In the this episode I discuss how Our Heavenly Mother shows us how to love others. Love is always a movement outward away from ourselves. The more we love God, the more we come to love our neighbor. This is spiritual physics! Our Heavenly Mother’s soul was so open to the divine love that she became the Spiritual Mother to all people. Our souls are also expanded in love by God in order to make room for others.
I sincerely hope people start making peace with the fact that we cannot control the outcome of this pandemic. No SARS vaccines have been viable in the last seventeen years. One may be found for this one, but there’s a good chance it won’t. That means herd immunity is our best shot, which means we have to start making peace now with the effects of the disease.
And that means we must truly see with the eyes of supernatural faith. People have struggled to understand why my husband and I are not freaking out, even though he is immunocompromised with a rare lung disease. We already knew that things would become more dangerous as time goes on.
We Made Peace With God
We made peace with it. God gave us that grace before this pandemic started. We lived the fear and panic the first eighteen months of his illness. It is a soul-sucking waste of time and energy. It comes from the Enemy. Life and death are up to God. That doesn’t mean my husband’s going to take unnecessary risks, but it does mean we are going to live our lives.
Read the rest over at Hour of Our Death.
In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.
We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.
This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.
The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.
We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.
Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.
The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.
A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.
The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.
The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.
Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.
Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.
Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.
Rather frequently, I hear people make arguments about aspects of the spiritual life, the Church, morality, or relationships that are predicated upon a particular individual’s feelings. Some will complain that the Mass doesn’t make them “feel” good or the Church’s teaching doesn’t cause a flood of the emotions they are looking for in their lives. I’ve had friends tell me that their relationship with Jesus requires them to “feel good” on some level.
The problem is, our emotions or “feelings” — as we call them colloquially — are an unruly taskmaster and a dangerous guide in the spiritual life. It is true that our emotions are an aspect of being a human person, but they are in no way meant to overrule our intellect or our will. It is not uncommon for our emotions to lead us into temptation and take us down paths that are destructive.
When an individual tells me how essential it is for them to “feel” the presence of God or to experience Him subjectively in the Mass or in prayer, I tend to ask them some questions. First, I ask them how many times a day they experience an emotion? Do those emotions always comport with what is going on in reality? Do our bodies impact our emotional state e.g. level of sleep, stress, even what we’ve eaten? Is God our emotions? Does God cease to love us if we don’t “feel” good on a given day? What about the very real dark night experiences of some of the holiest souls in our Tradition? Can our emotions be impacted by our encounters with other people? There are a lot of other questions that should and can be considered when it comes to deciphering how much our emotions can impede our ability to understand reality, love and serve God properly, love our neighbor as we ought, and progress in holiness.
Part of the spiritual life is learning to temper, control, or discard our emotional states. We can’t always control our emotions, so at times we are called to endure until an emotional state passes. Much of the time an emotion we experience in a given situation is irrelevant to what is actually happening outside of ourselves. The Mass is a good example.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.
I read an article yesterday that gave me pause. Not only because it is morally ambiguous, but because it brings into question whether or not we should cross certain lines. I don’t want to wade into the moral debate right now and I know which theologians I side with in the debate. It made me think about my struggles with secondary infertility and miscarriage. It has been a long and excruciatingly painful road, but it’s been a road of great grace and growth as well.
Motherhood is deeply engrained in women. It is one of the reasons it is so vehemently attacked in our culture as the culture unhinges itself from reality. There are some women who say they don’t want children, but I’d wager the reasons are complicated and a lot of the time selfish. We have been told that our careers are more important than anything else. No, human beings are more important and being a mother changes us at the deepest levels of reality. It forces us to look hard at ourselves and see where we need to grow and change. It teaches us how to love sacrificially, which hurts. It’s meant to because only love that hurts is real love.
