Catholic Exchange: Christ and Marriage in a Time of War

I have been watching the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere for a while now. About a year ago, some friends and I organized a grassroots campaign to raise awareness for their plight, as well as raise money for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). We called the project Help Nasara in honor of the Arabic ن (pronounced “noon”) painted on people’s houses in Syria and Iraq to identify them as Christian so that they could be forcibly converted, live in dhimmitude, or face martyrdom.

It can be difficult for those of us who live quiet and comfortable lives in the West to comprehend or even ponder the unspeakable terror and violence these people live with every single day. It is not something we have experienced and we can easy fall into an “it’s over there” mentality. For Christians, however, this is not a correct understanding of the Mystical Body. These Christians are not a “them” they are in fact “us” in a very real way. We are all united in communion with Christ as our head. They are our brothers and sisters in a way that runs deeper than blood, but that is also bound in the blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our blindness to them is a great dishonor to the Church and to them. While most of us cannot run to Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Ukraine, or other regions; we can pray, fast, raise awareness, and give alms within our means. We can also pay close attention to their witness because they are teaching us, and the world, something truly profound.

Last Friday I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when a posting of three pictures caught my attention. They were photographs of a wedding at St. George’s Church in Homs, Syria. The church was completely bombed out. There was no roof, no windows, no altar; there were only bare stone walls still standing. One of the pictures showed the surrounding buildings which were also bombed out and reduced to rubble in areas. What caught my attention was the picture of the couple standing before the priest to be joined in Holy Matrimony.

There is no doubt that all in attendance have lost much during the Syrian Civil War that continues to rage on today. Many have lost family, friends, homes, churches, and nearly everything. The couple themselves have probably lost much, and yet, there they stood in hope. Rather than despair and focus on what has been lost, they have chosen to stand up and come together in conjugal communion, even if it is only for one day. I could see the face of Christ clearly in their witness. It is truly an awe-inspiring witness to the true definition of marriage, to the Blessed Trinity, the love Christ has for the Church, and the power of the Cross.

God has constantly referred to His love for His people in marital language. The Jewish people were His Bride and often they were “adulterous” when they gave into sin and idolatry. The covenant God has established between His people and Himself is the basis for the theological understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage and the reason the Church teaches as she does about the nature of marriage. A man and woman coming together is to mirror the communion God has established with His Church and the communion that is in Him through the Blessed Trinity.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: St. Benedict and the Benedict Option for Today

If it wasn’t clear before that the culture of the West is opposed to the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, the recent decision to legalize “gay marriage” in the United States made it quite apparent. The decision was decades in the making and cannot solely be blamed on the homosexual agenda. It goes back to contraception and no fault divorce, both of which have eroded marriage in profound ways over the decades. For Catholics, much of it is due to dissent from Humanae Vitae by clergy and laity, as well as an abandonment of moral teaching. The question for Catholics today is: Where do we go from here? The reason we need to ask this question is because there is little doubt that we will be pushed to the fringes in the coming decades. Our moral understanding and focus on Christ means that we are in opposition to the world. Christ told us:

“I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword…” Matthew 10:34

The world has always been in opposition to the Good News. The world crucified God. The Church has been set against the world since her founding by Our Lord, and that was no different during the life of St. Benedict whose feast day we celebrate on Saturday, June 11.

St. Benedict is most widely known for his rule and as the “Father of Western Monasticism”. He lived circa 480-560 and his influence on the world was great. Even though his rule was not the first, it was the most widely used in the west for centuries. St. Benedict’s rule was comprised of several rules which could be applied to a variety of monasteries and locations. His rule’s primary emphasis was on: moderation, the integration of prayer and work, and the socialization of the monastic life.

Once monasticism was introduced to the west by St. Athanasius, it spread quickly. By the time St. Benedict composed his rule, monasteries were in Africa, France, and even Ireland. Monasticism preserved much of Europe during the Dark Ages when there was much tumult and chaos. It was through monasticism that manuscripts were preserved, as well as art, architecture, and music were developed. It was here that culture survived and lived for many years. St. Benedict could not have known how great of an impact his rule would be on the west. Blessed John Henry Newman said of him:

“St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time, or by any rare specific, or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often till the work was done, it was not known to be doing…Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they could have saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees, the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, and abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: St. Thomas More, A Saint for the Persecuted Church

Today is the feast of St. Thomas More. He is one of the great English saints of the Church and he is a wonderful saint for those individuals who are undergoing persecution for their Christian faith. St. Thomas More was born in 1478 in London where his father was a lawyer and judge. He received a stellar education at St. Anthony’s school and became a household page for John Morton who was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. The Archbishop saw potential in More and nominated him for a place at Oxford University. He began his studies at Oxford in 1492 where he received a top notch classical education. His education and training would take him far in his adult life. He was a lawyer, politician, author, and eventually caught the eye of King Henry VIII and was appointed Lord Chancellor of England.

