Catholic Exchange: The Ascension and Our Journey Home

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord oftentimes is an understated event in the Church’s liturgical year. We profess the reality of this historical and supernatural event each Sunday as we profess the Creed. It is a significant event, in fact, it is the climax before He sends the Paraclete. In returning to the Father, Jesus leads us into the Father’s presence and forever tears the veil dividing mankind from God. It is through the Ascension in light of the Paschal Mystery that we are able to go home. Our Lord, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, in His Glorified Incarnate form, brings us to the Father. We are now able to enter into the Heavenly sanctuary and behold the Beatific Vision at the end of our holy lives.

The Ascension reminds us this is not our home.

In the glory, awe, mystery, and joy of the Resurrection we celebrate the gift of our salvation. We have been redeemed in Christ. The Lord’s Ascension reminds us that earth is our temporary home. We are sojourners with our gaze fixed on the faraway land. We seek the white shores, the place of peace, eternity with our Beloved. Christ has paved the way for us and He calls each one of us to follow Him back to the Father, so that we may truly rest in the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 661

We are now able to follow Christ back to our permanent home in Heaven. We too are called to return to the Father.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Raising Daughters Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a Disney Princess World

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 as the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While still a young child, Elizabeth was betrothed to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who was a German nobleman. She was sent to the court of Landgrave of Thuringia to receive her education at 4 years of age. During that time her mother was murdered and Elizabeth turned to ardent prayer in order to find peace and hope.

Elizabeth married Ludwig IV in 1221. She deeply loved her husband and the couple had three children. Two became members of the nobility while the third entered into religious life and became the abbess of a German convent. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth was deeply dedicated to prayer and charity towards the poor. Her husband supported her religious work. She lived a simple life of penance in devotion to works of charity. She used the abundant blessings God had given her as royalty to serve others in charity.

St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the Franciscan friars who arrived in her kingdom around 1223. She took up their austere practices in dressing simply and feeding hundreds of the poor bread daily. Both she and her husband were known for their great dedication to the poor in their kingdom. Elizabeth also treated the sick when illness ravaged the kingdom. Her husband was struck with an illness and died in 1227. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to celibacy and lived a life mirrored after a nun. She spent the rest of her days in ardent love and service of God and neighbor. She died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231.

St. Elizabeth is one of many saints who was a member of royalty. Most parents of daughters discover very quickly the female fascination with princesses and queens. Disney has spent decades marketing off of this interest among young girls. Beauty, gowns, crowns, princes, and castles dazzle young girls as they twirl around their homes decked out in their finest. I remember being quite astonished at how quickly my daughter became enamored with Disney princesses at 2 years of age and she still is to some extent at 5 years old.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Why I Remain Catholic

Photo from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Murfreesboro, TN
Photo from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Murfreesboro, TN

I remain Catholic because these words guide my life and remain with me even in the darkest of nights: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68. This Scripture passage is most realized in the Holy Eucharist in which Christ himself pours out the perfect sacrifice for us and unites us to His body, blood, soul, and divinity. To be Catholic is to have the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart, every human heart, which is the love of Christ and His Church. It is to be conformed to the Most Holy Trinity and rest in the peace that only comes from God.

I know that this is short compared to the other articles. Those of you who read my writing know that I am not known for short. The reality is that for me it is this simple, this short, and this profound. I literally have nowhere else to go. The Catholic Church is the fullness of truth and it is where Our Lord left His body, blood, soul, and divinity. There is no where else to go to be fulfilled, truly fulfilled.

Share your story and Elizabeth Scalia will add it to the discussion. You can read about her call to share the reason for our joy here. Tweet your article to her on Twitter @TheAnchoress. It doesn’t need to be long, just your honest reasons for staying Catholic in a world that would have you be anything else. Let’s share our joy with the world!

Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.

What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.

What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.

The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.

This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign.  This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.

This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.

Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.

First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity.  That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.

Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.

Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.

Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.

Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?

Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.

We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.

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.

Jesus Christ Leading Us Into the Deep

” Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,* he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;* do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith,* why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Matthew 14:22-33

A lot of the spiritual life is about being led out into the deep.  I was thinking about St. Peter walking out on the waves as I prayed my Rosary Sunday evening.  I was thinking about it because I lack the courage to step out of the boat a lot of the time.  To be led deeper into God, towards God. It takes great courage.  It is something that a lot of us intentionally avoid.

