Catholic Exchange: St. Monica Teaches Us to Persevere in Hope

Today is the feast of Saint Monica followed by the feast of Saint Augustine, her son, tomorrow. Her life is a tremendous example of perseverance, faith, and hope. She was born in Tagaste in 331 A.D., which is known today as Souk Ahras, Algeria and is believed to be of Berber origin. At a very young age she entered into an arranged marriage to Patricius who was a Roman pagan and official in Tagaste. Monica lived with Patricius and his mother in their home. He was known to have a violent temper and to engage in self-indulgent behavior, as did his mother. It was deeply difficult for Monica to live out her Catholic faith because her husband was greatly aggravated by her prayers, deeds, and alms. Monica persisted regardless of these difficulties in her home.

Monica and Patricius had three children who survived passed infancy and they were Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. She was unable to baptize them at the time and was very distressed when Augustine became severely ill at one point. Her husband agreed to allow the Baptism because of the illness, but then Augustine recovered, and he would no longer allow it. Monica’s concern would not subside for long because Augustine grew up to become a man who lived a misspent youth. He became a Manichean at Carthage and his mother told him to leave her table for sharing such heresy with her.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Bringing Christ to the Walking Wounded of the West

Psychology Today
Psychology Today

Tonight I saw a comment (social media provides me with a lot of food for thought) that implied the issues of the West, transgenderism, homosexuality, divorce, adultery, etc. are not the same as the murder, rape, persecution, and poverty overseas or in Third World countries. This was, of course, in response to the Bruce Jenner situation. I do not wish to write on that topic because there are people who would do a much better job on it than me. I pray for him and discuss it with people who bring it up to me, but I do not feel called to that discussion.  This comment got me thinking. Have we forgotten about the unique dignity of every single human being? Have we forgotten that Jesus loves every single person? Yes, there are great horrors going on, but many of those are on our own street behind closed doors. The penalty for sin is death and destruction, so how can we think that our culture is somehow better off? How can we think that we don’t need to be concerned about the one lost soul we meet? What does Scripture say?

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable.  “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:1-7

We can easily fall into the mentality of the Pharisees. I know I do it at times. We can decide that certain evils are greater because we have a visceral reaction to them. Who among us is not appalled by the rape and murder of children overseas? Those are great evils to be sure, but they are not the only evils impacting souls. When Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would come to the U.S., she would observe a great poverty in our country and in the rest of the West. It was a poverty of loneliness, the feeling of being unloved.

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Our country is being torn apart by broken homes, hedonism, materialism, and relativism. The by-products of these philosophies are everywhere. People are screaming out to be loved, but they don’t know where to go. They don’t know the answer. They have never been shown. Instead they have lived lives of abandonment, pain, anger, confusion, and frustration. This is exacerbated and deepened in a culture that lies to them. A culture that tells them that if they only do whatever they want, they will feel better. But, no. This is a quick fix and it leads ever deeper into the pit of destruction and despair. How many women are crying alone in their apartments tonight because they believed the lie that promiscuity would bring them love and acceptance? How many men are drowning out their desire for a deep and lasting love through sexual conquests only to return to their lonely lives afterwards? How many teenagers and adults are struggling with same sex attraction and hating themselves? How many of those live with that deep hate, not because people like me tell them that homosexual sex is a sin, but rather because they know that that sex has not filled the ache they feel within themselves? Homosexual or heterosexual, filling the void through sex doesn’t stop the deep hunger for Love. How many children sit home alone and never see their parents because they are working too many hours? How many parents are trying to buy their child’s affection to make up for their absence? How many children are crying tonight because they were told divorce was coming for their parents? How many inner city kids are craving the attention of a father they have never met or a mother they seldom get to see? How many husbands and wives are living with the pain of adultery? How many people are drowning out their sorrow in drugs and alcohol at this very minute? How many of us (me) use social media to dull the isolation they feel? THIS! This is the poverty of our country.

We tell ourselves that this poverty, pain, and immorality is nothing compared to ISIS, Boko Haram, China, or any country living in barbarism. We don’t equate the two because we don’t want to have to look in the mirror. We don’t want to have to examine our own sins. The sins of others are greater than our own. We don’t want to look at how we are preventing Christ from reaching the people near us. The shouting and yelling at others about their sins does nothing, but make people dig in their heals. Meanwhile, Christ is looking for every single lost sheep. He will leave the 99. He will leave the 6 billion for the one. Have we Christians forgotten that truth? A truth that is so profound, so big, so unbelievable, but somehow we have forgotten to share it with others? We are not Christ, so our yelling at others will accomplish nothing. Instead, we must offer an invitation in charity and truth.

