Christ Desires Mercy and Charity

This past Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we once again heard the Gospel passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). She was thrown in the dirt, cursed and condemned; a reminder of the division and destruction of sin. The Mosaic Law called for her stoning and many people stood over her willing to end her life. Jesus very calmly and deliberately approaches the situation. He knows full well the force of anger and hatred which lies in hearts grown cold. He asks who among the crowd is without sin, for they may cast the first stone at the woman’s body. It’s a reversal and calls all of us up short in periods of anger and condemnation in our own lives. This is not some notion of tolerance, rather, it is a reminder that judgment for sin rests with God alone. This section of Scripture is also a glimpse into the New Law which is found in Christ. The New Law in which mercy, charity, and true justice reign supreme.

There are times when you and I are the people holding stones ready to strike. We get caught up in the emotion, tumult, and passion of a situation and desire our own form of justice. We believe, whether consciously or not, that we are better than this woman and so we have a right to be her judge. Instead, what we have done is fallen into grave sin ourselves. We have hardened our hearts and forgotten the serious sins or even the daily venial sins in our own lives, which are the cause of Our Lord’s death on the Cross. Jesus is reminding us of His mercy and that He requires our mercy. Proper justice cannot be exercised without charity and mercy in mind.

At other times, we are the woman caught in adultery. I don’t necessarily mean we are adulterers, but we might have committed a sexual sin, pride, envy, avarice, idolatry, theft, anger, etc. which can be just as destructive or even more so, as adultery. It is no secret that our culture is obsessed with sexual sin, but in reality, while these sins are grave matter within the proper situation, anger and pride can be even more deadly. In those moments of sin, we often feel internally like this woman. Our sins may not be as “public”, but they still reverberate throughout the Mystical Body and the world.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Lent and Christ’s Thirst for Us

We are now past Laetare Sunday and well on our way towards Holy Week.As we work and pray through these last few weeks of Lent and Holy Week, we will once again stand at the foot of the Cross. It was on the Cross of our salvation that Our Lord uttered the words: “I thirst.” These very same words changed the course of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s life as she received her “call within a call” on September 10, 1946 as she sat on a crowded train in the mountains of India. As we walk these last few weeks of Lent, let us reflect on Jesus’ thirst for each one of us and all human beings created in his “image and likeness.”

Perhaps you have read about Blessed Teresa’s experiences and her focus on the thirst of Christ, perhaps you have not. Meditating on these words from Our Lord is to walk deep into the mystery of God’s love and desire for each person. It is a love that is difficult to comprehend and even accept in our sinful and often wretched state. There are many days where the love expressed from the Cross is too much to bear and we tell Christ, as Saint Peter did, to leave us because we are too sinful. Thankfully our all loving and merciful Triune God does not heed our request.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did not reveal her call fully until she wrote a letter to her Missionaries of Charity in 1993.  She felt urged to share the message of “I Thirst” with her sisters after Saint John Paul II delivered a Lenten message on the exact same theme. These two great saints understood the depth and love expressed in these two words.

After reading Holy Father’s letter on “I Thirst,” I was struck so much—I cannot tell you what I felt. His letter made me realize more than ever how beautiful is our vocation….[We] are reminding [the] world of His thirst, something that is being forgotten….Holy Father’s letter is a sign…to go more into what is this great thirst of Jesus for each one. It is also a sign for Mother, that the time has come for me to speak openly of [the] gift God gave Sept. 10th—to explain [as] fully as I can what means for me the thirst of Jesus…

Letter to the Missionaries of Charity, March 25, 1993

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Life is Full of Waiting Right Now

My husband and I are in a time of waiting, which is appropriate for this Lenten season. The doctors have still not found the cause for why my dad is so sick and so we wait, try not to worry (super hard), and leave it to God’s loving care. We are also in the middle of negotiating the purchase of the small farm we have always wanted. If we buy the house, which is right in our price range, but much larger than we need (I trust God will help us to use it well) then we will be uprooting our lives from the community we have known for six years. I am used to moving every 3 years or so and this is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18, but it is still a major change if it goes through.

We live in an area of the Appalachians that is filled with small communities and farms as well as a small city nearby. This house is an hour from our current home and we would have to switch to a mission parish (we live in Baptist country so Catholic Churches are spread out) and to a small town way of life. The farm is three miles from a small artisan town near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Living near the Parkway is a huge bonus! Lots of hiking!

