Today, as promised, I talk about St. Augustine who was St. Monica’s son. He is a great saint for those who are struggling with lust and the sins of the flesh. He had a dramatic and beautiful conversions which is recounted in his Confessions. I highly recommend reading it during this time at home. He is also a wonderful saint for all of us as we constantly seek conversion of heart. This process of conversion of heart is a moment-by-moment struggle as we try to turn to God in all things. St. Augustine, ora pro nobis.
“Life is not neatly divided between beauty and ugliness, light and dark, beatitude and despair. Rather, it is a struggle and a longing, full of vicissitude and vacillation, with glimmers and glimpses which paradoxically attract and repel us, making us feel both at home and alien.” Austin Choate, “Terrence Lamick: You Will Love, Whether You Like It Or Not”
In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself struggling with a particular battle that God has told me He is asking me to fight for reasons that are completely mysterious to me. When it arises within me, I pray and ask God what He wants of me in it, especially when I falter, fail, or stumble to the ground in the face of the attacks I endure or the internal weakness I face on my part. He has repeatedly told me the answer is: “You can fight or you can walk away.” He also repeatedly tells me that I can’t do it on my own and any progress I make is in His time, not my own. I continue to choose to fight because I know the good of this battle is worth the ups and downs that I face. In fact, at one of my lowest points, God in His gratuitous love and mercy gave me a a small glimpse of the glory at the end of this battle and all battles that I will wage in this life.
Two years ago something shifted dramatically in my soul. I didn’t even know it at the time. God gave me a choice: To love as He loves or to walk away. Regular readers will already be familiar with some of this story. I had just had my fourth miscarriage and I was in the grips of grief. I had the perfect ultrasound of our little Andrew Thomas in my hands and the joy and relief of a heartbeat, only to find out on the Feast of St. Dominic–appropriate since we were going to name him after St. Thomas Aquinas–that he had died.
The agony was intense and my heart broke into so many pieces and split wide open that I didn’t know how I’d recover. His loss was my fourth miscarriage, but there seemed to be something particularly cruel about this one. Two ultrasounds confirmed a strong heartbeat. We were overjoyed, and then he was gone. My husband and I once again found ourselves in the ER grief-stricken.
My healing came about through an unexpected and deeply painful process. God called me to quickly return to the front lines of praying for an end to abortion at our local Planned Parenthood. This time he asked me to be out two days a week for 2-3 hours each day. It seemed to be a strange and difficult thing to ask of me, but I obeyed. Eventually, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion at 20 weeks.
She was due at the same time I was due to have Andrew. At first it seemed like another knife to the heart. God asked me to walk with this woman up until she gave birth (she cut off contact afterwards, but I still pray for her regularly). We talked baby names, ultrasounds, and supplies. I made the difficult decision to give her all of the baby items we had purchased for Andrew and my husband agreed.
The entire process was a letting go on my part. There were many tears and my heart ached in ways that were unimaginable, but I obeyed. I gave everything I had to her and in turn my own grief was turned into joy as I held that baby boy for the first time who had survived our abortion culture. No, he wasn’t my Andrew, but God brought about redemption through my suffering. He allowed me (and my husband when able) to love this woman despite my own pain and give her as much love and support as possible in order to help her choose to keep her son. He’s now 1.5 years old.
The decision to love in this case was agonizing. It wasn’t the feel good, romantic, warm-fuzzy sort of love that our culture is obsessed with. It was a purifying love that required God to cut me deep so that I could bleed out His love upon this woman despite my grief. And ever since I made that decision the intensity of my spiritual life has increased exponentially. I’ve had to confront both external attacks from the Enemy of a more obvious nature than at any other point in my life while also coming face-to-face with my own weaknesses and failures to love others as I ought to.
While this particular situation has passed, God is still calling me to love as He loves and that always requires a form of purification. Our own sinfulness and weakness means that all of our relationships must go through the fire of refinement, even relationships that at the deepest levels of reality are good and holy. We get in the way through our Fallen nature, so God has to constantly lead us to the right path and pick us back up when we falter. The point is to continue to begin again with every new fall and to persevere to the end with Him by our side.