This Cross is a painful one for women and men who carry it. I’ve lost four babies in miscarriage and I have multiple friends who also have had miscarriages or not been able to conceive any children. There’s something about being a Catholic who can’t “be fruitful and multiply” that causes an even deeper pain. We constantly hear about being open to life and the good of a large family. I’ve sat through homilies on it. I’ve read articles and books on it. There are countless times I have sobbed my way through Confession telling various priests that I don’t understand why every child since my daughter has died. Why can my friends and others have children in abundance, but I can’t? My own daughter frequently asks me why friends of ours can have another child and I can’t? There are constant reminders of what I can’t give my daughter–a sibling–and that my body is rather broken in this department.
This pain couples feel who either cannot have a child or who are suffering from secondary infertility after having a child or children can drive people to desperation. Even Catholics can turn to immoral practices like IVF in order to try to have children. In fact, IVF preys on this desperation for profit. Our culture is told that having children or not having children is up to us. This is of course a lie, but it’s one we all buy into in one form or another.
I see this mentality to a lesser extent when people have said to me after a miscarriage that I can always have another child. Even people in the pro-life movement with me will cast aside my miscarried children and tell me that God will eventually send me another child or to just have faith. My lack of faith isn’t the problem. In fact, it was my forcing myself to have miscarriage after miscarriage even after each one decimated my body that demonstrated my lack of faith and obedience. I wanted it my way, even though I spent nearly four years in an ever deepening postpartum depression because I wouldn’t listen. Unlike many other women whose bodies can recover more quickly after a miscarriage, it takes me at least a year. My hormones wreak havoc on me physically and mentally.
My hormone issues are complex. I can conceive children easily, but I can no longer keep them. I’m now convinced that my daughter is an even greater gift because her twin sacrificed herself and went Home so she could live. The only child I have carried to term was originally conceived with a twin, which made my hormone levels skyrocket. My OB/GYN admitted that may be the only reason that pregnancy was different from my others. Even though losing Victoria has been painful for us and Michaela, God used that pain to give us our daughter here on earth.
What I have had to accept is that I am not everyone else. My path is not the same as my friend who has five children, or two children, or three children. I always wanted a son to give to God in the priesthood. I see the great need and so many families don’t want their sons to be priests. When I was pregnant with Andrew–who I lost 2 years ago–I said if it’s your will God to even send him to places tormented by violence then I will trust in You. But, once again. This was never up to me.
We forget so often that it is not up to us. It is up to God. The more we fight against this truth, the more miserable we become. We hold on too tight and place our will before God’s will. This always leads to our misery and pain. We don’t get to understand everything in this life. The vast majority of it is mystery. I don’t know why God has chosen to give my husband and me one child and not more. What I do know is that we have to reach a point when we relinquish our will and say: “Not my will, but Your will, Lord.” This is what we get wrong in our desire to become parents or to have more children.
During the years that I was struggling with my desire to have more children and the repeated miscarriages, I would talk to various priests about it. I would express my frustration, confusion, and pain. I always knew in the back of my mind that my particular hormone issues make my case more complicated since each miscarriage caused greater postpartum, but I’d try to ignore this reality. I’d accuse myself of being selfish for not trying to have more children even though the postpartum was so bad that I’d lost sight of myself completely for 3.5 years.
I even struggled quite a bit after my last miscarriage even though I was free of the postpartum depression. The NaPro shots dulled the symptoms a bit and regular exercise helped quite a bit, but I knew that the situation was precarious. I now can’t take NaPro shots, so I have nothing to help sustain a pregnancy or offset a very real possibility of postpartum depression. Plus, I have no reason to believe NaPro will be effective for me since my last pregnancy ended in the same manner as the previous three.
I know it’s difficult to not be able to either have a child or have more children. I face it every single day. I am constantly re-aligning my line of sight to Christ so that I am not comparing myself to others. Telling me I don’t have enough faith or I need to wait and see is to ignore what God has clearly told me. For His reasons, I am not going to have more children. Adoption may happen, but now that my husband is chronically ill, we aren’t so sure. I am finally listening to God.
The same priest over the course of the last few years has told me that it appears God’s will is for us to only have one child. I finally started listening when he rather directly told me he doesn’t think I will have anymore children. First, because he’s not usually that direct and second, because he keeps saying it and I keep ignoring him. Only when I really listened did the weight I was carrying lessen. God has given me an amazing daughter and she should be my focus. This is easier said than done, but it is correct. I must live the life God is asking me to live, not keep holding out for a different one.
