Often I get asked a few questions:
How do you know there’s a God?
How do you know that Christianity is the right religion?
Faith, of course. But never without reason.
As children, when we see something, we intuitively always inquire about its origins and inner workings.
Where did this table come from? Who made it? Where did the book come from? How is it made?
How come the telly can switch on with a flick of the button?
It seems reasonable that a child asks such questions. It is after all in our nature to be drawn towards the truth.
Imagine a parent now tells the child that the answer to the above questions is: “Chance”.
Stupid parent at best, lazy parent at worst.
Somehow… when it comes to the biggest questions of the world: “How did the world come to be?”… We seem to be content with the answer “it just happened by CHANCE.”
Quoting Pope St. John Paul II (General Audience of Wed, 10 July 1985) because he has expressed it so concisely:
“To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements, and such a marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be an abdication of human intelligence which would thus refuse to think, to seek a solution for its problems.”
Prayers today for people who find it hard to even conceive of a day where they might believe that there is a creator of this world.
Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.
For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.
“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
The great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.
1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
This morning I listened to the always enlightening Bishop Barron talk about Frassati. First of all, Bishop Barron is a national treasure and I 10 out of 10 recommend the Word on Fire Show. Secondly, let’s take a minute to talk about our boy, Frassati.
Frassati’s life is an example of how grace and faith can grow in the most surprising places. Frassati wasn’t raised in a faith-filled home like so many of the Saints. His father was a prominent Italian politician and his mother a well-known painter. His father was agnostic, and his mother was *vaguely* Catholic. Frassati wasn’t given a spiritual upbringing but found one for himself instead.
Even from a young age and without any humanly prompting he was captivated by the Eucharist and the liturgy. He would disappear for hours at a time and visit the chapels for Eucharistic adoration causing his parents to frantically search for him. (Now where have I heard that story before? *cough cough* finding at the temple *Cough cough*)
Similar to his surprising devotion to the faith, he also had a devotion to the poor. He gave all his money and all his time to the poor. He was truly a man of the poor. He was both their caretaker and their advocate. His love of the poor was so brilliant that when he died of polio at the age of 24 his funeral was a HUGE event. It wasn’t his prominent parents’ friends who overwhelmed the event, but the poor. His funeral was a massively-attended event because of the massive amount of people he attended to and cared for while he was living.
When we hear about mountain-climbing Frassati’s “Verso L’alto” we are reminded of his acceptance of grace and his determination to climb closer to Christ. Frassati was a man of action. First, he accepted grace into his life and then boldly ACTED. May he be an example to us all. To the heights!!! Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.
The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most common images associated with Catholicism. Numerous Catholic churches and schools are named after the Sacred Heart and many churches contain an image or statue of the Sacred Heart.
But how often do we stop to think what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is actually all about? What was Christ communicating to us when He revealed His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century? Why did the Church establish a feast day devoted to the Sacred Heart and does this devotion still have relevance for us today?
For human beings, the heart symbolizes the very center of our being since it is the organ that keeps us alive by pumping blood around the whole body. It also symbolizes the depths of our feelings and therefore our capacity for love. We speak of being ‘heart-broken’ when something tragic happens to us, when someone we love dies, a friend betrays us or our love is rejected. When we desire to be close to others we refer to ‘speaking from the heart’ or having a ‘heart to heart’ conversation.
All of this tells us much about why Jesus desired a devotion to His Sacred Heart. He wanted to be close to us, to reveal to us the depths of His love for us, and to call us to respond to this love by loving Him in return and extending that love to others. Indeed He gave the commandment to His followers to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12).
Since St. John told us that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing other than acknowledging and reinforcing this revelation of who God is, and asking us to enter more deeply into his love.
From 1673 to 1675, Our Lord appeared several times to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. The first apparition took place on 27 December 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. Interestingly, it was St. John who was called the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, and who rested his head near Christ’s heart at the Last Supper (John 13: 23).
Christ showed St. Margaret Mary His Sacred Heart which was crowned with flames and a cross, and encircled by a crown of thorns. She also saw that His heart was pierced. This corresponds with the fact that Christ’s side was pierced with a lance when He hung on the cross (John 19:20).