The last couple of weeks, I have been spending time praying through Romans. I’ve been trying to understand some of the things God has asked me to endure and through multiple passages in Romans He gave me an answer. One of those passages is Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In all of my prayer the word “endure” has come to my mind regularly. When I read this passage and prayed with it on multiple occasions, I came to see that this was the answer to my need for endurance in my struggles. The goal is ever before me, but as I struggle spiritually and I battle my own sinfulnes and weakness, it can be difficult to remain steady. I falter. God is refining me through what I endure, even in the times I fail and must come back to Him in the Sacrament of Confession. He is strengthening me through enduring trials and temptations. More than anything, He is teaching me to rely more fully on Him in everything. Whether in desolation or consolation, it’s not up to me, I’m required to love.
I got this same message when I was kayaking with my daughter Friday morning. I was frustrated and there are times when I need to take that frustration out on the lake, a trail, or my elliptical machine. My daughter sat in the front of the tandem kayak I had to rent because my new kayak doesn’t track well with her in it. While she sat looking out, I was praying in frustration and exasperation and paddling as hard as my body would allow. All the while asking God what He wants from me and if I am actually doing what He is asking of me or not. I then clearly heard Him say: “I’ve asked you to love as I love.” I stopped paddling and sighed. “Ok, Lord.”
My weaknesses and failures matter in the I need to overcome them by His grace, but that’s the whole point. My desire is to overcome my brokenness so that all may be pleasing, good, and holy in His sight. That is the driving force that propels me forward because I love Him. It’s not that I am never going to be weak. I will be. It’s whether or not I’m willing to fight the battle that is required of me, and I am. Not only for my sake, but for others. I’m willing to endure, even when it takes everything I have and then some. I always remain in the hope that Christ will help me to endure, even when I fall. My hope is ultimately in Him, not myself.
Not to be outdone in the generosity of the grace He pours into us, Our Lord made sure that I got the message loud and clear. I struggle to trust insights I gain in prayer at times, not because I don’t trust God–although I need work here–but because I don’t trust myself and my own propensity for self-deception. Through prayer with Romans, Christ has made it clear for two weeks at Adoration what He is asking of me. He told me again on the lake, and then He said it back to me through the priest in Confession this past Saturday.
When I went to Confession on Saturday I wasn’t feeling particularly well. The last couple of days I’ve been dealing with pain that I deal with from time-to-time. I was feeling a bit beaten down from the spiritual battles I wage, so I rather unceremoniously listed my sins. I go face-to-face at times and I decided to go on Saturday since I was in pain, although I would have rather have gone behind the screen that day. When I looked up after confessing my sins I saw Christ in the priest, which is what I really needed in that moment. I needed to see Christ sitting across from me, not Father, not my friend, but Christ in him. This has happened before, but this time when he gave me feedback he told me exactly what God has already told me in my recent prayer experiences. In fact, it was almost verbatim.
I was too tired to process all of it at the time, but as I considered it later on, I was astounded. The Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that I was getting the message loud and clear. Father even made allusions to aspects of St. Paul’s letters that were identical to what I’ve been studying and praying with. He affirmed to me that we know the goal, but we falter at times and the spiritual life is up and down. Sometimes we are called to endure things we don’t understand, but we must endure them with Christ. In that moment the things God has been telling me in prayer all found a cohesive connection to one another and He affirmed me in my struggles and told me to keep going. My choice is always the same when I’m asked to fight a battle within myself or for others: Love as He loves or walk away. I choose to love, which means I choose to fight.
