Catholic Exchange: Evangelization and Reaching the Broken

A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.

As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.

Our great need for mercy.

These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Getting Out of God’s Way and Cooperating with His Divine Plan

**Hi all, I know my writing has been sporadic the last few months. Thankfully, it looks like our health issues are abating. My husband and I have both had one of those years. I am hoping to return to more frequent writing. I had to take a break from grad school due to my gall bladder surgery. I am hoping to return in August to finish up my last three classes, one more comprehensive exam, and thesis.

All of us have areas in our lives where we get in God’s way. This is most evident in relation to the sins we struggle with on a daily basis. Sin is not a private matter. Our sins impact not only our own soul, but the people around us, whether we realize this truth or not. Many of us have experienced broken or painful relationships. Those relationships may be with family members, friends, co-workers, or other people we’ve known at some point or another.  The deepest hurts can come from wounds picked up in childhood that continue to cause pain well into adulthood. Spouses can know exactly where to hurt one another in moments of anger and weakness. The point is:  Sin, pain, and our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of others can leave a deep mark on us.

When someone hurts us, our immediate impulse is to either return in kind or cut ties with that individual. At times the only solution is to walk away, but often we allow our own weakness to get in the way of God’s working. We can allow our pride to blind us to the need to forgive another person. Our pride can keep us from acting in accordance with God’s will. We oftentimes make situations much worse because we choose to cling to our own anger. It’s much better to lick our wounds, than enter into a place of vulnerability and seek reconciliation. This situation arises in loving homes and broken homes. Opportunities to love despite our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others abound. There are many times when we are in the way of God’s working in our own lives and the lives of others.

Miscarriage and Abortion: To my Interlocutors

I know that it is hard to understand me. Things I say and do are maddening. It is easy to push me away and to reduce my actions, words, and love, yes love, to hatred or envy. Often when we make choices out of fear, power, ignorance, or even apathy, we turn on others because they reveal those choices to us in some way. This is why when someone like me honestly shares the truth about pain and loss, I am accused of hatred or envy. I get it. In openly discussing the reality of miscarriage and the loss of a real person, I am implicating abortion. This implication is abhorrent to some, ignorant to others, and a long awaited sense of freedom and healing for so many.

I was supposed to grieve silently and on my own. I am supposed to take my cues from the abortion culture and pretend that I didn’t lose a child, or if it was a child, to grieve behind closed doors. I won’t grieve silently anymore, and neither should anyone else. In doing so, my desire to share my suffering in the service of others was greatly misunderstood by many. I knew this would happen, but I am not who you say that I am.

It has been a painful road, but that is the nature of this life. Suffering is an aspect of being human that comes to us all. It is what we do with the pain that matters. I choose to share it, not only for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents who grieve miscarried children, but for women and men who have had abortions or who are contemplating an abortion. My bringing to light the miscarriage-abortion problem is not a condemnation. I condemn no one, but I have an obligation to save women, men, and unborn babies from abortion. This obligation is not born of envy and hatred. It comes from love. I want to address two accusations from my interlocutors. First, that I am envious of women having abortions and second, that I hate abortion supporters and those who choose to have an abortion.

First, envy by its very nature will not drive a person outside of themselves in the service of others. Envy is to covet, desire, or want to take something that is not ours. It is to hold what someone else has in such a high regard, that we do damage to ourselves. We no longer see the good within us, because we want what someone else possesses. Envy is deadly for a reason. It causes us to cave in on ourselves and to focus on what we have not been given or earned. Envy steals gratitude and robs us of happiness. I do not pray at abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood in these parts, out of envy. How could I? Why would I want to share anything with a person of who I am envious?

It is true that for a woman like myself, and I know countless other women, it is difficult for us at times to be present at a clinic where women are choosing to deliberately end the lives of their own children. We live in a world where I apparently can only have one child, who I am eternally grateful for, but where millions of women who can keep a pregnancy kill their children and their own motherhood of their own free will. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt me, but I am not envious. Their children, your children, are not mine, although my husband and I would adopt them in a heartbeat. I do not have a claim to them and I know this, so I am not driven by envy. I would stay home and write angry articles and blogs, rather than go pray in front of an abortion clinic. I wouldn’t share my own suffering in the service of others, instead I would rant and rave about what I don’t have in my own life. Some of you took the sharing of my pain as complaining, but you completely misunderstood my desire to help others who suffer as I do. Reducing me to a whiner is to completely disregard my purpose and my point, and quite frankly, it is to let yourself off-the-hook in trying to understand me.

