offer some thoughts to my fellow sisters in Christ on how we treat our priests. St. John Paul II brilliantly outlines the role of women in Mulieris Dignitatem. He explains that each woman is called to spiritual motherhood, regardless of if she is a biological mother or not. This is a unique aspect of our nature. We are meant to pray for, encourage, befriend, and help our priests through spiritual motherhood. We are not, however, called to mother them. Every single one of them has a mother on some level, so they don’t need a bunch of women trying to mother them.  It’s important that we understand how to live spiritual motherhood in relation to them without overstepping lines. When they do not respond to our mothering, temptation can arise to begin gossiping about them. Ladies, we are terrible at gossip. It’s tied to our more overt social nature. We have to pray to overcome this weakness.

I’ve contemplated the topic of gossip for years now. I went through a very difficult period when I was gossiped about and stabbed in the back by people I trusted within the Church. If you’ve been the victim of gossip then you know how quickly things turn into falsehoods and outright lies. It’s painful and God used that pain to reveal to me just how destructive gossip is for the Mystical Body. I have sat in on far too many meetings or been to parish events where pockets of people are complaining and gossiping about the priest. He may even be in the same room. Anymore, I try to find ways to encourage people to avoid this sinful practice, help them to consider something they may not know about him, or I refuse to engage in it. We cannot come together in charity to love and serve God if we are busy killing (Pope Francis) the reputation of another, especially the priest appointed over us. Without our priests there would be no Sacraments and no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next time you feel tempted to gossip about your priest consider two things. First, what has it been like in your life to be the victim of gossip? Two, would you say the things you are saying about your priest to Christ? A blessed Advent to you all!

 

 

Catholic Exchange: What Does It Mean to Want to Be a Saint

I wish that I could say that I have submitted and relinquished my will entirely to God. I can’t say that, yet. I’ve spent more days sitting beside my husband in hospital rooms than I care to count. Hospital visits are a monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly occurrence for us. I have had to stand by in horror and fear watching my husband nearly lose consciousness and cough blood into bowls. I have had to quietly finger my Rosary through Divine Mercy Chaplets with tears streaming down my face while my husband lies in the hospital bed next to me completely disoriented. My husband is 40 years old. He’s not 70 or 80. He’s 40. Each new episode reminds me that I may become a widow at any point: next week, next year, in ten years, twenty years. We don’t know, but we know this disease could become unmanageable at any point.

In truth, the possibility of my becoming a widow or him a widower has always been the case because we don’t know what will happen from day-to-day. Death comes at God’s appointed time and often without warning, but there is something different about finding out that my husband has a rare and dangerous auto-immune disease. It makes that reality tangible. It is front and center in our lives. He has good days and days he suffers greatly. Each new day brings more uncertainty. In that uncertainty, God is calling me to trust Him and love Him fully. He offers His Sacred Heart to me each day and I only need to fully accept that love in all of its awe, wonder, joy, terrible suffering, and sorrow.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Truly Living as the Mystical Body

Many of us live in cultures in which seeking help from others is frowned upon and viewed as weakness. We are told we should be able to go it alone and we define strength as one’s ability to do everything themselves. It should become readily apparent that this type of thinking is diametrically opposed to Catholic thought. First, we are created to be completely dependent on God. Second, He gave us the Church, His Mystical Body, as a guide on the journey. Third, within the Mystical Body are our fellow sojourners on the path to holiness. We are meant to walk together. We are united by the power of the Holy Spirit to our Head, Jesus Christ. This unity means that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer at an ontological level.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

To echo St. Paul, we are not meant to go it alone nor are we meant to appeal to some disordered understanding of individualism as we go through the battles, trials, and sufferings of this life. We are meant to come together and to walk the path to Calvary together.