The choice is always the same for all of us as we hope to progress in holiness. We must learn to love as Christ loves. That means areas of our lives must be purified and that process is painful. We must contend with the darkness within us, the weaknesses we discover, the temptations that come at us, and the areas of our personality that are a stumbling block for us and for others. Our relationships with other people must come to mirror the love the Blessed Trinity. Loving in that way given our weakness is difficult, but that’s what Christ is ultimately asking of us. I can say from the glimpse Christ gave me through no merit of my own, it is worth the battle. It is worth it to learn to love as Christ loves, even if we fail, fall, and become weak. As long as we keep getting back up and enduring to the end through our reliance on Him, our reward will be great.
There is no love greater than the love we have in Christ. We settle for counterfeits all of the time. As the quote at the beginning of this piece makes clear. We are both drawn in and repelled by what God offers us. There are times we struggle with the ultimate goods of this life because we are willing to settle for lesser goods or even sin. The spiritual life isn’t really black and white. It’s our struggle to turn fully to God even as we are distracted by what is good in this life or we choose something where good is lacking because we think it is what we want, need, or simply desire. We know the goal, but we still waver and fall. In all of it we are told that we are going to love whether we like it or not. How we go about learning to love and actually loving is up to us, but God will teach us the right way regardless.
In fact, sometimes we are drawn in by other people where we are taught that we must love and not in a superficial sort of way that is nothing more than emotional affirmation for ourselves. This isn’t love, it’s egoism. No, sometimes we are to love in the hard, nitty gritty, clench your teeth through the struggle, and rightly order sort of love. That’s why our culture largely doesn’t understand the nature of love. Love is self-emptying. It is purifying. It sacrifices the needs, wants, emotions, and desires of the one who loves for the other. It gives freely without any expectation of return. It is this aspect that we struggle with the most. We want to grasp it and get something back, but we are meant to love freely without expectation.
Yes, love must and should be reciprocal, but there are times we love other people much more deeply than they love us. There are times we love people who are incapable of returning that love properly. Love is a communion of persons that is meant to be grounded in Christ, but in our broken world this is difficult to achieve. Regardless, we are called to give freely and completely of ourselves. That is the lesson of the Cross. Our Lord pours Himself out completely, even while knowing that many will turn away from Him and not return His love. We must do the same. This requires courage, faith, hope, charity, and self-forgetfulness. We have to free ourselves of expectations and simply give, even if the other person does not return that love fully or even if they cast it off. We are to love as He loves. That’s the task we’ve been given in all of it’s terrible beauty and glory.
You and I always have a choice to make every single morning: Will I love as He loves or will I walk away? In those moments when we make the wrong choice, we must return to His love in the Sacrament of Confession. In the moments we say “yes” to loving as He loves, we must be ready to endure whatever is required of us. We must rely on Him completely. The battles we will wage in loving in such a way are both interior and exterior and they will take everything we have and a total dependence on Christ. These battles take many forms and we have to recognize them for what they are so that we can allow Christ to refine our broken love into the luminous love of His Sacred Heart. His Sacred Heart is likened to a fire precisely because our love must be refined and purified of it’s imperfections and that fire is cleansing and painful. Only then can we be truly radiant and enter fully into the love of the Holy Trinity. It’s a new day. What choice will we make today?
We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?
Whose birthday is it anyway?
To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.
Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.
In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?
During this Lenten season we are called to examine our lives more closely in light of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving bring us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and our own journey to holiness. Lent is also a time to draw closer to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Reconciliation or Confession. The Eucharist unites us to Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity while Penance drives us to seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we sin and fail in our daily lives. Penance is not only a Sacrament for mortal sin, it is meant for all sin which weighs us down over time.
In the Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, Saint John Paul II discusses the connection between these two great Sacraments of the Church. Both the Holy Eucharist and Penance are linked to the mystery of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The link between theses Sacraments is apparent. In approaching the Lord’s Supper at each Mass, we must be aware of our failings and whether or not we are in a worthy state for reception of Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is not a right. It is a gift reserved for those in a state of grace who are members of the Church. The Sacrament of Penance provides the necessary cleansing and healing for those times we fall into serious sin, but also as we struggle with sin in our daily lives.
