The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

The Answer to Division is Charity, Forgiveness, and Communion

Image taken from Wiki Commons

I’ve been spending this Advent trying to enter into stillness and waiting. I am very bad at both. I’m a person of action, so being told that I’m to sit still and wait for God’s mission for me has been difficult. It’s felt more like a wrestling match than stillness.

A lot has happened within my vocation and spiritually for me this year. In the last few months everything I thought I would be doing crumbled in front of me. My daughter is now in Catholic school, so I’m not homeschooling her any longer. She’s really happy in school, so it was the right move for her. I’m no longer serving in ministry and all projects I had in the works ceased except for one in February. Everything I thought I was supposed to be doing or would be doing collapsed and I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what God’s will and mission is for me now. Given the intensity of my spiritual life this year, there is clearly a mission, but I’m not ready for it yet. All I know is this: “Communion is the thing.”

This period came with a lot of turmoil, confusion, and pain for a whole host of reasons. In it all I’ve found myself meditating on how Christ forgives and how He moves past the horror we inflicted upon Him on the Cross and how we move past the pain we inflict upon one another. He doesn’t forget. When He appears in the Upper Room after the Resurrection He shows His disciples the wounds He received on the Cross, but He says Shalom, twice. Peace be with you.

He does not dwell at length on what transpired. He acknowledges it to them by showing them His wounds, but He extends His peace and then He gives His Apostles the ability to extend that very same peace and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession by the power of the office of Holy Orders. There is no vengeance. He knows they’ve betrayed and abandoned Him, but He extends His peace to them. He makes the healing move necessary back towards them even though He is the injured party. He seeks to forgive before forgiveness is even sought. He is quite literally the injured party as the Son of God and He in turn shows that He is forgiveness Itself.

This isn’t easy for us in our Fallen state. We want justice. We want people to actually care that they’ve hurt us. We want understanding. We want the charity we are entitled to as human beings. In reality, a lot of times, even in marriage, we don’t get it. We can’t make people care about the things they’ve done or even care about us as people. Since we are made imago Dei, we know at the deepest level that this is not how it is supposed to be, so we wrestle and fight back against those people who hurt us. Unfortunately, we also struggle with the urge to placate our wounded pride and ego. We battle the desire for vengeance, which comes from our sinful selves not the glory within.

The only way to stop this cycle is to move outwards. St. John of the Cross– whose feast day we celebrate today–said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” The answer to how we learn to forgive and still commune with others is self-emptying love. After one person hurt me considerably a few weeks ago, God immediately presented me with an opportunity to serve this person, to sacrifice for this person, and to share a gift with this person during a difficult time for them. I had a choice. Hold onto my pain and anger or give. Thanks be to God I chose to give. I chose to love. I don’t always, but all glory to God for any goodness within me!

It wasn’t easy at first, but it was precisely in my choosing to simply act in love towards this person that peace was restored and I no longer simply saw them as a person who had inflicted pain on me. The blindness that pain causes was lifted and I could see the person in front of me, not only my pain. It was my Shalom exhaled out and given to them. It didn’t fix what happened. Everything that has been done is done, but it halted the cycle of anger and division that erupted because of it. It healed the division that destroys communion. Yes, I still get twinges of pain from it, but because I chose to serve this person in love, it is much easier to accept that hurt when it arises and move past it in acceptance. Resentment towards others harms us and it harms others through our interactions with them.

We live in a time of great division in the Church. People are rightly hurting and angry about the sex abuse scandals, but the solution is not more division. The answer is communion grounded in charity. It means forgiving one another, even the horrific events that have transpired. Not because we turn a blind eye and not because we shouldn’t seek justice and truth, we must, but because the more we allow sinful anger, resentment, and fear to take the lead the more injustices will occur. If we aren’t careful we will run the risk innocent people getting hurt. If we aren’t careful, the division that the Enemy seeks to place between the clergy and the laity, the clergy and the clergy, and the laity and the laity will widen. This is about communion. How we respond together is going to shape the path forward.

