Catholic Exchange: Let Christmas Teach Us to Make Haste in the Spiritual Life

During Advent and now the Christmas season, I have tried to spend time each day meditating on the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. These three chapters are packed with significant events, responses, and depth on the part of the people involved and their encounter with God. Within them we discover the righteousness of St. Joseph, the foretelling of and birth of St. John the Baptist, the Annunciation of Our Lord and the fiat of Our Heavenly Mother, the Visitation and the beautiful prayer of praise known as the Magnificat, and the Nativity of Our Lord. If there is one theme that has stood out to me in my meditations it is that the spiritual life requires haste. When we hear God’s Word, and when we encounter the Living God made man, we are to respond in haste. There is no time to waste. The Word has become flesh, so let us go to Him in haste.

St. Joseph’s obedient and immediate response to God.

We do not know much about St. Joseph. He is silent in the Gospels, but his actions reveal a great deal about the adoptive father of the Son of God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

St. Joseph demonstrates his charitable character by refusing to subject Mary to public shame for what appears to be an adulterous act, but then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream. The angel clarifies and explains Mary’s situation to Joseph and also invites Joseph to participate in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as her husband. His role is to be the adoptive father of Jesus, the God Incarnate, who has come to His people to save them from sin and death. While this particular passage of Scripture does not use the word “haste” –as it appears in Luke–it is clear that St. Joseph responded immediately to God’s will. He did not wait to do these things, he awoke from the dream and did God’s will. He encountered God through the angel and responded quickly to God’s invitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Advent-Our Hope is Not in This World

In many of our cultures the Christmas season is in full swing. It is the version of Christmas when we are told to buy more things and to accumulate as many material possessions as we can for ourselves and others. This is an understandable mentality in wealthier nations, only because we have been inundated with this message since childhood. Pay close attention to advertisements and commercials this time of year and throughout the year. Buying item X will bring you happiness, joy, comfort, or pleasure. You need this car, dress, computer, shoes, TV, and the list is endless. We are also told that we need an endless supply of fast food and junk food to provide for our immediate gratification as we spend hundreds or thousands on a credit card while shopping for Christmas. How often do you feel the need for a cheeseburger after a Hardee’s commercial? I know I have in the past and still do depending on the food being advertised. What are we preparing for exactly? It is supposed be the upcoming celebration of Our Lord’s Birth; or these days, the winter solstice?

If I could sum up this time of year in one word it would be: busy. The second word would be: noisy. There is an endless array of distractions, colors, dazzling displays, and blaring Christmas music telling us this is the “most wonderful time of the year”, and yet, everyone seems harried, hurried, unpleasant, and overwhelmed. We absolutely mustbuy a gift for Aunt Jean twice removed on our mother’s side. There must be a mountain of presents under the tree by December 24th and we absolutely have to attend every single soiree we are invited to, even if it means little to no silence or preparation for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas or in the Second Coming.

Where did all of these imperatives come from? In all of this busyness, are we truly ready to receive Christ into our hearts more fully at Christmas? Can we be ready in this craziness? Are we ready if Our Lord decided to come tomorrow in Glory to usher in the end of time and the new earth and Heaven? Whose birthday are we getting ready for at this point in time? Does a mountain of gifts point to Christ or our own desires? He was born in a stable, after all. My point here is not to denigrate the giving side of the upcoming (no it is not Christmas, yet) Christmas season. It is to help us consider if there is another way and whether or not we truly believe our hope dwells outside of this world.

Our neighbors are overwhelmed and overburdened. They are enslaved by the notion that buying one more item or one more gift will fulfill them. The problem is, that far too many of us Catholics are also enslaved by this aspect of our culture. This is a battle all of us wage as we fight our desire for lower goods over our ultimate good: God. Do our lives reflect our Catholic Faith and this Advent season, or do we look the same as our frenzied neighbors?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Don’t Forget the Pray More Advent Retreat Starts Today!

Today is the beginning of the Pray More Advent retreat which is entirely online. There are talks from multiple speakers on a wide variety of topics. I was blessed to participate as a speaker. My talks are on St. John Paul II and the Eucharist, St. Therese, persevering in holiness, and the strangeness of how God heals us in suffering. Other talks are about Isaiah, keeping Advent holy, walking with Mary in Advent, discipleship, the Our Father, and many more. Check it out! Let’s walk deeper into Advent this year and every year. Pax Christi.

http://praymoreretreat.com/

 

Catholic Exchange: Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Advent

This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season. It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths. Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S., the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009

The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.