One of the essential aspects and teachings of Jesus Christ is, “Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” It is true that on the surface this is a call to become a follower of Christ and to receive Baptism in order to join the Mystical Body; however, it is also a call for each one of us to “repent” in our daily lives. Conversion is a life-long process. We each have sins deeply entrenched in us whether through habit or other factors. We cannot follow Christ unless we are constantly dying to self and listening to His call for repentance in our own lives. Even if we are not falling into grave sin, we are still failing somewhere and need Christ to give us the grace to overcome those sins. Saint John Paul II highlights the great importance of repentance, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance:
Indeed, if the first word of Christ’s teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His “Repent.”
Our Lord knows our struggles and our failings on the path to holiness, which is precisely why He calls us to Himself for forgiveness and contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, so that we may more fully participate in the Holy Eucharist.
Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner.
It is important to remember that all the faithful are members of the common priesthood by virtue of Baptism. We offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministerial priesthood. Our lives are meant to be of sacrifice, which is the very nature of priesthood. In order to fulfill this Baptismal role, we must be ever mindful of our daily need for conversion. It is Christ who is our example in sacrifice.
In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.
I am going to be honest. The saint whose feast day the Church celebrates today both fascinates and intimidates me. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, also known as Padre Pio, was born the son of two peasant farmers on May 25, 1887. His given name was Francesco after St. Francis of Assisi and at the age of five years old he made the decision to dedicate his life to God. His family was devout. They prayed the Rosary nightly, attended daily Mass, and abstained from meat three days a week in dedication to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Even though his parents could not read, they made a point of memorizing Scriptures and shared them with Pio and his siblings. His mother reported that he could see and speak with Jesus, Our Lady, and his Guardian Angel from a young age. This was so common in his life that he assumed that everyone could do the same. He was reported to have experienced heavenly visions and experience ecstasies in his youth, as well as throughout the rest of his life.
At a young age Pio expressed a desire to be a friar. He had great interest in the Capuchin Order, but discovered that he needed more education before they would accept him. His father arranged for him to have private tutoring so the he could meet the academic requirements of the Order. In 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone and on January 22 he took the Franciscan habit and the name Friar Pio, in honor of Pope St. Pius I, whose relic was in the Santa Anna Chapel at Pietrelcina. It was then that he took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and committed to living the evangelical counsels.
After seven years of study and a period of severe illness, Pio was ordained to the Priesthood in 1910. A few years later World War I broke out and he was drafted into military service. He assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. His service did not last long, however, due to his poor health. It took a few years for the Italian military to figure out that Pio was too sick to serve and he was finally declared unfit for service in 1918.
I have found that one of the things we Catholics do not like to think about is what we watch on television or read in novels. In fact, when I have discussed this with friends and shared my own struggles, I usually encounter a great deal of push back. We don’t like to be reminded that our choices in the Christian life expand even to our choices in entertainment. I want to consider these choices and the dangers of much of what is on television or in novels these days, and why Catholics must guard themselves in a culture that would lead us astray with glee. In this post I want to focus on gratuitous and graphic sex in television shows, especially on Premium channels on cable. In the second part of the series I will focus on the glorification of violence and how we can discern if what we are watching glorifies violence and leads us to engage in voyeurism.
A few years ago the show Scandal came out on ABC. I enjoy political intrigue and started to watch it. I really should have known better as the premise of the show rests in an adulterous affair with the President of the United States, but no, I was slow to acknowledge the sick feeling I felt after watching the show. It took me a season to realize why my conscience was telling me to stop watching it. It is graphically violent, focuses on adultery as romantic, and most of all, had absolutely no objective good in it. Not a single character possessed the good. There was no hero or heroine. Every single character was objectively evil on some level. It’s quite shocking really, since much of Western culture is still driven by the idea of good overcoming evil. That being said, no one should watch a show with no redeeming value and that glorifies sin. Adultery is objectively evil and destroys the people involved. I should not watch a show that glorifies and tries to paint over this reality. I finally decided to stop watching it and I didn’t miss it.
