Christians Are Not Perfect: At Least, Not Yet

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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!

Why Many Catholics Ignore Church Teaching on “Gay Marriage”

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Today I am going to write about what I see as the most controversial subject of our time: “gay marriage”. I also believe that this agenda will lead, and has led, to persecution of Catholics and other orthodox Christian churches. It will get very rough in the years to come. This particular series is meant for those who profess to be Catholic. First, I want to start with some observations about people within the Catholic Church and then broaden to wider implications. I will probably write a series, with this one focusing primarily on what the Church teaches about sexual sin.

The Catholic Church is losing the “gay marriage” debate within its own pews at this point in history. That will change as my generation rises up, but for now, many Catholics do not submit to Christ and His Church on this teaching. Quite frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Large groups of Catholics ignore Church teaching on sexual matters. So let’s clear up some confusion first. A grave sin is a grave sin. Redundant? Yes. Here is what I mean: To knowingly (knowing Church teaching) and willfully use artificial contraception, get a tubal ligation or other types of sterilization, have an affair, engage in premarital sex, divorce and re-marriage (without an annulment), use (look at, watch , read) pornography, masturbation, use IVF, get an abortion, or engage in homosexual acts are all grave sins. There is no difference. Homosexual acts are not somehow more grave than heterosexual ones. For some reason I think that there are people who think that this is the case. Perhaps this is part of the reason individuals who struggle with same sex attraction are so hurt by the Church. Somehow their sins are worse than those of a heterosexual couple. This is categorically false.

Now that I have listed some sexual sins, let’s look at heterosexual couples. A large contingent of people who profess to be Catholic in the pews are engaged in the use of contraception, sterilization, pornography, cohabitation, etc. (I highly recommend investing in a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic home should have one!!!! ) They either blatantly ignore Church teaching, putting their souls in great danger, or some may not know Church teaching. Ignorance of teaching does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. However, once you are aware that these are grave sins you are required to go to Confession and stop the sin. If you refuse to stop, I encourage you out of love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and you as a member of His Mystical Body, to refrain from the Eucharist until you have been converted to the truth. Pray for conversion. Taking the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin greatly endangers your soul. I say this as someone who has done it in the past. That is about as theological as I want to get in this post.

So why is the Church currently losing this battle in the pews? First, because many people who say they are Catholic are ignoring Church teaching. If they ignore Church teaching on these matters, why not support “gay marriage”? After all, they love each other. Second, there is a deep misunderstanding of what love truly means. In our society it seems that feeling, sentimentality, and attraction are the biggest components. Do homosexuals love one another? Yes, I am sure they do on some level. However, a proper understanding of love is as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “to will the good of the other, as other”. Third, I think that many Catholics think that celibacy is too hard for homosexuals. It’s too harsh to expect them to refrain from sexual activity, is one of the complaints made.

The Church’s, God’s, teaching on human sexuality is not meant to be a list of rules from some angry old man in the sky. Rather, since God is pure Love, he knows what is best for us. He knows how we will thrive and attain holiness. Our Lord knows what will kill a soul and He wants to do everything in His power to prevent this from happening. That is why the Church, His Bride, is our guide on this side of Heaven. Most of us would rather listen to the culture, but the culture is leading us to death. Christ leads us to life, and with that comes major sacrifice. It also requires that our lives be blatantly counter-cultural and it also means persecution. Christ was killed on a Cross, what makes us think that we are any different as His followers?

Within a Christian context love means that we desire what is best for someone even if they do not know what is best or choose what is bad for them. Part of the reason Christians are opposed to sexual sin is because they, when grave, kill a person’s soul. If I love someone do I want them to do something that would kill their soul? Not only that, Christ called us “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. That is a tall order and means that we must lovingly bring people to the Truth. So when someone tells me that they blatantly use contraception, cheat on their spouse, or engage in homosexual activity should I just say that is not my concern? As a member of the Mystical Body of Christ does this fit my Baptismal call? No. So the next time someone calls you out on a grave sin, remember it is out of great love and concern for your very soul.

Regardless of what our culture tells us, love requires great sacrifice. If you want to know what real love looks like, take a look at the Cross. Love is total self-emptying. It is the giving of everything we have, and then giving more. Do we all fall short? You bet! That is why we are sojourners. We are on a journey to holiness. It takes a lifetime, and for many Purgatory too. But, the Cross is the ultimate example of how we are to live our lives. That includes fighting against a culture that worships at the the altar of the false god of sex. Sex in and of itself is not love. It is a total self-giving. It is the uniting of one man and one women who have taken been joined in a covenant before God. Two become one flesh.

