Catholic Exchange: When Life Feels Like a Raging Storm

There are periods in our lives that feel like a raging storm. The winds swirl up at high speeds, the clouds darken to a night sky mid-day, and rain pours down. The torrential downpour comes in unrelenting waves and we feel like St. Peter standing in the boat staring in fear and awe at Our Lord walking on the waves.

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-36

During periods of trial, it can be easy to stand paralyzed by the storm. We can begin to focus on the crashing waves, the wind blowing so hard we can barely stand, or to shake violently in the freezing rain. In this passage from St. Matthew, the boat was beaten by the waves from the wind, but often the storms in our lives can feel like a hurricane. Suffering, pain, anguish, affliction, and struggles in this life are meant to strengthen us, but most of us battle immense weakness in the face hardships. These are periods that can be marked by doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, mistrust, and a deep desire to flee. So, what are we to do?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Strange Beauty in Art and Life: The Agony in the Garden

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Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.

Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.

So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.

An Obsession with Papal Politics and the Cure

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I see it often and in all circles inside and outside of the Church. In fact, it is a major part of what ails our culture. It is the total focus on now and an ignoring of the long view. Now is important. How we live our lives now, each day is the slow process of our sanctification, but when all decisions are made with the now in mind, there are disastrous results.

Catholics have always taken a long view and that is because we have an eschatological (theological word for last things) end in that we are to waiting to be re-united with Christ. We have a history of waiting. Our eyes should be firmly fixed on Heaven, while we walk our journey in “fear and trembling” by grace. We have a long history and the Church has survived against great odds that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

A lot of the battles the Church has within the culture have to do with a focus on what feels good now. Humanae Vitae was largely rejected at the time because people, clergy and laymen, could not see the long-term effects of birth control on demand that Pope Paul VI saw. They also ignored the long standing tradition on this topic and the fact that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from doctrinal error. Instead, what mattered is that the Sexual Revolution was happening the Church needed to get on board. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Church’s mission, which is the salvation of souls.

I see the same lack of understanding when it comes to Pope Francis. Truth be told magisterial authority is complex, so I see where some of the confusion comes from and since I am new to the theology of it all, I will wait until I am more adept before I explain it. What I can say is that celebrity Popes is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained traction due to technological advances. St. John Paul II had a dynamic personality and he used media to help bring down the Soviet Union. This served a great purpose. What we have now, however; is an almost obsession with the office of Pope. I have seen some people deny the last 2000 years of history claiming he is the greatest Pope we have ever seen and none of the others matter. Pope Francis would be quite upset to hear this, I am sure. I have seen others describe him as the worst Pope in history, as if a few of the nefarious individuals tied to the Borgias and other influential Italian families throughout history were nothing compared to our current Pope. Then there are people like me think he is a holy man who is leading the Church and I will submit to his authority in love and obedience. He is serving within the great tradition of the Church.

The point is that tunnel vision of history creates conflict and then we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again. Pope Francis, for instance, is not concerned about himself. He is trying to share the Good News with the world, which is a part of his office. As faithful Catholics, our obligation is to submit to his ordinary and, if used, extraordinary magisterial teaching authority. We do not have to love his personality, or agree with his tactics on everything, or how he phrases things off the cuff. The Pope is not God and a lot of Catholics need to be careful that they are not engaging in papal worship. I have seen a great many conversations that give me pause and cause me concern. I feel the same way about those folks who make their living attacking the Holy Father. Reality is somewhere in the middle, and anymore, that is where I try to stay planted because that is where the Church is planted.

What we should be doing is pointing to the Holy Father’s mission in light of the 2000 year history of the Church. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth following in St. Peter’s footsteps. He is showing others to Christ. We can use his words to share the Gospel with others. When we focus too much on him, the message gets blurred. And, quite frankly, we need to just ignore secular media reporting on him. A lot of people would have a lot less stress if they stopped trusting or reading secular news on the Church. It is impossible for people outside of the Church to understanding the workings of the Church. To them we are just another big institution with a charismatic man at the head. He is a politician in their eyes. They do not see that we are the communion of the Mystical Body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit is the life of the Church.

