Tag Archives: Mother Teresa

Talking to God in Prayer

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” (Mt 20:20-21)

Mother knows best but God knows us even more. Whether it was the prayer or wish of the mother, God did not grant her request because He knew James and John even more than their mother did.

It is good to examine ourselves on our manner of prayer to God. How do we pray? When we pray, what do we tell God? Do we give Him a litany of our request for favors? Do we dictate to God what we want? “God, please give me this and that!” Is our prayer purely about what we want in life? “Mine! Mine! Mine!” “Me! Me! Me!”

Then, it is not a prayer. It is just a mere monologue. We are just simply talking to ourselves and listening to our own voice.

What is prayer? Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Prayer is not asking. Praying is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition and listening to His voice in the depths of our heart.”

Prayer is an encounter with God. It can only happen if we truly put ourselves in His presence so we can hear Him in the silence of our hearts.

Charity

O my Jesus, Thou who art very Love, enkindle in my heart that Divine Fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee.
O Lord our God, we offer Thee our hearts, united in the strongest and most sincere love of brotherhood; we pray that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament may be the daily food of our souls and bodies; that Jesus may be established as the center of our affections, even as He was for Mary and Joseph. Finally, O Lord, may sin never disturb our union on earth; and may we be eternally united in heaven with Thee and Mary and Joseph and with all Thy Saints. Amen.

What do you think of when you see the word “charity”? Is it not works of altruistic love? Mother Teresa said: “The fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.” Faith without works is dead,1 and so is love. As St. Anthony of Padua declared, “actions speak louder than words.”2 Love is an act of the will. It is impossible to be charitable without an act. Just try it. When you love, you naturally want to do things or to sacrifice for your beloved. In fact, the word “altruism” comes from the Latin alteri, “to the other.”3 To love is to will the good of the other; and the good of the other is always in accordance with the will of God. Thus, to exercise charity is to become Godlike, to live out our baptismal priesthood as an Alter Christus ministering to the children of God. Charity is thus not only what we do, but the essence of who we are; as the hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” St. Augustine says, “When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves. For beyond any doubt, a man with a right love also has the right faith and hope. But one who has no love, believes in vain, even though what he believes may be the truth.”4 After all, “the devils also believe and tremble.”5 St. Paul tells us that “the true faith of Christ is… faith that works by charity.”6 Therefore, “charity is not merely the supreme virtue… it is further an abiding condition and state without which any knowledge or other term of the Christian life would be impossible.”7

As the Catechism notes, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.”8 When we are charitable, we see Christ in our neighbor, even the most intolerable one. St. Thérèse recounts that a nun whom she found highly annoying asked, “My dear Sister Thérèse, tell me what attraction you find in me, for whenever we meet, you greet me with such a sweet smile.” The saint explains, “Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul—Jesus Who maketh sweet even that which is most bitter.” Thérèse tells us, “A heart given to God loses nothing of its natural affection—on the contrary, this affection grows stronger by becoming purer and more spiritual.”9 Charity goes far beyond tolerance. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote,

“Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. The roots of this word are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain,” and tollere, which means “to lift up.” It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It’s actually a negative idea. And it is not a Christian virtue. Catholics have the duty not to “tolerate” other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task.”10

“Authentic love is an act of the will. Genuine love has two essential elements: self-sacrifice and commitment. Perfect love is total self-sacrifice and complete commitment.”11 Charity is not a one-off thing – it must be an ongoing part of our lives. As Nicholas Sparks wrote, “Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.”12

The Catechism continues: Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘makes charity the new commandment.13 By loving His own “to the end,”14 He makes manifest the Father’s love which He receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love.” And again: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”’15 St. Thomas Aquinas understood charity as “the friendship of man for God”, which unites us to God.16 According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute requirement for happiness, which he holds as man’s last goal,17 our telos.18 This is evinced in the Last Judgement account of Matthew 25, where men are judged by their works of mercy.19 As St. John of the Cross says, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” Christ tells us: “If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother; he is a liar. For he that loves not his brother, whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he sees not?”20 We Chinese have a saying: 爱屋及乌 – “love for a person extends even to the crows on his roof”. To love God is to love His family. St. Augustine declared, “Extend your love over the whole earth if you desire to love Christ, for Christ’s members are all over the earth.”21

