The Saints and the Cross Episode 19: Sts. Peter and Paul

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.

The Saints and the Cross: Mary’s Hope

Today I look at the next supernatural virtue of hope and how Our Lady shows us how to live in the hope of eternal life regardless of our circumstances. She trusted in God always and united her will fully to His. We are called to do the same during this pandemic and during all of the trials and tribulations of our own lives.

The Saints and the Cross Episode 7: St. Joan of Arc

Happy Third Sunday of Easter! Today I talk about the next saint in my series: St. Joan of Arc. This one is for my daughter who loves the martyr saints. St. Joan of Arc is a wonderful example to us of how to follow God’s will even when those around us do not understand it fully. She was tasked with doing extraordinary things in the face of extreme odds, but her faithfulness to God, led her to accomplish all that He asked of her. She eventually gave her life for Christ as a martyr when she was burned at the stake. May we all use this time to prayerfully discern where Christ is calling us to serve Him for the salvation of souls.

The Saints and the Cross Episode 2: St. Therese of Lisieux

Today I cover two aspects of St. Therese of Lisieux’s teaching: Doing small things with great love and persevering in trial and testing knowing it is a sign of God’s love for us.

Today is my 39th birthday. I’m requesting that anyone who views this video or stops by the blog to offer a prayer for our priests, bishops, and Holy Father. In your kindness, after you pray for your own parish priests, please remember mine: Fr. Kevin and Fr. Christian. I pray that Our Lord may unleash tremendous graces on our priests through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.

Here’s a beautiful prayer you can offer written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who is a fellow April birthday.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Prayer for Priests

LORD JESUS CHRIST,
eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the
Father on the altar of the Cross and through the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly
people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.
Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests.
Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial
priesthood may be ever more conformed to you,
the divine Master. May they preach the
Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.
Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart,
single- minded in service to you and to the Church
and shining examples of a holy,simple and joyful life.
Through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
your Mother and ours,draw all priests and the flocks
entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where
you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen

The Saints and the Cross Episode 1: St. Charles Borromeo

Today I begin my video series on the saints and the Cross with St. Charles Borromeo. I also provide a lens through which we can view the present pandemic and exile by referencing St. John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris:

I’m still taking suggestions for saints you’d like to see me cover. Feel free to post them in the comments or email me.

Love is the Cross: The Agony of 9/11

Suffering agony in this life isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter if that agony is our own or our neighbor’s. All of the calls to radical individualism and self-reliance are lies in the face of the ontological reality that we are all bound to one another. God has created us for union with Him and communion with one another.

This truth has unfolded in my life in a variety of ways, but one of the earliest and most visceral was through my experience as a 9/11 relief worker. I didn’t dig in the rubble. Instead– without fully understanding the long term impacts–I walked into the depths of human suffering as a relief worker to the bereaved. At 20-years-old, I felt rather helpless, but I knew that I wanted to do something, so I went

There is nothing that could fully prepare me for that level of suffering in others. I was a nominal Catholic at the time, so I didn’t understand our call to endure the agony of the Cross alongside Our Lady and St. John as much as I do now, but I lived it and embraced it even in my ignorance. The weight of it all nearly broke me because I didn’t yet understand that I could not carry such things without a total reliance on Christ, and it was Our Lady, Our Sorrowful Mother standing at the foot of the Cross who stood by me throughout it all, since like most 9/11 relief workers, the horrors stayed with me–and still do to this day–for years afterwards.

The strongest memory I have of the deep suffering of those grieving the loss of their loved ones through an act of cowardly violence, was during my first visit to the crash site with 400 family members. My friend and I were tasked with setting up a memorial table where the loved ones could place pictures and items in remembrance of their loved ones. We were still in rescue mode at the time, but one look at the crash site and we all knew everyone was dead.

As I stood beside this table in my dress whites, each person would come up to the table to set their item down. Many were sobbing uncontrollably. A woman, probably only 3-4 years older than myself, collapsed on the ground in front of me in agony. Her fiancé had been on flight 77. There was nothing I could do to distance myself from her agony. I was plunged into it with her and began to cry all while trying to be a strong military woman…whatever that even means in these circumstances.

As I stood there trying to keep it together with tears streaming down my face with each new family member’s suffering, the three star general I was directly working for, walked up to me and said: “Are you alright, Sailor?” I told him yes. I’d never seen so many stars on a shoulder, so I was trying to keep my military bearing while also grieving alongside the families. He himself had lost his best friend, had smoke inhalation from trying to save others, and was now tasked with the awesome responsibility of helping all of the grieving families.

The Cross does something to us. It’s supposed to. It cuts us deep. It opens up depths within our souls we didn’t know were there until moments of agony occur. It is through this deep penetration of suffering that we are opened to love. If we avoid it, then we cannot love as we are supposed to. We cannot love expansively. We become closed in, or caved in on ourselves, when we avoid our own suffering or the suffering of others. 