No we cannot confirm people in their sins. We cannot lie to them in order to make them feel better about their choices. But we will never bring people to the pews if all they see is us screaming about their sins. Isn’t this the point Pope Francis is making? He’s not changing Church teaching. He’s pointing out that hurt, wounded, aching, unloved people, need to have a real encounter with the Risen Lord. We need to share our joy and not only reserve it for the people who we decide are worthy because it is quite clear that Christ is interested in each and every single person. We need to show them how Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church is the answer to the longing of their heart. That Christ is the answer to their loneliness, brokenness, and wounds. That the Holy Eucharist is the answer to the meaning of life. To be a saint is to be fully alive. WE need to be willing to enter into their brokenness and pain. We need to be willing to hurt with them because that is what the Mystical Body does. Can you imagine what it is like to have never known love? To only know how to use hedonism to fill up that deep void? They must ask themselves in confusion: Who is This? Love me?! It has to be blinding like it was for St. Paul. It has to be difficult to accept and completely foreign. These are the people we are called to reach out to, but we cannot do it on our own terms. I mean our own individual terms. We must use the greatness of Catholicism, but allow people to find their footing. We need to walk the journey with them in charity and truth. I have known these very people throughout my lifetime and I have failed them. I have failed them.

There are unspeakable horrors around the world. I sit back and watch the news in pain for people most days, but I have no control over what happens in Nigeria or the Middle East. I do weep with them. I do have control over my family, friends, community, parish, and social media interactions. All I can do is fast and pray for those parts of the world I cannot impact, but I do have the ability to share my faith with people who do not understand it at all. To patiently bear their burdens, questions, confusion, flight, and struggle. It is not easy to be converted. It is not easy to agree to conform one’s life to the Most Holy Trinity through Baptism. It is not easy to die to self. It is not easy to let go of greed, lust, envy, gluttony, pride, anger, avarice, and sloth. It’s a life long spiritual battle, but one that we engage in with Christ by our side. It is easier when we fall in love with Christ. Things that seemed impossible slowly get easier. We need to show people how to fall in love with Jesus Christ in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit by our own example. Christ leads us to the abandonment of sin. That is the only way they will abandon sin and begin the life long battle. They will want to die to self because they love God. Do we? Do we want to die to self because of our love of God? We have to ask ourselves that every single day too because we fall and sin and must return to Him in our weakness.

Let us remember in our daily dealings there are a lot of hurting people who need Christ. There is a lot of evil in our own neighborhoods that needs redemption. There is not a single soul who Christ does not desire. A lost soul is a horrific thing. The people in our country who are trapped in the lies of hedonism, materialism, and relativism are prisoners of the Evil One. They too need the Paschal Mystery to break loose their chains. Think about that the next time you call someone a “freak” or other ad hominem. These people are lost and we know the Way. Are we showing people the Way?

As I write this post, tears well up in my eyes for all of the times I have failed in this exact same call. In all of the ways that I fail to show love to the people around me and even the people I encounter on social media. I have a daughter who needs my complete and total love, but I get lost in selfishness some days and fail her. I do the same thing to my husband. These are the people Christ entrusted to me. How many other people have I encountered in my life and failed? Jesus wanted every single one of those people for His own and I failed to serve Him. All power rests in Him, but He uses each one of us to further the mission of bringing the world to Him. Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s stop ignoring His call. We need to trust in Him. He can bring about the conversion in even the most hardened of hearts and he can heal the sins of our age. . We have to be willing lives of courageous virtue and holiness. We cannot just use words to draw people in, our joy and way of life should point to Christ. We have to be willing to love as He loves and search for the one soul he puts in our tracks each day.

Abandon Ideology for the Good News: The Test is Coming

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You will notice a trend on my blog that I am becoming increasingly anti-ideology. This is because I am observing a steep descent into ideology in our country and within the Church. Not the Church herself, but the people within it. This is largely destructive and causes division. Ideology is a type of heresy. It is to cling to a notion of something as ultimate truth, when ideology is typically our own blindness and proclivities. I had two experiences recently that continue to fortify my anti-ideological stance. First, I saw a National Review article recently that justified the killings of two civilians in a drone strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border in January. The moral gymnastics of the author made my stomach turn. The far Right has become a war-mongering machine and it is deeply disturbing. There are times when war is the final and just response, but not always. The killing of civilians is always deeply tragic and it is all the more tragic that no warning was given to these men or attempt at a rescue and the intelligence was bad. For both sides of the political spectrum in our country, “collateral damage” is a matter of statistics and numbers and matters little. This is a disturbing slide into a further dehumanization of others. I saw this from Congressional aides when I interned at The Heritage Foundation.