Why does the good matter, even on television? It matters because we are a people of redemption. We understand the pit that sin leads to and the ever present destruction of mankind, but we know that evil has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Evil does not win and evil is never good, no matter what our culture tries to tell us. Many television shows draw people in and they don’t realize they are watching a show that only depicts evil and no good. Evil can easily be wrapped up in a glamorous package. Why shouldn’t I watch adultery, “gay marriage”, the protection of evil and morally reprehensible behavior? I don’t do those things. Well, the problem is that these shows can dull our sense of what is morally correct. This has been apparent with the Catholic dissent on the nature of authentic marriage. We see enough “gay marriages” on television and somehow that becomes acceptable. Divorce is a foregone conclusion in our culture. Hollywood is our Magisterium, rather than Rome. We start to second guess ourselves and our faith. We begin to embrace the all consuming nihilism of our age that tells us this is it. All that awaits us is oblivion, nothingness. Make the most of it, even if it means using people and then discarding them as garbage when we are done. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel. What we ingest has a direct impact on our soul. Through our viewing we tell Hollywood that the garbage they are producing is acceptable. We help with the ratings.
Yesterday, I watched a thread on Facebook related to Game of Thrones that caused me some concern. The amount of justification for watching a show with graphic sex and violence is a problem in the Catholic world. I noticed this when thousands of practicing Catholics claimed that 50 Shades of Grey was acceptable reading, when in fact it is pornography, violent pornography. First, graphic sex scenes are not “art” no matter how we much we want to justify our choices. Pornography is not art, it is the obscene. Art is to bring human beings to the good and the true. The same goes for over-the-top sex scenes that are essentially pornographic. We just tell ourselves that it is not pornography because it is on HBO and Starz not a porn channel or Cinemax. That’s just us engaging in mental gymnastics so that we can hold onto a particular vice.
I will give you an example from my own life that is quite recent. Someone had told me that I should check out the show Outlander on Starz because I like British dramas. Mind you I have not read the novels. I watched the first episode which has multiple graphic marital sex scenes in it. Marital sex is a beautiful and holy thing, but we don’t need to watch graphic scenes that incite us to lust in order to understand this point. The show gets worse from there, not to mention that regardless of time period adultery is adultery. I should have shut it off. My conscience told me to shut it off. The struggle with lust told me to turn it off, but I didn’t. Instead I had to hang my head in shame and drag myself back to the Confessional. In full disclosure, this is not a sin that I have struggled with a lot. I have shared the two most recent experiences and they are spread out by years, but I am married and I have a lot of male friends. I know that this is a serious struggle for some people, which is why I am writing. When I did get to Confession, my Confessor said that in actuality there is not much good on television and that he sticks to soccer in order to avoid the lust that our society invites us to in a great deal of shows. He’s Scottish, so the soccer reference is understandable. My Confessor did not encourage me to watch these shows, in fact, he did the opposite. He told me to steer clear of them.
I am not suggesting Puritanism. There is a great deal of art in which the body is shown in its full beautiful nude display throughout human history, but there is a difference between showing the beauty and sacredness of human beings and graphic sex scenes that move us to lust. Sex is holy. Sex is fun and meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be profaned. Even sexual sin can be demonstrated without a move into the pornographic.
One of my favorite novels, and its movie adaptions, is Evelyn Waugh’s, Brideshead Revisted. No one could accuse Waugh of Purtianism. The novel is rife with hedonism to include adultery, lust, homosexual acts, and alcoholism. The difference is that Waugh is not pointing to those things as good. He is showing how in our brokenness and darkness, God is always working for our salvation. In both movie adaptions, the one with Jeremy Irons and the shorter one with Matthew Goode, this hedonism is on display in all of its forms, but without appealing to the graphic. One scene in the Matthew Goode version shows that adultery can even be committed with most of the characters’ clothes on.
