The Saints and the Cross Episode 6: St. John the Apostle

Today I talk about a very real danger of the temptation to despair that I see growing as this exile continues. The answer to this temptation is greater love of God. St. John is an example to us of how to endure agonies, trials, and afflictions at the foot of the Cross completely centered in the love of God. If you know someone who is struggling with despair, please share this video with them. When those moments come, may we all have recourse to greater and deeper prayer in the Word of God and the intercession of St. John, and of course, Our Lady.

The Synod, Archbishop Chaput, and Despair

I just read Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod over at Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register and I believe it touched on a major issue in the Church right now. It is not just one in relation to marriage and the family, but also a lack of hope in the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Here is the text of the intervention:

Marriage as a Witness to Hope

“Brothers,

The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.

The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

There is a great amount of despair that is coming out of certain corners of the Church. For instance, the German Church demonstrates a profound sense of despair and loss of faith in its desire to conform to the world rather than the Blessed Trinity. Many in that Bishop’s Conference, not all, have forgotten that our baptismal call is to be conformed to Christ throughout our lives. That means entering into the Paschal Mystery and dying to self, dying to our desires, and inclinations, most especially those which are disordered and sinful. The reason for this is not because God is a cold-hearted authoritarian who desires to rule over us as a tyrant. No, what these men and many throughout the Church who have chosen this world rather than the next, is that God wants us to be fully human. He created us, so He knows what will make us fully alive and fully human. This occurs through an abandonment of sin, which is a difficult and life-long process only made possible through grace.

This despair leaves Jesus in the tomb. It is to scatter because Our Lord has been crucified. Many have forgotten that Jesus has in fact Risen, that He reigns in Heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is who guides the truth and the Church. We cannot give into despair because the culture is against us. The culture has always been against us. Jesus came to give the world a counter-cultural message, a message that goes against the depravity of sin, and the truth that relies on grace. He promised us that we would be persecuted. The question comes down to this: Are we a Resurrection people or not?

A good deal of the ranting and raving at the Synod and on social media comes from those who have lost hope. They see a Church of sinners, a hierarchy of sinners, and a seductive world. Many have cornered themselves into one of two camps: the Church is going to fall apart or we must become like the world. We forget that the answer is neither. It is that we must proclaim the Good News. We must share the joy of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. That with grace all things are possible. We can overcome our sinful inclinations, even sexual ones, by the power of God. It is not by our own power, but Christ’s that will guide us and help us to persevere in the long arduous journey.

Do we truly believe in the power of the Paschal Mystery? Do we believe that God has and will redeem us? Do we believe that Jesus is who he said he is? If the answer is no, then yes, it is right to despair. That means there is no redemption and that human depravity will continue to spiral to deeper and deeper depths. If the answer is yes, then we must stop living in defeat. The world senses our despair and the vultures are circling overhead. Either we believe that Christ will protect the Church from error, or we don’t believe in Him. Either we believe that redemption is possible or we don’t. Conforming the Church to the world is to live without redemption. It is to believe that human beings are incapable of greatness, holiness, and saintliness. If we are redeemed, then we must share that redemption with others. We must be honest about the difficult task. We must be honest that human beings cannot do it on their. This is only possible through Christ.

Many people focus on the sins of the hierarchy. They obsess about a “Gay Mafia” or other agendas within the Magisterium. There have been competing agendas since the beginning of the Church. Today is not unique. Most of us are not in a position to do anything about it except pray. Gossiping and ranting in social media is not a proper response to such concern. Gossip is a sin for a reason. If there are concerns then write to the proper channels, pray, and trust in Christ’s promises. The sins of the hierarchy, the very same sins many of us in the laity struggle with, do not change the Church in her ontological reality. She is the Bride of Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that our sins don’t damage the Mystical Body, but it does not change the Church, nor does it change God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written:“That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”
But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God’s truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.