St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking.  He and I are so similar that way.
St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking. He and I are so similar that way.
We all like to be comfortable.  We want to feel good in our spiritual life, but faith is  not about feelings.  In fact, the journey to holiness requires us to get out of the boat and serve others outside of our comfort zone.  I am learning this by doing the ministries I have been called to.  Being a Eucharistic Minister to the sick, was not my doing.  Our Lord called me there to minister to his faithful who are on, or carrying their Cross.  It is deeply uncomfortable.  Why?  Well, I struggle with fears of death, I have to walk into strangers’ rooms where they are suffering greatly (haven’t done that since 9-11), I am a deeply empathetic person, so it is really hard for me to see people suffering.  Even with my struggles, He blesses me as I bring Him to those in need.  In doing this ministry I am serving “the least of these” in His name.  I am actually walking into the deep.
I am also teaching junior high religious education this year.  Teaching is a gift God has given me.  I have taught for years.  It just happens that I believe junior high is the hardest age group to teach.  It is a difficult time.  I hated junior high.  It is an awkward time period.  I really like my students.  They don’t know it, but I offer up Masses, Rosaries, and prayers for them weekly.  But, more than anything, I want them to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ.  That is my prayer for them.  All I can do is give them the tools, they have to choose to answer His call.
Being a catechist to this age group requires great patience on my part.  I can have a tendency to be too theological at times and that is not what this group needs from me.  I can save that for Lay Dominicans.  What they need is to see the joy that stems from the Christian life.  They need to know that Our Lord loves them and is calling them to follow Him.  They need to know what a gift the Church is to us.  What an incredible gift we have in the Sacraments.  The world does not understand us, in fact, it is hostile to Christ and His Church.  It has been that way since the beginning.  We need to give these kids the tools to help them live out the mission.  I have had to acknowledge my own limitations.  I am not these kids’ parents.  It is their parents’ job to teach and raise them in the faith.  Something that is sorely lacking and that is why I pray so much for them.
Christ the King of the Universe.  Is it bad that I told our students that is is not Obama?
Christ the King of the Universe. Is it bad that I told our students that it is not Obama?
When Christ calls us to serve, He is calling us into the deep.  We are to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will lead us.  St. Peter could walk on water, until he took his eyes off of Jesus.  I know it is the end of the liturgical year and we just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe, but trust and a deeper relationship with God were on my mind.  Probably because no title reminds of God’s awe-inspiring Creation, power, and authority than Christ the King of the Universe.  It reminds me of how truly small I am.
To be quite honest, ministry is much easier for me than deepening my spiritual life through prayer.  Yes, I pray Lauds and Vespers, as well as a Rosary every day as I prepare for a secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.  When I enter into deeper prayer, I get the feeling like I need to catch my breath.  Like I am not ready for the deep end of the pool.  I can only describe it as a sense of the Numinous that CS Lewis writes about.  I get a sense of awe that is accompanied by dread.  Going deeper into the heart of God is not easy.  Look at the Saints.  It comes with joy, but also great trial and suffering.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
My tendency is to want to stay in my comfort prayer zone.  I do my prayers, I read the Scripture often, I read theological books, but I tend to turn and run from anything resembling contemplative prayer.  When I read the mystical prayer experiences of many of the Saints my first thought is, that is just not for me Lord. Okay, so I won’t be levitating anytime soon and that is not what I am afraid of.  It is more a fear of the unknown.  Part of it is the darkness of sin that I see on me, which is why I go to regular Confession.  There is nothing in this life that will remind us of our sinful nature like prayer and Confession.  I feel I am not worthy of a deep encounter with God.  I have to get over this and be humble, but not self-pitying.  Part of it is fear of the unknown, especially the Numinous.  Some of it is my fear of suffering.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The great paradox of joy is that it only comes from God.  It is not happiness.  It  is something so much deeper and more profound.  I have experienced real joy only a few times in my life: during the reception of Sacraments to include my wedding day, the day my daughter was born, and the day she was Baptized.  But joy only comes when we are fully open to it.  It also seems to come to us once we are in our vocation, receive a Sacrament, or some other grace.  That is my personal experience.  In order to more fully receive joy, we must free ourselves to God’s call in our lives, including that call to follow him into the deep,  and that inevitably means the Cross.  There is no Resurrection without the Cross.  I know this and that is why I struggle with moving forward at times.  I long for God, but I allow my own fear to win out sometimes.  I know the Cross is conquered, but I still have to go through my own Cross (I carry it daily) and death some day.
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her countenance? JOY
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Her countenance? JOY
Lived under the Communists.  Became Pope.  JOY.
Lived under the Communists. Became Pope. JOY.
I have to wonder if that is why we distract ourselves so much these days.  We do everything we can to block God out.  We have TVs, computers, radios, tablets, cell phones, etc on constantly.  It’s as though we do not want to hear that still small voice calling to us.  It makes us uncomfortable.  He requires change from us.  He requires we give our all to Him.  He calls us on the path to Sainthood.  That is the meaning of life: to be a saint.
How many of us stay in our comfort zones in how we serve Christ?  How many of us push back against a deeper encounter with God in our prayer life?  How many of us rely on good feelings rather than a genuine faith in God?  Do we really want joy?  Will we give up everything to attain joy?
Two men who radiate Christ's joy now.
Two men who radiate Christ’s joy now.