Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Mass of St. John of Mathaa- Juan Carreno de Miranda, 1666

In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we see the great plan that God had in His mind for humanity; creating us in His own image. Everything was good until the devil entered into the world and became the source of death because of his envy. Those who remain close to God continue to experience His goodness even in the midst of trials, but those who give into the temptations of the devil become confused and unhappy. However, that is not the end. God’s plan continues.

In the Gospel we see two separate people approaching Jesus for a cure. They both believe he can perform a miracle and Jesus responds to their deep faith. Jesus is the generosity of God in human form, wanting to restore humanity to the perfection with which it was created. With one word he could have made all things new, but it is his desire and the will of the Father that each of us individually cooperate with the generous gifts he has given us; that we have the same deep faith as the two people in the Gospel who asked for a miracle. In baptism we received the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and became children of God. And because he also gave us a free will that often puts us in conflict with his great plan for us, he established his Church and the sacraments so that we can be renewed in his love and his mercy. Of course this renewal depends upon our faith, it is not automatic. In this country we have become accustomed to efficiency. We expect things to happen at our convenience. God is not efficient. He does things in His own way and in His own time. We can become impatient with God. This is the reason people go to fortune tellers and look to astrology among other things. God has forbidden these things because they undermine our trust in Him.

We saw an example of this in the decision made by five members of the highest court of our nation recently. They put themselves above God and redefined what God had defined in the Scriptures and had been kept sacred for thousands of years. This is the arrogance of a society that continues to move further away from God. About this, Archbishop Gustavo said the decision was, “Profoundly troubling and a tragic error. The Catholic Church will continue to invite men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation to walk their journey of faith with us, discovering God’s plan for them and for all society.” He continued to say, “Catholic leaders will proclaim the truth about marriage from pulpits and in the public square. In catholic teaching about the sanctity of marriage, it is clear that the union of one man and one women in holy matrimony is more than a human convention or a legal contract. It is a sacred bond that reflects a great reality both in natural law and in our deepest held beliefs.”

The question to us is: do we have the faith to put our total trust in God and what he has revealed to us? If Jesus were standing here in this church speaking to us and you wanted to be healed would you have the faith to touch his garment, believing that is all you need to do to be healed? The reality is, Jesus is here in His Word that was proclaimed to you, in his priest ordained in his name, in the assembly gathered to worship him, and par excellence in the Eucharist. We have the possibility of touching his glorified Body and Blood. Are you ready to receive your God? What will you ask of him? Would you be willing to listen to what he might ask of you?

Even though almost everyone may receive Holy Communion, the precious Body and Blood of Jesus, we may not all receive the same benefit. The following is a quote from the Vatican II documents:

“For the faithful receive a more perfect participation in the Mass, when with proper dispositions, they receive the body of the Lord in the Mass itself, in obedience to his words, “take and eat.” Like the passion of Christ itself, this sacrifice, though offered for all has no effect except in those united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity… To these it brings a greater or less benefit in proportion to their devotion.”

Because this Holy Sacrament is meant to be an experience of the generous love of God, He expects us to be gracious in our reception. Our soul should be free from serious sin and we should not be harboring any unforgiveness, bitterness or resentment. Our Lord wants us to be free from the things that enslave us.

We should prepare ourselves for this supernatural gift by frequent confession, daily prayer and continued spiritual formation. It’s also good to read the readings of the Mass ahead of time. Because this hour we spend together worshiping God is like no other hour and the Gift we receive is Jesus himself, we fast for one hour from everything except water and medicine to help us to be properly disposed. During this hour, heaven and earth are united as the angels and saints worship with us.

What God created is good, and even though our human nature is fallen and we are prone to sin, God still has a great plan for us. In Christ and in His Church He has given us everything we need to live close to Him and experience His generous love and mercy. He expects us to also be generous, to believe in what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, to trust Him and to share this Good News with others.