We must demand the light be let into the dark places within the Church, but then we must be ready to work towards forgiveness. That blinding light will come with deep suffering for all of us as we confront those dark places, but it is a healing light. We must look to Our Lord’s example of how we are to forgive even the most egregious of sins. We murdered God and He came back in forgiveness. There is nothing another human being can commit that can pale in comparison to the horror and evil of this fact. Reform, justice, transparency, conversion, etc. are all needed, but we must be willing to come together in deeper communion in order to get there. These horrors should not cause us to scatter from one another. They must help bind us closer together in love of God and love of one another. 

There is a great temptation to resort to an “us versus them” mentality. This happens when the laity places itself in opposition with the clergy and views them with suspicion and paints all priests with broad unjust strokes. It happens when priests treat the laity as the enemy or as clueless about the realities and demands of the ministerial priesthood. This is exactly the same thing as when the laity argues we shouldn’t listen to priests about marriage and sexuality because Latin Rite priests are celibate. This type of thinking by all parties is destructive and causes division within the Church.

The laity and the clergy are complimentary and an integral part of the Mystical Body. There are no Sacraments without the ministerial priesthood and there are no members offering sacrifice and praise with and through them without the laity. There is no bringing the world into conformation with the Holy Trinity without both the clergy and the laity working together. There is no us and them. We are one body in Christ. We are all on the path to holiness together. We need to stop making assumptions and judgments about one another and draw more closely together. We need to move outwards in charity towards one another. Authentic charity, not sentimentality, superficiality, or banality. Rugged individualism or entrenching will only make things worse. We need one another.

Christ has given us the answer in the communion we share with one another. That communion will require sacrifice, forgiveness, and true charity of all of us. It will mean setting aside our pain so that we can move towards one another. It’s not only what God requires of us, it is the very answer we are seeking. Our pain is healed by acting in self-emptying love and forgiveness. It is healed by choosing caritas over and over again. This isn’t sentimentality that makes us feel good about ourselves. This is the nitty gritty difficult path that we are actually called to. It requires everything from us. The darkness we are descending into as the Mystical Body will mean that we need to stay bound to one another guided by the healing Light of Christ. Communion is the very thing that God will use to strengthen, guide, and purify His Church during these dark days, but we must be willing to come together regardless of the costs.

Bridging the Divide Between the Sexes on Our Worldviews

Recently I have had discussions with my husband and a close female friend of mine who is also married with children. We’ve been talking through the differences between the way men and women communicate and understand the world and relationships with other people. I’ve worked with a lot of men over the years and many of my closest friends have been men. I don’t have any brothers, since I have two sisters. Through both marriage and my friendships, I’ve noted that there’s always been a barrier in understanding between men and women. It’s a barrier that is very difficult to make clear to either sex. We often make parodies of it, fight about it, or ignore it.

This difference is most easily seen and understood in married life, but it also manifests between co-workers, friends, in ministry, and any other area where men and women interact. Many of the fights men and women have center around the same types of things and the difference in worldview, communication style, and understanding. This often reveals a barrier between a husband and the wife in how a particular topic or issue is approached or comprehended. The same is true in other interactions between men and women. In many cases, both parties acknowledge this gap in understanding and simply find a way to compromise without ever dealing with the gap itself.

The most common complaint women will make is about how they simply want to vent about a problem because women often work through things relationally or socially. We talk it out and in the process sort out the problem. Men on the other hand want to fix the problem since they are problem-solvers. The problem is, most problems women work through don’t have a clear solution and men are left trying to work against their nature through discipline and listen to their spouse, friend, co-worker, daughter, or sister work through the issue. While this is indeed a struggle–and an understandable one–in my mind, it doesn’t get to the issue of how the two sexes actually understand the world.

Men are global thinkers. They focus on the big picture. There are all of these things that need to be done and they are prioritized a certain way in order to fit into the whole. The hierarchy of importance is much larger for men than it often is for women. Our focus is usually smaller scale. We are more focused on the smaller tasks that are given to us. We focus on the relationships around us and if we have been asked to do a particular thing, we put our energy into doing it well. Men place value on the overall picture, while women value the work they may be doing on a smaller scale. It is why we are mothers and are primarily charged with the nurturing of souls and men are not. We are caretakers. We are able to focus on the smaller scale dimensions and not get lost in the big picture or the rest of the world “out there”. This would be detrimental to the souls and people in our care if all we thought about was “out there”.