We are members of a living history. A history that has survived worse times than now. The Church has always been foreign in this Fallen world. She is the beacon of hope leading to the Holy Trinity and the world will hate and revile her for it. It is important that we live our lives today. We cannot turn our heads focusing on the past, but we can live out our shared and living history in order to focus on the goal, which is Heaven. We can use the vast knowledge and theological understanding given to the Church in order to evangelize the world. The truth of the Good News continues to deepen and grow in understanding through the living history of the Church.  The Church is more than now, she is the summation of what was, what is, and what will be.

I have found that those who are focused on papal politics or an obsession with pelvic issues are lacking in study of history. The Church has always been embroiled in battle, today just happens to be about sex, in the past it was Christology, Mariology, the concept of the Church, etc. Don’t get too caught up in it all. Yes, serve and fight the battles, but do so in trust of Christ and his working. I would say, from previous experience, make sure that you are waging a holy battle. Do not do so because of an impulse reaction of rage or anger. So much of social media is driven by impulse and anger. Pray, fast (I am still working on this), and live the Gospel.  Our high pitched yelling at others does nothing, but enliven the Enemy.  Share the truth, but be prepared for people to ignore it, and in those cases pray.  Share the Good News knowing that we will probably suffer, that is what Christ promised. Live the Gospel, in the end, that is all we can do. I hope your Lent is very blessed.

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Christian Living: Binding the Wounds of Our Neighbors

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We walk this earth broken, ravaged by sin.  Each of us carries deep hurts from our experiences with other people.  It could be family, friends, work, church, etc.  Wherever there are people there is such brokenness.  The problem for each one of us is that we forget that fact.  We become blinded by our own duties, experiences, and beliefs.  We see the world as ourselves and no other perspective matters.  We forget, that as Christians, we are called to bind the wounds of the world.  I forget constantly.

I am a mother.  My primary role is to protect, teach, and care for my child.  How often do I forget that all she yearns for is my love?  My authentic, selfless, and total love.  She was created with that longing.  It is in her nature as a child created in the “image and likeness of God” to desire that love.  I am to show her how to fill that restlessness and ache.  I am to love her and then show her to the way to Love.  I am to direct her to the very reason for her being and that is to look and live in love with the Holy Trinity.  To see that it is in God’s very nature, in his essence to love.  He can give no less than his infinite, gratuitous love.  He is love itself.  Yet, even though within me lies that call, how often do I turn away?  How often do I turn away from showing my daughter the answer to the question that will haunt her until her time here on earth ends?

It is not just the people within our families who are clamoring for love, acceptance, and peace.  There are so many people who do not experience those things within their families, so they seek it in others.  How often do we, do I, fail to recognize that need within my neighbor?  I am not talking about physical necessities.  I am talking about how often I fail to respond to the poverty of love in the people I meet.  How often do I refuse to enter into the suffering of someone else out of fear or apathy?

Christ came to bind our wounds.  He came to rescue us from sin and death.  Pondering the awe of the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity becoming man, is stifling.  The Creator of the universe looked on his beautiful creation.  He looked upon his crowning achievement, man, and knew it was good.  How do we repay him?  We abandon him to worship ourselves.  Even though we violated the very nature of God in disobeying him and choosing a counterfeit, he still would not abandon us.  He could have left us in our sin and death.  Isn’t that what we do to one another?  No, he humbled and lowered himself and took on human flesh.  He walked among us.  He entered into history that we might know and see him.  He endured our sin.  He went into the vast ugliness of sin and accepted scourging, mockery, hatred, abandonment, and torture.  He even went to the very ends of sin: death and hell.

