Happy Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul! I apologize that I haven’t made any videos in the last few weeks. I’ve been working on a few projects and spending time with my family. Today I talk about how St. Peter and St. Paul show us the Way of the Cross and how their examples help us in our own spiritual lives. St. Peter’s doubt and St. Paul’s unshakeable faith are representative of the ups and downs most of us face in the spiritual life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can have unshakeable faith despite the Crosses we face. These two saints show us that regardless of our faith journey the Holy Spirit is guiding us on the Way of the Cross in our own lives.
Today I talk about St. Helena and the True Cross. I have a rather mysterious connection to St. Helena and I share a little bit about my own journey and my temporary guardianship of three holy relics of the True Cross. I have learned that the Cross is non-negotiable if we want to become saints. During this time of affliction, we need to lift high the Cross and call all people to Christ’s love poured out for our salvation. We can also participate in the redeeming work of the Cross through offering our suffering united to Him on the Cross.
Today’s episode is on St. Padre Pio and persevering through this period of exile. He is a saint who achieved high levels of sanctity and was given great blessings and gifts from God, including the stigmata. He suffered tremendously, often at the hands of others because of these extraordinary gifts. During this time as we struggle with being exiled from the Real Presence in Holy Communion and public celebration of the Mass, he is an example to us of how to persevere and endure suffering.
Many feel abandoned by the Church, but the reality is, the hierarchy has failed the flock since the inception of the Church. The battle for the renewal of the priesthood will come and is being fought by some at present, but in this present exile, we need to focus on conversion of heart, deeper prayer, and making reparations–including for the hierarchy–so that Christ can unleash great graces into the world for the salvation of souls. Lord willing, we will come out of this period strengthened in faith, hope, and charity so that we can live the mission He has given to each one of us in order to draw all peoples into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity.
The world we live in is broken. The Fall has wounded us deeply and those wounds and sins tend to fester and grow as we live in community with one another. Anyone who has paid much attention to world news is aware that these wounds cause massive bloodshed on a daily basis. Anger and violence beget more anger and violence. “We” blame “them” and “they” blame “us”, and so continues the cycle of dehumanizing and relegating other human beings to “other.” This labeling of others into “us versus them” always leads to horrendous injustice, bloodshed, pain, and suffering. It is to ignore the ontological realities that bind us together.
We all share the same nature, the same Creator, and the same opportunity for salvation extended by Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That salvation is not limited by our own vilification of another group of people. In doing so, we end up limiting the limitless gift of grace and divine life that has been given to us through the Paschal Mystery. When we focus on blaming others, we ignore our call to bring the entire world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. It is not “them”, it is you and me who are the problem.
Today the Church celebrates the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is the day we celebrate how Our Heavenly Mother was the first to receive the merits of her Divine Son’s Paschal Mystery. Unlike us, she was conceived without the taint of Eve’s sin coursing through her. Do we contemplate this great mystery? What it is to be conceived without Original Sin? To be free of the enslavement of sin is a tremendous gift Christ bestowed upon His mother.
We live in an age largely devoid of a true understanding of sin. There is no good or evil because each individual decides truth. If it is true or good for me, then it is not evil. In essence, this creates a system and moral law devoid of any truth. In fact, it is no moral law at all. In reality, sin makes us want to live in the mud. We think being human requires frolicking in the slop of evil. We call this good. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2005 points out this error.
Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.
How often have we experienced this temptation? How often have people told us the exact same thing? According to far too many people, to be fully human is to sin. ‘You Catholics must live no life at all.’ It is “boring” to work towards sainthood. Our Heavenly Mother must have had no life at all. In reality, her life was much fuller than yours or mine because of the gift of being born without Original Sin.
We live in a world that takes itself too seriously. I would hazard a guess that many people reading this piece struggle with this taking of one’s self to seriously, just as I do. It turns out, there is a saint to help us: St. Philip Neri. Today the Church celebrates this humorous, charitable, obedient, and joyful saint. He was born in 1515 in Florence, Italy. He spent many years studying and serving as a layman before being ordained a priest. He had a profound mystical experience that led him to serve in hospitals and he felt such great love of God that he preached to the poor and the rich alike in his desire to bring the world to Him.