The house has everything we could possibly need and more. At 3700 square feet it is palatial for our tiny family, but we are still discerning adoption. We need room for a homeschool classroom and an office for me to work more diligently on my writing career after I complete my Master’s next year. My husband is a skilled wood-turner and he will have space to grow in his craft.

The “old” farmhouse (built in 1910), this still makes me laugh after living in Europe for a spell, sits on 10 beautiful acres complete with pond. The land is rolling and perfect for animals and our garden. I have never lived in the country. I am from the largest “city” in Montana: Billings, population 100,000. My dad was an attorney for most of my young life, so we weren’t farmers. I did learn to love gardening and flowers from my mother who has an amazing green thumb.

Right now we wait for the owners to accept or counter our offer. It’s more waiting added onto the waiting on my dad’s condition. This Lent has been a difficult one for me as I try to learn patience in the face of the unknown. It’s also a time for us to decide on which dream to pursue long-term. We have always discussed starting a small farm, even when Phil and I were dating, but it is hard to leave our parish community and the connections we have made here. It would also mean a probable end to my homeschool co-op membership here. I may try the hour long drive for a while, but it may get to be too much and we will have to be more creative in very rural Virginia.

I always covet prayers, so please offer some up for us. The Solemnity of St. Joseph is next week and he has been an ever growing friend these past few weeks in dealing with my father’s confusing illness and the possible uprooting of our family. May God continue to bless you.

Frequent Confession, the Eucharist, and the Need for Conversion

During this Lenten season we are called to examine our lives more closely in light of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving bring us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and our own journey to holiness. Lent is also a time to draw closer to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Reconciliation or Confession. The Eucharist unites us to Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity while Penance drives us to seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we sin and fail in our daily lives. Penance is not only a Sacrament for mortal sin, it is meant for all sin which weighs us down over time.

In the Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, Saint John Paul II discusses the connection between these two great Sacraments of the Church. Both the Holy Eucharist and Penance are linked to the mystery of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The link between theses Sacraments is apparent. In approaching the Lord’s Supper at each Mass, we must be aware of our failings and whether or not we are in a worthy state for reception of Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is not a right. It is a gift reserved for those in a state of grace who are members of the Church. The Sacrament of Penance provides the necessary cleansing and healing for those times we fall into serious sin, but also as we struggle with sin in our daily lives.

One of the essential aspects and teachings of Jesus Christ is, “Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” It is true that on the surface this is a call to become a follower of Christ and to receive Baptism in order to join the Mystical Body; however, it is also a call for each one of us to “repent” in our daily lives. Conversion is a life-long process. We each have sins deeply entrenched in us whether through habit or other factors. We cannot follow Christ unless we are constantly dying to self and listening to His call for repentance in our own lives. Even if we are not falling into grave sin, we are still failing somewhere and need Christ to give us the grace to overcome those sins. Saint John Paul II highlights the great importance of repentance, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance:

Indeed, if the first word of Christ’s teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His “Repent.”

Redemptor Hominis 20

Our Lord knows our struggles and our failings on the path to holiness, which is precisely why He calls us to Himself for forgiveness and contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, so that we may more fully participate in the Holy Eucharist.

Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner.

Ibid

It is important to remember that all the faithful are members of the common priesthood by virtue of Baptism. We offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministerial priesthood. Our lives are meant to be of sacrifice, which is the very nature of priesthood. In order to fulfill this Baptismal role, we must be ever mindful of our daily need for conversion. It is Christ who is our example in sacrifice.

In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.

Ibid

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Lenten Journey: Dealing with Sinful Anger Part I

I have a confession to make:  I really struggle with sinful anger.  I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion.  I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times.  It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most.  My anger has been a decades old problem.  Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault.  Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin.  This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings.  God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance.  So how do I do that?

I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger.  When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord!  I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger.  What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?

index

One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred.  When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin.  I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself.  This came out in Confession a while back.  The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.”  His response was, “Yes!  Exactly!”  Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it.  That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.

What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others?  As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes.  Next is selfishness.  When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess.  This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint.  So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.

The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice.  I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger.  I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily.  It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others.  We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.

So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice.  This is the beginning of my journey.  Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises.  This will be the next difficult step.  I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me.  For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me.  Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them.  That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.