“The love that is caritas is distinguished by its origin, being divinely infused into the soul, and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. The infused habit of charity increases any will’s natural ability to love. Furthermore, charity is also responsible for a morally good act becoming meritorious, that is, meriting an increase in grace or charity in this life and beatitude in the life to come. Since this refers to the supernatural order, namely, the capacity to share more intensely in the inner life of God through acts of love, it is a gratuitous gift dependent on what God freely deigns to give as a reward for loving Him. Over and above the added intensity a habit like charity imparts to one’s act of love of God, the habit also serves as a lasting mark in the soul, even when it is not eliciting an act of love. Charity indicates that the nature possessing it ‘is formally accepted by God as habitually able to be beatified and that the acts elicited with its help are accepted as meritorious.’ Using St. Augustine’s simile comparing the will to a horse and habitual grace or charity to its rider, Blessed John Duns Scotus explains that the horse is free to throw its rider (destroy charity through mortal sin) or it may not follow the guidance of the rider (and then its actions are not meritorious, but are either indifferent or venially sinful), or, thirdly, it may choose to follow where charity leads (and then its action is meritorious).”22

Professor William May writes:

“According to Aquinas, the principle of our moral-spiritual life is charity or the love of God, whereby we are ordered to Him as our final end. If charity within the person is lost, there is no inner source within the person to repair the harm he has done in sinning. Mortal sin destroys charity or the principle of our moral-spiritual life.”23 The two precepts of charity, to love God and to love our neighbor, constitute the life of the soul. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’;24 it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice.”25

So, how exactly may we practice charity?

As you well know, St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity is patient, is kind: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up; is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never falls away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.”26

God is love,27 and again, to be charitable is to be Godlike. “[God] is patient and kind; [God] does not envy or boast; [He] is not arrogant or rude. [He] does not insist on [His] own way; [He] is not irritable or resentful; [He] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [God] bears all things…, endures all things. [God] never ends.”28 Here is the template for the Christian life, to love always and everywhere, especially when it is most difficult. The Dominican Fr. Herbert McCabe said, “If you truly love, one day, you will be crucified. If you do not love, you are dead already.” “Christ died out of love for us, while we were still ‘enemies.’ The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.”29

St. Thérèse writes,

I read in St. Matthew: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” There are, of course, no enemies in the Carmel; but, after all, we have our natural likes and dislikes. We may feel drawn towards one Sister, and may be tempted to go a long way round to avoid meeting another. Well, Our Lord tells me that this is the Sister to love and pray for, even though her behavior may make me imagine she does not care for me. “If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.” And it is not enough to love, we must prove our love; naturally one likes to please a friend, but that is not charity, for sinners do the same.30

Thus, you can see that true charity is not some feel-good thing, but requires strength, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, and often involves doing what you’d rather not do. Peter Kreeft says:

“God is love. And love is not “luv”. “Luv” is nice. Love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the Big Bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.”31 God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.32

Moreover, charity fulfills and perfects the divine law given in the Ten Commandments.33 We as Christians live no longer merely by negative moral precepts, but by the positive law written in our hearts; in fact, this life of charity present in our hearts is God Himself, the Divine Law-Giver, the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Since God has first loved us,34 love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”35 He continued:

“The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy.”36

Citing John Duns Scotus, the Pope Emeritus observed, “Just as God’s love, God’s charity, was at the origin of all things, so too our eternal happiness will be in love and charity alone: ‘willing, or the loving will, is simply eternal life, blessed and perfect.’”37

“Charity, as St. Paul writes, ‘is not self-seeking’, meaning that it places the common good before its own. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity.”38 St. Paul told the Romans, “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”39 “Charity, especially fraternal charity, is opposed to self-love. As it was self-love that originally destroyed the unity of man and the harmony of his powers, so it is charity, made possible to us in Christ, which restores that unity and harmony.”40 Supernatural charity is, “properly speaking, a ‘catholic’ (universal) love”,41 a disinterested love that moves you to act like the Good Samaritan or like Maximilian Kolbe. This is not a vague affection for the mereological sum of humans. Linus said to Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”42 Supernatural charity moves you to sacrifice even for the particular neighbor you can’t stand!

By this time, you may well be frightened at the demands made upon you by charity. But fear not! Mother Teresa said, “If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own power. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart because God cannot fill what is already full. It is as simple as that.” To live a life of charity, you must depend completely on God and be nourished by Christ present in the sacraments. Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est,

eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realised. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).”43

Moreover, living by love doesn’t mean just pouring it all out on your neighbor; it is also a great charity to accept and express gratitude for their kindnesses to us, no matter how small or clumsy they may seem. Think of a parent allowing a child to help with the cooking, although he might make a mess and get in the way – that’s an image of how God allows us to participate in His great work of redemption, and how we can respond to others. I read somewhere that when you accept help, you’re actually allowing your fellow man to work out his salvation in deeds of grace-filled love. Love is a two-way street.