In our culture, civil public discourse has been completely abandoned. Social media has become a place for people to spew vitriol in a vile manner because it is easy to hide behind apparent anonymity on the Internet. We should know by now that nothing we do or say on the Internet is ever truly anonymous or private. This has created an environment where anyone who disagrees with us automatically hates the other person or a group of people. This is a way to discard, discredit, or label a person. More often than not, however, this charge is false and it betrays the accuser’s own anger and inability to listen to opposing viewpoints. In the case of someone like myself–and the vast majority of those who pray diligently in front of abortion clinics, provide resources or time to crisis pregnancy centers, who gather items for poor women in crisis pregnancies, or who even write or speak on this topic–it is to confuse hatred and love.

Like envy, hatred does not drive us outside of ourselves. If we choose to publicly unleash our hatred on a particular issue, our message is automatically ineffective and revealed for what it truly is: An impotent clanging gong. Hatred is not accompanied by charity. Hatred is not sustaining and it consumes us, not the people we are trying to attack. I do not hate you. I honestly do not hate anyone, not even terrorists, and I saw the horrors of 9-11 in person as a relief worker. Hatred destroys us and I know that, so I do not fall for that trap. No, I love you, your baby, the father of the baby, and your family and friends. I don’t stop to ask whether or not that love is deserved. I love the people who have screamed at me. When I pray at the local Planned Parenthood the sign I hold is one I made and it says “You and your baby are loved beyond measure” and my daughter holds a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the baby Jesus. I am not there to condemn you, but to be a loving and peaceful presence during a time of fear and confusion.

Love is not a feeling. Feelings may accompany love, but love in itself is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and change from moment-to-moment. Love is to will the good of another. It is to desire the genuine good for someone else and to go outside of ourselves in the service of that good. My miscarriages have taught me the deepest compassion and love for women seeking an abortion. It may seem “logical” to the culture for my pain to turn to hatred and envy, but it has not. The opposite has occurred. My pain has been transformed into a deep desire to help those women I see walking in and out of Planned Parenthood in my community.

As I said, love is to desire the good of another. That means my desire in love, the reason I am in front of our abortion clinic, is because I want those women to know that fear does not have the ultimate say. Whether it is fear of poverty, motherhood, dropping out of school, anger from family and friends, pressure from the boyfriend, husband, or parents, fear of medical conditions or whatever it is driving that choice, we all have the ability and courage to stand up to fear and pain. What is lost in choosing an abortion is tremendous. It is not only the loss of a child, your child, it is the loss of motherhood. It is a loss of the greatest opportunity to love and be loved.

Motherhood transforms a woman into the greatest person she can be, whether it is through biological, adoptive, foster, or even spiritual motherhood, for those women who cannot have children, those who have chosen chastity in the service of God, and those women who serve children in a variety of ways. In having children, our lives move away from being so much about ourselves, and they are changed into the service of another. This may sound daunting and burdensome, but we were made to and for love. In truth, the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return. There is a profound joy in motherhood that cannot be attained anywhere else. We only have to be open to love, sacrifice, pain, and joy.

I would never say that choosing motherhood is easy. It is not. It comes with tremendous sacrifice. There is nothing that has taught me more about my selfish nature, a nature we all have, than motherhood and marriage. Yes, my career path changed drastically when I became a mother. I did a lot in my Twenties. I served in naval intelligence, went to college, interned at The Heritage Foundation, lived in Europe, and the world was my oyster, but even with all of my accomplishments I knew that I wanted something more. My daughter is that more.

My daughter is greater than anything else I have ever done or been given. She teaches me daily in the art of wonder, beauty, self-sacrifice, and innocence. There is nothing in this world like hearing someone call you “Mommy” and in hearing your child tell you they love you each day. It is this joy, mingled with immense suffering through the four babies I have lost in miscarriage, that drives the compassion inside of me to pray at abortion clinics, collect supplies for women in need, and write about this topic knowing that I will be attacked for my honesty.