Covering Up For Others

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In the Gospel of John, Chapter 12 we read:

“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

This story is recounted in each of the Gospels. Sometimes she is given a name, as she is here in the Gospel of John, and in others she is simply, a woman.

What I love about this story and so admire about this woman is how she did not care what the others thought of her extravagant worship of Jesus. She wanted Him to know how much He meant to her and ridicule and criticism were not going to stop her from showing her love and appreciation for the Man who healed her.

In my journey from cradle Catholic to fallen away Catholic to re-converted Catholic to practicing Catholic, I too have grown into a desire to extravagantly worship our merciful God who also has healed me.

It starts as a tug of the heart. Would it be more reverent to take Communion on the tongue instead of in the hand? Our Catholic faith teaches either way is perfectly appropriate and I love how we are given the freedom to choose. I decide to try the tongue after years of the hand and have come to love this way of worship.

Another tug. Should I wear a veil? I have been reading the debates of veiling vs. not and am completely comfortable with those (interestingly, the young women) who choose to veil, and others who do not. Again, our Catholic faith teaches either way is respectfully reverent and left up to the individual woman. I contemplate and decide it would draw too much attention to me, others would think I was now ‘one of those’ and besides, I am too much a product of the 1970s.

One of the pilgrim women who recently traveled to the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope had a private revelation during Mass in Bethlehem. Again, our faith teaches that we can choose to consider a private revelation or not, but when I heard this story, it pulled on the ‘little tugs’ I was already feeling in my contemplation.

This woman said she heard our Blessed Mother cry out for her persecuted children in the Middle East. She asked this pilgrim, “Could not the women of the West wear veils during Mass in solidarity with my suffering children in the Middle East?”

Of all the stories from this pilgrimage, why I was hearing this one? What was it about this woman’s story that inspired all the other women on the pilgrimage to buy veils that very day? I took this all to prayer. I wondered what would happen if thousands of women choose to veil. Would thousands of women, men and children forced from their homes, living in caves be lifted up in spirit, consoled and healed? Would thousands of persecutors drop their guns and fall to their knees?

What bountiful grace would God pour down from this simple act of humility, reverence and obedience by His daughters?

I decide if just one spirit is lifted, just one gun dropped, then I should just get over myself and the fear of ridicule and criticism. I also realize, I am not the one being persecuted, or forced from my home and having my city and Church demolished. I am just being asked to wear a veil for those who are.

Still I confess, I am not comfortable with the lacy veils. So instead, I go to a retail store and purchase a plain, sheer white scarf. The first time was difficult. I felt self-conscious, I felt silly and so I thought of that woman who crashed the dinner party and asked for her intercession to give me courage. In the span of just one week, I wore the veil in front of strangers, family, friends and those I assume will criticize.

Each time it has gotten easier and I am now growing to love this way of worship.

When asked why, which is not often, I respond, “Two reasons: I have the desire to more extravagantly worship Jesus and I do it in solidarity with our persecuted sisters and brothers in the Middle East.”

The usual response is an affirming nod of the head and a, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

Portrait of Simone Fayet in Holy Communion by Odilon Redon, 1908

Portrait of Simone Fayet in Holy Communion by Odilon Redon, 1908

Should you veil or not? Trust the ‘tug’ and find comfort that our Catholic faith says the choice is yours.

Why would someone tell a saint to pray less?

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Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, age 17

That’s exactly what happened to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who—at seventeen years old—entered the Jesuits in 1585.  He had been raised among relatives who were mostly concerned with attaining and sustaining political power.  Without religious companions as a boy, yet with a tremendous desire for holiness, he had pieced together his own religious routine:

  • fasting, though he suffered kidney disease
  • attempting to pray for 1 hour without distraction, which in itself took several hours
  • avoiding women (even his mother), fearing his temptation to lust
  • avoiding anyone altogether, fearing his hot temper
  • scourging himself to a bloody mess
  • not wishing anyone to see even his foot undressed

… and various devotions.