As a young man he considered the call to become a monk. He took this discernment very seriously and his friend Erasmus wrote of this period:

Meanwhile he applied his whole mind to the exercises of piety, looking to and pondering on the priesthood in vigils, fasts, and prayers and similar austerities. In which matter he proved himself far more prudent than most candidates who thrust themselves rashly into that arduous profession without any previous trial of their powers. The one thing that prevented him from giving himself to that kind of life was that he could not shake off the desire of the married state. He chose, therefore, to be a chaste husband rather than an impure priest.

Once More had settled the matter of his vocation, he became dedicated to his work and future family. He was eventually elected to Parliament in 1501 and married Jane Colt in 1505. They had four children together before she died in 1511. He dedicated his life to providing her with a strong education and bestowed that gift upon his daughters as well. In a surprising move, he re-married one month after her death. He was then married to a widow named Alice Middleton. She was older than him and devoted her time to carrying for his children, her daughter, and eventually Anne Crescare of whom he became guardian.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Exchange: Mary, Mother of the Persecuted

Today I am writing for Catholic Exchange on how Our Lady can be our guide during periods of persecution.

There is little doubt that the situation for Christians in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, and other countries is dire. The number of martyrs for this year alone has reached well into the thousands. In the West attacks on Christian conscience have left multiple business owners with no livelihood or exorbitant fines. To the person who is paying attention to the times, there can be little doubt that the persecution promised by Our Lord is very real in our present age.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el’zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
Matthew 10:24-25 (RSV)

Persecution of the Church has been a reality since the beginning of the Church. If Our Lord and Savior was crucified, what makes us think that our fate should be any different? That persecution may come in a variety of forms, but one thing that is certain, there will be periods in our lives in which we will be maligned for our faith. In those moments we should turn to Our Heavenly Mother. She is the Mother of all Christians and she is the Mother of the persecuted.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Don’t forget to enter my Marian book GIVEAWAY for the month of May. Details can be found here.

Abandon Ideology for the Good News: The Test is Coming

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You will notice a trend on my blog that I am becoming increasingly anti-ideology. This is because I am observing a steep descent into ideology in our country and within the Church. Not the Church herself, but the people within it. This is largely destructive and causes division. Ideology is a type of heresy. It is to cling to a notion of something as ultimate truth, when ideology is typically our own blindness and proclivities. I had two experiences recently that continue to fortify my anti-ideological stance. First, I saw a National Review article recently that justified the killings of two civilians in a drone strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border in January. The moral gymnastics of the author made my stomach turn. The far Right has become a war-mongering machine and it is deeply disturbing. There are times when war is the final and just response, but not always. The killing of civilians is always deeply tragic and it is all the more tragic that no warning was given to these men or attempt at a rescue and the intelligence was bad. For both sides of the political spectrum in our country, “collateral damage” is a matter of statistics and numbers and matters little. This is a disturbing slide into a further dehumanization of others. I saw this from Congressional aides when I interned at The Heritage Foundation.

On the flip side we have the ideological Pacifists, notice I said ideological. The Church has a long history of rightly ordered Pacifism, just as she has a tradition of Just War. These two seeming opposites are united under a fully formed understanding of justice. The ideological Pacifists cannot comprehend that war is sometimes the only option. They also seek to vilify members of our military, of which I was one. They say heinous things about Veteran’s even to the point of denying the necessity of the Church’s presence in a war zone or within the military. They cannot separate the war from the soldiers and the individual consciences of each service member, which is precisely what our last couple of Popes have done. The Church has not agreed with the past two wars, but has left the choice to serve up to the soldier. While I am with the Church on war, I did serve under President Bush for the Global War on Terror. There were things that I supported at the time for which I have sought absolution through Confession, but the people who serve in our military are not psychopaths, sociopaths, or any other name that is given to them. They mean well and have a desire to protect our country. It is easy now to forget how tumultuous the time was following 9-11. I know, I worked as relief worker following the Pentagon attack. Fear and chaos does not always produce the best results. This mitigates circumstances a bit.