On the flip side we have the ideological Pacifists, notice I said ideological. The Church has a long history of rightly ordered Pacifism, just as she has a tradition of Just War. These two seeming opposites are united under a fully formed understanding of justice. The ideological Pacifists cannot comprehend that war is sometimes the only option. They also seek to vilify members of our military, of which I was one. They say heinous things about Veteran’s even to the point of denying the necessity of the Church’s presence in a war zone or within the military. They cannot separate the war from the soldiers and the individual consciences of each service member, which is precisely what our last couple of Popes have done. The Church has not agreed with the past two wars, but has left the choice to serve up to the soldier. While I am with the Church on war, I did serve under President Bush for the Global War on Terror. There were things that I supported at the time for which I have sought absolution through Confession, but the people who serve in our military are not psychopaths, sociopaths, or any other name that is given to them. They mean well and have a desire to protect our country. It is easy now to forget how tumultuous the time was following 9-11. I know, I worked as relief worker following the Pentagon attack. Fear and chaos does not always produce the best results. This mitigates circumstances a bit.

This is just two examples on opposing extremes that I have observed recently. This is also apparent in the “pelvic issues” as people try to do moral gymnastics around both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Since ideology blinds us it hurts ourselves and the people around us. It inevitably puts us in a judgment seat, based not on our faith, but on our desire to conform others to our own beliefs. This is a great danger to the Church. As the secular culture encroaches more and more on our freedoms, it is essential that we make sure we are not a part of the problem. I am not trying to beat a dead horse. I am trying to warn people that we need to re-focus on what is important and that is bringing the world to Christ, not ourselves. I was an ideologue for a few years. I conformed my politics into my limited understanding of the Church. I could not see the whole. It created great tumult in my soul.

There will come a day very soon when we may be asked to give account for our faith and we will be mocked and derided for it. Our faith cannot depend on ideology, it must be centered on Jesus Christ. If our ideology wins out, then we cannot possibly survive the test that will come our way. The secular attacks on the Church will continue to grow and become more virulent. Now is the time to arm ourselves with holiness through prayer, Scripture, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and true study of the Faith. Those are what will help us should we have to undergo the test. While I have my own theories on how bad it will get, what is certain is that Catholics will become increasingly more marginalized. That will be difficult. It is not easy to say “no” to the prevailing culture. It is not easy to lose family and friends because we cannot agree to the sexual ethics of our culture. We cannot stay strong if our faith is an empty shell that is propped up by our own ideology.

I am not saying that we should not be involved in the public square, but we need to be prepared for our ability to participate to shrink greatly for a while. Honestly, we need to evangelize if we want to change the culture. This is the history of the Church. Our ability to operate in public waxes and wanes. There have been times of great persecution. There are times of great persecution upon the Church now. We are united to those Christians who are dying in the Middle East, Mexico, and in other places of the world. The Mystical Body is a communion that makes us a part of the same body as them. We suffer with them albeit not physically at present.

The most concerning aspect of ideology is that it cuts us off from one another. It causes alienation and anger. I lost my temper at a completely nasty comment made about service members and its implications. I later apologized, but ideology is hard to combat. It is irrational and it automatically invokes an irrational response in others. We have to learn to control our emotions because we will confront virulent strains of ideology in the coming years, much worse than the two examples that I listed above. The best way for us to control our emotions is to re-focus on Christ and to prepare ourselves for whatever may come. If we rest in Christ and His Church, rather than our own power, then we can calmly deal with the attacks that come. It won’t be easy, and like St. Peter and the other Apostles (except John), we may run for a bit, but if we continue to persevere and focus on Christ then we will make it to the end.

As Catholics we must ask ourselves what the purpose and goal of our lives is as revealed by Christ. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? The answer should be to follow Christ even unto Calvary. This is the horrifying, yet freeing, truth of our faith. When we are baptized we agree to enter into the mysteries of His life, including His death. Most of us will not be asked to be martyred physically, but most of us will suffer some form of persecution, even if it is locally from family and friends. We all suffer within the Mystical Body when others around the world are persecuted. There is no isolation within the Church. No one suffers in isolation.