I daresay we Catholics sometimes feel ‘expected’ to demonstrate ‘awe and wonder’ at saints like Aloysius, whose prayer lives involved intense self-abuse under the guise of penance, and other such extreme behaviors.  While reading the life of St. Aloysius, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief once his Jesuit superiors told him to…

  • eat more
  • only pray at scheduled times
  • take recreation
  • distract his mind

…etc.  But while discussing this with some friends at Afternoon Tea last Thursday, I asked, “Why would his superiors have told him to pray less?”  No one seemed to have a response.

Why would anyone tell a saint to pray less?

I was able to answer from personal experience.  Obviously, I’m not a saint(!), but I do wrestle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, particularly in religious matters.  At first, I was very embarrassed by this struggle, and resisted seeking help. (After all, our culture preaches the ‘virtue’ of self-reliance.)  After submitting myself in prayer, however, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to seek outside direction.

Whether someone has a psychological struggle like mine or not, we all need guidance and direction from people other than ourselves.  Even the saints.  Even someone as holy as Aloysius, whose confessor (St. Robert Bellarmine) believed he had never committed a mortal sin in his entire life.  In Aloysius’ case, he needed direction in maintaining a healthy life.  We see a remarkable change after he submitted to his superiors: spiritual maturity, peace, and ecstatic joy.

Dear reader, isn’t it true that when we rely on ourselves for spiritual direction, we become self-centered and lost—even when our intentions are good, like Aloysius’ were?

Just one or two generations ago, it became ‘hip’ to exchange religion for nameless spirituality.  What’s the difference?  Religion requires authority.  Families began breaking apart.  Fast-forward to today: We as a society suffer from focus on self, what is ‘right for me’ and ‘best for me’.   We are our own decision-makers.  This is not to hail “The Good Ol’ Days”, but to highlight the dangerous results of cutting ourselves off from A.) community, and B.) spiritual authority.  We have seen the effects; self-reliance, self-centeredness, relativism, etc., equal chaos and imbalance.

Even Christ our God submitted to those who were in authority over him!  Look at his obedience to his parents, and especially his submission as a victim on Calvary:

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Hebrews 5:8-9)

What are you doing to seek direction from others?

Whether you struggle with praying – or – working – or – eating – or – sleeping – or – talking – or – trusting … too much or too little—truly submit yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Talk with Him about your struggles, your pain, your fears, your wounds.  Ask where He is directing you to find assistance and direction.  Listen.  Seek people who have been given the spiritual authority to direct you.

Like Aloysius, may we all find the peace and ecstatic joy ,which comes from the beautiful yet challenging virtue of obedience.

What Will Be Your Legacy?

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“Cross at Sunset” by BeverLR

A recent ad for Gold’s Gym caught my eye: “What will be your legacy?” I’m not sure what working out has to do with creating a legacy, but it made me think. I believe we all have an inner calling to make a difference in our lives; to have lived a life of significance.

But what constitutes significance – is it success? If that is the case, then I suppose Howard Hughes might be our role model; after all, he was the richest man in the United States, worth 2.5 billion dollars when he died. He owned a private fleet of jets, hotels and casinos. He also spent the last 15 years of his life a drug addict.

Not a single acquaintance or relative mourned his death. The only honor he received was a moment of silence in his Las Vegas casinos. Time magazine put it this way: “Howard Hughes’ death was commemorated in Las Vegas by a minute of silence. Casinos fell silent. Housewives stood uncomfortable clutching their paper cups full of coins at the slot machines, the blackjack games paused, and at the crap tables the stickmen cradled the dice in the crook of their wooden wands. Then a pit boss looked at his watch, leaned forward and whispered, “O.K., roll the dice. He’s had his minute.”

Or is significance proportional to our service to others and in doing the will of God through our daily lives?

In which case, Our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our role model. But how do we follow God’s will? God does not provide MapQuest for his saints so they can be sure to understand the whole path of their pilgrimage here. Almost always He provides only one thing: the very next step. Not the next two steps. Not the next three steps. And like Abraham, He calls us to take the next step wholly blind as to what the next step that will follow.