Jesus expressed to St. Margaret Mary His desire that a devotion to His Sacred Heart be established and a feast day on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.
As part of this devotion, Jesus asked that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, in honor of His Sacred Heart. This is known as the First Friday devotion.
The feast day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially established in 1765 and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart.
In his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII wrote:
… Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race … Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.
He further wrote: “The Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer.”
Let us celebrate the great feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with particular fervor, since it announces to the world the unfathomable love and mercy of Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us each and every day!
The 12 promises of Christ to those who have devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, as revealed to St Margaret Mary:
(1) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
(2) I will establish peace in their homes.
(3) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
(4) I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
(5) I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
(6) Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
(7) Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
(8) Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
(9) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10) I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
(11) Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart.
(12) I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.
Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.
I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?
To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.
On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.
The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.
Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.
Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.
After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– lack of prayer life
Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
A few weeks earlier, Peter had stood outside the courtyard of the high priest, weeping bitterly. He had disowned Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Peter was filled with grief when he realized what he had done: despite the fact that he had vowed to stand by Jesus in every possible trial, despite his complete devotion, he had buckled at the first bit of pressure and cast aside the One who meant everything to him.
We might imagine that we would defend our faith in any circumstance, but when those situations actually arise, often our discomfort leads us to hide our true colors and pretend that we are just another face in the crowd, not a follower of Christ. There’s a fine line between trying not to force our faith upon others and hiding it altogether, and it can be all too easy amid a secular environment to act as though we are ashamed of our relationship with Jesus.
Yes, there will be consequences for defending Christ. But there are worse consequences for denying Him. We can’t allow the possible reactions of others to distance us from the Source of all joy and love, as though their approval were the real key to our happiness. And in fact, we might be surprised at others’ openness to our faith—it might end up being a point of connection between us.
Chances are, at one point or another we’re going to mess this up. We’re going to drop the ball when presented with opportunities to witness to our faith, and we’re going to hide our light under a bushel basket out of fear. But Peter shows us that this, too, can be a path to grace. When we realize our shortcomings and failures, we can follow the way of Peter, the way of humility. We can begin to understand that we will never be able to carry out our grandiose plans on our own, that we are truly dependent upon Jesus for everything.
Our God is a God of second chances. How tender Jesus was to Peter, to grant him this moment: He set the scene over again, with a charcoal fire burning just as there was in the courtyard of the high priest, and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter was able to reply, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He was given a second chance, a do-over of the worst mistake he’d ever made. Jesus saw Peter’s sorrow and contrition, and in His mercy He stepped in to restore the relationship. Not only that, but He entrusted the Church to Peter as the first pope. He cast Peter’s sins as far as the east is from the west, giving him a fresh start. He does this for us, too. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, he will give us another chance if we’re willing to try again—and, this time, to call upon His help to guide us.
1. James Tissot, The Sorrow of Saint Peter / PD-US
2. James Tissot, Saint Peter Walks on the Sea / PD-US
3. James Tissot, Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles / PD-US
Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
[Warning: spoilers ahead]
Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.
To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.
In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.
The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.
As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.
In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?
Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.
Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.
Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.
I was excited when I learned that the life of Saint Paul was going to be made into a movie. Among the saints, Saint Paul is one who has a movie-worthy life: his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, a daring escape plan that involved being lowered down the window in a basket, preaching and provoking riots and getting arrested several times, shipwreck, remaining unharmed after being bitten by a viper.
Paul, Apostle of Christ turned out different from what I expected. It is meditative, a bit slow-paced in the beginning, and intellectual. It assumes that the viewer knows a bit about Saint Paul. Nevertheless, the movie is still accessible, and though the movie could have been improved by better storytelling and more action, it is not devoid of tension and drama.
In short, I loved the movie despite its flaws.
Paul, Apostle of Christ opened at the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s crackdown against Christians after the burning of Rome. Christians were being persecuted, and Saint Paul was arrested, imprisoned in the Mamertine Prisons, and condemned to death by beheading. (For parents concerned with the appropriateness of this movie for their children, the movie depicts scenes of Christians being burned as human torches, the bloody body of a dead child, and Christians, including children, in prison waiting to be thrown to the lions).