Ideology may be fascinating and create arguments, but it causes more division than peace and conversion. I have never been a Pacifist precisely because of the vilification of Veteran’s of which I am one. I am no longer a war-mongerer because I could see the horror of war up close through friends and family during my own service. I know from a few years of sexual relativism that the lies of the libertines do nothing but hurt and kill the soul. I know the joy and beauty of the Theology of the Body. The more I learn, the more I come to the center and desire to walk the tight-rope of the Church. She is the answer to the extremes of the world. She has the whole truth, not just the part we latch on to.

I am sure that this topic will come up again on my blog because it is so important for the coming times. There is such freedom in abandoning our preferred ideologies. We are less angry. We don’t make other people as angry. We grow deeper in our understanding of the Church and Christ and we are able to focus on the life of holiness. I encourage each of you and myself, to look into our beliefs and make sure they are properly ordered to the Church. Let’s make sure that we are not vilifying other groups of people. This even means our enemies. Yes, they do evil and we must confront evil, but if we dehumanize others we very quickly run the risk of becoming like our enemies. Ideology is the quickest way to dehumanize another group of people by making them the “other”. Even in times of battle we must live as Christians. We pray for our enemies, pray for peace, and most especially, pray for the conversion of the world.

Just Say “No” to Discouragement

I have been fighting discouragement pretty hard this week. I was struck deeply by a quote by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own powers.” Some of my frustration has been of my own making and some of it is with the state of the world. I have no control over the latter. All I can do is try to serve where I can and pray for the conversion of souls. God has called me to multiple roles of service; all center around the dignity and sanctity of the human person. I am a cradle Catholic, but I would say that I had a full conversion 5 years ago. That would make me a newer Catholic, even though I have read theology and philosophy since high school.

I was not prepared for how lonely of a road it can be at times, even within the Church.  My vigor and passion for Our Lord and His Church have at times been met with apathy and outright hostility.  I think that this is a struggle for a lot of people who come to full conversion.  I know many RCIA candidates who are on fire, but become disillusioned when they see that their rigor is not shared in their parish.  I should have known better.  The Saints have met much pushback.  I am not a Saint, yet, not even close.  That is the goal, but I have some very deeply rooted sins that Our Lord is ripping out of me.

I think my discouragement has been compounded by the chaos that has been in our parish for a year now.  A much beloved priest was moved out of our parish suddenly because of some shifts that were needed throughout our Diocese.  This was a major shock for many of us and it has been struggle.  Our replacement quickly became ill and had to retire, and then we spent months with a different priest each week.  In late summer we finally were assigned a “permanent”, which really means temporary, priest who is on loan from a Diocese in Nigeria by way of Tucson.  We all knew that he would leave this summer, and that is the case.  We are now praying and waiting to find out who the Diocese will assign us on a permanent basis.

While we come to Mass to give God “right praise” and receive the Holy Eucharist, in our brokenness we need a shepherd.  Our current priest is a holy and godly man, unfortunately people have not accepted him and there has been a lot of nastiness.  His hands are tied by his posting with us.  So all of this has compounded my own discouragement and many people have left our parish.  I myself have thought about it, but we will stick it out.

If there is one thing about ministry, it is difficult.  It is called service for a reason.  You get to see the best and the worst in people.  I head up what should not be, but is, the most controversial ministry in the Catholic Church in our country today: the Sanctity of Life Committee.  It seems a given that Catholics would understand that we are called to bring a Culture of Life to the world, but that is not the case.  We are a small Committee of 5 deeply dedicated women.  We do what we can and want to do more.  Our Committee’s job is not just to tackle abortion, which we do with passion and purpose by praying at Planned Parenthood and providing much needed items to moms in crisis pregnancy, we also must teach and share social teaching.  That includes the hot button issues of our day: marriage (to include divorce, “gay marriage”, and contraception), the death penalty (the Church’s position is much nuanced), war, etc.  We do what we can, but it is difficult to figure out how to combat both ignorance and disobedience.

About a year ago one of the women on our Committee had discovered what the real issue is in the Church.  She had found a book, which most of our Committee read, by Sherry Weddell (a fellow Lay Dominican) called Forming Intentional Disciples.  I had been beating my head against the wall in response to the apathy and hostility within the Church.  I did not get it.  This book answered my questions.  The majority of Catholics are ‘sacramentalized, but not evangelized’.  What does that mean?  It means that most Catholics, the vast majority, have not had a conversion to Christ.  They do not actually know Him and His call to follow Him as disciples.  Catholics go through the hoops and receive the Sacraments, but many do not even know what they are doing or just do it because that is how they were raised or what they married into.  No wonder our Protestant brothers and sisters do not understand us?!  And no wonder we have such a hard time engaging people.