These two world views fit together and are complementary when they are balanced properly and when a mutual respect and understanding of these differences is understood. More-often-than-not, we either don’t understand the differences or we forget them when conflict arises. I can only speak as a woman, but one of the most destructive things a man can do to a woman is minimize the tasks she has been given or taken on simply because they aren’t as important as X, Y, or Z. We don’t compare our tasks to everything else. If we did, then our tasks wouldn’t ever get done because we’d be too busy comparing what we are doing to everything else of more “importance.”

Why is this damaging? Men attach value on the things they see of most importance in order to achieve the big picture. If a woman minimizes the big picture and says it doesn’t matter, then a man is going to bristle because he knows it’s important. Women objectively get that the big picture matters, even if it isn’t our primary focus and mission. Men unfortunately minimize the “seemingly” smaller tasks of women quite often. I usually give men a pass since–although I get frustrated at times too–unlike much of modern feminism, I don’t view men as a threat, rival, or an enemy. I get we are different, but recently I started to consider why women have coined the term “mansplaining.” I don’t agree with where it’s roots lie, but I see at least part of the reasoning for it.

I suspect it comes out of this difference in understanding of the world and our missions. Men will inadvertently–or even intentionally, depending on the man–talk down to women who focus on the things they have said they will do or have been assigned to do that are a part of the big picture, but not the big picture itself. Men will solely focus and compare it to the “big picture” and minimize and even dismiss the work a woman is doing. Comparing our work to the big picture is almost always interpreted by women as a man dismissing our effort as useless or unimportant. He will tell us how everything else is more important and this is utterly irritating to a woman, because we also know that our part is of value. This is really destructive when a husband views his work as of more importance than what his stay-at-home wife is doing to raise their children. Both tasks have been assigned for the good of the family and are indispensable.

In a woman’s mind she is putting everything into and trying to do the task well, but has now been told that it’s not worth while. This typically illicits both anger and hurt in women. Husbands will do this to wives when a woman is struggling in a particular aspect of her vocation. Focus on the overall goal or picture is what they will tell us. That’s fine and good, but women aren’t wired to focus on the big picture all of the time. We are more detail oriented. We are more relationship oriented. We are focused on each individual task assigned to us. If we’ve been given a project, we will put our entire selves into it in order for it to be done well.

My husband struggles to understand why I will sometimes put off a chore around the house in order to spend quality time with our daughter. I will place that relationship before a chore because I see something that our daughter needs at an emotional level. My primary love language is also quality time. I’ve focused on my daughter’s individual needs over the overall goal of taking care of our home (big picture). He is correct that the chores need to get done, but oftentimes women instinctively know to place other human beings before a task that needs to be done. This may not always be the case, but it seems to be much easier for a woman to understand than a task-oriented man.

These same issues arise in the workplace and in ministry. There’s nothing like a meeting to reveal these differences in understanding. Women will focus on the relational, emotional (this can be good, but a lot of times not), or smaller tasks that are needed to achieve the whole. We are bottom up thinkers while men are top down thinkers. Women build up, while men go out and conquer. Scripture is very instructive here in that the women are often building up the men–that bottom up approach–while the men sort out how to go out into the world to bring the world to Christ. Women are called to do the same, but our approaches vary quite a bit. It’s also one of the aspects of masculinity that makes the all male priesthood instituted by Christ logically consistent to me.

This distinction between the sexes is extremely important for building and maintaining communion within the Mystical Body. Women cannot focus too much on the smaller tasks, the emotional response of other people, relational aspects, and the details too much or men are not going to respond or want to be active in a ministry run in that manner. The same is true for men in the way they respond to women. Telling a woman that what she’s offered to do is not important compared to everything else is destructive for morale. Women do not want to work in those conditions because they do not see their effort as being valuable to the men in the group. Even if men don’t mean it in that manner–although oftentimes they do–women will take it as a direct attack on her person. This is an innate aspect of our nature. We can’t help that our focus is where it is and so when we are told it’s not as important as something else–when it is important to us–we shut down. It’s difficult to want to keep helping if that help is seen as minor, when in reality, the small tasks help form the whole and the mission cannot be achieved without both the small picture and the big picture working together: Complementarity.