And make no mistake, being used by God sooner or later turns one’s world upside down. There are many whose lives have been profoundly impacted by their response to God’s highly inconvenient calling upon their lives. He disturbs us at His will. Human arrangements are disregarded, family ties ignored, business claims put aside. We are not asked if it is convenient. The Lord expects to be trusted.

I propose that our legacy, how we will be remembered in this world, ultimately intersects with the fundamental dilemma of being human, always coming back to that one simple and yet often incredibly difficult choice, “My will or God’s will?” A choice we must make over…and over…and over again.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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“Holy Trinity” by Hans Baldung

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Do you know when the Trinity was manifested for the first time? In the small village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and said, “Hail, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Then he told Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High by the power of the Holy Spirit. The first public manifestation was at the baptism of Jesus.

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:21-22)

Even though the Holy Trinity is a mystery beyond our understanding, it is the means God has chosen to unite himself to those who choose to believe what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We do not have to understand in order to believe. As a matter-of-fact, the opposite is true. Much of what God has revealed to us is mysterious, and yet these mysteries touch our lives in such a profound way that it is possible for us to live in a supernatural relationship with Almighty God.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he reminds them that if they are children of God, they are also heirs with Christ, “…if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). Being a child of God does not make us immune to suffering. However, when we unite our suffering with Christ, he gives us the graces we need to persevere, and even at times experience joy during our trials.

We have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our purpose for being on this earth is to bring to completion the good work that was begun in us at our baptism. God has a great plan for humanity that can only be realized in relationship with him. It is for this reason he has given us the Church and the sacraments. We must remember that in our humanity we inherited a fallen nature and often we are tempted to want to live for ourselves at the expense of others. God has made it possible for us to overcome these temptations that lead to sadness and even hopelessness. He desires to pour his grace into the hearts of those who believe in him.

We need God; he created us to be in relationship with him. For this reason Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The only way we can discover God’s plan for us that will allow us to reach our potential for happiness and peace in this life is by being connected to Our Lord through fervent prayer, faithfulness to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures, and living the sacramental life.

In the last paragraph of the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew it states, “When they (the Apostles) all saw him (Jesus) they worshiped but they doubted.” This would be the last time they would see Jesus before he would ascend into heaven.

Jesus did not say to them, “Do you still not understand?” He said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you until the end of the age.” It isn’t about the Apostles; it is about Jesus who will be with them always. In the same way our baptismal commission to share the Good News is not about us; it has to do with our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit he promised to send to us.

It would be good for us to make note of the promises that God has given us in the Scriptures; promises of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit. One of those promises is again a mystery of our faith: through the prayers and actions of a priest, Jesus Christ himself will change bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. He loves us so much that he gives himself, body, blood soul and divinity to those who believe in him and are properly disposed. It is no casual thing that we receive this true and real presence of Jesus into our body and soul. Jesus wants us to cooperate with his presence and be transformed into his own likeness for our own good and the good of the whole Church.

St. John Paul II said, “In that little host is the solution to all our problems.” In this Holy Sacrament we have all we need for even the most difficult experience of our life if we truly believe.

“Will few be saved?”

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Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatory by William Blake

A few weeks ago, someone commented on a video claiming that most of the world will go to Hell and only a relative few will make it to the pearly gates.

As proof, he cited Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

Right out of the gate, it ought to be said that proof-texting is a Fundamentalist thing. Catholics should be wary of citing isolated Scripture verses out of context in order to “prove” a proposition.

Now let’s look at the verse. At first glance, it does seem to support the idea that only a piddling minority will be received into Heaven. It says right there: few! But look again and you’ll notice that nowhere in the verse are either Heaven or Hell mentioned.

It’s easy to read “the road to destruction” and “the road to life” as references to our eternal destination, but it’s not necessary. And it makes less sense when we look at the rest of the gospels and our daily experience.

