The Saints and the Cross Episode 3: Our Lady of Sorrows

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Pieta (1876)

A blessed Holy Week to you all! Today I cover Our Lady of Sorrows in the next episode of The Saints and the Cross. Let us turn to Our Lady of Sorrows to help us unite our will fully to Christ’s and to allow ourselves to be pierced with the agony, mystery, and love of the Cross.

The Saints and the Cross Episode 2: St. Therese of Lisieux

Today I cover two aspects of St. Therese of Lisieux’s teaching: Doing small things with great love and persevering in trial and testing knowing it is a sign of God’s love for us.

Today is my 39th birthday. I’m requesting that anyone who views this video or stops by the blog to offer a prayer for our priests, bishops, and Holy Father. In your kindness, after you pray for your own parish priests, please remember mine: Fr. Kevin and Fr. Christian. I pray that Our Lord may unleash tremendous graces on our priests through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.

Here’s a beautiful prayer you can offer written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who is a fellow April birthday.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Prayer for Priests

LORD JESUS CHRIST,
eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the
Father on the altar of the Cross and through the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly
people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.
Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests.
Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial
priesthood may be ever more conformed to you,
the divine Master. May they preach the
Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.
Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart,
single- minded in service to you and to the Church
and shining examples of a holy,simple and joyful life.
Through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
your Mother and ours,draw all priests and the flocks
entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where
you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen

The Saints and the Cross Episode 1: St. Charles Borromeo

Today I begin my video series on the saints and the Cross with St. Charles Borromeo. I also provide a lens through which we can view the present pandemic and exile by referencing St. John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris:

I’m still taking suggestions for saints you’d like to see me cover. Feel free to post them in the comments or email me.

Catholic Exchange: How Women Can Help Renew the Church in an Age of Scandal

We live in an age of the battle of the sexes. Women are expected to be like men and men are expected to be like women. This is the form of equality we are spoon-fed from infancy by our culture. Either that, or we are taught that men and women are in a battle for power all the while arguing that the other sex should not dominate the other. What this does is create ever widening gaps between men and women that play-out in most areas of our lives, even within the Church.

We see this debate mostly clearly within the Church in the call for women’s ordination. The argument is largely based on power. Women want power within the Church. This is the exact opposite of what Christ calls His priests to. He calls them to serve as He serves, which is at the high altar of the Cross. To seek to pour one’s self out in self-emptying love for the sake of Christ’s flock. This radical call of being configured to Christ is what we are all called to at baptism, but it takes on a much deeper dimension within the priesthood, which is why any desire for worldly power is in direct opposition to the priesthood. The ontological and scriptural arguments aside, any ambition on our part as women to grasp at worldly power through a call to women’s ordination is to misunderstand our own calling, as well as the priesthood.

Women have tremendous gifts to offer to the Church. We cannot serve in the manner we are called to if we are overly concerned with worldly power and honor. If our primary objective is to seize power from men then we have bought the lie of the Enemy and the world that men are somehow our enemy or our rival. This has been a problem since the Fall.

Women are not called to serve the Church as priests and spiritual fathers. Christ Himself was a man and He instituted an all male priesthood. We are called, however, to serve as sisters in Christ and spiritual mothers. The Church needs the unique gifts that come from women, but they must be given in a spirit of service, rather than an aspiration for power or honor.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Guest Post: 3 Tactics to Overcome Spiritual Sloth

**Today’s guest post is from fellow Catholic Exchange contributor Matthew Chicoine.

American founding father Benjamin Franklin said, “Diligence overcomes difficulties; sloth makes them.” Laziness not only creates problems, but also worsens them. Procrastination, a cousin of laziness, is the particular type of sloth that haunts me. I make excuses to explain and justify my laziness. “I am too tired.” or “The kids drove me crazy. I just need to de-stress by watching T.V.” or “I exercised yesterday so I can take the day off today!” The list goes on and on. 

Fatigue definitely leads to sloth. Another cause is pride. My hubris leads me to believe I don’t need to take action as promptly as possible. Oftentimes, this is the case when my wife asks me to accomplish a task or schedule an important appointment. Connected closely with physical laziness is spiritual sloth. After the intensity of Lent and the joy of the Easter season wears off, I always seem to be lagging behind my prayer life around the feast of Pentecost. This article will focus on three strategies to overcome spiritual sloth and renew your prayer life. 

Exercise

According to Proverbs 12:24, “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.” Exercise helps bring me out of a sluggish slump. Simply, holding myself accountable by going for a 3 mile run or bike ride provides me energy. The same is true with our spiritual life.

