Catholic Exchange: Responding to the Painful Reality of Death

It is fitting that my daughter came to me on a dark November night. It is the month the Church remembers the dead and prays ardently for the poor souls in Purgatory. The days are cold while the trees shake off the last remnants of autumnal glory to enter into the silent deep of winter. November here is always gray, almost maddeningly so. It seems strange to go from the mountains set aflame with the burning colors of October to end up gray and stark in November. In this time of year the Church and the natural cycle of the seasons invite us to enter into the quiet, dark, and hidden places. This time of year naturally lends itself to the contemplation of mortality and death.

My daughter came and sat on my lap two nights ago and began to sob. Like every other November evening, it was pitch black at dinner time and I was sitting on the couch when she came to me. She nestled close to my heart as I wrapped my arms around her trying to understand what was wrong. She finally sat up looked at me and through sobs she blurted out: “I don’t want to die.” I think every parent feels a dagger to the heart when their child comes to them about death, even those of us who are Catholic. It is true that we are a Resurrection people, but like anyone else, we must confront the reality of death.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Waiting on the Lord During Easter

Christ is risen! Alleluia! We have entered into the great and joyful season of Easter. It is a time of re-birth and hope as we live the Resurrection. We rest in the truth and wonder that sin and death are conquered by Jesus Christ and that all things are being made new. Even in this great joy, there are many of us who are still in a period of waiting. While God renews the face of the earth, we must still live in a Fallen world. Our joy is often tinged with uncertainty and suffering. It is indeed possible to feel joy and sorrow at the same time. Joy contains within it the sting of homesickness as God reminds us that this is not our final home. Beauty is often mingled with heart-break as our souls soar towards Heaven, but still await the Beatific Vision. How do we live our joy and our waiting?

Rest in the Word of God.

Many of us are waiting on the Lord to act or respond in a certain area of our lives. It may be a cancer diagnosis, desire for a child or parent to return to or enter the Church, a new job, a relationship, infertility, or any other number of situations. My husband and I are waiting, patiently and not so patiently, on God’s will in adoption. The joy of the Easter season can contain within it, periods of the Cross. We can rest assured in this period of waiting that God is conforming us to Himself and drawing us close.
Since it is Easter and the celebration of the reason for our hope, meditating on the Word of God is critical. Take time to read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Imagine being at the tomb on that first Easter morning. Walk with the Apostles as they meet the risen Lord. Hear the Lord call you by name, as He did St. Mary Magdalene. We must allow the Word of God to permeate our souls as we wait for answers. Meditating on the Resurrection allows God to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter.

Pray without ceasing.

We are called to trust in God. Remember that we killed God and nailed Him to the Cross and He came back in forgiving love to redeem each one of us. He loves each one of us and everything He does is for our own good and sanctification. Keeping this truth in mind allows us to turn to Him in every aspect of our daily lives. We must learn to breathe out prayers every moment of the day. It can be as simple as speaking the name of Jesus or offering up the dishes for our prayer intention or the needs of others. In moments when our waiting seems overwhelming, we need to turn to Our Lord in prayer. He knows the needs and wants deep within our hearts, but He wants us to ask for them. We can speak openly with Him, even in our struggles and frustrations. He wants to draw close to us and to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter, even in our waiting.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Living as a Resurrection People

It is now the Octave of Easter. We will celebrate Easter Sunday for eight days and the Easter season for fifty days. It is Easter, not Christmas, which are the highest, holiest, and most important days of the year. Without the Resurrection and the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord there would be no Church and there would be no Christians. Jesus would have been a failed religious leader with some interesting insights, but he would still be in the tomb and we would still be in the darkness of sin and death without the Resurrection. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it in the second part of his book on Jesus Christ, “The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.” It is precisely those people who deny the Resurrection and look to Jesus as some kind of guru who have completely lost the mystery and truth of the Christian message. The Resurrection is everything for the Christian, without it we would be nothing.

Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, 242.