It’s important that we come to accept God’s will in our lives. If we don’t, then we will suffer, not because God is being malicious, but because we can only be truly happy living in accordance with His plans. Some of the kindest and motherly women I know have never been able to have their own children. What I have noticed about all of them is that they give their love to all children they come to know. They shower them with great love, care, and affection. Many of these children don’t get that affection at home, so these women are a gift to those children. In God’s infinite wisdom, he saw the gifts of these women and asks them to spread their love outward beyond their immediate family. While my personality is different from these wonderful women, I sense that God has something He wants of me too. I just don’t know what it is yet.
We have to remember that motherhood and fatherhood are great goods, but they are not the highest goods. God is the highest Good. He is Goodness Itself. Loving and serving Him is the meaning of our lives and at times we place the goods of this life above Him. If we are placing our will above His then we are putting our desire for children above Him. We are not following His call “to be fruitful and multiply” if we are ignoring the individual call He has in mind for each one of us. There are limits that we must live in relation to fertility and parenthood.
Even if parenthood is a great good, it cannot come at the cost of compromising our moral understanding or violating God’s law. We can’t constantly rail against God because it leads to our own misery. At some point we have to stop beating against Him and rest quietly in His arms. We have to give it all back to Him and remember that the glories of Heaven will make all of the pain, agony, toil, loss, and confusion all worth it in the end. That’s living faith, hope, and charity.
Image taken from Wiki Commons.
This morning I was driving around town running errands when I saw a man panhandling at a rather popular intersection for such activity in this area. I was a lane over, so I couldn’t have safely given him anything and I only had a few quarters on me at the time. Instead, I did what I could do and prayed for him and looked right at him in the process. It got me thinking about some discussions I have seen or been a part of in social media and a discussion I didn’t want to overhear as I tried to pray before Mass a few weeks ago.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I am neither a Republican or a Democrat. If Bishop Robert Barron is a post-liberal, then I am a post-conservative since I’ve never been a liberal. I see the good and the evil in both liberalism and conservatism. I was raised in a staunchly Republican home, with pro-life morality front and center. I tried my hand at a political career when I interned at the prestigious Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill in 2009. I quickly realized that politics is not for me. I don’t have the stomach for it and there are many good Catholics who are much better at it than I am.
A while back I took my graduate course on Catholic Social Teaching and what I had been struggling with for a long time in regards to the Republican establishment came to light. I wasn’t able to articulate it before, but then after reading every social encyclical from Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si, as well as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, I started to understand why I was struggling to continue on as a conservative as it is understood in America today. Where the Left dehumanizes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the “useless”, the Right dehumanizes the poor, the immigrant, and the civilian in combat zones, while pushing consumerism and materialism. The latter two are an issue on both sides of the political spectrum.
Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single political party in existence that could fulfill all of the needs of Catholic Social Teaching because it is a secular enterprise and the Church teaches that it should be that way. In this country, neither political party embraces the entirety of our Church’s teaching and there is always compromise in political life as we work towards the common good. My issue is that neither party today seems to be fully ordered to the common good, or most importantly, a sound understanding of the dignity of the human person. The beginning of our Church’s social teaching is with the dignity of the every human being.
My conscience led me to the American Solidarity Party and this post is not meant to persuade anyone of their political choices. I will only say, that an actual study of the Church’s teaching is needed to fully form one’s conscience and most of us don’t ever put in the effort to really understand it with an open heart, free of our pre-conceived political beliefs. That’s why the USCCB was discussing the abysmal statistics of those who have read their document on Faithful Citizenship.
I recently posted a summary of Catholic Social Teaching on immigration and all of my conservative friends tried to argue that it wasn’t Church teaching, even though I linked to the Vatican’s website with the document on Catholic Social Doctrine. I decided the debate was one I should walk away from since it wasn’t going to go anywhere, just as when I try to engage with folks on abortion. This isn’t meant to be dismissive. We all have our blind spots. I have quite a few myself.