The reasons many of us do not seek help during trials may vary. I think many of us are infected with the idea that we are supposed to be able to do it ourselves, as our culture tells us. I also think it comes down to pride. We use the excuse that we are a burden to others, but really it boils down to our own pride. We don’t want to have to ask other people to help us. We want to be able to do it ourselves. In reality, many aspects of our lives require help from our fellow members of the Mystical Body. This is especially true in periods of immense suffering and trial. Here are some things we need to think about in realizing our need to turn to the Mystical Body for help.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Evangelization and Reaching the Broken

A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.

As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.

Our great need for mercy.

These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Getting Out of God’s Way and Cooperating with His Divine Plan

**Hi all, I know my writing has been sporadic the last few months. Thankfully, it looks like our health issues are abating. My husband and I have both had one of those years. I am hoping to return to more frequent writing. I had to take a break from grad school due to my gall bladder surgery. I am hoping to return in August to finish up my last three classes, one more comprehensive exam, and thesis.

All of us have areas in our lives where we get in God’s way. This is most evident in relation to the sins we struggle with on a daily basis. Sin is not a private matter. Our sins impact not only our own soul, but the people around us, whether we realize this truth or not. Many of us have experienced broken or painful relationships. Those relationships may be with family members, friends, co-workers, or other people we’ve known at some point or another.  The deepest hurts can come from wounds picked up in childhood that continue to cause pain well into adulthood. Spouses can know exactly where to hurt one another in moments of anger and weakness. The point is:  Sin, pain, and our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of others can leave a deep mark on us.

When someone hurts us, our immediate impulse is to either return in kind or cut ties with that individual. At times the only solution is to walk away, but often we allow our own weakness to get in the way of God’s working. We can allow our pride to blind us to the need to forgive another person. Our pride can keep us from acting in accordance with God’s will. We oftentimes make situations much worse because we choose to cling to our own anger. It’s much better to lick our wounds, than enter into a place of vulnerability and seek reconciliation. This situation arises in loving homes and broken homes. Opportunities to love despite our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others abound. There are many times when we are in the way of God’s working in our own lives and the lives of others.

Catholic Exchange: Seeing Our Neighbor and the Long Loneliness of December

Every year a discussion about the startling rise in suicide rates during the holidays makes national news. More often than not, the cause is relegated to mental illness, stress, or family situations. While all of these may be true, they betray a purely materialist view of the human person. Mental illness in itself is a tremendous Cross for those who carry it. All illness has a bodily and a spiritual dimension. That’s why Christ gave the Church the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. There is a very real need for physical treatments, but we live in an age that focuses on the body and ignores the spirit. Far too often we ignore the needs of our neighbors. Whether it is the deepening darkness leading to the winter solstice or a heightened awareness of one’s loneliness due to the holidays, people who struggle with mental illness, family problems, stress, or a whole plethora of other issues find themselves undone this time of year. What are we doing to help them?

Do we truly see our neighbor?

I find that one of my greatest shortcomings in social gathers is that I cannot remember people’s names. This is a shortcoming, because it means that I do not stay present and truly focus on each person I meet at an event. In fact, it may take me many meetings to remember the name of a person. I am so self-absorbed that I cannot focus for a couple of minutes to remember a person’s name. It also means that I am not listening to everything else they are telling me. I am not seeing my neighbor. I do not see Christ in them either. It’s impossible to see either if I am not fully present in charity.

Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. For some people suffering is chronic and is a lived affliction. My own father has suffered with chronic illness ever since he had rheumatic fever at 7 years of age. He has lived with intense pain for 53 years. The level of his suffering over the years has only been revealed to me as an adult, since he tried to keep it from my sisters and me as children. While he would not want attention to be drawn to him, I have to wonder if people have cared to notice this Cross in their brother in Christ? Would I have noticed if he were not my own father? Chronic illness is inherently lonely, but often we fail to notice its effects in the person sitting or standing beside us. The Mystical Body is called to walk into the joys and sufferings of their neighbor. Pope Saint John Paul II in Novo Millenio Inuente explains:

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

If we are truly committed to walking as disciples of Christ, then we will step into the Crosses of our neighbor, rather than flee. This requires great courage, charity, and the forming of habitual action.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.