During this Easter season we should meditate on this great mystery and truth of our Faith. Do we truly believe that Jesus Christ, who gave himself in total love and obedience to the Father for us, rose from the dead? Christ asks us this question over and over again throughout our lives as we make choices and battle along the path to holiness. Do we testify that Jesus is Lord? Is he the Lord of our lives? The entire Easter season is about us celebrating that Jesus is risen and is the Lord of all.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

I Am Not the Pope and Neither Are You

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The deeper I go into my theological studies, the more I am at peace with the Church. My peace does not come from the knowledge of men, but from the reality that the Holy Spirit is at the helm. It is easy to get dragged into outrage because of pockets of corruption and the sins of the people within the Church. The Pope said this, a Cardinal did that, a heterodox priest is now working in the Vatican. I think the truth is always somewhere in the middle and if people are truly interested in giving up their outrage, they will stop reading reports from the mainstream media on the Church. It is impossible for a secular world to understand the Church. They view us as a bureaucratic institution, rather than the Mystical Body of Christ that is animated by the Holy Spirit.

It seems in some of my dealings with people in social media, that Catholics are forgetting who we are and who we are not. It seems that many respond strongly to Pope Francis because they have forgotten the mission. I don’t agree with everything the Pope does, but I don’t feel the need to rant and rave about it. He is human and most of the time is not acting infallibly. I am not the Pope. I don’t know what goes on in his head most days. I am sure it is a daunting task to lead a Church of 1.2 billion Catholics as well as try to evangelize the other 5 billion people on the planet. He is probably learning as he goes just like all of the other Popes. He will make mistakes and while we are not obliged to agree with him, we are still required to treat him with the dignity and respect that is given the Vicar of Christ. We are also called to consider his non-infallible statements.

I think that many people would breathe easier if they studied more Church history. There have always been heretics, sinful, and corrupt people within the Church, even at high levels. There have been periods of great violence and Popes who were martyred or exiled for the faith. Pope Martin I comes to mind here. The world has always been upside down. I have no doubt that there are heretics and heterodox clergy in the Vatican. It’s always been so, whether Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, Nestorian, Gnostic, etc. When we focus on this fact and allow it to overwhelm our faith then we are acting as the secular world does. We forget who is in charge of the Church, who guides the Church, and who is perfecting the Church. We also forget that even in the face of great corruption, the Church’s doctrine has been preserved. In a thorough and honest reading of Church history the only explanation that she has not been destroyed is that the Holy Spirit is keeping her on course. The Church never should have made it out of the catacombs, let alone throughout the world.

We need to accept that we are not the Pope and most of us lack the holiness, insight, experience, or understanding to lead the Church. Sure it would help if things were more articulate at times, but we can’t get bogged down by distortions and mistakes. We need to live the mission. The mission is to bring the Good News to the world. That is what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the center: Jesus Christ. I am a student theologian. I love theology and most specifically the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I understand him, as much as anyone can understand his brilliance. That being said, I get what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the core so that we can convert souls on the issues of our day. I look to him for guidance in holiness rather than great works of theology or philosophy. Although, I have read both Lumen Fidei and the Joy of the Gospel and they are insightful works in which we could learn a lot. His mission is different from his predecessors. People are not typically converted by a great argument against abortion or “gay marriage”. They are converted by a real encounter with the Risen Lord. That is where we begin. The rest will fall into place.

So what will bring us peace of mind within the Church? I don’t mean apathy or willful ignorance. I mean peace. The kind of peace that only comes from trusting the Most Holy Trinity. First, accept that we are not the Pope. Second, accept that fallen men and women are within the Church. Third, read more Church history. Fourth, pray for the Church and her leaders. Fifth, stop reading mainstream media reporting on the Church. Sixth, pray for humility. Seventh, continue on the path to holiness, Eighth, trust in the Holy Spirit. TRUST, and Ninth, most importantly, live the mission. Let’s bring Christ to the world. Our bickering hinders the mission.