This is not an easy issue to tackle and it is one we cannot really look at until we have stability in our parish.  It is something that our Diocese is trying to do on a macro level, but we need micro level changes.  I know one thing, we all need to support and encourage one another on the path.  Discouragement is the sin of pride.  We need to lift each other up.  We need to help each other in the battle, because we are waging a fierce spiritual battle both inside the Church and outside of it.  We need to find a charitable way to engage disobedience rather than sit idly by or get into fights.  We need to pray for the conversion of souls and fast.  I cannot stress this enough.  These are the weapons we use to fight discouragement and despair.  The forces of darkness are on the move and many souls are at stake.  I would suggest fasting throughout Holy Week next week.  Skip a meal, stay off the Internet, or offer some other sacrifice daily.  This is a great time to re-gain focus, if like me, you have wandered a bit this Lent. As we approach the Holy Day of Easter, remember that the battle is won in the end. Let’s pray that we all make it on the journey to holiness and see Our Lord waiting for us at the end.  God bless.

The Need for Conversion: Catholic Sexual Ethics

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I have decided to add another post into my current series on Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and “gay marriage”. In a perfect world, all of us would fully assent to Church teaching before we professed to be Catholic. We would still sin, but all of us would, at least intellectually, assent to infallible teaching in love obedience, and humility. We would not put ourselves in grave danger by ignoring Church teaching and blatantly doing the opposite. For many of us, that just is not the case. It may be because we have never fully understood that, as Catholics, we are required to submit to Christ and His Church, including the hard teaching. A lot of priests and catechists have led people astray on this point over the last 50 years. Somehow our own conscience has begun to supersede the Church, in a nod to Descartes and the rampant relativism of our day. This is false, but is prevalent within the Church. I have done it in the past myself.

First of all we need to ask ourselves if we have really encountered Christ. Are we actually converted to Him. Are we ourselves evangelized? Is Christ the center of my life? Do I love Him more than anything? This takes a lifetime to do. Do I want His will over my own? Do I believe that the Church is headed by Christ, not men? Do I understand and believe that the Church’s teachings are in fact Christ’s? Do I believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, not a symbol? That is our starting point. Can I honestly say that I love and want to follow Jesus Christ? Then the rest comes into play.

I think that many people are ignorant of the Church and her teaching. They go to Mass on Sunday and think that is enough. They rely on their grade school level catechesis and think that is the end. There has not been as much emphasis on adult education until recent years. And even when these programs are available, the same 20 people show up. Many people do not think, or even realize, that study of the Gospels, Church documents, lives of the saints, etc. is a lifetime endeavor. I think many parents, in a striking similarity to the dominance of public education in this country for the past 150 years, think that religious educators, like myself, are responsible for teaching their children the Faith. This is also false. Parents are the first teachers of the Faith. I just help out.

Many families do not even pray outside of Sunday Mass. I have been astounded over the years as a catechist at the lack of prayer in family homes. I guess it should not surprise me, because it was not prevalent in my own home growing up. Once again, I think that families do not realize that being a Catholic is an all encompassing way of living. It makes us “not of this world, but the next”. We are planted here on earth, but Heavenly pursuits are our aim. It takes a lifetime to let go. Prayer begets prayer. The more we pray daily, the more we desire that prayer and union with God. Prayer leads to conversion.

Church teaching on sexual ethics in the face of an over-sexualized culture such as ours is hard to swallow. Mainly because people do not take the time to understand, or even teach (including way too many priests), the beauty that is God’s plan for the human person, which encompasses Theology of the Body. Most of us are told don’t do XY and Z, but never told why. As someone who abandoned Church teaching and lived with a boyfriend in her mid-Twenties, I can tell you that the WHY matters. So does orthodoxy. If you tell me you ignore Church teaching on one issue, then why should I not ignore others? This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned about. From the outside looking in, if you blatantly ignore it, then why shouldn’t I, is a terrible way to evangelize. This is how I felt back then. I am examining my own example in the past here. If I don’t fully live the Church’s call and her teaching, then I cannot evangelize. People want examples not words.