In light of the Risen Christ, who gave everything to conquer sin and death, we must choose who we want to be.  Do I want to bind up the wounds of others?  Do I want to show Christ to my family and every person in my path?  Will I give myself as an offering day-in-and-day-out to the people God has entrusted to me?  Will I choose to follow in his steps?  Will I cling to my heart of stone or allow Christ to replace it with a heart of flesh?  These are not questions that we asks ourselves once.  This is what each one of us must choose to assent to every single day.  If I am going to choose to love God, then I am going to have to continue making that choice no matter the pain, anger, fear, or weakness that I may face.  Am I going to allow God to be greater than my sin?  Can I truly let him come into the deepest recesses of my being and heal my wounds?  I cannot bring the healing salve to others if I do not allow God to heal my hurts.

In a society that thrives on individualism, it is easy to forget and admit our brokenness, weakness, and insecurities.  I forget so easily that I am a member of the walking wounded.  That includes over 6 billion people who are on this planet right now.  All of us are wounded, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  As Christians, we have the answer to all of the longing and emptiness of this life.  We have the Living God.  We are under the care of the Divine Physician.  It is now our call to go out and show Jesus Christ to the world.  We must start within our families and move out into the world.  God bless.  Happy Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

Battling Anger

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Anger.  Why are so many of us angry? Do we realize that we are angry? Does it bother us? I was just observing a Twitter exchange, I can’t really call it a debate.  There was too much profanity and no intellectual exchange for it to be considered a debate.  What struck me though, as has happened before, was the level of anger this person lobbed at a friend of mine.  

 
At first I was incensed that someone would talk to a friend of mine like that, knowing full well that it is all too common on social media.  I myself have been on the receiving end of it.  I have been called: a bigot, racist, Pharisee, hater, homophobe, and the list goes on.  When I watched this exchange, I began to think about the person’s anger, it really seemed to be rage.  I began to see myself.  You see, I struggle with anger.  I have a fearsome temper.  It only comes out in all of its horrific glory a couple times a year.  Thank God for that! But it is awful, and it shows me the depths of depravity within me.  It also reveals unresolved pain and a fear that I am not loved either by my family or by God.
 
I know anger.  So when I see it in others, I know that there is some kind of pain that needs to be healed.  A hatred that is pointed inward, but lashes out at others.  It comes from a deep fear of not being loved and it is always driven by pride and power.  Rather than choose to accept Christ’s sacrifice for them, angry people fight between a belief that they don’t need a Savior and a deep rooted knowledge that they do.  It is a war that is in the hearts of us all. We want to be God, but we aren’t, and so our sinful nature drives us into anger.  Or we have been hurt by others and that fear of being unloved drives our rage.  How could God love me?
 
The other issue with anger stems from pride.  We don’t want to be told what to do, or hear that our lifestyle is wrong and immoral.  This is a big one in the “gay marriage” debate.  No one, and I mean no one, likes to hear from someone else that they commit grave evil.  For those who do not know Jesus Christ, this is even more difficult.  What they cannot see is that all of us either have, or are capable, of grave evil.  All they see is someone saying “no” to their choices.  Christianity is not about accusing others and relishing in their fall.  No, Christianity, is about saying that we are a band of sinners, hopelessly lost without Our Lord who loves everyone.  Only He can show us the true way, and yes that means abandoning sin.  But true freedom lies in that abandonment and falling into Love.
 
It is hard for every single one of us to abandon sin.  I sin daily.  The more I go to Confession, the more I see how deeply rooted my sins are and how much I need His grace to overcome them.  Saying that a behavior is sinful is the beginning of understanding our own inner pain and hatred.  Unhappiness stems from sin. Anger stems from sin.  It is hard to take a look in the mirror and say, God I need you to do it, I can’t.  This is especially difficult in a culture that is as fiercely independent as ours.
 
So, why are we so angry? I suspect it is because in those moments, or perhaps always, we are afraid we are not loved, we hurt, and we think we can do it ourselves.  Anger resolves nothing.  It hurts the people around us.  It destroys dialogue and quite frankly, it leads to violence.  I pray for healing for all of those who like me struggle with this deadly sin.  Advent blessings!