The movie follows Saint Luke’s frequent visits to Saint Paul in prison, seeking wisdom for a struggling Christian community in Rome and in order to document Saint Paul’s story in what was later to be the Acts of the Apostles. The movie also follows the subplots of the dilemma of the Christian community whether to stay in Rome or escape, the conflicts with a faction of Christians who want to raise arms against Nero, a Roman officer’s attempt to understand Christianity, and Saint Paul’s own internal conflict grappling with his past as a persecutor of Christians himself.
One of the movie’s strengths was making Saint Paul’s words come alive, putting them in the context in which they were written – a context not so different from our own times. I like how the scriptwriter chose appropriate Pauline quotes for the different situations that the movie depicted. The themes of love, forgiveness, and hope will be appreciated by many.
I also like how the movie made Saint Paul himself come alive, highlighting his mental sharpness and his zeal for souls which made seize every available opportunity to speak about Christ to everyone, even his executioners.
Another of the movie’s strengths is its depiction of the first Christians – how they lived fraternally among themselves, how their ideals clashed with those of pagan Rome, how they sustained hope and witnessed to Christ in their ordinary lives amidst persecution. The Christian characters other than Saint Paul are just as lovable, and one of my favorite parts is when a certain Christian character’s excellent practice of his profession became an occasion of grace for a non-believer.
However, the movie could have given more emphasis on the Eucharist as the sustaining and unifying force of the Christian community. There was a lot of focus on the teachings of Christ as transmitted by Saint Paul, but not enough on the Bread of Life which was the center of life and worship among the first Christians, and which was also a central theme of Pauline writings. More emphasis on the Eucharist would have been also been an apt counterpoint to the movie scenes showing sacrifices to the pagan Roman gods.
Despite its flaws, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy effort to present the apostle’s life and teachings. Its depiction of Saint Paul as a man with a rich inner life and silent power beneath his aging, battered exterior complements my image of him as a passionate and energetic preacher and man of action. Watching the movie gave me a greater appreciation of Saint Paul’s role in the early Church, and how his teachings are as relevant today as they were during those times.
Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:
“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”
I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.
She goes on to say:
“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well, probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.
Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:
“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.
Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.
They are impossible.
Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.
Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.
Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
“Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Or to pick another example:
“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.
Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.
Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Five years ago, my entire world had collapsed. My mother was dying of cancer, I was unemployed and battling drug addiction, and my first long-term girlfriend, the light of my life, had left me. I was an atheist, and it felt like everything that made my life meaningful had been stripped away. I had nothing left to live for.
One evening, after having been awake on “ice” for about five days, I was emotionally at the lowest I have ever been. I thought, “I’m done. What’s the point of it all? It would just be simpler and I would be less of a burden on everyone if I just wasn’t here.”
That night, I was out to dinner with my parents. When I returned to the table, my mother was speaking to a lady, and introduced us. I briefly said hello, not engaging in a proper conversation on account of feeling like an empty shell. Then I left to go home by myself.
I got into the car and just sat there with the car door open, unable to move in my utter despair. I kept going over everything in my head: how I had lost my girlfriend, how I was slowly losing my mother to cancer, and considering the waste I had made of my life since becoming an adult. It was all too much. So, very calmly, I considered driving down the highway at an extreme speed and turning the wheel sharply with enough force to roll the car into either oncoming traffic or a safety rail.
After about 20 minutes, my mother’s friend emerged from the pub and approached my car. At least, that was what it looked like, until I realized that she was heading to her car, which was parked next to mine. She noticed me and bid me good night. With what I imagine was a very sad and empty look on my face, I returned her salutation. She perceived that I was in pain and decided to sit down with me. I expressed to her how I was feeling, that everything was just pointless and how I felt like I was a waste of oxygen.