Conversion takes time. It takes prayer and it takes the Sacraments, especially Confession. I know. Constance, are you bringing up Confession again? I cannot tell you how important Confession truly is for the soul and for our path to holiness. Think about it this way. Blessed John Paul II who is about to be canonized went to Confession at least once a week. Many of the saints went daily. They are saints and feel the need for that frequent of Confession. I am not nearly a saint, so how often should I be going?! OFTEN! The Church’s requirement of once a year, except for mortal sin (it must be Confessed right away), is a minimum. I personally cannot go more than two weeks without needing Confession, and I am not even dabbling in the mortal sin arena these days. Not everyone is like that. Some people need monthly or bi-monthly. Figure out what is best for you, but go more than once a year. Take your kids to Confession!

Conversion may take serious prayer and many discussions with a priest. For me it was an “ah-ha” moment at a Theology of the Body seminar and a realization of my own incoherence at claiming to be Catholic, but ignoring Church teaching. Once I understood, I was all in. I still struggle at times. I have had three miscarriages, so it can be hard for me to want to get pregnant again. Using NFP is not easy, but it is the only option in line with God’s plan, until things stabilize for me. As hard as it is, I want to learn to live in line with God’s will, not my own. So I embrace it through the difficulties and fears.

We also live in a culture that thinks that marriage is about “me” and that is why no fault divorce and “gay marriage” are two sides of the same coin. If marriage is about “me” and not children and God’s plan for man and woman, then anything goes. Why limit it to just two people? What about inanimate objects? A woman married a bridge last year. Or why not marry myself, which is becoming popular? We live in a society that puts “me” and my desires at the center of all things. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. I am not the center of all things, Christ is at the center. My husband and daughter are more important than I am. Sure I have to take care of myself, but my wants and desires are not primary. This is a major struggle for me in my sinful nature.

That same over sexualized culture makes things like pornography and promiscuity normal. Books like 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, or certain romance novels convince women that they are not committing the sin of pornography when they actually are. Women are not as visual as men, so books are the preferred pornography. Reading about S&M could not be anything, but pornography. Anymore, rated “R” movies tow the line of pornography with graphic sex scenes and many wives see no harm in their husband’s Playboy subscription or occasional dabbling on the Internet. Pornography violates God’s desire for us because it makes human beings into objects of our own lust. Regardless of how we intend to watch or read something, sexual responses are a part of being human. Even if a character is fictitious it is meant to invoke lust in us. I will get more into this when I write about Theology of the Body at a later date.

Here is the crux of it, being Catholic is hard. Following Christ is the hardest thing we will ever do. No one said it would be easy, least of all Christ. Many of us in this country feel safe and secure, as if no one would ever attack us for our Faith. First, this is ignorance of American history and the Catholic Church and second, it ignores Scripture. We are promised persecution by Christ Himself. Being Catholic is “weird”. I personally love that weirdness, but it can be hard for others to swallow. Look at it this way, I am even weird in Catholic circles these days.

Here are some examples: We do not watch shows like Modern Family or anything that is meant to support the “gay marriage” agenda. Not because I do not like gay people, I love them and have had gay friends, but because I know the intent is to indoctrinate me. We do not watch rated “R” comedies anymore because they are sexually vulgar and mock our understanding of the human person. I do not read popular fiction, especially those which I know are pornographic. I know that Disney has jumped on the “gay marriage” band-wagon. I pray at Planned Parenthood. I boycott companies that support abortion and “gay marriage”. Church functions and requirements supersede all secular engagements in my week. My child will not play sports on Sundays. I read Catholic items before secular. I see the world as a Catholic. The Faith is the center, the very life blood, of my life. It makes me weird. I am okay with that. It is one of the many reasons I am a Lay Dominican. That is how Dominicans live. I am not a saint, but that is my goal, God willing. It should be every Christian’s goal.

Pray for conversion daily. We all need God to ‘help us in our unbelief’ in one way or another. Read up on what the Church teaches. Study the Faith. Pray about the Faith. Being Catholic is to delve into the deepest of oceans and then go even further on to Eternity. It would take so many lifetimes to take in the richness of the Faith. Talk to an orthodox priest. Let Him tell you the truth and help you reach that point of conversion. Find a good spiritual director who knows and loves the fullness of the Faith. Put Christ first in your life. Radical things will begin to happen.