Every waking hour of every day temptation presents itself, and every sin destructive. Telling a lie distorts the soul. It was only the eating of the forbidden fruit that lost paradise for Adam & Eve and all humanity down the line. The wages of sin is death, every time, to some degree: death to integrity, poison injected into relationships, the sapping of spiritual life. And all have sinned.

We all need grace, and lots of it. But is grace “narrow” and do “few” find it? Not really. It’s everywhere. In fact, a good number of saints have left the world with their last words, “Everything is grace.” If you only pay attention to what makes the world terrible, you’ll be less inclined and less able to see grace around you. And in you. But it’s there, and God gives freely and generously even to those who are undeserving (read: all of us).

So what does Christ mean by “few”?

Some have said that Jesus was in fact referring to Heaven in this verse, but that “few” to humans means something different than it does to God. For if any number of people refuse to enter into eternal life with God, how can the Father of Mercies believe that “enough” entered Heaven?

I like this idea, but I think the verse above means something else. I think Jesus wasn’t calling attention to our eternal fate, but to the possibility of sainthood here on earth.

The saints will always be the minority. Those who lived with heroic virtue and extraordinary holiness at the service of God and neighbor while on earth – they not only know the oceanic breadth of God’s grace and mercy, but the harrowing depth of unity with Christ. Think of Mother Teresa, who spent years in “darkness”, no longer feeling God’s intimacy as she once did, but soldiering on in faithfulness to Christ’s call. Think of how difficult it must be to live when you have surpassed the depth of faith of everyone else around you, save Christ. To suffer and still give joy to others – that’s the narrow road, and those who endure it on Earth and into Heaven, indeed, are relatively few.

But for the rest of humanity, the uncanonizable hoi poloi?

God’s mercy is such that it’s possible to sin and cause destruction – even sin greatly, and cause great destruction – and still be saved. Whether this takes place early in life or late, God’s willingness to take us as we are remains. Even if one is a great sinner, God will do His best to reach them. And even though one may not be an extraordinary saint, it doesn’t mean they’re inclined to fully reject God for all eternity.

Most likely, we’ll need some time sorting out the details in purgatory. St. Paul says:

Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corin. 3:11-15)

The saints are the people who “builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” – and make no mistake, God wants us to try to be saintly, on earth as it is in Heaven. But his mercy is wider than the earth.

Will few be saved?

Ultimately, we don’t know. But a) we don’t have to believe that only a few will be saved; and b) we ought to hope that all will be saved, just as God desires.

Mosaics and Motherhood

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When you step into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre Church built in Jerusalem, over the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus, the first thing you see is the Stone of Unction. It is here our Lord was taken down from the Cross and covered in a linen cloth for burial. It is here His mother held her Son in her arms for the last time. It is here, she made her last earthly act as mother.
On the wall directly behind the Stone of Unction is a mosaic showing all of this.

When you look at the mosaic from a distance, it looks like a painting, strokes upon strokes. It is not until you get up close you can see that the image is created instead by small individual tiles, placed one by one next to each other. It is remarkable how someone can see the big picture in their mind and know just when to change the color of the tile: gold to red, red to black and so on. Looking at this particular mosaic, you have to believe it was God who guided the artist.

Living the vocation of motherhood can be described similarly. Each day raising a child can be like one of the tiles of the mosaic. Some days are gold (birthdays, learning to ride a two-wheeler, discovering your best friend,) some days are red (first day of school, first time driving a car, first time stepping on a field or an auditorium stage,) and some days are black (an illness or injury, being rejected by a friend, a death of a loved one, tackling Algebra homework.)

With her maternal perspective, a mother guides her child. She celebrates the gold days, counsels through the red days and consoles in the black days.

My oldest son is looking for an apartment with his college buddy. He is eighteen years old and ready to venture out from under my wings. I was folding his clothes yesterday and remembering how the huge T-shirt with the Nike swoosh I am currently folding used to be so small, emblazoned on the front with two funny-looking fish saying, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

How many days have passed since then? How many tiles have been placed on his mosaic? How many days were gold? Were red? Were black?