St. Philip developed quite a following. He founded a confraternity alongside his confessor, Persiano Rossa, called the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents. The confraternity served the needs of poor pilgrims who came to Rome throughout the year and during jubilee years. St. Philip was ordained in 1551 and he also founded the Congregation of the Oratory, which was a group of secular priests.
St. Philip was known for unpredictable behavior that surprised a great many people:
He seemed to sense the different ways to bring people to God. One man came to the Oratory just to make fun of it. Philip wouldn’t let the others throw him out or speak against him. He told them to be patient and eventually the man became a Dominican. On the other hand, when he met a condemned man who refused to listen to any pleas for repentance, Philip didn’t try gentle words, but grabbed the man by the collar and threw him to the ground. The move shocked the criminal into repentance and he made a full confession.
St. Philip Neri, Catholic.org
It is clear that St. Philip could see the need for different approaches depending on the situation. It demonstrated his ability of discernment and his willingness to do what was necessary to bring others to God.
For reasons that I am not going to discuss explicitly, I have been contemplating our culture’s hostility towards children. We live in a culture that views children largely as a nuisance or accessory. Unfortunately this view has pervaded the culture including within the Catholic Church and other Christian communities. My husband and I have been asked multiple times if we will try for a boy since we have a girl, after all, children are like salt and pepper shakers. The irony of that question is that those types of things are in no one’s control unless they use the horrific evil of sex selection abortion. In my mind, the perfect family is the one God gives us through our openness and discernment of His will.
My husband and I realized that we view the world differently and through a thoroughly faithful Catholic lens when we had our daughter. Our parish offers daycare during Mass, something which we are greatly opposed to. We used it a couple of times when my husband was recovering from a severe migraine, but our daughter does not miss Mass. She is a baptized member of the Mystical Body and she needs to learn how to sit still and pray the Liturgy. That also means she does not run around in the narthex if she starts acting up during Mass. Our daughter also accompanies us to church functions. I have had run-ins with people who didn’t like it and I made clear that our daughter comes with us unless it was a professional event that required babysitting. She’s a member of the Church and an equal member of our family. My husband and I will not relegate our child to the corner.
What disturbs me about this trend is there is a great desire to push children to the fringes. It is to view the outbursts or cries of a child with disdain, rather than as a reality that comes with the growing of a human being. It is to separate our children from our family unit within the Church. The Church should be the celebrator of life and support the Culture of Life. That means children whether a family has one or 12 is a great gift. It is more souls for Christ and we should be joyful to see children present. It is a sign of a living parish, not a dying one, and it is our sign to the world that human beings are a great gift who have been given a unique dignity by God.
I think the throw away culture is greatly hurting our children. They sense that we are pushing them to the side, using them as an accessory, or blaming them for some perceived loss of independence. They know when they are not welcome, trust me, they know. It is no wonder that children are lonely, depressed, hurting, and at times, violent. Our culture has taught them that they are a bother, not a great gift. They are repeatedly told, especially through the evil of abortion, that their lives were merely a matter of their mother’s choice, not out of love. Whether explicit or implicit, the children of our culture know that they missed death narrowly as 1/6th of their generation has been murdered. They also know when their parents spend little time with them due to their other engagements or they allow their children to be too busy for family time, or to be glued to their cell phones. They also know it when people complain about them.
Our culture is becoming disconnected from its children. Pope Francis has warned about the attacks on the young and the old alike. I see what it is doing and I have been the recipient of such ideals, whether intentional or not. It is deeply hurtful to watch and it is painful to experience in my own child. We are drifting more and more away from the real meaning of marriage and family. Marriage is no longer grounded in an understanding of children and sanctification of spouses. It is now about a disordered notion of love and often children are absent from the realm of possibility. It is about me and not living out God’s great call for marriage and family.
This view of the world is greatly anti-Catholic. Children and families are a great sign to the world of the love and beauty of the Blessed Trinity. As Catholics we cannot get sucked into this type of thinking and try to charitably (tough I know, but necessary), but with conviction, live out the Catholic worldview of the family. There are times when it will be counter-cultural and other people will not understand, but we view children as a treasure of the Church and there may be times that we have to remind others in the pews of that fact when our child talks a bit too much at Mass. We should also be encouraging others to bring their children to Mass instead of daycare. Daycare is actually a rarity in the Catholic Church for that very reason. Children are baptized members of the Church and they belong at Mass offering the Holy Sacrifice with Christ the High Priest. They are united with us in the one body that is in Christ by power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s encourage one another to be courageous even if people grumble about our children. Children are a joyful noise in the Church and it was Christ Himself who said for the little children to come to Him. Who are we to stop our children from being in His Presence? Who are we to separate them from our family unit when it truly matters?