This is just two examples on opposing extremes that I have observed recently. This is also apparent in the “pelvic issues” as people try to do moral gymnastics around both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Since ideology blinds us it hurts ourselves and the people around us. It inevitably puts us in a judgment seat, based not on our faith, but on our desire to conform others to our own beliefs. This is a great danger to the Church. As the secular culture encroaches more and more on our freedoms, it is essential that we make sure we are not a part of the problem. I am not trying to beat a dead horse. I am trying to warn people that we need to re-focus on what is important and that is bringing the world to Christ, not ourselves. I was an ideologue for a few years. I conformed my politics into my limited understanding of the Church. I could not see the whole. It created great tumult in my soul.

There will come a day very soon when we may be asked to give account for our faith and we will be mocked and derided for it. Our faith cannot depend on ideology, it must be centered on Jesus Christ. If our ideology wins out, then we cannot possibly survive the test that will come our way. The secular attacks on the Church will continue to grow and become more virulent. Now is the time to arm ourselves with holiness through prayer, Scripture, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and true study of the Faith. Those are what will help us should we have to undergo the test. While I have my own theories on how bad it will get, what is certain is that Catholics will become increasingly more marginalized. That will be difficult. It is not easy to say “no” to the prevailing culture. It is not easy to lose family and friends because we cannot agree to the sexual ethics of our culture. We cannot stay strong if our faith is an empty shell that is propped up by our own ideology.

I am not saying that we should not be involved in the public square, but we need to be prepared for our ability to participate to shrink greatly for a while. Honestly, we need to evangelize if we want to change the culture. This is the history of the Church. Our ability to operate in public waxes and wanes. There have been times of great persecution. There are times of great persecution upon the Church now. We are united to those Christians who are dying in the Middle East, Mexico, and in other places of the world. The Mystical Body is a communion that makes us a part of the same body as them. We suffer with them albeit not physically at present.

The most concerning aspect of ideology is that it cuts us off from one another. It causes alienation and anger. I lost my temper at a completely nasty comment made about service members and its implications. I later apologized, but ideology is hard to combat. It is irrational and it automatically invokes an irrational response in others. We have to learn to control our emotions because we will confront virulent strains of ideology in the coming years, much worse than the two examples that I listed above. The best way for us to control our emotions is to re-focus on Christ and to prepare ourselves for whatever may come. If we rest in Christ and His Church, rather than our own power, then we can calmly deal with the attacks that come. It won’t be easy, and like St. Peter and the other Apostles (except John), we may run for a bit, but if we continue to persevere and focus on Christ then we will make it to the end.

As Catholics we must ask ourselves what the purpose and goal of our lives is as revealed by Christ. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? The answer should be to follow Christ even unto Calvary. This is the horrifying, yet freeing, truth of our faith. When we are baptized we agree to enter into the mysteries of His life, including His death. Most of us will not be asked to be martyred physically, but most of us will suffer some form of persecution, even if it is locally from family and friends. We all suffer within the Mystical Body when others around the world are persecuted. There is no isolation within the Church. No one suffers in isolation.

Ideology may be fascinating and create arguments, but it causes more division than peace and conversion. I have never been a Pacifist precisely because of the vilification of Veteran’s of which I am one. I am no longer a war-mongerer because I could see the horror of war up close through friends and family during my own service. I know from a few years of sexual relativism that the lies of the libertines do nothing but hurt and kill the soul. I know the joy and beauty of the Theology of the Body. The more I learn, the more I come to the center and desire to walk the tight-rope of the Church. She is the answer to the extremes of the world. She has the whole truth, not just the part we latch on to.

I am sure that this topic will come up again on my blog because it is so important for the coming times. There is such freedom in abandoning our preferred ideologies. We are less angry. We don’t make other people as angry. We grow deeper in our understanding of the Church and Christ and we are able to focus on the life of holiness. I encourage each of you and myself, to look into our beliefs and make sure they are properly ordered to the Church. Let’s make sure that we are not vilifying other groups of people. This even means our enemies. Yes, they do evil and we must confront evil, but if we dehumanize others we very quickly run the risk of becoming like our enemies. Ideology is the quickest way to dehumanize another group of people by making them the “other”. Even in times of battle we must live as Christians. We pray for our enemies, pray for peace, and most especially, pray for the conversion of the world.