I realize they cannot all be gold, for then what would the image be? There has to be a variety of colors: days of celebration, days of risk, and days of suffering, for a beautiful image to be created.

As I quickly approach one of my last earthly acts as my son’s mother, before he leaves me to continue the mosaic of his life, I offer a prayer of thanks to God. I thank Him for trusting me with so precious a life to guide and for giving me His Mother who understands and who helps me celebrate the good, counsels me through what comes next and consoles me as I let go.

The Holy Land Where You Are!

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Bishop of Cheyenne, WY, Paul Etienne, saying Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Tomb of Christ)

Bishop of Cheyenne, WY, Paul Etienne, saying Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Tomb of Christ)

My husband I have traveled to the Holy Land over forty-five times, on our own and leading groups of pilgrims. In the early 90’s, we heard the call from Jesus as we walked along the shores of Galilee, to lead people to the Holy Land: the Land of the Bible, the ‘Fifth Gospel’, the land sanctified by Jesus’ life!

It is so incredible to stand at the very sites where Jesus taught and healed! Catholic Churches are now built over the majority of these sites with sacred art describing what took place at each location. As a pilgrim in the Holy Land, walking into these Church buildings is like walking into the Scripture story of that site. The experience can be very enlightening, breath-taking and spiritual.

Light shines through stained glass windows and sets the tone for the Scripture story related to that site. Ahh… but there is something else we need to add to this picture: a burning Sanctuary Lamp candle by the main altar. It is a sign that Jesus is still present in the Eucharist kept in the Tabernacle.

For 2,000 years Catholic Christians have believed in the True Presence – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the consecrated Host (Eucharist).

As we visit the holy sites like Capernaum, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, each with their own Catholic churches, we continue to find Jesus in His Eucharistic presence!

In our own towns and cities, we can find a Catholic Church and search for the Sanctuary Lamp burning near the Tabernacle. Bl. Charles de Foucauld was a lay person who, after experiencing an encounter with Christ through prayer, decided to leave his military career to serve Christ in the simple way of living a life of prayer in Nazareth. He said, “Wherever the sacred Host is, there is the living God. There is your Savior as truly as when he lived and spoke in Judea, and Galilee, and as truly as he is now in paradise.”

St. Francis of Assisi said about the Eucharist:

“Looking at Him with the eyes of their flesh, they saw only His Flesh, but regarding Him with the eyes with of the spirit, they believed that He was God. In like manner, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, let us see and believe firmly that it is His Most Holy Body and Blood, True and Living. For in this way our Lord is ever present among those who believe in him, according to what He said, “Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

Visit a Catholic church, read a portion from one of the four Gospels as you sit before the Tabernacle, where Jesus is present in the Eucharist. There is your Savior as truly as when he lived and spoke in Judea and Galilee, and as truly as he is now in paradise – looking at you!

Emotional Catholics – How to Deal with Your Feelings

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Have you ever been confused by emotions — yours or someone else’s?

(I’m guessing 100% YES.)

You’re not alone; this is a common problem.  I struggle with it daily.  Why are emotions so confusing?  Well, the world is no longer the place God created it to be; originally, everything and everyone was in harmony with God.  As a result of free will, however, division reared its ugly head.  Now, the human condition suffers because of sin.

Our emotions are affected by all this.  Can you relate? — Spiritual director Father John Bartunek, LC, points out:

Our feelings often seem to have a mind of their own, independent of what we know to be true by reason or by faith.  At times, for example, I feel drawn to things that my conscience deems wrong and damaging but my emotions deem desirable (like sleeping in when I have important work to do…). At other times, I feel repulsed by things that my reason or my faith tells me are good and important but my emotions label as undesirable (like taking time out of my busy schedule to simply sit with the Lord and pray, or making a difficult but necessary phone call).
At still other times, the intensity of my emotions seems to have no basis in reality, and my moods swing wildly up and down, making life turbulent and chaotic (as when I take out my internal frustrations on someone I love, someone who has nothing to do with the real cause of those frustrations).