 A simple way to break out of your spiritual slump is to pray. Prayer is just a two-way conservation with God. If you don’t know how to start don’t worry! Communication with God need not be complicated. Just ask for strength. Tell Him your struggles. If you are still need direction on how to start praying look to St. Josemaria Esciva. The Spanish priest wrote, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” Another creative method to pray would be to pray while exercising! Ask the Holy Spirit for the mettle to make it that next mile or rep.  

Seek Guidance

Another tactic to dispel spiritual sloth is seeking guidance from the saints and/or a spiritual director. Because of the busyness of my schedule, I personally don’t have time for a formal spiritual director. I enjoy reading the Bible or spiritual writing of a saint. St. Vincent de Paul puts it plainly, “Read some chapter of a devout book….It is very easy and most necessary, for just as you speak to God when at prayer, God speaks to you when you read.” Reading only a few pages a day will definitely prove fruitful—the key is consistency. Digest this guidance daily bit by bit.

Frequent the Sacraments

A third way to defeat spiritual sloth is something Catholic already are supposed to partake in—the sacraments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1210, 

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life:1 they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

At a bare minimum Catholics attend Mass weekly. There the faithful receives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ as nourishment to sustain them for the week. During our journey on earth we fall into sin—marring our soul. Both physical and spiritual damage requires proper healing in order to avoid future decay. The sacrament of Confession restores us back into communion with God and our neighbors. 

St. John Paul II declares in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, “To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed-penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood-to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God” (no. 13). Being forgiven from your sins elicits a freedom. We become freer to choose God’s will over our selfish desires after receiving the sacramental graces of Penance.

If you are struggling with spiritual sloth do not despair. Ask God for help and aid will be given to you. Frequent prayer leads to greater stamina during the dry times of our spiritual journey. Look to the writing of the saints for guidance and receive the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Confession. These three tactics are simple ways to defend against and defeat spiritual sloth. The most difficult part of any exercise is to start. Take that first step and begin renew your spiritual journey today!

**You can read more of Matthew’s writing at Catholic Exchange and at his blog The Simple Catholic.


Catholic Exchange: The World Needs the Witness of Celibate Priests

Last week, Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News fame announced that he has decided to leave the priesthood and is petitioning for laicization. In response to the very public announcement of his decision, I was immediately struck by how little so many respondents understood the nature of the priesthood. I was also disheartened to see so many Catholics throwing out popular cultural maxims such as “just follow your heart”, “you do you”, and the inevitable calls for an end to the vow of celibacy. 

Our response to a priest leaving the priesthood should lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes of condemnation and “follow your heart.” Neither response does justice to such a complex issue.

Fr. Morris’ decision ultimately rests between him and God, but we also cannot pretend that the choice by a priest to leave the priesthood doesn’t have a deep impact on the faithful and on his brother priests who do stay true to their vows and who remain as the Church continues to be ravaged by scandal. 

A priest leaving the priesthood causes pain, confusion, division, and scandal. The decision may be necessary, but we cannot equate a priest leaving the priesthood to someone simply changing jobs. The priesthood is intimately connected to communion, which means any decision made by a priest impacts others, many others, for good or for ill. In relation to the priesthood, the maxim “follow your heart” is nothing short of destructive and counter to the vows he took at ordination.

Dying to Self

When we are baptized into the Church, we become a new creation. Our old life of sin and death is washed away as we die with Christ and are regenerated in the waters of Baptism. We are then called to become a living sacrifice and to become like Christ in our daily lives. We also become members of the Mystical Body, which is one body united to Christ as the Head. We no longer live for ourselves. This takes on an even deeper meaning within the priesthood as these men, called by Christ, surrender their entire person to Him and His Church at ordination.

The Latin Rite’s requirement of a vow of celibacy for priests is a further call to self-emptying love and spiritual paternity. It is a radical form of dying to self in the image of Christ. By relinquishing a family of their own, Latin Rite priests give themselves completely over to Christ and the Church so that they can become spiritual fathers to Christ’s flock through a complete abandonment of self for the needs of God’s people. They give up a wife and children of their own so that God’s people may become their spiritual children and the Church their Bride in the image of Christ the Bridegroom. The vow of celibacy leads the priest to become an even greater reflection of Christ who abandons Himself completely to the will of the Father.

The celibacy requirement is not simply a “lofty ideal” or “an outdated practice”. It is a sacrifice made by these men that infuses immense grace into the Church through their constant emptying of self in conformity to Christ in service to us. They are witnesses to the higher spiritual goods and a reminder that one day marriage will end and we will all be united as one in heaven. Marriage is a great good, but it is not the ultimate good. 

Our ultimate good is found in loving and serving God. Happiness can only be attained by living in communion with God and in accordance with His will. He is meant to be the very center of our lives. Our culture places an inordinate emphasis on romantic love and sex while largely rejecting God. In many ways, romantic love—which typically is reduced purely to sex—has become the only form of love and happiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.