Many people trying to defend their Catholicism and their graphic television choices try to appeal to art or history. I even saw someone try to claim Scripture’s sexual sins and graphic violence as justification. This is merely a cognitive dissonance for something that we know to be wrong. Scripture demonstrates the depravity of mankind in light of God’s salvation. There’s a major difference between Scripture and Game of Thrones where sexuality is used for illicit reasons and that is all. Television shows can be true to the deprivation of humanity without resorting to lust filled sex scenes. But, in reality, these shows are glorifying hedonism, not pointing to the brokenness of sexual sin. Let’s at least be honest. These shows are not interested in redemption. So that argument is false and being used to justify sin. If you don’t believe me, then take it to your parish priest. Tell them exactly what you have been watching, including graphic sex scenes and gruesome violence. See what they say. It’s probably not going to be what you want to hear, but it will be what you need to hear.
Catholic art has always given an authentic portrayal of the human person, but in light of Revelation. We have a real opportunity here to move Hollywood to provide actual art. We need to stop supporting trash and force them to provide us with the beautiful and the ugly in a proper light. If you are a Catholic who has struggled with watching shows like this, then go to Confession. Trust me, the priests have heard it all. I had to go Confess this very sin of lust recently. I allowed myself to get sucked into the lie and I lied to myself in the process. I am married. I know that sex is beautiful, so why on earth am I ok with counterfeits on television? Why am I ok with watching our culture destroy one of the great gifts that God has given us? I would encourage you to seriously consider what you are watching or reading. Ask yourself, is this strengthening my soul? Does this help me grow closer to Christ? Will this help me become a saint? Does this serve the mission? Chances are, the answer will be no. When that happens, pray for the grace to abandon those shows and books. It might be hard for a week or two, but eventually, you will forget all about them. The reality is that the closer we draw to Christ the less we want to have anything to do with counterfeits. God bless.
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. St. Matthew 18:21-22
Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.
Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.
I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.
The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.
Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.
When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness. There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.
What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him. That is how we must forgive time and time again. I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.
I have a confession to make: I really struggle with sinful anger. I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion. I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times. It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most. My anger has been a decades old problem. Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault. Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin. This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings. God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance. So how do I do that?
I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger. When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord! I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger. What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?
One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred. When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin. I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself. This came out in Confession a while back. The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.” His response was, “Yes! Exactly!” Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it. That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.
What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others? As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes. Next is selfishness. When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess. This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint. So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.
The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice. I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger. I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily. It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others. We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.
So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice. This is the beginning of my journey. Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises. This will be the next difficult step. I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me. For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me. Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them. That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.
The most important component is Jesus Christ. I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own. Nope. Not going to happen. I’ve tried. To my utter shame, I still try. I have to let God do it. I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.” One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.
As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well. She was an outcast. I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons. While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved. So there came Jesus in the heat of the day. The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink. He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity. He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him. How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up? See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?
This is just the beginning. I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up. So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger. Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage. Not all anger is sinful. Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger. Perhaps order the book above. Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them. I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer. I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger. Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger? Have you identified your triggers?
Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow
I am having one of those days in Motherhood and as a Christian when “I do the very thing I hate” to quote Saint Paul. I have allowed little things and my own failures drag me down. That is what the Devil wants. He would rather I wallow in self-pity rather than ask The Lord for the strength to keep moving forward.
If there is one thing that marriage and motherhood is teaching me, it is how deeply selfish I am; how attached I am to things whether it be: food, coffee, me-time, social media, TV shows, books, writing, etc. These are all good things in and of themselves. Writing for instance is a gift that I have been given and enjoy. The problem is that I can have a tendency to put all of things before my daughter and husband. When I read Elizabeth Scalia’s Strange Gods, I felt like I was reading my own story. The idols that I have put up in my life are numerous. I can be so engrossed in a computer screen and ignore the flesh and blood human being right in front of me. What is wrong with me?