The Answer to Division is Charity, Forgiveness, and Communion

Image taken from Wiki Commons

I’ve been spending this Advent trying to enter into stillness and waiting. I am very bad at both. I’m a person of action, so being told that I’m to sit still and wait for God’s mission for me has been difficult. It’s felt more like a wrestling match than stillness.

A lot has happened within my vocation and spiritually for me this year. In the last few months everything I thought I would be doing crumbled in front of me. My daughter is now in Catholic school, so I’m not homeschooling her any longer. She’s really happy in school, so it was the right move for her. I’m no longer serving in ministry and all projects I had in the works ceased except for one in February. Everything I thought I was supposed to be doing or would be doing collapsed and I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what God’s will and mission is for me now. Given the intensity of my spiritual life this year, there is clearly a mission, but I’m not ready for it yet. All I know is this: “Communion is the thing.”

This period came with a lot of turmoil, confusion, and pain for a whole host of reasons. In it all I’ve found myself meditating on how Christ forgives and how He moves past the horror we inflicted upon Him on the Cross and how we move past the pain we inflict upon one another. He doesn’t forget. When He appears in the Upper Room after the Resurrection He shows His disciples the wounds He received on the Cross, but He says Shalom, twice. Peace be with you.

He does not dwell at length on what transpired. He acknowledges it to them by showing them His wounds, but He extends His peace and then He gives His Apostles the ability to extend that very same peace and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession by the power of the office of Holy Orders. There is no vengeance. He knows they’ve betrayed and abandoned Him, but He extends His peace to them. He makes the healing move necessary back towards them even though He is the injured party. He seeks to forgive before forgiveness is even sought. He is quite literally the injured party as the Son of God and He in turn shows that He is forgiveness Itself.

This isn’t easy for us in our Fallen state. We want justice. We want people to actually care that they’ve hurt us. We want understanding. We want the charity we are entitled to as human beings. In reality, a lot of times, even in marriage, we don’t get it. We can’t make people care about the things they’ve done or even care about us as people. Since we are made imago Dei, we know at the deepest level that this is not how it is supposed to be, so we wrestle and fight back against those people who hurt us. Unfortunately, we also struggle with the urge to placate our wounded pride and ego. We battle the desire for vengeance, which comes from our sinful selves not the glory within.

The only way to stop this cycle is to move outwards. St. John of the Cross– whose feast day we celebrate today–said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” The answer to how we learn to forgive and still commune with others is self-emptying love. After one person hurt me considerably a few weeks ago, God immediately presented me with an opportunity to serve this person, to sacrifice for this person, and to share a gift with this person during a difficult time for them. I had a choice. Hold onto my pain and anger or give. Thanks be to God I chose to give. I chose to love. I don’t always, but all glory to God for any goodness within me!

It wasn’t easy at first, but it was precisely in my choosing to simply act in love towards this person that peace was restored and I no longer simply saw them as a person who had inflicted pain on me. The blindness that pain causes was lifted and I could see the person in front of me, not only my pain. It was my Shalom exhaled out and given to them. It didn’t fix what happened. Everything that has been done is done, but it halted the cycle of anger and division that erupted because of it. It healed the division that destroys communion. Yes, I still get twinges of pain from it, but because I chose to serve this person in love, it is much easier to accept that hurt when it arises and move past it in acceptance. Resentment towards others harms us and it harms others through our interactions with them.

We live in a time of great division in the Church. People are rightly hurting and angry about the sex abuse scandals, but the solution is not more division. The answer is communion grounded in charity. It means forgiving one another, even the horrific events that have transpired. Not because we turn a blind eye and not because we shouldn’t seek justice and truth, we must, but because the more we allow sinful anger, resentment, and fear to take the lead the more injustices will occur. If we aren’t careful we will run the risk innocent people getting hurt. If we aren’t careful, the division that the Enemy seeks to place between the clergy and the laity, the clergy and the clergy, and the laity and the laity will widen. This is about communion. How we respond together is going to shape the path forward.

We must demand the light be let into the dark places within the Church, but then we must be ready to work towards forgiveness. That blinding light will come with deep suffering for all of us as we confront those dark places, but it is a healing light. We must look to Our Lord’s example of how we are to forgive even the most egregious of sins. We murdered God and He came back in forgiveness. There is nothing another human being can commit that can pale in comparison to the horror and evil of this fact. Reform, justice, transparency, conversion, etc. are all needed, but we must be willing to come together in deeper communion in order to get there. These horrors should not cause us to scatter from one another. They must help bind us closer together in love of God and love of one another. 

There is a great temptation to resort to an “us versus them” mentality. This happens when the laity places itself in opposition with the clergy and views them with suspicion and paints all priests with broad unjust strokes. It happens when priests treat the laity as the enemy or as clueless about the realities and demands of the ministerial priesthood. This is exactly the same thing as when the laity argues we shouldn’t listen to priests about marriage and sexuality because Latin Rite priests are celibate. This type of thinking by all parties is destructive and causes division within the Church.