I know what lost motherhood feels like. I know what it is to lose an unborn child. I also know the abundant love of motherhood. No, I don’t hate you or envy you: I love you. I know that love can seem unbearable, unwanted, or burdensome. At the deepest level of our existence, we are made for love, genuine love, and that is what I am doing at Planned Parenthood and in my writing alongside the countless others striving to build a Culture of Life. I am striving, imperfect as I am, to will the good of another.

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.

9 Articles to Help You on the Spiritual Journey October 12-18

path-in-the-woods-13615460746I3Here is this week’s installment of articles and blog posts to help you on the spiritual journey. Enjoy! Pax Christi.

Where the Rosary Appears in Lord of the Rings, Br. Joseph Bernard Marie Graziano, O.P. Word on Fire/Dominicana

Giving Up on Prayer, Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction

Make Your Work an Act of Worship, Fr. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O., Catholic Exchange

Year of Mercy Extraordinary Graces, Fr. Ed Broom, OMV, Catholic Exchange

Be Hopeful Despite Everything, Steve Greene, Crisis Magazine

Some Spiritual Truths that Will Set You Free-A Meditation on a Teaching by St. John of the Cross, Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington DC

Blindfolding God, Br. Jonah Teller, O.P., Dominicana

The Vulnerable & Rejected God: Power Made Perfect in Weakness, Chris Hazell, Word on Fire

Pope Francis and True Mercy, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire

Falling Short and Conquering Sin

I am having one of those days in Motherhood and as a Christian when “I do the very thing I hate” to quote Saint Paul.  I have allowed little things and my own failures drag me down.  That is what the Devil wants.  He would rather I wallow in self-pity rather than ask The Lord for the strength to keep moving forward.

 
I was watching Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series on prayer (episode 9) yesterday.  We own it thanks to my parents and their generous Christmas gift last year.  I pull it out a few times a year and watch an episode.  My daughter even knows who Fr. Barron is and watched part of it with me.  She would point to the screen and say “We watch Fr. Barron”.  I was so proud.  Anyway, I digressed a bit there.  In the episode on prayer, he talks about St. John of the Cross, that great mystic.  St. John of the Cross tells us that we must free ourselves from those things that enslave us so that we can be filled up by God.  He calls this process of emptying the dark night of the senses and then the dark night of the soul.  Both order us properly to God.  I don’t know about you, but I am in major need of proper ordering.
 
It got me thinking about how right now, I really need to work towards conquering my sensual addictions: mainly food and coffee.  I have lacked discipline in this regard since I left the Navy.  I am getting older and eating poorly impacts me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Food and coffee are meant to be enjoyed.  They are gifts from God.  However, they are not supposed to enslave us.  When we say we “need” something every single day, we are enslaved by the thing, rather than being the master.  That is the point of Temperance.  We can enjoy something as it is, but we can take it or leave it.  We do not have to have it.  We can enjoy it in the moment and then move on.
 
So, I have decided to embark on a journey through battling those things that I am physically addicted to: bread, sugar, coffee.  It is not going to be fun.  I will have a caffeine headache for a few days and crave sugar like crazy. When I get up at 5am this coming Saturday to go to my Lay Dominican meeting I will really want a cup of coffee, or two.  This will be much harder than when I gave up Facebook.  But, the question I must start asking myself is: does this make me a saint?  Does overeating make me a saint? No.  Is not eating right good for my family? No.  It’s not about me!  I am still trying to drill that into my psyche.
 
When I don’t take care of myself, I end up in a cycle of self-loathing, which I then take out on my husband and daughter.  My husband can tell when I feel like a failure because I have a short temper.  The process of holiness is not about self-pity.  We should see our failings and then fall on God’s love and mercy, praying for help and grace.  On days I fall short, I have  tendency to let it get the better of me until I drag myself back to Confession.  Like Father told me in Confession this past Saturday, holiness is a one step at a time process.  It does not happen overnight. 
 
So say a prayer for me as I embark on a dark night of the senses.  Are there areas in your life that you need to free yourself from so that you can be more open to God?