The Apostles, save St. John, fled the Cross. They ran from the agony, but St. John was opened up to the mystical depths of union with God precisely because he stays with Our Lady and the other women at the foot of the Cross. He suffered in love. I didn’t know what I was doing in my desire to run to the foot of the Cross on 9/11, but it forever changed me. It opened me up to the willingness to suffer in love for others and to use my own suffering for the good of others. It paved the way for the path I’m on now.

Love requires fortitude. True love is not easy. It is agonizing at times, but it is what we were made for. The happiness we seek is intermingled with joy and sorrow in this life. We are a selfish lot. Suffering is the single greatest tool that God uses to teach us how to love as we ought to. If we want to see as Christ sees, to love as Christ loves, and to forgive as Christ forgives then we must be willing to embrace the Cross in all of its horror, awe, and joy.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is this coming Saturday. Through this feast, we lift high the Cross as the answer to all that ails this Fallen world. It is not a sentimental action, far from it. It is a call to love through the sorrow, sin, and suffering of this life, because it is through the Cross that we are transformed. The happiness we seek is found in an ancient instrument of torture, where the Son of God conquered sin and death. It is in self-emptying love that we become who we were created to be. Christ calls us to follow Him to Calvary and to endure its agony, so that we can become radiant in love. This is the very meaning of our lives.

No, We Can’t Fully Protect Our Children From Suffering

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

Our culture seeks to hide suffering behind closed doors. The elderly are left in nursing homes while the unborn are “humanely” disposed of in abortuaries. We pretend that suffering can be fixed with a small pill, a drink, one more car, another cheeseburger, or dull it with copious amounts of television, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. I see the attempts to hide suffering in the media. We are supposed to keep our children protected from the suffering of this harsh world. This is a lie parents tell themselves and it is an attempt to avoid reality. It is impossible to hide the Fallen nature of this world from our children.

We worship the God-man, who suffered a torturous death on a Cross. Our churches–at least they are supposed to–have a Crucifix front and center as a reminder of the central reality of Our Faith that is the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Our homes are also often adorned with this instrument of torture, as a minute-by-minute reminder of the price and sacrifice offered in love for each one of us. As Catholics, there is no hiding the reality of suffering. It’s front and center in our Faith.

Children already know dragons exist. The idea that we can hide pain and suffering from our children comes up against reality once our children come into contact and develop relationships with other children. They see quickly how difficult human relationships are in our Fallen state. Each child comes to learn that they will eventually be left out, mocked or made fun of, left to the mercy of another’s moods or whims, hurt, and that the people we love eventually let us down, move, or even die. It is impossible to hide these realities from children. They know. And, like us, they also know that it’s not supposed to be this way. They rail in angry frustration at the injustice of it all because they know instinctively that we are made for more.

We can’t protect our children from suffering. Last year my own daughter went through a death scare with my husband when he became extremely ill at a rapid rate. At five-years-old she confronted the reality of her own father’s mortality. Thankfully, he survived and is now in what appears to be remission, even though he will have Wegener’s Granulomatosis for the rest of his life and it could take off at any point. It’s something that is always in the back of our minds.

She knows the realities of suffering in her daily life. She knows the pain other people inflict on one another through the disagreements and occasional nastiness of her friends. She sees it when her father and I let her down when our own sinfulness hurts her. She cries the tears of pain when she learns that her best-friend is moving on her birthday and she cries in frustration when she isn’t treated as well as she should be by a friend or their family.

As her mother, I can’t pretend that suffering isn’t a reality for each one of us. I can’t sugar coat it, and often, I don’t even have the power to make it any better. In fact, this has been one of the greatest lessons of surrender that I have learned as a mother. Many of the moments when she is hurting all I can do is hold her close and cry with her. I am not called to protect her from the suffering. I am called to teach her how to embrace it and offer it up to Christ. I do so by standing steadfast alongside her as she cries in agony, even as my own heart bleeds inwardly, longing to relieve her pain.

It is in those moments that I catch a tiny glimpse of what Our Heavenly Mother endured at the foot of the Cross. She shows me how to stand strong in the midst of intense suffering. Our Mother shows me how to love my daughter through the pain and to embrace her Cross alongside her. I remind my daughter to offer it to Christ and to allow Him to help her through it. It isn’t easy. Our Fallen tendency is to flee from the Cross, but as Christians, we are called to embrace it. We are meant to walk together in communion. So often we make the same mistakes of the first Apostles, except St. John. We flee when we are called to endure.

As parents we have to learn to relinquish our own will when our child suffers. It is impossible for us to suffer for them. We can only suffer with them. Suffering is a part of the sanctification process for all of us. It teaches how to love. Suffering shows us what love costs and it is through this pain that we learn to love more deeply. We can’t truly love if it doesn’t lead us to sacrifice a part of ourselves on behalf of the other.

We can’t protect them from suffering, but we can lead them to the One who will help them to persevere, provide them peace, rest, joy, and love them as they are meant to be loved. Other people, even people who love us and who we love, will let us down and hurt us. It is only in Christ that we learn to receive the love we are made for and through Him we learn to love others as we ought to.