The laity and the clergy are complimentary and an integral part of the Mystical Body. There are no Sacraments without the ministerial priesthood and there are no members offering sacrifice and praise with and through them without the laity. There is no bringing the world into conformation with the Holy Trinity without both the clergy and the laity working together. There is no us and them. We are one body in Christ. We are all on the path to holiness together. We need to stop making assumptions and judgments about one another and draw more closely together. We need to move outwards in charity towards one another. Authentic charity, not sentimentality, superficiality, or banality. Rugged individualism or entrenching will only make things worse. We need one another.

Christ has given us the answer in the communion we share with one another. That communion will require sacrifice, forgiveness, and true charity of all of us. It will mean setting aside our pain so that we can move towards one another. It’s not only what God requires of us, it is the very answer we are seeking. Our pain is healed by acting in self-emptying love and forgiveness. It is healed by choosing caritas over and over again. This isn’t sentimentality that makes us feel good about ourselves. This is the nitty gritty difficult path that we are actually called to. It requires everything from us. The darkness we are descending into as the Mystical Body will mean that we need to stay bound to one another guided by the healing Light of Christ. Communion is the very thing that God will use to strengthen, guide, and purify His Church during these dark days, but we must be willing to come together regardless of the costs.

Don’t Forget the Pray More Advent Retreat Starts Today!

Today is the beginning of the Pray More Advent retreat which is entirely online. There are talks from multiple speakers on a wide variety of topics. I was blessed to participate as a speaker. My talks are on St. John Paul II and the Eucharist, St. Therese, persevering in holiness, and the strangeness of how God heals us in suffering. Other talks are about Isaiah, keeping Advent holy, walking with Mary in Advent, discipleship, the Our Father, and many more. Check it out! Let’s walk deeper into Advent this year and every year. Pax Christi.

http://praymoreretreat.com/

 

Catholic Exchange: A 9-11 Relief Worker’s Dark Night and Healing

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was 20 years old and had been in the Navy just under two years. I was driving to work across the base I was stationed at just a few short miles from Washington DC when the first plane hit the twin towers. Like most people that morning I was confused by the news, but I walked into work just in time to see the second plane hit on the TV in the office. My co-workers and I crowded around a television in confusion and horror for about half an hour, and then, the Pentagon was hit. The base I worked on was a perceived top 10 target and chaos ensued. A friend of mine was standing next to me when the news broke about the Pentagon. She was 8.5 months pregnant and her Marine husband was stationed at the Pentagon. We were instructed to return to our Divisions. I told her that I would check in with my boss and come find her and stay with her until there was news about her husband. After that things get hazy.

I remember the piercing sun and the brilliant blue sky of that morning. The latter is something that most people who were in New York or DC remember about that day. I remember civilians running to their cars as all non-essential civilian personnel were instructed to evacuate the base. I worked on a base with over 20,000 employees, to give you an idea of the chaos. After checking in with my boss, I found my friend and we barricaded ourselves in a room in the Marine barracks and waited. I only remember the terror I felt and the concern I had for my friend. I remember jet engines flying overhead as we braced for impact. Hours went by when we finally got news that my friend’s husband had hiked up I-395 and had found a ride home. He was safe. The phones were jammed until evening, so I also remember the relief in my own father’s voice when he heard me say that I was safe. He was concerned that I had been at the Pentagon that day for some reason. Given the line of work that I did, that would have been a possibility.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

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.

Grace and Healing on 9-11: Praying for the 9-11 Terrorists

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I have been going through a period of deep spiritual struggle.  It has been the kind of struggle that bears much fruit.  These struggles are deepening my faith and teaching me to rely on Christ’s will for me, rather than my own will.  My eyes have been truly opened to different aspects of Christ’s betrayal and the Cross.  Today revealed to me just how much God’s grace is working in me.  The only source of my understanding is Him.

Today is the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  It is a deeply difficult day for thousands of people personally, and a day of mourning and remembrance as a nation.  The last 13 years of my life have been shaped by my 9-11 experiences.  Three years after my relief work,  I suffered through a few years of debilitating PTSD.  After absolutely stellar treatment from some of the world’s top EMDR and PTSD specialists, I have been able to live with those memories.  I live with next to no PTSD symptoms, from that period in my life.  One aspect was still in need of healing and that was a spiritual dimension.

As Christians, we are called to pray for our enemies.  As Catholics, that includes the dead.  I have never been able to bring myself to pray for the 19 hijackers, until today.  At 9:37am this morning, at the exact same time Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people, I started to pray a Rosary before holy relics of Our Lord’s Cross (yes, the actual Cross of Jesus).  As I started my Rosary, I began to list my petitions: the families of the killed, those killed, the relief workers, etc.  Then I got the thought to pray for the terrorists’ souls.  At first, I could not utter the words.  I began to sob in utter agony.  I fell onto all fours and sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes.  I had the sense (eye of faith) that my Guardian Angel was there comforting me.  The Agony in the Garden came to mind.  I finally got back up on my knees and through my sobs, prayed for the souls of the terrorists and those who terrorize today.   It was the hardest Rosary I have ever prayed in my life.  I sobbed and shook throughout it, but I knew Our Lord and Our Lady were with me.  When I finished, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me.  The sobbing stopped and peace set in.