The solution is for both sexes to come to understand these differences and figure out a way to bridge that divide. Women need to acknowledge that the big picture is essential and to support the men in our lives through that goal. By the same token, men need to understand that in constantly comparing our “minor” tasks to the big picture they are in fact hurting the women in their lives. It is human nature to want to disengage when the value is taken away from our work. This isn’t some silly emotional response that men often simply attribute to the emotional nature of women or that we aren’t thick-skinned enough. This is in fact tied directly to our nature. If you minimize our efforts, then our response will be anger and hurt because you’ve directly attacked an aspect of our womanhood.

We are never going to fully understand one another on this issue, but if we are truly seeking communion in Christ through the Mystical Body whether it be in our marriages, friendships, parish communities, or our secular responsibilities, then we need to at least acknowledge that this difference in understanding exists and patiently try to find solutions that will appease both men and women. When conflicts do arise, we need to forgive quickly so that any damage done to that communion can be repaired as quickly as possible.

Will I Love As Christ Loves Or Will I Walk Away?

 

Chiesa del Nome di Gesù - Venice - Il Sacro Cuore by Lattanzio Querena
Chiesa del Nome di Gesù – Venice – Il Sacro Cuore by Lattanzio Querena

“Life is not neatly divided between beauty and ugliness, light and dark, beatitude and despair. Rather, it is a struggle and a longing, full of vicissitude and vacillation, with glimmers and glimpses which paradoxically attract and repel us, making us feel both at home and alien.” Austin Choate, “Terrence Lamick: You Will Love, Whether You Like It Or Not”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself struggling with a particular battle that God has told me He is asking me to fight for reasons that are completely mysterious to me. When it arises within me, I pray and ask God what He wants of me in it, especially when I falter, fail, or stumble to the ground in the face of the attacks I endure or the internal weakness I face on my part. He has repeatedly told me the answer is: “You can fight or you can walk away.” He also repeatedly tells me that I can’t do it on my own and any progress I make is in His time, not my own. I continue to choose to fight because I know the good of this battle is worth the ups and downs that I face. In fact, at one of my lowest points, God in His gratuitous love and mercy gave me a a small glimpse of the glory at the end of this battle and all battles that I will wage in this life.

Two years ago something shifted dramatically in my soul. I didn’t even know it at the time. God gave me a choice: To love as He loves or to walk away. Regular readers will already be familiar with some of this story. I had just had my fourth miscarriage and I was in the grips of grief. I had the perfect ultrasound of our little Andrew Thomas in my hands and the joy and relief of a heartbeat, only to find out on the Feast of St. Dominic–appropriate since we were going to name him after St. Thomas Aquinas–that he had died.

The agony was intense and my heart broke into so many pieces and split wide open that I didn’t know how I’d recover. His loss was my fourth miscarriage, but there seemed to be something particularly cruel about this one. Two ultrasounds confirmed a strong heartbeat. We were overjoyed, and then he was gone. My husband and I once again found ourselves in the ER grief-stricken.

My healing came about through an unexpected and deeply painful process. God called me to quickly return to the front lines of praying for an end to abortion at our local Planned Parenthood. This time he asked me to be out two days a week for 2-3 hours each day. It seemed to be a strange and difficult thing to ask of me, but I obeyed. Eventually, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion at 20 weeks.

She was due at the same time I was due to have Andrew. At first it seemed like another knife to the heart. God asked me to walk with this woman up until she gave birth (she cut off contact afterwards, but I still pray for her regularly). We talked baby names, ultrasounds, and supplies. I made the difficult decision to give her all of the baby items we had purchased for Andrew and my husband agreed.