The poverty issue is complex and immigration/migration is an aspect of poverty. Many migrants flee from violence, abject poverty, and instability seeking a better life. A right, the Church teaches all human beings have in order to reach the fulfillment found in God. The Church at the same time teaches that states have a right to protect their borders. Both migration and border protection must be done with justice and charity in mind. There are three components to immigration. All need to be met. This is where the balance is lacking on both sides of the political spectrum.
One of the biggest issues I have with conservatism as it stands in America today is its lack of understanding and oversimplification of poverty. So often people on that side of the political spectrum say: “Get a job!” This is their solution for all poverty, as if this will fix everything. “McDonald’s is hiring. You should be able to support your family on that wage!” Meanwhile the folks espousing this wouldn’t dream of having to support a family of 4, 6, 8, 10 on an $8 per hour wage. The gentleman standing at the intersection this morning would have been met with such conservative derision.
A few years back, I brought this question to my Confessor in Confession. He has since passed from this life, but he was a Redemptorist who had spent nearly three decades in Africa serving the poor. He lived in a violent area. One of the priests in his house was murdered. He had seen poverty in ways most of us here in the U.S. can’t fully fathom. He was also staunchly pro-life. He understood Catholic Social Teaching and refused to be limited politically or morally. I am in the same place, which is why both my conservative and my liberal friends get upset with me. St. John Paul II said ‘he knew he was doing something right when both sides had issues with him.’ I agree.
I asked this priest what we should do about panhandlers. They may buy drugs or alcohol with the money we give to them. Father’s response was: “That’s not up to you. You cannot presume or pre-judge someone. You are called to be charitable. You have no idea what they will do with it.” Presumption is a sin. We are not supposed to assume we know what someone else is going to do. This makes us become protectionist, arrogant, and lacking in charity. We become that person’s judge. It is a violation of justice.
Poverty is complex and people find themselves living in poverty for many reasons. Many conservatives do not seem to understand that a great many people in this country and around the world work, but they are still poor. Poverty does not equate to generational welfare dependence, which is an issue, but a separate one. Mental illness, abuse, neglect, poor wages, gang violence and other violence, corruption, physical illness, crime, suffering, and yes, addiction or other factors can lead to poverty and homelessness. Not every person who is living in poverty is homeless. These are the most extreme cases.
It is because the Church understands that poverty occurs with people who are working that she calls for a living wage. All people have a right to shelter, food, water, medical attention, and property. All of the goods in this life are universally held since they belong to God. The poor have a right to the goods in this life. It’s known as the universal destination of goods. This is why if a starving child steals an apple they are not held accountable for stealing. They had a right to that food and it wasn’t given to them or available to them through a living wage and their very survival depended upon it.
While a living wage will lift many people out of poverty, there are those who cannot seem to help themselves and the “get a job” approach shows more about us than it does about them. When we de-institutionalized mental institutions, we largely left them to the streets. I’m not claiming that we should be locking these people up, but I am pointing out that these are the very people who often cannot hold a job because of their illness. The same is for addicts, who also need love and care. We must always keep in mind the free will of the individual and if they refuse our help, then we do what we can and continue to pray for them. Sometimes the addiction and the mental illness go hand-in-hand since self-medication is common in dealing with the horrors of certain types of mental illness.
We need to stop labeling groups of other people as “other.” Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of dehumanizing others. We need to see the person begging for money as a person made imago Dei, rather than deriding them. It’s the same with the unborn, who are cast aside by those on the Left. The solutions to our culture’s problems are multi-faceted and the Catholic understanding of political life is not limited to one problem.
While the moral law is hierarchical in nature and abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day, it is not the only issue. We have an obligation to help the poor and the migrant as well. We are supposed to help those lost in crime or addiction. Social justice–a liberal favorite–is not the core of our Catholic faith either, Christ risen from the dead is the center, which is most fully realized in the Holy Eucharist on this side of eternity. Christ calls each one of us to the mission field. Some are meant to fight against abortion, euthanasia, etc. and others in the various issues related to poverty or violence.