While we are not required to accept every statement by the Pope, we do need to stop flying off the handle at every word he utters. Our own panic only enlivens the secular world. Yes, the world is in a bad place right now, but it’s always in a bad place. Our age has the same level of evil as previous ages, we just have more powerful weapons. Here’s a thought: Listen to Pope Francis and watch his actions. What is he trying to teach us prideful people? Pope Francis is not leading as a theologian or philosopher like our last two popes. He is leading from the simplicity of the very Early Church. It is Christ Risen that is the great mystery and hope of the Church. When we come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, when we love Him, He gives us the grace to overcome sin. He helps us with our battles and with the lies of the culture. We need Him first before we can combat the evil of our age. We have to stop putting the cart before the horse. In the end, that is what Pope Francis is teaching us. If we are angry or frustrated by that fact, then the issue is not our Pope, it is us.
**I am stunned, humbled, and amazed at the response this piece has generated. Thank you for reading. I have written a follow up, which can be found here.

Forgiving Until It Hurts and then Some….

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.       St. Matthew 18:21-22

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Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.

Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.

I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.

The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.

Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.

When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness.  There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.

What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him.  That is how we must forgive time and time again.  I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.

We are NOT Called to be Angels; We are Called to be Fully Human

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I have always, even before I began formal study, had a theological pet peeve related to human beings and the angels. Somewhere down the line, human beings got the idea that we become angels when we die or that we are to be angels. I would have to study it further to understand where this error started. Perhaps it really began with the cherubim depictions of babies that are so popular that convinced parents that their children who have passed on became cherubim? I am not sure. I can understand this error within the secular culture which assimilates all manners of heresy due to their lack of the fullness of truth. It logically makes sense for things like this to occur. It is not understandable for it to occur within the Church.

This morning I saw an article posted on one of my favorite Catholic sites that focuses on inspirational pieces, that stopped me cold. The title was: We are Called to be Angels. I stopped and stared at it. I was concerned, and frankly a bit annoyed (I am still working on that holiness thing), and so I opened the article. It discusses a bit of conjecture by St. Anselm on the human being as a replacement for the fallen angels. I can’t say the title fully reflected the content. Although, the author did not inform readers that saints have all sorts of conjectures that may or may not be accepted by the Church. This is where error starts and runs rampant. The article has already been shared hundreds of times. The title is a complete theological error and misleading.

We are not called to be angels. We are called to be human, more clearly we are called to be fully human as we conform ourselves to the Blessed Trinity. Our anthropological (theological buzzward) orientation to God is that He created us in His image and likeness in order to serve and become like him. This is not what he did for the angels. Angels are pure spirit, with no body. Speaking of conjecture, I have heard it suggested that Lucifer chose not to serve God after the Incarnation was revealed to the angels (this is conjecture). In equating us to the angels, Christians lose their incarnational understanding. God became man and has invited us to share in His Divine life. The union of body and soul, our humanness, matters. God acts in our world towards us to serve our human understanding. The Church is a combination of the material and the spiritual. It is not either/or, it is both.

This is most fully realized in the sacramental life of the worshiping community. The internal realities of grace are fully realized and expressed through the external actions of the Church, that is, the sacramental sign-action. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas equates all of the sacraments with various actions and periods within a human being’s life (see the Summa on various Sacraments). Baptism is re-birth and the washing away of sins as the individual publicly declares their desire to be conformed to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to become a member within the public life of the Church. Water, which is the “matter” in this sacrament, is a means of cleansing and washing for the human person. God uses those things that will impact our in order to bring out the internal realities of sanctifying grace. The sacraments are the most concrete union of body and soul that we have on this side of eternity, most especially in the Blessed Eucharist.

So, what am I getting at? Our bodies matter. We are not pure spiritual beings. The fact that Christ became man matters. When we change our anthropological understanding of ourselves all kinds of heresies begin to take hold. In fact, heresies like Gnosticism which hold that material is evil, become a serious problem. That heresy has been around almost as long as the Church.  God made us human, both body and soul, and he sanctifies us through that reality. It is also in our body-soul reality that we are sanctified and conformed to the Blessed Trinity. We are called to be united to Christ’s passion. That can only occur through a bodily unification with the soul, since Christ suffered in His body (and soul).