Changes in My Writing

For some of you who have been reading my blog off and on for months, you may have noticed a shift in focus in my writing.  Yes, my writing is sporadic.  I am a wife, mother, Lay Dominican, and now, a full-time graduate student in Theology.  So my time is limited.  The shift you will notice is a changing in my own understanding and deepening of what it means to be a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.  It is to suffer with the other Members.

The world will change drastically over the next few decades.  Demographically, the rise of Islam and secular humanism will be great.  The world has always been Fallen, but we are here to serve now.  I am no longer in a position to rush to the aid of those in need.  Instead, my vocation is teaching me that I must pray, fast, give alms, and raise awareness of different issues.  We can no longer go about woefully ignorant.  In our decadence we have forgotten that we are engaging in very serious, and very real, spiritual warfare.  There may come a day, on THIS side of eternity, where you and I will have to give testament to what we believe.

This is not meant to be gloomy.  Rather, it is a reminder of the things that truly matter, namely our Faith in Christ and His Church.  We must prepare and grow in holiness.  We must remain vigilant because the Enemy is on the move.  Yes, I post a lot about Help Nasara right now and that is because over a hundred thousand Christians are being openly and violently persecuted in Iraq and Syria alone.  That does not include the countless other countries being impacted.  We are not impotent.  God hears our prayers and cries for justice.  Trust in God and that he will answer our prayers.  Fast for others, but also to prepare and discipline our own bodies.  Give alms to help others.  This is how we will defeat this enemy.  God bless you and thanks for reading my blog.

Remember this prayer daily.  My dad sent it to me when I was a 9-11 relief worker.  It brings great courage and hope.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

Focus on Christ

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Being a Catholic in our present age is deeply difficult. The fact of the matter is that being Catholic in any age has been difficult. Our time seems worse because the world is capable of more widespread evil thanks to advances in technology. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a great blessing, however, sinful human beings do not know how to use it well.

Anyone who has their attention tuned into world events both within and outside of the Church can see that the world is completely and totally upside down. We do not know which way is up or down. We call what is evil good and what is good evil. Very aggressive forces are knocking at the doors of the Church demanding that we change or face the consequences. This, of course, is nothing new, and after much pain, the Church will be here while the forces of evil of our day will have died off. Things are going to get hard, and much of it will be self inflicted, but the Church will emerge stronger.

For the faithful, it can be difficult to follow our leaders. Some Bishops and priests boldly proclaim the counter-culture Gospel of Jesus Christ, while others seem to enable our secular society. It confuses many, while the faithful shake their heads in frustration. I myself have moments of asking God where the St. Padre Pios and St. Pauls of our day are in this time of distress. I see a very deep hatred, yes hatred, of the Church emerging in the West. Largely because of lies and ignorance perpetuated by academics and politicians, but being believed by scores of people. These same lies have been ingested by vast numbers of Catholics who choose to ignore Church teaching and who in turn will persecute their own Church. It is not just something in headlines, it is in our own parishes.

So what can we do? I know that when I start focusing too much on the storm Christ tells me to focus on Him. Stop watching the disaster unfold and focus on Him. We must pray and pray hard. We need to attend Eucharistic Adoration and Mass as much as our vocations allow. Pray Rosaries and Divine Mercy. Serve others and be an example of what Christ calls each one of us to. Continue teaching our families the Faith, authentic Faith. Keep following Christ. That is what we must do. I am telling myself this as much as I write to you. We must pray that we will pass the test.

As Catholics, we must also trust in Christ’s promise to St. Peter that the powers of Hell will never prevail over the Church. That means taking secular reporting on the Church with a grain of salt. Our Holy Father has not changed Church teaching. All social teaching is the same: abortion and homosexual acts are still gravely sinful. All our Holy Father is trying to teach is that in following Christ we will want to abandon our sinful ways and that includes the hard stuff, which for our culture are the sexual sins.

So let’s pray hard and trust in Christ. I know it is hard. My husband has to take my hand sometimes and tell me to trust. I can get righteously angry easily. I love Christ and His Church and my fighting personality stands at the ready to take up in battle. But, right now, Christ wants me to trust and pray. To give all to Him, so that when the time comes I am ready, and so are you.