What a Church Divided Needs: Conversion

The American Catholic Church is divided.  This is evidenced by the media, research, and just by being involved in my local parish.  We argue and fight about doctrine constantly.  Somewhere down the line in the last 50 years being Catholic has become what “I” believe and not what Holy Mother Church has taught for 2000 years.  Sure this is a product of Reformation-Enlightenment-Modern/Scientific Absolutist thought. An objective study of history and philosophical thought shows us how we got to this point.  The philosophical strands that have cut through the West for the last 500 years, have resulted in our current “dictatorship of relativism”.  The West has put the individual as the deciding force of truth, resulting in a chaos of subjective truth, while all together abandoning objective truth; that which the Catholic Church has taught for two millennia.  And while it is useful to understand the underpinnings of our culture,  the real issue is a lot simpler than blaming Descartes or Calvin.  The issue is conversion.

In looking at the divisions within the Church, it is quite plain that the majority of Catholics in this country have never experienced a full conversion to Jesus Christ.  When we put issues like abortion, social justice, contraception, “gay marriage”, and a whole host of other political agendas at the forefront of the Church, we have abandoned the center.  Are these issues important? You bet! Are they the center of the Faith? Nope.  This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell the world, except the world hungers for relativism and the denial of Truth, so it pushes its agenda on his words.
Americans have really made the mistake, that was historically brought to the West by Luther and Calvin, that the state should run everything, thus elevating the state above the Church. A very anti-Catholic stance, by the way.  I doubt they intended the consequences that have happened in the last few Centuries, but here in the US, politics is a religion and our political party is supposed to lead us and set us free.  Jesus Christ supports my part, is a rallying cry.  Well, Jesus Christ supports neither, since they both attack the dignity of the human person.
The issue is that most American Catholics are more familiar with the culture wars than they are with what the Church actually asks of each one of us.  The majority do not even realize that the meaning of life is to be a saint.  Instead we hold that up as some reserved for the likes of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  Cradle Catholics especially just take the Church for granted and go through the motions.  What they lack is a real encounter with Jesus Christ.  This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell all of us.  He is not saying that we should not fight to end abortion, protect marriage, start using contraceptives, and divorce.  What he is saying is that when we encounter the Living God, we want to love others as He loves us.  We want to help mothers and babies.  We want to feed the poor.  We want to work to forgive and love our neighbor.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  That is why it takes a lifetime.
If we want to stop dividing the Church, then we need to bring real conversion to the people sitting next to us in the pews and out in the world.  We need to show them that the center of our Faith, the center of our lives, should be a relationship with Jesus Christ, who will show us how to truly love.  Without conversion, we fall into heterodoxy, heresy, and in-fighting.  The only one who can lead us out of our misery and failings is Christ.  It is through Him that we find freedom and real joy.  It is in Him that we find the courage to confront the injustices of the world, rather than fall into the sentimental trap of “tolerance” of ideas.
Accepting Christ and His Church is not easy.  It is counter-cultural, demands discipline, and historically always leads to persecution, but it is the only way.  If we want to end the violence and injustices of the world than we must give up ourselves, our own beliefs, our own desires, and give them all to Jesus Christ.  If we struggle with a teaching, then we must trust His Church, and pray for conversion.  It is not for the individual to question the Church’s teachings that have been here since the time of Christ, especially when He promised that dogma and doctrine would never lead to error.  He is God, not me.  He wants what is best for me, while I tend to do the exact opposite.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can unite the Church.  The only way to set the world on fire, is to convert souls to Him.  Full conversion.  Not a watered down, I have always been Catholic attitude.  That is not conversion.  That is acquiescence in the face of upbringing.  If we want joy to radiate through the world then we need to change hearts and minds beginning with the people in our parish.  Don’t believe that the majority of Catholics are not converted?  Try running a ministry or volunteering in the parish.  You will very quickly see the apathy that has taken over.  This is not an attack, rather, it is calling out the problem so that we can fix it.  If Christ is the ultimate joy, shouldn’t we be working night and day to bring others to Him?  Once conversion has taken place, the issues that divide the Church should wither.  Sure there will always be disputes, cultural differences, liturgical differences, etc.  We are Fallen humans, but the teachings of the Church should not be an issue.  In Christ we discover how to live the Culture of Life.

What I Really Am Thinking While I Pray at Planned Parenthood

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I have learned a lot in the three years that I have participated in 40 Days for Life and have prayed outside of Planned Parenthood.  The first time that I went, was when I was five months pregnant with my daughter.  It actually was not a good experience the first time because someone tried to scare us off, but we stayed.  Once my daughter was born I started taking her with me.  She sat in her stroller, and now she walks with me or someone else while we pray, or she kneels beside me.  We get lots of honks of support, and we get yelled at, or flipped off  a couple of times.  There is a lot of pain and anger in the world.