Some of you will read this and respond in anger.  Some of you will not understand praying for the souls of the dead, especially those who chose evil.  Catholics, unlike a lot of other Christian denominations, pray for the dead constantly.  But, some of you will understand why this is significant, and why it is necessary.  I had to walk into the Garden and cry out in agony. I chose courage.  I walked towards the Cross.   Something that I have avoided for well over a decade.  I knew those prayers would be hard.  It is only by God’s grace that I was able to utter them.  To release my own anger at those 19 men, who murdered so many, and left me in the throngs of PTSD 10 years ago.  This was God’s doing.  In choosing to let go, He was able to heal my hurt.  It is hard, but in confronting deep pain, with God as our guide, we are set free.

What agony do you need to confront?  Let God heal you.

What 9-11 Means to Me This Year: From a Relief Worker

This is very close to where I stood with 400 grieving family members a few days after 9-11.
This is very close to where I stood with 400 grieving family members a few days after 9-11.

9-11 means a lot of different things to people.  Everyone has a story of where they were on that day.  I just happen to be one of those people who spent 45 days smack dab in the middle of the pain, agony, and destruction of 9-11.  On 9-11 I was stationed at a large intel base.  We were considered a top 10 target and a mass evacuation of non-military personnel started right after the Pentagon was hit.  I don’t remember much because it was so chaotic and terrifying.  What I do remember is my friend was 8.5 months pregnant with her first child, and her then husband worked at the Pentagon.  The phones were jammed, so we waited until early evening before we knew that he was safe, having hiked up I-395 to get a ride back to our base.  I stayed with her all day to make sure that she was ok.  We huddled inside the Marine barracks, terrified of every jet engine we heard over head.  Our base was in the BWI flight path.   I remember a blazing sun against a crystal blue sky.  I remember people running frantically.  I remember armed Marines running with M-16s to secure our base.  I remember bracing for impact and being sure that death was coming.  I had never been that terrified in my entire life.  I don’t think anything else has matched it since (other than when the PTSD was rally bad 10 years ago).  Thank God!

Once the initial attacks cleared, my reaction was that I needed to help.  I lived a few miles from DC.  I needed to do what I could to help those in need.  Rather unexpectedly, a friend of mine, with a similar drive, said that she was being sent by our base to serve the families of those killed at the Pentagon.  I said that I was going with her, and so 8 of us from my base went to the Pentagon Family Assistance Center to serve the surviving families.  The Navy lost more people than any other branch or Agency, and they wanted us there in uniform in case the families wanted a Sailor to talk to and also to serve them in any capacity necessary.

The first few days were agony.  I witnessed the deepest in human suffering.  My 20 year old heart and mind, was not prepared for this level of pain.  My faith was still young and weak, and it was not my primary rock throughout that period.  I had to fight my own tears, in the face of hurting, mourning people.  A few days after the attack, I stood in front of the crash site with over 400 mourning relatives.  I knew that I was staring into the abyss of Hell.  Only Hell could bring such destruction and barbarity.

While 9-11 will haunt me for the rest of my life, I did witness the strength of the human spirit.  The first couple of weeks were devastating.  The wounds were deep and fresh.  Families waited helplessly for news of their loved ones.  No one survived the attack, and all 184 perished.  When bodies started to be returned to families (what was left of their loved one), families had a sense of relief.  Over 40 bodies were never recovered.  Once this phase began, I noticed a shift to healing.  The pain was deep, but there was the very beginning of hope and healing.  By the end of my 45 days as a relief worker, the families had returned home to begin to re-build their lives.

9-11 is a defining moment in my life, because, unlike the majority of the world, I was actually a part of the event.  I was there in all its horror.  This day has meant many things for me:   pain, agony, suffering, tears, mourning, nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, hope, love, courage.  Today it means:  prayer.  These people who perpetuate this type of evil are still murdering thousands of people throughout the world.  The leaders of the West are impotent in the face of this evil, quite frankly, because in their nihilism they do not know good from evil, or evil from good.  So I wage the spiritual battle and I pray, fast, and give alms.  That is how I best serve the memories of those I met and their loved ones.  It is how I best served those being persecuted abroad.  It is how I best serve the persecutors.  So PRAY and pray hard, for the conversion of souls, for those murdered today (and every other day), the families, and the relief workers.

And, yes, because my 9-11 experiences make me feel a deep connection to the persecuted, check out Help Nasara to give alms.  We are trying to serve the suffering.  God bless you always.

We are on Facebook: www.facebook.com/helpnasara

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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!