This conversation was just enough to bring my mind back into a realistic space of reason. And I am of the firm belief that this conversation enabled me to get home safely that evening without resorting to reckless and selfish actions that would have brought such destruction and pain to the lives of others. Now as a Catholic Christian, I say that it was God who held me there in my seat for 20 minutes, knowing that I didn’t really want to do something stupid but needed a point of reference that I was unable to provide for myself at that moment. He inspired this lady to come out at the precise moment she did to provide that point of reference.
This past Easter, I was received into the Catholic Church. A relapse had led me to take up residence in a men’s shelter beside a humble little church near the Brisbane River, with a personal vow to give up drugs forever. Living among other addicts, I recognized that our Heavenly Father had brought me to this place as a means to be able to face my demons head on, to practice saying no to drugs when offered. I recognized that if God had brought me here to honor my vow in an environment surrounded by illicit substance use, then I should trust that He wouldn’t just leave me to battle on my own. I believed He was there and if I was willing to work with Him to overcome this poisonous struggle, I would be able to access an invaluable source of strength to be able to say no the moment drugs were offered, before it even became a temptation. This strength came from no-one other than Christ Jesus: “I can do all things through He who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) As I stayed clean, I was able to see how those around me were affected by substance abuse. Is that how I was when I was under the influence? I never want to go back there!
The parish community welcomed me, and the priests were patient with me and my views and rambling interpretations of scripture. I developed a close bond with one of the priests and really resonated with how he explained aspects of Sacred Tradition to me. To top it off, God had a splendid surprise in store!
During a weekly prayer meeting, I began chatting with an Anglican lady, who was also in the process of being received into the Catholic Church. When I told her my name, it rang a bell. She said that she believed that she knew my parents. She then mentioned our old local hotel and a wave of realization swept over me. This was the woman who had had a chat with me one night in a parking lot, five and a half years ago when I was at my lowest and didn’t believe in God. It is truly amazing how God works in our lives, showing us that when we open ourselves to a real relationship with Him, we make room for Him to move and guide us in the most marvelous ways.
All these years later, thanks to that woman’s kind words, I have survived the dark times of my life, and have had the privilege of entering into the joy of the Catholic faith, beginning a new relationship, and seeking gainful employment, having been freed of the shackles of my past.
Today, as I go about my business, I make it a point to speak words of encouragement and good cheer to people in the shops and the streets. You never know whose life you might save with a mere smile, whose hope you might reignite today with consolation, whose soul you might draw to God by being Christ to them.
I like to tell people: “Each and every day as you go about your business, along the way, seek out and find others to deliberately engage with them with the sole intention of sharing your smile, because your smile is a gift God has given us to inspire the world. So go and inspire those around you. You just don’t know whose life you might save.”
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. – G. K. Chesterton
In all things discern the wisdom and providence of God, and in all things give Him thanks. – St. Teresa of Avila
The human spirit without the flame of divine love tends to reach the level of the beast, while on the other hand, charity, the love of God, raises even to the throne of God. Give thanks without ever growing weary for the liberality of such a good Father and ask Him to increase holy charity more and more in your heart. – Padre Pio
My boyfriend is a fresh convert to Catholicism, and he has an endearing/irritating habit of pausing to say grace before ingesting just about everything.
Early in our relationship, he said grace over a cup of tea, and I sighed, “Soon you’ll be on the level of my friend Clare, who says grace before drinking water!”
He smiled sheepishly. “I do that too!”
Sometimes it amuses or annoys me, because I’m using to keeping grace just for main meals, and pausing to say grace before every bit of nutrition is unfamiliar to me; I am impatient to just get on with things. But the more I pause to say grace before downing cups of tea, nibbling on biscuits, or vegging out in front of the TV with my beloved and a mug of hot chocolate, the more it creates a spirit of thankfulness for the many blessings I usually take for granted.
I am reminded of a story about St. Dominic Savio, the young student of St. John Bosco:
… there was a visitor in the house who was asked to stay for dinner. When the meal was put on the table, the man sat down and began eating without making the Sign of the Cross or saying any prayer. Dominic did not presume to correct the visitor, but left the table and stayed away until the visitor had gone. When asked by his parents why he had acted in this very unusual way, he said, “I did not like to be at table with one who eats just like animals do.” (Don Bosco, Life of Dominic Savio)
We humans have been given the gift of an intellect which can recognize the gratuitousness of all creation and the workings of Divine Providence in our lives. Let us pause to give thanks for every blessing from our Heavenly Father, and thus be moved to return our love for His in all that we do.