In order to discern how we can best live out Catholic Social Teaching we need to be people of considerable prayer and closeness to the Sacraments. We need to educate ourselves with open hearts and open minds as to what Holy Mother Church actually has to say in all matters of social teaching and the moral law. We are not Republicans or Democrats first, we are Catholics first. If our political leanings are influencing our understanding the Church teaching, then we have it backwards. We can still belong to a political party–we should be involved in political life according to the Church–but we need to do so with humility and a sound understanding that our party in no way is the Catholic party.
The next time you see someone begging for money, focus on seeing them as a person made in the image and likeness of God. A person made for the glory of Heaven and who is infinitely loved by our Triune God. Christ will judge us based on the measure we give out. If we are too busy judging everyone who is poor, a migrant, an unborn child, the elderly, and those who we consider to be useless, then we will be judged in that manner too. We are meant to bring all peoples to Christ. We can’t do that if we can’t even see the human being in front of us.
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.
The topic of silence has grown in popularity on social media in recent months. This is especially true in light of the various pieces written on Cardinal Sarah’s brilliant book, The Strength of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Silence is an important topic. We are inundated with noise. This noise is not only an assault on our auditory faculties, but on our senses as a whole. The world wants to keep us distracted, busy, and living with a constant din buzzing in our ears. Why? Noise is a tool that the world and Satan use to keep us from God. It is easy to drown Him out in our daily lives by remaining focused on the endless onslaught. In reality, we cannot make serious progress in the spiritual life without silence. Saints are made in silence. It is through silence before the great mystery of God that we enter more deeply into communion with the Most Holy Trinity. That communion is what we are moving closer towards in each moment of every single day. It is in that communion that we will find beatitudo (happiness) and Heaven.
The Church understands our desperate need for silence. It is fitting that our liturgical year begins in a season of silence and waiting. As the late fall evenings lengthen towards the darkness of winter, we become more aware of the silence and stillness that are a part of the natural order of things. Creation seems to go into its own period of waiting. It is easy for us to miss what is going on around us in the busyness of the secular Christmas season. As we run around shopping for countless gifts—many of which, let’s face it, are unnecessary—attend parties, write Christmas cards, decorate our homes, and move about with frenetic energy, we can miss not only what is going on around us in Creation, but what is going on in the Church.
Last week we began taking a look at the Beatitudes and how they serve as a roadmap for finding happiness in this life and in the next. It’s now time to turn to each of the individual Beatitudes in order to consider how we are called to live our lives in such a radical way. The first Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Upon reading this passage, it becomes readily apparent that God is asking us to live counter to our Fallen nature. Immediately we are startled by such a call. It is foreign to the human condition to desire poverty of any kind. There are many forms of poverty and none of them are particularly attractive. The first type of poverty that comes to mind is material poverty.
In the West, we tend to romanticize poverty or discuss it in strictly political terms. This allows distance between us and those people who live in bone-crushing, abject poverty. It is something we do not experience on a daily basis. It is hard to find children living in trash heaps in the United States or Western Europe. Unlike St. Teresa of Calcutta, most of us have not seen people dying on the sidewalks from disease and hunger. There is material poverty within our nations, but it is something largely considered to be an urban problem, and we may largely ignore it in our own backyards.
Material poverty is not strictly a poverty of things. The person who struggles to make a just wage in order to provide food, shelter, water, and basic necessities for their family is tormented by the psychological, emotion, spiritual, and physical demands of poverty. They are not free. Instead, they spend their lives doing grueling work in order to provide a meager meal—or no meal– for their children. This is the reason poverty is spoken of frequently in Scripture and in Catholic Social Teaching. It is not just a privation of goods, it is a privation of true freedom to live as a person made imago Dei. Poverty is a form of slavery, and yet, wealth can also be a cruel taskmaster.
Wealth comes with its own poverty, when the individual uses their wealth to worship themselves rather than to be a good steward of their gifts. The body may be provided for among the wealthy, but often the soul is in great peril or dead because of the idolatry of money. The wealthy suffer from other forms of poverty. These may be emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. Many of the wealthy are lonely because true friendships are difficult to form since their money lends them to use by others.
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.