The entire process was a letting go on my part. There were many tears and my heart ached in ways that were unimaginable, but I obeyed. I gave everything I had to her and in turn my own grief was turned into joy as I held that baby boy for the first time who had survived our abortion culture. No, he wasn’t my Andrew, but God brought about redemption through my suffering. He allowed me (and my husband when able) to love this woman despite my own pain and give her as much love and support as possible in order to help her choose to keep her son. He’s now 1.5 years old.

The decision to love in this case was agonizing. It wasn’t the feel good, romantic, warm-fuzzy sort of love that our culture is obsessed with. It was a purifying love that required God to cut me deep so that I could bleed out His love upon this woman despite my grief. And ever since I made that decision the intensity of my spiritual life has increased exponentially. I’ve had to confront both external attacks from the Enemy of a more obvious nature than at any other point in my life while also coming face-to-face with my own weaknesses and failures to love others as I ought to.

While this particular situation has passed, God is still calling me to love as He loves and that always requires a form of purification. Our own sinfulness and weakness means that all of our relationships must go through the fire of refinement, even relationships that at the deepest levels of reality are good and holy. We get in the way through our Fallen nature, so God has to constantly lead us to the right path and pick us back up when we falter. The point is to continue to begin again with every new fall and to persevere to the end with Him by our side.

The last couple of weeks, I have been spending time praying through Romans. I’ve been trying to understand some of the things God has asked me to endure and through multiple passages in Romans He gave me an answer. One of those passages is Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.

In all of my prayer the word “endure” has come to my mind regularly. When I read this passage and prayed with it on multiple occasions, I came to see that this was the answer to my need for endurance in my struggles. The goal is ever before me, but as I struggle spiritually and I battle my own sinfulnes and weakness, it can be difficult to remain steady. I falter. God is refining me through what I endure, even in the times I fail and must come back to Him in the Sacrament of Confession. He is strengthening me through enduring trials and temptations. More than anything, He is teaching me to rely more fully on Him in everything. Whether in desolation or consolation, it’s not up to me, I’m required to love.

I got this same message when I was kayaking with my daughter Friday morning. I was frustrated and there are times when I need to take that frustration out on the lake, a trail, or my elliptical machine. My daughter sat in the front of the tandem kayak I had to rent because my new kayak doesn’t track well with her in it. While she sat looking out, I was praying in frustration and exasperation and paddling as hard as my body would allow. All the while asking God what He wants from me and if I am actually doing what He is asking of me or not. I then clearly heard Him say: “I’ve asked you to love as I love.” I stopped paddling and sighed. “Ok, Lord.”

My weaknesses and failures matter in the I need to overcome them by His grace, but that’s the whole point. My desire is to overcome my brokenness so that all may be pleasing, good, and holy in His sight. That is the driving force that propels me forward because I love Him. It’s not that I am never going to be weak. I will be. It’s whether or not I’m willing to fight the battle that is required of me, and I am. Not only for my sake, but for others. I’m willing to endure, even when it takes everything I have and then some. I always remain in the hope that Christ will help me to endure, even when I fall. My hope is ultimately in Him, not myself.

Not to be outdone in the generosity of the grace He pours into us, Our Lord made sure that I got the message loud and clear. I struggle to trust insights I gain in prayer at times, not because I don’t trust God–although I need work here–but because I don’t trust myself and my own propensity for self-deception. Through prayer with Romans, Christ has made it clear for two weeks at Adoration what He is asking of me.  He told me again on the lake, and then He said it back to me through the priest in Confession this past Saturday.

When I went to Confession on Saturday I wasn’t feeling particularly well. The last couple of days I’ve been dealing with pain that I deal with from time-to-time. I was feeling a bit beaten down from the spiritual battles I wage, so I rather unceremoniously listed my sins. I go face-to-face at times and I decided to go on Saturday since I was in pain, although I would have rather have gone behind the screen that day. When I looked up after confessing my sins I saw Christ in the priest, which is what I really needed in that moment. I needed to see Christ sitting across from me, not Father, not my friend, but Christ in him. This has happened before, but this time when he gave me feedback he told me exactly what God has already told me in my recent prayer experiences. In fact, it was almost verbatim.