What’s the point of all this chaos??

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that our emotions are a bridge between A.) the world we experience, and B.) our mind (see CCC pp. 1764).  God gave us emotions for a reason: to help us process and express our experiences.

Often, we blame ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anger, and sadness as the source of our problems… “I wish I didn’t feel so _____.”

Widely-known Catholic psychologist Dr. Gregory Popcak explains : “The feeling isn’t the problem. The feeling is the warning light telling you to look for the problem.”  He continues:

Our emotions remind us of the need to strive for the Original Unity in which we were created to live.  Emotions are not the enemy.  In fact, they can serve us well as long as we don’t try to shut them down by rashly cutting people out of our lives, or by drinking, drugging, indulging our passions, or taking foolish risks in a desperate, reactionary attempt to plug our ears to the warning bells and blindfold ourselves so we can’t see the flashing red lights.

This used to be my hidden problem. I would often bury my feelings rather than face them and examine their cause.  When I got married, my husband began to teach me how to healthily deal with my emotions.  However, I came to learn that in our imperfect world, none of us have perfectly-formed emotions.  When my anxiety began to exceed the understanding of both myself and my spouse, my husband urged me to seek professional help.

I did not like that advice at all.  Pride and vanity kept me away; our society tends to see counseling as something ‘desperate people’ or ‘messed up people’ need.  ‘Those people’ were below me, I thought.  On top of that lay the fear of the unknown.  Thankfully, I did muster up the courage to begin sessions with a professional counselor.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

—> So, how can a Catholic deal with the chaos of his or her emotions?

  1. Take care of yourself.  As Catholics, we believe that body and soul are integrated. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body” (CCC pp. 365).  So, whatever we do to our bodies will affect our emotions.   Sometimes all you need is a good night’s sleep to regulate those out-of-whack feelings.
  2. Make time to pray and be silent.  Recent psychological research has demonstrated that spiritual meditation, prayer, and feeling close to God helps regulate one’s emotions (see source below).  Think about it: If your emotions are a God-given gift, then spending time with God can help us understand that gift.  Moreover, the ‘information overload’ we experience in today’s world can not only be distracting and disorienting, but researchers have evidence that it actually tires out the brain worse than marijuana use.  Silence and prayer are so important.
  3. Stop and listen to your emotions.  What are they telling you?  Journaling may help.  If your emotions seem overwhelming or somehow disordered, don’t hesitate to ask for expert guidance.  Email Christopher Stravitsch with Rejoice Family Apostolate for a Catholic counselor recommendation in the San Antonio or Houston area.  Live elsewhere? Use CatholicTherapists.com.
  4.  Thank God.  Your emotions are a gift.  Thank God for the time, people, and resources he has provided you to help sort them out.  Have hope!  Though your feelings may be confusing now, remember that through discipline and seeking help, you will draw closer to peace and union with God thanks to more healthy, well-formed emotions.  What an awesome gift!

Research source cited: Carolyn M. Aldwin, Crystal L. Park, Yu-Jin Jeong, Ritwik Nath. Differing pathways between religiousness, spirituality, and health: A self-regulation perspective.. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2014; 6 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1037/a0034416

Blessed are the Pure of Heart

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“The Eucharist and other people are the two most sacred objects you will ever lay eyes on.” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Christ did not die for the good and the beautiful” – Shusaku Endo

I haven’t identified as “pro-life” since college, not because I disagree with pro-life principles, but because movements give me the jibblies. But pro-lifers are doing good work, and lately I’ve been especially impressed.

Abby Johnson, former Tyler, Texas Planned Parenthood Director, pro-life author, speaker, and founder of And Then There Were None (offering financial, emotional, and legal support for anyone wanting to leave the abortion industry), spoke alongside Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, leading advocate against the death penalty. They presented at the Consistent Life Ethic Conference in Austin, Texas.

Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) is a term used to describe opposition to abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and unjust war, as forms of violence against the ultimate dignity of the person. Joseph Cardinal Bernadin promoted the idea after the Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan challenged 1970’s pro-lifers to adopt a holistic defense of all human life. “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy,” Cardinal Bernadin told a Portland, Oregon audience.

At the conference in Austin, topics included abortion, racism, feminism, and the death penalty. The latter presentation garnered a low turnout, but it was an applause-worthy effort to get people talking about all of these issues under the same roof.

Especially interesting was that the feminism talk was given by Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Kristen Walker Hatten of New Wave Feminists, a group of pro-life and good humored feminists whose work I’ve come to admire more and more.

New Wave Feminists-1

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, left; Kristen Walkter Hatten, right.

Another proud moment: not long ago I opened Facebook to see this conversation from a pro-life friend, two days after a woman was arrested for throwing a molotov cocktail at a group keeping vigil in front of an Austin Planned Parenthood.

LConvo

My friends, this is exactly the way that Christ flips the world upside down.

Christ Overturning the Money Changer's Table - Stanley Spencer (1921)

Christ Overturning the Money Changer’s Table – Stanley Spencer (1921)

Of course, I can hear the objections. Let her get angry if she wants to! The world will always hate those who stand up for the Truth, but how is she going to learn the Truth if you don’t tell her! More than giving her toothpaste, love means teaching people the Truth even if they’ll get mad. She may just think some pro-choice people sent her the money.

There are problems with this way of thinking.

First, have you ever received a gift that wasn’t really a gift? Your friend buys you a stick of deodorant, and you’re like, Oh, how thoughtful. It’s like that, especially if for some reason you were someone violently opposed to deodorant.

Second, Christ didn’t say, “Love your enemies so that you might win them over or convert them.” He said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . [your heavenly Father] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. . . . So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Kindness, mercy, love of enemies are all part of the truth, part of the “light of the world”. They don’t need to be attached to another message in order to scatter the darkness, and indeed, shining too much light on someone who’s lived under lacquered skies can be too unsettling to be much help. Yes, Christ “told it like it is” when push came to shove, but that’s not a license for Christians to SHOVE SHOVE SHOVE because maybe it’ll help.

Third, if she doesn’t know pro-lifers sent her money, so what? We can’t fastidiously ensure every single scattered seed takes root in the way we see fit. Such an approach is not only doomed to fail, it’s terrible for our own spiritual health. Our own hearts are knotted with good intentions and bad intentions, wounds and selfishness, and charades that only God sees through. Other people’s hearts are ever more shrouded in mystery. Yes, the world is in bad shape, and we are called to do our part. But only God sees clearly, only God is the source of all grace, and because of our limitations, we must seek to imitate God’s respect for human freedom.

Freedom is what dignifies us and enables us to live as temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are not to bring our own schemes into the temples of our Father. We must learn how to love while respecting their freedom – not always an easy task. When we persist in trying to change people when they’re cornered and have no choice, we aren’t reflecting God. Instead, we come across looking like terrible sea lions.

Terrible Sea Lion

Maybe in a year the woman who threw a molotov cocktail will still be pro-choice. Maybe she’ll die pro-choice. But she’ll receive mercy in prison, and that’s reason enough. Hopefully too, she’ll be more predisposed to receive mercy on the last day. And in the mean time, you know, find less reasons to firebomb people.

Scatter and move on. The rest is God’s business.

You’ll notice that these reasons are for both parties: the gift giver and the receiver. This is because every single person is a living image and likeness of God.We are brothers and sisters to Christ. We are equals in the eyes of the Lamb of God. What one person needs to receive, another person needs to give. That’s another foundation corner of the consistent life ethic: we need each other. No matter what sins we’re guilty of, we need each other.

Pray that God will give us a pure heart to see this.

“Beatitude 6 – Consciousness” – Stanley Spencer
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (in other people).
Matthew 5:8