It is true that we can be like the angels in their obedience, charity, glorification, and service to God. In that way, we most certainly should pray for the grace to be like them. I am a huge proponent of the intercession of my Guardian Angel. My daughter knew the Guardian Angel prayer by the time she started speaking and it is her favorite prayer. In fact, a great peace washes over her at night as she prayers it, knowing that Our Lord has given each one of us a great spiritual being to guide and protect us through his will.

I just want to remind Catholics that there is a very real serious threat of dualism and a misunderstanding of the human person in our culture that we can absorb. And while the article in question was about a Catholic saint. It is important that we have a grounded theological understanding before we tackle conjecture from the various saints. St. Anselm posited that human beings are to replace fallen angels in Heaven, but that does not mean that we become angels. The title is misleading and wrong. It is a very important distinction and that word replace can cause a lot of confusion for Catholics. As my professors are always telling me, ‘precision in language is crucial’. We resurrect at the end of the Parousia, in our glorified bodies. It is not just our spirit, nor are we called to be like purely spiritual beings. We never become angels. Our intellects are incapable of reaching that of the angels and we were created to be human beings. Angels and men are both beautiful aspects of God’s awesome creative power and love. We are called to become the highest form of a human being as God perfects our fallen nature and the angels are called to be the highest form of angel.

***UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comments in order to see the clarification from the author of the original article. I am appreciative that he took the time to clarify.

**UPDATE: The editor of the Catholic online magazine has contacted me and said the title has been adjusted and the content has been clarified in relation to Church teaching. It was an accident. These things happen. :o)

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*If I have made any theological errors and you happen to be a theologian, instead of a lowly grad student like me, or you are a grad student, please feel free to correct me. I never want to preach or teach in error. It was not my intention to eviscerate the author of the article either. He is not a theologian. I merely wanted to point out that our words and teaching, even as a layman, matter.* My professors are constantly telling us that “precision of language matters” and I think the article in question is a very good example of why.  God bless.

Why I Temporarily Gave Up Politics

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Last summer I made the decision to finally pursue my Master’s degree in Theology. My VA benefits expire in September 2015 and I could get in just under the wire to pay for the whole program.  In making that decision, I decided that in order to succeed and get the best out of the program that I needed to enter it with as few preconceived notions as possible.  I had to accept that while I had a breadth of knowledge that was high for a catechist, that did not equate to a theologian.  My classes have been humbling. In fact, there is a vast difference between a catechist and a theologian.  What I also realized is that I needed to leave politics alone while I study. The reason being that I, just like so many others, had a tendency to put my political views before the Church.  This is a trend that is vast in all circles, it is not just a “liberal” and “conservative (both of which are constructs that have no place within the Church) problem. So whether within the Church or outside, I am on a hiatus from politics.

To understand why, you would need to know a bit about my background.  I am a Navy Veteran and a former intern at The Heritage Foundation.  I have worked within government agencies from a very young age.  I seriously considered a career in politics, but realized that I don’t have the ability to bend my moral understanding. My experience at The Heritage Foundation was wonderful and eye-opening. I was a bit old for the internship at 27, but I tried to make the most of every opportunity from listening to Senate/House hearings, to visiting other think tanks, engaging in political discussions and conferences, as well as a monthly visit to Georgetown for the Tocqueville Forum. I met amazing thinkers, including some of the brightest in the Church. It just wasn’t for me.

After I left Heritage I fully returned to the Catholic Church after a few years of wandering.  I met my husband and I was finally Confirmed on my 29th birthday at the Easter Vigil Mass.  After my Confirmation, my life changed dramatically.  I began to shift from a polemic view of the world, to a spiritual understanding. I could see that while I respect what The Heritage Foundation does, they are wrong on quite a few matters.  That is when my political understanding began to evolve.