One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth one thousand thank yous when things are agreeable to our inclination. – St. John of Ávila
Giving thanks is not weakness but strength, for it involves self-repression. – Venerable Archbishop Sheen, Those Mysterious Priests
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
You ought to ask our Lord for just one thing, to love Him. All the rest should be thanksgiving. – Padre Pio
Last year, I finished Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.
I am sure some of you know about his book 33 Days to Morning Glorysold by the Marian Fathers. The Marian book talks about Marian consecration according to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
In The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Gaitley talked about how they printed 1 million Spanish copies of the Marian book and gave 100,000 for free to Mexico.
This was very important because the drug war there led to a lot of killings. One reason why there were so many killings is because of their devotion to “Santa” Muerte, aka “Saint” of Death. The devotion is practiced by gruesome killings. They do this to gain power from the demonic spirits.
He said that this was very important because Marian Consecration in the US and Mexico is being promoted by their bishops etc to combat the killings and abortion. The Mexican bishops consecrated their entire dioceses to Mama Mary.
Does Marian Consecration work? Yes! How do we know? Let me give you two concrete examples in recent history.
Before WWII, Mama Mary got St Maximilian Kolbe to promote Marian consecration throughout Poland. Through this, she strengthened her children for the coming war. The Poles were heroically charitable and generous even in the midst of inhumane persecution and oppression. St Maximilian also went to Nagasaki, Japan to promote Marian consecration there. He also passed by Manila en route back to Poland. Notice anything about these places? Warsaw, Poland and Manila were the most devastated cities of World War II. Nagasaki was the site of the atomic bomb. Mama Mary sent him to prepare the places that would be most devastated by promoting Marian Consecration.
In more recent history; my country, the Philippines, received the best proof of this during the 1987 EDSA People Power Revolution.
In 1985, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines dedicated the year as a Marian Year. All throughout the country, there would be posters of Mama Mary. There would be conferences about Marian spirituality. Parishioners were encouraged to pray the Rosary.
This renewed devotion to Mother Mary was in the midst of Martial Law, Marcos’ dictatorship where thousands were arbitrarily abducted, tortured and killed.
From February 21 until 25, 1986, thousands of people congregated along EDSA street. In the face of tanks and soldiers, they prayed the Rosary, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession for peace in the land. They offered flowers to the soldiers. And miraculously, there was no bloodshed. The soldiers lowered their weapons and accepted the flowers. The dictator Marcos fled to Hawaii. Peace and democracy was restored to the Philippines.
It remarkable that EDSA is short for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, “Epiphany of the Saints.” Yes, this was its name even before the peaceful revolution! The day that manifested the power of everyday saints and Mama Mary’s protection and intercession.
In the world today, there is much confusion and chaos. ISIS, Syrian war in the Middle East. Migrant crisis and economic uncertainty in Europe. Abortion and euthanasia in the United States and Canada. The genocide of drug suspects in the Philippines. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the only way the world can find peace is if it turns with trust to Mama Mary. If the Catholics throughout the world consecrated themselves to Mama Mary, her Immaculate Heart would triumph once more.
Remember that this was her promise at Fatima: that if Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, the world would find peace. St John Paul II accomplished this at Fatima on March 25, 1984. But now our Lord and our Lady are calling us to do the same. We can find peace and healing if we consecrate ourselves to Mother Mary, entrusting ourselves to her perfect care; she will bring peace back to the world as only the gentlest of mothers could.
So now as we near the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I encourage everyone to make take advantage of this special season of grace. Pray the Rosary and consecrate yourselves to Mama Mary. As she has shown throughout history, she can bring about peace in the midst of the greatest adversities. And should God permit us to suffer, she will give us the grace, courage and strength to love one another as Christ loves us on the Cross.
Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.
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