There are many Catholics who say that it is too hard for homosexuals to be celibate, or chaste. As a Catholic, this is a rather silly assertion. There are hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, sisters, and brothers who live celibate lives throughout the world. Celibacy has always been seen as a loving sacrifice to Christ, which is why virginity is celebrated in the Church. But, if you don’t believe me, look at the stories of individuals who struggle with same sex attraction who live celibate lives as Catholics. Here is one example.

We must remember that as Catholics we are not called to be a “good person” we are called to be holy; to be saints. They are not the same thing. Hopefully, now you more fully understand God’s desire and love for you. If you are struggling with Church teaching then you need to discuss it with your parish priest. If, Heaven forbid, your priest does not fully submit to Church teaching, then find one who does. A lot of people have been hurt and led astray from “the spirit of Vatican II”. Humanae Vitae and other similar documents require our submission. They teach timeless truths. I pray for your conversion, healing, and strength in the years to come. The next part of this series will discuss how the “gay marriage” agenda is the greatest threat to our religious liberty that we face today. I will then write a post on parenting in an over sexualized culture that wants to convert us to its beliefs, and quite frankly, wants our children.

Jesus Christ Leading Us Into the Deep

” Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,* he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;* do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith,* why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Matthew 14:22-33

A lot of the spiritual life is about being led out into the deep.  I was thinking about St. Peter walking out on the waves as I prayed my Rosary Sunday evening.  I was thinking about it because I lack the courage to step out of the boat a lot of the time.  To be led deeper into God, towards God. It takes great courage.  It is something that a lot of us intentionally avoid.

St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking.  He and I are so similar that way.
St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking. He and I are so similar that way.
We all like to be comfortable.  We want to feel good in our spiritual life, but faith is  not about feelings.  In fact, the journey to holiness requires us to get out of the boat and serve others outside of our comfort zone.  I am learning this by doing the ministries I have been called to.  Being a Eucharistic Minister to the sick, was not my doing.  Our Lord called me there to minister to his faithful who are on, or carrying their Cross.  It is deeply uncomfortable.  Why?  Well, I struggle with fears of death, I have to walk into strangers’ rooms where they are suffering greatly (haven’t done that since 9-11), I am a deeply empathetic person, so it is really hard for me to see people suffering.  Even with my struggles, He blesses me as I bring Him to those in need.  In doing this ministry I am serving “the least of these” in His name.  I am actually walking into the deep.
I am also teaching junior high religious education this year.  Teaching is a gift God has given me.  I have taught for years.  It just happens that I believe junior high is the hardest age group to teach.  It is a difficult time.  I hated junior high.  It is an awkward time period.  I really like my students.  They don’t know it, but I offer up Masses, Rosaries, and prayers for them weekly.  But, more than anything, I want them to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ.  That is my prayer for them.  All I can do is give them the tools, they have to choose to answer His call.
Being a catechist to this age group requires great patience on my part.  I can have a tendency to be too theological at times and that is not what this group needs from me.  I can save that for Lay Dominicans.  What they need is to see the joy that stems from the Christian life.  They need to know that Our Lord loves them and is calling them to follow Him.  They need to know what a gift the Church is to us.  What an incredible gift we have in the Sacraments.  The world does not understand us, in fact, it is hostile to Christ and His Church.  It has been that way since the beginning.  We need to give these kids the tools to help them live out the mission.  I have had to acknowledge my own limitations.  I am not these kids’ parents.  It is their parents’ job to teach and raise them in the faith.  Something that is sorely lacking and that is why I pray so much for them.
Christ the King of the Universe.  Is it bad that I told our students that is is not Obama?
Christ the King of the Universe. Is it bad that I told our students that it is not Obama?
When Christ calls us to serve, He is calling us into the deep.  We are to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will lead us.  St. Peter could walk on water, until he took his eyes off of Jesus.  I know it is the end of the liturgical year and we just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe, but trust and a deeper relationship with God were on my mind.  Probably because no title reminds of God’s awe-inspiring Creation, power, and authority than Christ the King of the Universe.  It reminds me of how truly small I am.
To be quite honest, ministry is much easier for me than deepening my spiritual life through prayer.  Yes, I pray Lauds and Vespers, as well as a Rosary every day as I prepare for a secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.  When I enter into deeper prayer, I get the feeling like I need to catch my breath.  Like I am not ready for the deep end of the pool.  I can only describe it as a sense of the Numinous that CS Lewis writes about.  I get a sense of awe that is accompanied by dread.  Going deeper into the heart of God is not easy.  Look at the Saints.  It comes with joy, but also great trial and suffering.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
My tendency is to want to stay in my comfort prayer zone.  I do my prayers, I read the Scripture often, I read theological books, but I tend to turn and run from anything resembling contemplative prayer.  When I read the mystical prayer experiences of many of the Saints my first thought is, that is just not for me Lord. Okay, so I won’t be levitating anytime soon and that is not what I am afraid of.  It is more a fear of the unknown.  Part of it is the darkness of sin that I see on me, which is why I go to regular Confession.  There is nothing in this life that will remind us of our sinful nature like prayer and Confession.  I feel I am not worthy of a deep encounter with God.  I have to get over this and be humble, but not self-pitying.  Part of it is fear of the unknown, especially the Numinous.  Some of it is my fear of suffering.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The great paradox of joy is that it only comes from God.  It is not happiness.  It  is something so much deeper and more profound.  I have experienced real joy only a few times in my life: during the reception of Sacraments to include my wedding day, the day my daughter was born, and the day she was Baptized.  But joy only comes when we are fully open to it.  It also seems to come to us once we are in our vocation, receive a Sacrament, or some other grace.  That is my personal experience.  In order to more fully receive joy, we must free ourselves to God’s call in our lives, including that call to follow him into the deep,  and that inevitably means the Cross.  There is no Resurrection without the Cross.  I know this and that is why I struggle with moving forward at times.  I long for God, but I allow my own fear to win out sometimes.  I know the Cross is conquered, but I still have to go through my own Cross (I carry it daily) and death some day.
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her countenance? JOY
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Her countenance? JOY
Lived under the Communists.  Became Pope.  JOY.
Lived under the Communists. Became Pope. JOY.
I have to wonder if that is why we distract ourselves so much these days.  We do everything we can to block God out.  We have TVs, computers, radios, tablets, cell phones, etc on constantly.  It’s as though we do not want to hear that still small voice calling to us.  It makes us uncomfortable.  He requires change from us.  He requires we give our all to Him.  He calls us on the path to Sainthood.  That is the meaning of life: to be a saint.
How many of us stay in our comfort zones in how we serve Christ?  How many of us push back against a deeper encounter with God in our prayer life?  How many of us rely on good feelings rather than a genuine faith in God?  Do we really want joy?  Will we give up everything to attain joy?
Two men who radiate Christ's joy now.
Two men who radiate Christ’s joy now.