Romans 3:3-8

It is time to stop focusing so much on this world and the sins of our neighbor. It is time for us to live as people in hope and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. It is through our lives and our striving to live in holiness that people will come to know the truth. It is impossible for us to engage the world if all we do is either project doom and gloom out over social media and in our daily lives, or if we say the Church is “out-dated” and must conform to this age. Neither are truth. Both are a form of despair. Instead, we must do as St. Paul did and proclaim: Christ has risen! Pax Christi.

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.
 

Thanks Be to God

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It is easy for me to get worked up about the evil going on in the world, or about how I fail often at being the mother and wife God wants me to be.  By becoming distracted by all of the darkness, or by allowing a self-loathing dialogue to run rampant in my mind, I am allowing the Enemy to win in my heart.  He wants me to despair.  He wants me to think that he has won and that there is no point in fighting back, in serving others, or focusing on my family.  That is his creed: despair.  But, the truth is that Jesus Christ won the battle for us all by dying for our sins and showing us the hope of Eternal life.  That does not mean that this life is easy, but it does mean that love and hope always will conquer over evil.  It just may be that we will not fully understand until we are with Him.

When my husband I were dating he would tell me to write down 10 things that i am grateful for that day.  Our engagement was full of stress, family medical issues, and change.  When I would allow my job, family, or the world to get to me, he would tell me to focus on what I am thankful for in each moment.  I have had gratitude journals off and on for about five years, but I have not done a great job of keeping up with it.  Then, when I was sick as a dog while pregnant with my daughter, I discovered the blog, A Holy Experience, http://www.aholyexperience.com, through my friend Dana’s Facebook posts.
Her blog is beautiful.  Her words are like poetry and speak deep truth that bring me peace and reminds me that I am not alone.  Sometimes I read her writing and think we were separated at birth.  Like me, she has struggled through periods of loss and anxiety.  She knows what it is to live on auto-pilot.  One day she woke up from a nightmare and realized that she truly wanted to live and she discovered that gratitude was the way to accomplish living a Christ-centered life.  Even though we differ theologically, her message is one that all of us need to take in. It is the same message that my husband has been trying to get across to me.
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What happens to me when I start being grateful for all I have and truly pay attention to what is going on in my life?  I start to notice the way the sunlight falls across the room early in the morning.  I can see the way the breeze rustles my daughter’s golden hair.  I see her long eyelashes and her beautiful, radiant eyes.  I see my husband’s smile.  I am touched by the joy he brings Michaela when he gets home from work.  I savor the smell of soup cooking in the Crockpot.  I laugh at the squirrels trying to steal our sunflower seeds.  I start to see Christ in the people around me.  I have more strength when bad news comes, as it will in this life.  I pray more because I know that joy and pain are joined together.  I am more generous.  A full heart wants to share its blessings.
A lot of us are frustrated, or downright disgusted, with our government right now.  Many of us worry about the state of the world: poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, worldwide Christian persecution, abortion, attacks on marriage, attacks on the Church, the hurt our children experience, the suffering of the ones we love.  The truth of the matter is that suffering is a part of life here.  It is how God refines us in the Divine Furnace, as our recently retired priest told me in Confession, as I cried about my most recent miscarriage.  We are guaranteed to suffer in this lifetime, but we also experience tremendous glimpses of joy.  I never realized how blown away I could be by the golden sunlight illuminating my daughter’s face.  I only had to pay attention and offer my thanks to God.
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When I close my heart off to Him.  When I focus on the darkness, then I cannot find my way.  If I focus on what God is doing in my life and throughout the world, then all I see is Him.  He is who I must focus on if I am going to keep up the good fight.  He is who is going to guide my husband and me in protecting our daughter and bringing her up in the Faith.  He will be the one who will show us the way through health problems and grief.  Sometimes he has to carry us for a while before we realize He has been there all along.  As human beings, we get lost in ourselves.  Instead we must step outside of our own inner dialogue, our own pain, even our own families, and listen for the sweet whisper of Our Lord.
Have you tried writing down things that make you thankful each day?  I have a journal that I use to write down my gratitude.  Even just taking five minutes to write down a couple of things can change the course of my entire day.  Give it a try.  Offer up your thanksgiving and see how the abundant blessings flow.