One final important point. St. Maximus the Confessor reflected that “Charity unites (us) with God and deifies (us).”44 It draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, as explained by Professor Wadell, charity “makes us like God, but it does not make us God… it makes us more fully ourselves. If charity made us identical to God, then our friendship with God would be over for we would no longer be the ‘other’ every friendship requires… The likeness to God charity brings is really the most radical individuation.”45 Indeed, Jesus declared that He came that we may have life to the full,46 and St. Irenaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. When we live by charity, God’s kingdom will come and His will shall be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. God love you! Let us pray: “Lord God, living light of eternal love, grant that always aglow with charity, we may love You above all else, and our brethren for Your sake, with one and the self-same love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

____

1 James 2:20.

2 St Anthony of Padua, homily [http://catholicradiodramas.com/saints/a/anthony-of-padua/actions-speak-louder-than-words/] (accessed 12 October 2014).

3 Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary [http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=altruism] (accessed 12 October 2014).

4 Augustine, Enchiridion De Fide Spe et Caritate. The Newman Press, (Westminster, Maryland, 1952), p. 108.

5 James 2:19.

6 Augustine, op. cit., p. 109, cf. Galatians 5:6.

7 Polycarp Sherwood OSB, STD, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life; The Four Centuries on Charity. Ancient Christian Writers Volume XXI. The Newman Press (Westminster, Maryland, 1955), p. 92.

8 CCC 1822.

9 St Thérèse, Story of a Soul [http://www.storyofasoul.com/?page_id=18] (accessed 12 October 2014).

10 Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Render Unto Caesar [http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54] (accessed 12 October 2014).

11 Jim Seghers, “The Sacrament of Confirmation” [http://www.totustuus.com/TheSacramentOfConfirmation.pdf] (accessed 11 October 2014).

12 Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding.

13 Cf. John 13:34.

14 John 13:1.

15 John 15:9-10; cf. Matthew 22:40; Romans 13:8-10. CCC 1823.

16 Paul Wadell, “The Christian Life as Friendship with God: What Aquinas Means by Charity” in Friendship and the Moral Life. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, 1990), p. 120.

17 Ibid., p. 128.

18 Ibid., p. 121.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 1 John 4:20.

21 St Augustine, Sermon on 1 John 10:7.

22 Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. CUA Press (Michigan, 1997), pp. 93-94.

23 William E. May, “Sin and the Moral Life”, in An Introduction to Moral Theology. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (Huntingdon, Indiana, 1994), p. 167.

24 Colossians 3:14.

25 CCC 1827.

26 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

27 1 John 4:16.

28 Aaron Ross, “The 1 Corinthians ‘Love Chapter’ Isn’t Just for Weddings” [http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/1-corinthians-love-chapter-isnt-just-weddings] (accessed 11 October 2014).

29 CCC 1825.

30 St Thérèse, op. cit.

31 Peter Kreeft, “Perfect Fear Casts Out All ‘Luv’”. [http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/fear.htm] (accessed 11 October 2014).

32 John 3:16.

33 Cf. Matthew 5:17.

34 1 John 4:10.

35 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

36 Ibid.

37 Benedict XVI, “John Duns Scotus”, General Audience 7 July 2010 [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100707_en.html] (accessed 11 October 2014). Cf. Gérard Gillmen S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 129.

38 Rule for Monasteries 5:2.

39 Romans 13:8,10.

40 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

41 Gérard Gilleman S.J., The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), p. 304.

42 Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts.

43 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est.

44 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 93.

45 Wadell, op. cit., p. 139.

46 John 10:10.

Two Mothers Teresa: The Art of Leaving

Saying goodbye is difficult. Leaving can be excruciating. Throughout our lives, we face countless moments of what I call “small goodbyes”, moments when we cut a certain type of attachment, regardless of the slight sting, because we’re pretty sure we know the outcome will be better.

We leave home for college, college for a new job, a new job for a new child, etc. We say goodbye to that next episode in our Netflix binge so we can be alert the next day for those who rely on us. We say no to drinking full cans of sweetened condensed milk in order to not get diabetes today. Although, I realize that that might be a problem unique to me.