We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism. The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature. The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Looking for an Advent Retreat You Can Do at Home?

Advent is an often overlooked season within the Church because it coincides with the secular preparation for Christmas. The Church does not enter into the Christmas season until Christmas Eve vigil. The busyness of life can get in the way of entering into the beautiful season of waiting for the Christ-child and the Second Coming. Advent is a good time to quiet ourselves, so that we may come to know and love God more fully. It is also the time we contemplate eschatology and the Last Things.

Many people would love to go on a retreat but either can’t leave their families or a retreat is too expensive. A group of innovative Catholics came up with an online retreat to serve the needs of the New Evangelization. I was honored to be asked to be one of the speakers this year. The retreat begins on Monday, November 28, 2016. The cost is based on what you can give and there are a variety of talks to choose from to help you step deeper into Advent and the spiritual life.

I can say that talking to a computer screen for my talks was challenging. I’ve been doing public speaking since I joined the debate team as a high school freshman. It’s easier to interact with an audience, but there is a need to provide talks to people who cannot attend retreats or conferences. I hope I was able to overcome my audience bias to help you on the journey. :o) I hope the talks guide you deeper into holiness. All of the speakers are tremendously talented and knowledgeable. You can find the retreat here:

The Pray More Retreat!

 

Pax Christi.

Catholic Exchange: We Rest in Hope, Come What May

In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:

Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

Spe Salvi 1

Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.

Where does our hope rest?

Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.

One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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.

The Secular West’s Impotence in the Face of Radical Islam

We are now aware that the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, has taken place in France. It was only a matter of time before ISIS began its assault on Catholicism in Europe, and eventually, the United States. Other than in the Middle East and Asia, Christians have not been the primary target of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. It has largely been secular institutions that have been attacked.  Catholicism in the West is now a target of ISIS. The difference between the attack on Catholicism and the attack on secularism is that Catholics can win this war.

The West is largely impotent in the face of radical Islam. We do not seem to fully grasp this truth. We look to our political leaders for decisive action, but all we seem to get is the occasional air strike and hollow words. We Christians watch as our brothers and sisters in Christ are slaughtered and sold into slavery in the Middle East and Asia. There is no talk of the plight of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia by political leaders in the West. Why? Quite honestly because the West has chosen to abandon its Christian roots for nihilism. (Oh, no. There she goes writing about nihilism again.) Quite frankly, we will never understand what is going on in Europe, and soon-to-be the U.S., until we understand the impotent, deadly, and destructive nature of nihilism that is the predominant philosophical influence in the West at this point in history.

Why is the West’s nihilism impotent in the face of radical Islam? Nihilism is a creed in which belief is predicated upon nothingness. I do not mean that nihilists believe in nothing, although material atheism does tend to occupy the thoughts of some nihilist adherents. Nihilism is the belief in nothing objective or concrete. This is best understood through the creed of relativism: What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you. This results in philosophical and moral incoherence. There is a reason Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke so much of the dangers of modern philosophies and relativism. Is it possible for all of us to have our own set of beliefs and not impact others? Obviously not. If relativism is true, then it is morally permissible for a jihadi to walk into a Catholic Church and slit a priest’s throat. This is the serious problem we face with secularism and its nihilistic principles. The belief in nothing results in a free for all and objective truth is abandoned. When grave evil rears its ugly head in history, the nihilists either turn a blind eye or end up committing their own evils. The problem is that this incoherence is defended over and over again in our culture. Rugged individualism tears humanity apart because it contradicts our ontological being. I hope this is blunt enough because we have got to get this through our Catholic heads. This is what we are facing in secularism.

Nationalism and democracy cannot possibly confront the grave evil and violence of radical Islam. First, nations cannot seem to come together to confront this evil, which is spreading worldwide at an alarming rate. Since we all have our own set of beliefs we cannot come together to form a solution, whether it be military or diplomatic. Although, in my mind, the time of diplomacy has ended. Nihilism and relativism destroy unity. There is no cause or good to fight for in these philosophies. This is why the West shuffles its feet while thousands are slaughtered worldwide. Second, just battles are waged for a sense of belief in the good. World War II was waged on two unified fronts because the Allies understood the dignity of the human person and the need to defend good. In the West, there is no objective good, so we cannot come together and confront the bloodlust of ISIS.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.