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
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.
I have a confession to make: I really struggle with sinful anger. I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion. I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times. It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most. My anger has been a decades old problem. Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault. Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin. This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings. God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance. So how do I do that?
I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger. When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord! I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger. What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?
One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred. When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin. I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself. This came out in Confession a while back. The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.” His response was, “Yes! Exactly!” Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it. That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.
What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others? As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes. Next is selfishness. When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess. This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint. So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.
The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice. I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger. I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily. It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others. We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.
So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice. This is the beginning of my journey. Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises. This will be the next difficult step. I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me. For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me. Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them. That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.
The most important component is Jesus Christ. I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own. Nope. Not going to happen. I’ve tried. To my utter shame, I still try. I have to let God do it. I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.” One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.
As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well. She was an outcast. I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons. While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved. So there came Jesus in the heat of the day. The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink. He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity. He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him. How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up? See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?
This is just the beginning. I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up. So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger. Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage. Not all anger is sinful. Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger. Perhaps order the book above. Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them. I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer. I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger. Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger? Have you identified your triggers?
Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow
There is an expectation in our society that when a person claims the title Christian, it means that they can, and will, act perfectly. I saw this clearly when someone wrote on a book review of the book Come Be My Light about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, that ‘she doubted, so she should not be a saint’. At first I was flabbergasted and then I realized that a good deal of the world thinks that Christians are claiming to be perfect. Where this idea came from I do not know. I do not know a single Christian who does not sin daily. Christians are just as prone to weakness and temptation, the difference is that we know we are redeemed in Christ and that His grace will help us to overcome sin. We know that we must overcome sin, but we will fail at times. We are striving for perfection i.e. Sainthood but it is not an overnight endeavor. So we crawl back to Him and He strengthens us for the journey.
The problem is that our culture does not realize that Christianity is a path, a journey. Becoming a saint takes an entire lifetime, and for some, time in the purifying fires of Purgatory. We are all attached to various sins. They do not cease to be because we say we are Christian. For Catholics, they do not cease to be at Baptism. Original Sin is wiped clean, but our proclivity (concupiscence) for sin is still there every single day.
The world demands from us what we cannot give and that is why we point to Christ. We cannot claim perfection, only that we know Perfection Himself. It is He who cleanses and purifies our hearts and makes us “white as snow”. I cannot do that on my own. Trust me. I have some deep seated sins that I struggle with daily and I know that I cannot conquer them under my own power. I’ve tried.
When a public Christian commits a mortal sin, the world looks on in mockery, schadenfreude (joy at another’s fall), and in covered up disappointment. No matter how much the culture yells at us and claims to hate us, there is a part of every person that is hoping someone else can do better. That there really is a path to freedom, and that path most realistically lies in Christianity, namely the Catholic Church.
We are all hypocrites at one time or another. We sin and still proclaim the Good News. We still serve and teach others. The point is that we are still trying, still on the path. We must recognize our shortcomings and return to the Confessional regularly, so that those times become fewer and fewer. In recognizing our weaknesses in the Confessional, Christ heals us and gives us abundant graces. Confession is for healing.
Somehow we have to find a way to tell the world that we are not claiming to be perfect because we have chosen to follow Christ. No, rather, we are on the path to holiness, to Sainthood, Perfection. That we will be made new in Him. It will take all of us a lifetime. Think about that the next time someone in the public eye falls into serious sin. Pray for them. That could be you. That makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Good. It should. We are all capable of great evil. We must all learn to fall on Our Lord that He may protect and guide us from those moments of temptation. We must share with the world that the Church is in fact a hospital for sinners. The goal is to be cleansed of our sin, and we are, in Christ, but we still have to walk the path He has set out for us and learn to overcome our proclivity for sin. We are forgiven, but we must follow His command to “go and sin no more”. So that is what Pope Francis is saying when he invites all to join the Church. Join us, as we work towards holiness, freedom from sin, and the journey Christ has called each of us to walk. Join us!