A Vocation I Never Expected

A vocation is not necessarily where we thought we would end up.  Instead, a vocation is where God calls us to journey towards Him.  In short, it is how He makes us saints.  And that, my friends, is the meaning of life: to be a saint.  We either choose to answer is call or we don’t.  To be quite honest, I still struggle with openly answering His call in my life.  Being a homemaker, was not what I had envisioned for myself.  I have imagined myself having a career since childhood.  I guess that is just what a child of the 80s and 90s did, even though my own mother took a long break from working to stay home with us.  I also did not get married until I was 29, so I had been working for over a decade and I had lived all over.

I guess I left behind the notion of a big city career at some major university when I moved away from Washington DC for the last time.  I did not know it then, but I was making a choice for the life I wanted to lead.  I had really enjoyed city life for most of my Twenties, but by the last part of that decade of my life, I was burned out.  I craved quiet and nature.  And while DC is still my favorite city, whenever I go back, I know that I made the right choice.  It is not where I want to raise a family.

 
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When I met my husband we had agreed that we would homeschool our children.  Not only to raise them in the faith, but to ensure that they get a good education.  We are both products of public school and knew that we wanted  more for our children.  Not to mention that my time working in public school during college, showed me just how much things have changed since I graduated.  I also knew that I did not want my children raised in a daycare.  I had to make some touch choices and that is when I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker.
 
I think my mind began to change when I started to think of marriage and parenthood as a vocation, rather than a relationship and job.  I started to see that love and my family require sacrifices.  It meant that I no longer come first. A truth that I still struggle with greatly.  When I had my daughter it became even more clear to me that I belonged at home.  That did not make it easy
 
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I am the type of person who enjoys being engaged intellectually.  I like a challenge, I enjoy study, I am passionate about teaching, and I want to write.  Staying home with a two year old presents great challenges to these God given drives of mine.  It is difficult to feel intellectually stimulated when your day is full of incomplete sentences, diapers, and play.  My friends know when I have been in the house too long.  I talk incessantly.  Some days I am on the computer way too much, because I want adult conversation.
 