 
All of that pain and anger puts a pretty dark cloud over the abortion issue.  There is a lot of propaganda, on both sides, really.  Although, I firmly believe that the pro-abortion folks lie and keep the truth from a lot of these families.  I think that they have been lied to themselves, and just don’t know any better.  I hate to say it, but I am sure some of them just don’t care that a human life is extinguished.  What I mean to do is give my side and experience as someone on the front lines of the abortion fight in our country.  I have chosen peaceful prayer and a presence of witness as my tactics.  I also provide resources to poor women who contact a parish ministry that I work with along with three other women and I send people to our crisis pregnancy center.
 
What am I thinking when I kneel or stand outside of my local Planned Parenthood?  It probably is not necessarily what you think.  First, you have to understand what I want for these women, babies, and men who walk into the clinic.  I want these women to know that they have options.  I don’t want them to feel trapped or coerced into ending the life of their own child.  I want them to feel less alone.  I want them to see themselves as God sees them.  I want them to see their child as God sees them.  Motherhood is not easy, but the joy and gifts are worth the work. 
 
My daughter has taught me more in her 2 years of life than I have learned in 32.  She has shown me how deeply selfish I am.  She has shown me what it is to love unconditionally.  She has made me a better person.  My daughter has vastly increased my capacity for joy and a love of life.  She blesses me way more than the pain and heartache that come with motherhood.  When my daughter sits with me outside of Planned Parenthood, I want these families to see that children are a tremendous gift.  Perhaps not all women or couples feel that they can care for a child.  That is why they need to know that adoption is always an option.  
 
Today I was out at Planned Parenthood with my daughter and some friends.  Saturday is surgical abortion day.  It is heart-wrenching to see these groggy women stumble out of the clinic.  Usually a man or parents are with them.  I am overcome with deep sadness and compassion for these women.  I wonder what kind of despair would make a person choose to kill their own child?   My righteous anger is not towards them.  Rather, I am upset with the boyfriend, husband, or parent that drove them there.  That person failed to love that woman as she deserved.  She needed her boyfriend to be a man and stand up for her and their child.  She needed someone to tell her that it would be ok and that she would be taken care of.  To tell her that she was not alone.  To tell her that killing her own child is wrong.  The people who drove her to that clinic failed to take away her despair.  They did not give her any hope.
 
The other thing that bothers me is that the clinic workers do not try to help these women to their cars.  They have been drugged up and undergone surgery.  One woman today sat in her car almost the entire hour I was there talking to her parents.  As the abortionist and clinic workers left, not one of them went over to see if she was ok.  I desperately wanted to go over and check on her, and give her a Rachel’s Vineyard contact card.  My heart hurt for her, but I would be arrested if I went near her.  I can’t really do that with my 2 year old daughter with me.
 
It is hard to know how to react when someone leaves on surgical abortion day. I do not like to stare at them and make them feel condemned.  Rather, I try to maintain a prayerful posture.  We are not going to bring people to Jesus Christ, if we are condemning and cold-hearted.  Yes, killing your own child is a grave and horrible sin, but we need to bring these people to Our Lord, so that they can repent and receive the freedom of forgiveness.
 
At least the surgical abortion people see us.  We are a presence on that day for them.  A reminder of something more, of hope.  For the women who go home to do a chemical abortion, they are alone and isolated.  Once again someone has failed to love her.  Someone has let her bleed out her own child alone in her bathroom.  Or perhaps they stay with her, but they abandoned her when they helped her procure the medication to kill her child.  Abortion is always a failure to love.  That is what makes it so difficult.  The purpose of 40 Days for Life is not to reign down hellfire, it is to show men and women that they are not alone. Because, quite frankly, once they step foot in that abortion clinic, they are alone.  No one there is going to help them keep their child.  Stepping into that clinic is to despair and abandon Love.  We need to bring those people to either for the first time, or back, to the Divine Life.  We need to be a reminder that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death for all people out of his infinite love and mercy.
 
So, yes, I have periods of righteous anger, most especially at Neo-feminists and abortion industry workers who have been deceived and deceive others.   I also struggle with being mad at the men who drive these women to the clinics.  They failed these women, and while I know these women make the choice to end their child’s life, I pity them.   But, more than anything, the whole thing makes me deeply sad.  It brings me to prayer.  It brings me to the Cross and I bring all of those people I see each time I am at Planned Parenthood with me to the Cross.  I pray for their conversion.  I pray for their healing.  I pray that someday that may be truly loved in the manner they deserve.