My daughter is going through one of those difficult times when she is suffering pain and disappointment and I can’t take it away. What I can do is love her through it and stand fast when the tears start flowing. I can show her my own vulnerability and the tears I shed on her behalf as her loving mother. In some small way, I pray we are both brought closer into the loving embrace of Our Heavenly Mother, whose great desire is to lead us to the Most Loving and Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus Christ.

Catholic Exchange: Finding Laughter and Joy Amidst Suffering

I will continue my series on the Beatitudes and the work of Servais Pinckaers next week. My husband was in the hospital for 2.5 days with a partially collapsed lung, so I was unable to delve deeper into the Beatitudes. Since I spent more time in the hospital with my husband this week, I thought the topic of laughter in relation to suffering would be a good choice. It is something my husband and I rely on to get through our struggles with his illness.

As many regular readers know, my husband has been diagnosed with the rare auto-immune disease Wegener’s Granulomatosis (GPA). We have been working with a Rheumatologist to get it into remission. We are now in the stage of testing the waters to see if his first round of infusion antibody treatment has put the disease into remission for however long we can keep it there. Things seemed to be going more smoothly until Sunday night when he started coughing up a bit of blood again and developed intense pain when he would lie down on his back. We ended up in the Emergency Room where the ER doctor quickly discovered a pneumothorax (air pocket) and partial collapsed lung. My husband was admitted to the hospital and a chest tube placed in his lung.

Spiritual growth through laughter

Throughout our experiences over the last few months—besides our dependence on Christ through prayer, daily Mass, Adoration, etc.—my husband and I have found that laughter is a critical aspect of our journey with suffering. On this side of eternity, suffering is largely mystery. My husband and I do not get to know why he has this disease. Instead, we have to learn to trust God as we walk this path He has given to us. Suffering is a nasty business. It comes with deep physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual pain. It cuts to the very core of our being. It is a great equalizer. This we all know from our experiences of suffering, but if we focus solely on our pain and never add levity to the situation, we run the risk of falling into despair.

My husband repeatedly jokes around with hospital staff and plays jokes on his nurses whenever he is in the hospital. He possesses a great capacity for mirth and merriment even in the most trying of times. Our ER doctor this week had the same dry—and somewhat disturbing and macabre—sense of humor that my husband and I both possess. Through laughing about a situation that we cannot control, my husband and I are able to embrace each new trip to the hospital. We then draw the hospital staff into our acceptance of the Cross we have been given by our willingness to step into joy while suffering. It’s not easy, and we have our moments, but we are much more able to handle each new trip to the hospital the more we can laugh at the circumstances we cannot change or control.

I think it’s clear that my husband and I were put together partly because we both use laughter to respond to stress and pain. It is also a way that we are able to grow spiritually. It is quite a feat to see my husband laughing and joking with the medical staff who are caring for him while he has a chest tube in his right lung. He even joked around with the ER doctor who had to cut a hole in his chest and shove a tube into his lung, and he can laugh with the doctors while they try to figure out how to treat a man who has a disease most of them have never seen (some have never even heard of it), or have only seen once or twice in their entire time practicing medicine.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

 

Catholic Exchange: Avoiding the Temptation to Over-Sentimentalize the Faith

There is a growing tendency in certain church circles—both Protestant and Catholic—to over-emphasize sentimentality. Sentimentality allows us to focus predominantly on our feelings. This can also come from a false sense of piety and an over-emphasis on personal devotions, which inevitably leave us spiritually dry. Our faith is true regardless of how we feel in a given situation. If we reduce everything to our feelings, we very often become indifferent to actual truth and wholly dependent on how we feel in a given situation. In this case, we worship ourselves and not the Living God.

Being Catholic is demanding. It requires our whole selves, not a small section of ourselves that we carve out for Christ. In relying on sentimentality, we become overly concerned with how we feel in our prayer lives, at Mass, or in working with other people. We also discard the true depth of our Catholic Tradition for clichés and dumb-downed slogans. There can be an abandonment of doctrine–such as Purgatory–in place of the heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We only have to be a “good” person. This means feeling “good” about ourselves. This idea is not grounded in anything outside of ourselves and it is a brainchild of relativism. We are called to be holy. We are called to be saints, not merely a subjective form of “good” which is defined by the feelings, thoughts, and ideas of each person.

As Catholics, we believe in concrete and objective truths that are grounded in the very person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. We profess these truths each Sunday and at every Solemnity when we recite the Nicene Creed. Jesus calls each one of us to follow Him to the very end. That end is the Cross. The Resurrection does not happen before the Cross. Why should we think that our lives will be any different from Our Savior’s? Christ shows us the way by His example, and His example, is the laying down of His life for us all. He gives everything back to the Father. We are called to do the same. Any cursory reading of Scripture will quickly dispel a sentimental understanding of the Christian life.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.