A real shift occurred when I began pro-life work. I worked in the pro-life movement in order to serve those women and babies who are damaged by abortion.  I tried to share the Church’s position within the Church, which was a major battle, an exhausting one.  I saw more and more how I had to shift away from the political and truly try to understand from a Catholic perspective.  I was running into too many people who focused on the political over the Church and it shined a glaring light into my own soul. I wanted not the Catholic of my mind, but the real Catholic.

So here I am, two semesters into my studies.  I have learned a lot, but more than anything, I now see just how little I know.  I see that even when this journey ends, even if that is with a doctorate, that I will still know very little.  That is why Catholic social media conversations make me chuckle and cause me concern.  The errors are rampant.  I have made so many.  We think we know, so we make comments in discussions, so sure of how right we are. Yes, we all need opinions.  I have plenty on the liturgy, for instance, but we need to differentiate our opinions from reality. The Church is a 2000 year old institution that gets her life from the Holy Spirit.  The Church is an eschatological guide and lived history.  When we limit her to the movements of our day, we are completely missing what the Church truly is and how she will last until Christ’s return.

What this means is that our ideas are small.  They are important to us and we should engage in discourse, but we all, myself included, need to do it with humility and charity.  We should meditate on why St. Thomas said his Summa and other works were “straw”.  That may seem startling, but the more I study of Christ and His Church, the more I get it.  We are so small when compared with the infinite love and goodness of the Blessed Trinity.

So I have stopped reading Catholic blogs focused on polemics.  Right now, I am open to the authentic Church.  I want to know her history, purpose, mission, sacraments, how she lives and breathes, her teachings, what the Magisterium really means, and on and on.  I don’t want to put the teachings of the Church in a box.  I want to stand in awe of her vast knowledge and inspiration given throughout the ages in her living history.  I want to be in that freedom and set free from my own preconceived notions and ideas.  I want to find those saints and kindred spirits who can teach me through their words.  It is an act of charity to bring the words of the past to life.  It is to let those people live again on this side of the veil and to share the graces they received from Our Lord.  I am not a Pope Francis Catholic, a Pope Benedict XVI Catholic, or a St. JPII Catholic.  I am a Catholic.  Yes, I bond more deeply with certain writings, but it does not limit my love for all of the leaders who have served Christ in His Church.  To have favorites is not to limit love, it is to be open to the person God has made me to be.

Not everyone is called to be a theologian or a philosopher.  It is something God calls specific people to do based on the gifts He has given them; however, we should all make a concerted effort to learn about and love the Church as she is, not who we make her to be. We should all make sure that we are putting Christ and His Church before our politics.  There is no place for Caesaropapism in the Catholic Church.  The state is, and always will be, subordinate to the Church, who shares the fullness of truth with the world.

So while people are fighting over politics, the noise becomes deafening for those within and outside of the Church.  It is not politics that make people march to their death on beaches or in stadiums.  That, by the way, is Pope Francis’ point.  He is not a heretic.  He is bringing the Church back to her central mission: spreading the Good News. He is pointing out that the first mission of the Church is to spread the Good News and then we can wage the culture war. It is the Good News that Jesus Christ has freed us from our sin and calls us to brotherhood/sisterhood and to share in his divine priesthood.  It is the resurrection and hope of the Beatific Vision that makes people lay down their lives for Christ. Let’s all keep this in mind as we share our faith with others.  They first must encounter the beauty of the risen Christ before they can abandon those sins that they hold onto so tightly.  In fact, the same goes for us who are baptized and who wage the battle against sin while infused with grace.

The next time we are engaged in a discussion in social media, let’s make sure we truly know what we are talking about, what we mean, and let’s make sure our focus is on the Risen Christ and not the fading politics of our day.  Politics are important in that they shape our country, but they are not even close to the most important thing in our lives.  Our political understanding comes from the proper forming of our consciences in light of the fullness of truth. And as shocking as it may be to some, the Church is no stranger to political battles within.  I think that a lot more people on all sides would find some peace if they first, trusted in Christ and second, read more Church history.  God bless.  I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.