Here’s the paradox, when I fight against my vocation, I am the most unhappy.  Even though laundry, dishes, and playing house do not give me intellectual stimulation, they bring me the most peace.  That is because I am doing the right thing staying home with my daughter.  It is a great sacrifice, and I would not change anything.  God is making me a saint here in my home.  He is teaching me how to put others before myself, something that I greatly lack.  He is increasing my capacity for joy through my daughter and husband.  He is showing me the Little Way.  I am sanctified here, not out in the world.
 
If I had stayed on my previous path and pursued a high powered career, I do not think that I would be where I am spiritually.  I probably would not even be married, because meeting men in DC is a lot like trying to find a good man at a fraternity.  I had to give up that life in order to find God’s real calling.  Sure I have moments of nostalgia and miss it, but I would miss my daughter and my husband infinitely more.
 
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Yes, I will still have days that I will fight this “ordinary life”.  But, that is a part of my journey.  That is the Divine Gardener pruning away at my imperfections and sin.  That is not to say that my path is your path.  We all have to discern where God is calling us in the different stages of our life.  Who knows what God has in store up ahead?!

Persevering in Prayer

Yesterday I had my monthly Lay Dominican meeting.  During Mass, the Homily focused on prayer.  Father talked about how we can underestimate the power of prayer and that it is essential to the Christian life.  It is the focus, along with the Sacraments, of the Christian path.  It was then that I felt like God was smacking me over the head with a hammer.  All week, I have heard the Spirit and my Guardian Angel, whispering to me to pray.  When I get stressed out, pray.  When the world is too much to take, pray.  When someone I love is struggling, pray.  While doing the dishes, pray.  Folding laundry, pray.  Scheduling my day, pray.  Better yet, schedule my day around prayer.  So that is why St. Paul said to “pray without ceasing”.  I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

 
 Working my way to being received in the Lay Order of Preachers, means that prayer is what my day centers upon.  I start the morning with Lauds, go to Mass when possible, which is not quite as easy with a 2 year old, spend time in Scripture, pray a Rosary (I also like to add in Divine Mercy when I can), and then the evening with Vespers.  There is a natural rhythm to living this way, and yes, it is even possible with a toddler and a husband to take care of.  It just means that certain activities that I enjoy, or that control me, get less time.  For instance, the more I focus on prayer and study, the more I become disinterested in television.  After all, reading a book about Church history or Jesus Christ is way more interesting and enjoyable than the trash that is on TV these days.  Yes, I am a nerd and proud of it!
 
As I get older, I have begun to realize that the only thing I can control in life is how I react to things.  The world has always been a bloody and Fallen place.  Pick up any history book and you will see that man is a violent thing.  As Father said in his Homily yesterday, Adam and Eve fell and left the garden.  What followed?  Violence and murder through Cain and Abel.  That is why God had to come and die for us.  He knew that our sinful and violent tendencies could not be saved by anything less than his total selfless love.  Think about it.  We killed God and He came back in forgiving love (see Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series).  That goes against everything we know as human beings because we lack forgiveness ourselves.
 
How I react to my day-to-day affairs is directly tied to my prayer life.  If my prayer life is suffering, my family, and I suffer.  In forgetting to pray, I forget to give my life to God.  When I try to be my own centering force, the whole thing unravels.  My sins and temptations get the better of me and then my shame and guilt take over.  When I persevere, and yes, it requires great perseverance, in prayer, I am strengthened and reminded of God’s goodness and love.  I also remember his mercy in my own life and in other people’s lives.  I need to work hard to listen to the promptings of the Spirit.  The sloth in me wants to be distracted by Facebook, Twitter, my chores, and everything else.  In allowing those things to take me from my true purpose, I allow my vocation to suffer because I am not paying attention to my family, and my relationship with God suffers.  It is a great struggle for me.  Sloth, or the noon-day devil, as they called it in the Middle Ages, is a constant battle.  There are so many “more” interesting things that I would rather be doing than praying.  But, the truth of the matter is that when I commit myself to prayer, the better I become.
 
How is your prayer life?  Are there things that you could do to improve it?  Does your prayer life directly impact your vocation?