The most important component is Jesus Christ.  I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own.  Nope.  Not going to happen.  I’ve tried.  To my utter shame, I still try.  I have to let God do it.  I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.”  One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.

As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well.  She was an outcast.  I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons.  While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved.  So there came Jesus in the heat of the day.  The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink.  He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity.  He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him.  How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up?  See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?

womanatthewell

This is just the beginning.  I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up.  So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger.  Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage.  Not all anger is sinful.  Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger.  Perhaps order the book above.  Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them.  I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer.  I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger.  Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger?  Have you identified your triggers?

Recommended Reading:

Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow
The Gospels

Why Baptism during Lent?

This past Sunday’s readings were a strange connection of Baptism and the desert (for the Western Church).  We heard about the flood when God wiped out the evil of the world and saved eight righteous people.  Yes, the narrative is a pre-figurement of Baptism.  The waters of the flood cleanse the earth. We also see that the penalty for sin is death.  After hearing about Noah, we then hear that Christ was driven by the Spirit out into the desert for 40 days (notice 40 in both Scripture passages) to be tempted.  The reading did not include the fact that this occurred after Jesus’ own baptism.  So the question is, why is the Church talking about Baptism alongside Jesus’ temptation in the desert?  After all, isn’t Lent about being in the desert?  To answer these questions we need to take a look at what Baptism does to the believer.

Noahs+Arkcrop

Baptism is a renunciation of sin that is caused by God. God infuses us with the supernatural virtue of faith so that we may desire to abandon sin and follow him.  He moves us to change and we choose that change.  We must choose to conform our lives to Christ and be so united in the mysteries of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  God gives us the grace to do so.  We cannot act until he acts. What is Christ doing in the desert?  He is showing us how to turn away from sin so that we may follow him.  The three sins Christ is tempted by are related to his three divine offices of priest, prophet, and king.  These are the very same offices that we share in when we become members of the Mystical Body (I will write posts about this in the future). Jesus is the High Priest who offers the pure sacrifice to the Father of his body and his obedience. He is the High Prophet who comes to share and reveal the Father.  Finally, he is the King of the Universe.  He reigns over all.  By our Baptism we are called to share in these offices of Christ our king, prophet, and priest.  In order to do so, we must do battle with sin.  We must reject Satan, just as Christ has done in the desert and through the Cross. Christ does battle with Satan after the Baptism in the Jordan.  We must battle Satan in this life after our own Baptism.  So Christ is showing us how to follow Him.  The sanctifying grace of Baptism allows us to begin that journey.

jesustemptedinthedesert

Lent is a reminder of our spiritual struggle.  In that wrestling we are reminded of our Baptismal promises and the promises given to us by Christ.  We already possess living water within us, even as we wander in the dry heat of the desert.  At Easter we will renew our baptismal promises and once again renounce Satan, just as Jesus does in the desert.  That means that our Lenten journey is inextricably linked to our Baptism.  Lent is a time for us to renew our battle stance against Satan and to enter more fully into the mysteries of Christ’s life, namely his temptation and then his eventual Paschal Mystery.  I will focus on Baptism and the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week.

What I want us to keep in mind is that Lent is not just about giving up something.  It is about going into the desert and doing battle, just as Our Lord did.  It is to constantly say “no” to Satan, just as we did (or our parents did) at our Baptism.  When we entered into the Mystical Body of Christ, we were saying “yes” to Christ.  That “yes” also includes entering into His death.  For now, we need to once again focus on our death to sin.  We have chosen life over death. This side of the veil is a desert of sorts, but Christ has torn open that veil and conquered sin and death.  We must persevere.

figure-walking-in-the-desert

Throughout this Lenten season, the Church is reminding us that Satan has been conquered.  Through our Baptism we are united to Christ.  The desert of this life is flowing in abundant springs through our Baptism.  Even though we are in the desert of this life, we always proclaim love and hope.  The battle is won.  Let us remember as we do penance, pray, give alms, and fast that this is a time of renewal.  It is a time for us to be strengthened against Satan.  Through the grace of our Baptism, we are able to reach the ultimate goal, which is Heaven.  On first glance the desert and the flood seem at odds, but in actuality they reflect the deepest reality of the Christian life.

Some recommended reading:
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Life of Christ by Ven. Fulton Sheen