I was too tired to process all of it at the time, but as I considered it later on, I was astounded. The Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that I was getting the message loud and clear. Father even made allusions to aspects of St. Paul’s letters that were identical to what I’ve been studying and praying with. He affirmed to me that we know the goal, but we falter at times and the spiritual life is up and down. Sometimes we are called to endure things we don’t understand, but we must endure them with Christ. In that moment the things God has been telling me in prayer all found a cohesive connection to one another and He affirmed me in my struggles and told me to keep going. My choice is always the same when I’m asked to fight a battle within myself or for others: Love as He loves or walk away. I choose to love, which means I choose to fight.

The choice is always the same for all of us as we hope to progress in holiness. We must learn to love as Christ loves. That means areas of our lives must be purified and that process is painful. We must contend with the darkness within us, the weaknesses we discover, the temptations that come at us, and the areas of our personality that are a stumbling block for us and for others. Our relationships with other people must come to mirror the love the Blessed Trinity. Loving in that way given our weakness is difficult, but that’s what Christ is ultimately asking of us. I can say from the glimpse Christ gave me through no merit of my own, it is worth the battle. It is worth it to learn to love as Christ loves, even if we fail, fall, and become weak. As long as we keep getting back up and enduring to the end through our reliance on Him, our reward will be great.

There is no love greater than the love we have in Christ. We settle for counterfeits all of the time. As the quote at the beginning of this piece makes clear. We are both drawn in and repelled by what God offers us. There are times we struggle with the ultimate goods of this life because we are willing to settle for lesser goods or even sin. The spiritual life isn’t really black and white. It’s our struggle to turn fully to God even as we are distracted by what is good in this life or we choose something where good is lacking because we think it is what we want, need, or simply desire. We know the goal, but we still waver and fall. In all of it we are told that we are going to love whether we like it or not. How we go about learning to love and actually loving is up to us, but God will teach us the right way regardless.

In fact, sometimes we are drawn in by other people where we are taught that we must love and not in a superficial sort of way that is nothing more than emotional affirmation for ourselves. This isn’t love, it’s egoism. No, sometimes we are to love in the hard, nitty gritty, clench your teeth through the struggle, and rightly order sort of love. That’s why our culture largely doesn’t understand the nature of love. Love is self-emptying. It is purifying. It sacrifices the needs, wants, emotions, and desires of the one who loves for the other. It gives freely without any expectation of return. It is this aspect that we struggle with the most. We want to grasp it and get something back, but we are meant to love freely without expectation.

Yes, love must and should be reciprocal, but there are times we love other people much more deeply than they love us. There are times we love people who are incapable of returning that love properly. Love is a communion of persons that is meant to be grounded in Christ, but in our broken world this is difficult to achieve. Regardless, we are called to give freely and completely of ourselves. That is the lesson of the Cross. Our Lord pours Himself out completely, even while knowing that many will turn away from Him and not return His love. We must do the same. This requires courage, faith, hope, charity, and self-forgetfulness. We have to free ourselves of expectations and simply give, even if the other person does not return that love fully or even if they cast it off. We are to love as He loves. That’s the task we’ve been given in all of it’s terrible beauty and glory.

You and I always have a choice to make every single morning: Will I love as He loves or will I walk away? In those moments when we make the wrong choice, we must return to His love in the Sacrament of Confession. In the moments we say “yes” to loving as He loves, we must be ready to endure whatever is required of us. We must rely on Him completely. The battles we will wage in loving in such a way are both interior and exterior and they will take everything we have and a total dependence on Christ. These battles take many forms and we have to recognize them for what they are so that we can allow Christ to refine our broken love into the luminous love of His Sacred Heart. His Sacred Heart is likened to a fire precisely because our love must be refined and purified of it’s imperfections and that fire is cleansing and painful. Only then can we be truly radiant and enter fully into the love of the Holy Trinity. It’s a new day. What choice will we make today?

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.

Confronting Hard Truths About Facebook and Myself

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the last couple of years knows that I battle being addicted to Facebook. Yes, addicted. I think a lot of people are addicted, but we don’t like to admit it, myself included. Social media is a part of the post-modern experience. At face value it is indeed a good. It allows us to connect worldwide in real-time and to reconnect with people from our past. It is a blessing to see how people we knew decades before are doing at this point in their lives. All of this is good, but I think we  need to be honest with ourselves about a few things.

We live in a lonely culture.

We are able to connect in real-time, and yet, we are more lonely now than ever before. We can spend hours engaged in discussions, arguments, or reading news feeds, but feel completely and utterly disconnected. A computer screen does not provide the needed interaction of authentic relationship with a person who is present to us fully. We can get a million “Likes” to something and it will not put a dent in that loneliness or sense of isolation. In reality, deep down, we realize that our Facebook friends are more of a type of acquaintance than true friendship. Our Facebook friends may offer us prayers and kind thoughts during difficult times, but only a few of them will walk into the darkness with us. This is, of course, human  nature. We avoid suffering at all costs. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that we are in a sort of shadow relationship with our Facebook friends. We are social beings by nature. We need community, but authentic community in which we interact with people in person and engage in relationships with those people.

We have stopped listening to one another.

Listening is something we all struggle to do in our interactions. In our pride, we want to have an immediate response at the ready before considering all of the information being presented. We already have our ideas, preconceived notions, and biases at the ready. We also desire to protect ourselves from any perceived attack, even if it is meant merely as a charitable reminder or correction. We all seem to do this in both social media and in our daily relationships.

The problem with this lack of listening in social media is that it is dividing us even more with each passing day. When we begin a discussion with someone–whether a friend or a stranger–we do not meet on even ground. There is no mutual understanding or defining of terms. I have discovered that discussions go much more smoothly if they are entered into with an understanding of mutual respect and a clear defining of terms to be used. If we enter into a conversation in social media with someone without these two principles in place, the conversation will devolve very quickly. It then turns into a group of people ganging up on one person or one person ranting and raving at the others or a whole host of other problematic situations will occur. Ad hominems, presumptions, misunderstandings, and irrationality inevitably take over the whole conversation.

Facebook and the like allow us to talk, and talk, and talk. We have a platform and we use it. It is hard to admit to ourselves that in reality, nobody cares, or if they do, it is not that much. A passing “Like”, emoji, or thumbs up does not equate to genuine concern or interest. Typically we “Like” and move on to “Like” a dozen more things before shutting off social media for a few minutes and then reaching for our phone again or laptop.

We do not appeal to prudence.

The Queen of the Virtues is prudence. She is the most important of the cardinal virtues for all of the other cardinal virtues flow from her. Prudence means truly discerning how to respond in a situation. Think of prudence in relation to wisdom. For a Catholic, this includes considering God’s will or proper responses in a given situation. We cannot be just if we are not prudent. True justice is founded on prudence and charity. We cannot be truly courageous if we are not prudent, because we may get ourselves killed in the process. We cannot be temperate if we do not first understand prudent choices, because the Passions would like nothing more than to have free run of our lives. Prudence is the crucial habit that needs to be learned in virtuous living and in going deeper into the spiritual life.

Social media is almost the anti-thesis of prudence. We say whatever comes to mind without any appeal to prudence. Yes, we are all works in progress, including myself. We are all sinners, but that is not a get out of jail free card or an excuse. We know better, so we acknowledge our weakness, but we don’t justify it. I often lack prudence and it always gets me into trouble. As Catholics, we do not have a right to do and say whatever we want. We are obliged–through the gift of the supernatural virtues–to learn the habit of prudence. Not every comment on Facebook we disagree with needs to be responded to. I am talking to myself here too. I am a work in progress, so please keep in mind this is not some kind of morally superior lecture. I am right there in the gutters with everyone else. These are merely insights I have gained from my own broken, and at times, sinful use of social media. Not every thought that comes to our heads needs to go out into cyberspace. We do have an obligation to consider how our thoughts and actions will impact the people around us.

Does social media help me on the path to holiness?

All of these insights come down to the main question that I must ask myself as someone who is clearly addicted to Facebook. This is the same question we must all ask ourselves in every moment of the day. Will this X, Y, or Z help me attain holiness? Some people are masters of properly ordering social media and they are able to use it for God’s purposes. I know that I am not one of those people. God has made it plain to me, and yet, in my shame and weakness I persist. Internet usage is a constant in my regular Confessions. Unequivocally Facebook does not help me on the path to holiness. It is a hindrance. It makes me think too much about myself and my own thoughts, which are not nearly as exciting as they seem in my head or in black letters glowing on my computer screen. Nobody cares! I am going to tell myself this again: NOBODY CARES! There I said it. What a relief!

I think that far too many Catholics do not understand that our mission is holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. That is not a goal reserved for a lofty few. It is the end for which all of us are created. If we approach our daily living from this standpoint we would begin, by God’s grace, to order our lives to that purpose. I know this truth, but there are times I fall into habits that take me away from that mission. Facebook takes me away from my vocation and the mission. I have asked God to make me a saint and that means relinquishing my will to His will. He has asked me to cease and desist Facebook. I will not progress, and I may back slip, if I do not take heed.

Facebook can become a near occasion of sin.

Facebook is a near occasion of sin for me because of the incessant outrage. The constant need to be angry or upset about something, anything. The onslaught of news and division can be downright overwhelming. This is a distraction aimed at keeping us from focusing on Christ and the mission of bringing the world to Him. The world has been a horrifying, bloodthirsty, and violent place since the Fall. The Bible and human history are filled with humanity’s evil, stupidity, arrogance, blindness, and depravity. We have been wounded by the Fall and we live in a world that struggles with sin. We still wait for the Second Coming of Our Lord at any moment. That is one of the main purposes of Advent. To remind us to wake up! Christ will come again and we do not know the hour, so be alert!

Spending hours upon hours dwelling on the Fallen world is not good for me and I would argue it is not good for anyone. I worry about some of my Facebook friends. I see their loneliness. I know their loneliness. I see their pain and struggles. They may not realize that I see them.We reach out for human interaction for someone to “see” us and our pain, but Facebook does not provide the needed compassion and charity. My Facebook friends cannot truly see my grief and pain. The tears I shed on a nearly daily basis as I grieve my lost babies and struggle to accept my infertility do not appear in my newsfeed. A crying emoji wouldn’t quite do justice to my struggles. They do not sense the ache I feel at all of their children and pregnancy announcements. Not because I am envious, although I have my moments, but because I am a mother who wants to love more children.

I know deep down most–not all–of my Facebook friends do not truly see me, understand me, or love me as a friend is meant to love. I think this is something we all need to acknowledge and accept. This is understandable. We are no longer in the same place in our lives or geographically. Facebook allows for facades and the pretense of everything is dandy and fine. Nobody wants a “downer” to share what it is really like in periods of intense grief. It is an illusion and that is precisely why so many people are lonely and feel empty in a world of immediate connection.

I struggle like a lot of people to use Facebook properly. I have not mastered prudence enough to be temperate in my Facebook usage. Another sign that I am stumbling up the path with everyone else. Have you considered your own social media interactions and usage? Is it a hindrance or a good for you on the path to deeper communion with Christ? I think we all need to pray for God to help us develop the habit of considering every element in our lives through our eschatological purpose, which is to be a saint, so that we can enter into full communion with the Blessed Trinity at the end of our lives.

Catholic Link: 10 Powerhouse Quotes from JPII’s Theology of the Body

I have become a contributor for Catholic Link-English. Here is my first published piece for them.

It’s summer and that means many couples will be entering into the Sacrament of Marriage. If you want to give a great gift to your future spouse, then I would suggest studying a bit of Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

You can find information and guides at the Theology of the Body Institute’s website (tobinstitute.com). Learning about God’s plan for my husband and me, as male and female, as well as God’s call for communion with him changed the course of our relationship before we conferred the Sacrament of Marriage on one another. As you marry, remember that your Sacrament is in communion with the Blessed Trinity and that God is calling you to a deep encounter with him through your spouse.

Theology of the Body is a compilation of 129 talks that St. John Paul II gave at his Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984. They are a treasure trove of theological depth into what it means to be male and female in relation to one another and to God. Here are 10 amazing quotes to get you started:

Read the rest over at Catholic Link.