Then there are the pivotal moments, the ones we know we can’t come back from, even if we wanted and tried to. There are moments when we know that the next move, because of its gravity, is going to hurt us, to crush us one way or another. These are choices such as leaving a bad relationship, regardless of how deep you are in, or letting your adult child make the mistake that will alter their life’s course.

There is an art to that kind of leaving that I’m still woefully inept at.

I have always hated goodbyes. For as long as I can remember, I have laced almost every single goodbye with dramatic music in my head and some massive emotional significance, which I often convey by holding eye contact a bit too long for comfort.

My first sleepover was when I was ten years old. I spent the night at my friend Justin’s house, which was 8.8 miles away. I was excited and terrified. The excitement was because we were going to watch The Neverending Story; the terror was because, for all intents and purposes of a ten-year-old, it seemed like goodbye for good, like I might never return home. For all I knew, something could happen in the night and we’d never see each other again. Some bullies could come by and chase me into a book shop,Darwin;_The_expression_of_the_emotions_in_man_and_animals_Wellcome_L0014839 (1) where I’d be sucked into a book and, well, you get it (Falcor!!!). Needless to say, I called her at least ten times that night.

Because of this dramatic streak in me, I almost always make a point of remembering the last thing someone says to me before we part ways. For instance, when we moved away to China for two years, saying goodbye to my mum was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I think we held our hug for about 35 minutes, drenched in tears, and I made sure that “I love you” was the last thing we said.

Goodbyes with my dad have always been a tad different. I only remember two, actually. On the day he moved out of the house after the divorce, he hugged me and told me he would always love me. That is a moment, one you remember, one that stays with you. The other was when I moved to the Caribbean for three years. He’s a roofer, so we had to meet early for breakfast at a local diner. Food was good, conversation was good, the sun was shining. As we walked out to our cars, he handed me a multi-tool he’d gotten me, which I’ve used almost every day since. Then, we got in our cars and did the Minnesota goodbye, where you each roll down your window and say one last thing. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “I love you, bud.”

And I thought, “There it is. Perfect. Now if he dies while I’m gone, then at the funeral, I can get up and say his last words were of love (silly, morbid Nic). However, true to dad form, he put the car in drive and yelled, “Today’s gonna SUCK!!!” Then he tore out of the parking lot. That’s my dad. Totally ruined the goodbye. Doesn’t he know I’m trying to manufacture memories and scenarios proactively?!?

Point being, I most often try to make the act of leaving hurt as little as possible, mostly because I’m still terrified of it. I try to keep track of last words and glimpses so that I can put myself already way into the future, where things don’t hurt like they do in the present. Otherwise, to be honest, I’d probably never let go of anything in my life.

However, that is not a full life, not a life lived to its greatest and grandest. I’m finding that real life billows and cascades out of the sting and burn and crack of leaving if we let it, if we truly say goodbye to the things we must leave behind. From the cans of Carnation to the Crucifixion, the whole spectrum, the goal is for us to glimpse the glory and goodness that lies farther along, the future that waits past cleaving our present in two.

Perhaps your cascade of severance will rival that of Mother Teresa, whose decision to leave her life and home at the age of 18 opened the doors to an endless parade of chances to leave her current life for one of more comfort. Most of us know multiple stories of her constant, unwavering commitment to God, even in the face of decades of loneliness. Her witness was, for my wife, a foundation, an encouragement, and an impetus in her path to becoming a doctor and a missionary.

Maybe you’ll be like her. Maybe you’ll learn, as the Saints did, that goodbyes can get easier, in the same way that tearing off a band-aid gets easier. There’s always pain, but you know what it’s like now. Perhaps your life will, when it’s all doled out, amount to a prolific library of witness, for the world to see and follow. Essentially, you may get really good at leaving.

Or, perhaps you will encounter one stark moment, with no guarantee of what the other side will be like. Perhaps your moment of decision will look like the terrifying and confusing choice that another Teresa faced.

Teresa is the birth mom of our three adopted miracles.

Teresa faced daily use, neglect, and disregard by many of the people, and much of the culture, around her. Teresa was struggling along in the best way she knew how, given what she knew of life and real love, or the lack thereof. She knew she couldn’t do justice, or even do the bare minimum, to the beautiful children God had given her, but she didn’t know what to do in the face of that realization. She had resigned herself to acting like the failure people said she was and the object that men had forced her to pretend to be. Teresa would break down into tears when told that she was good and lovable and loved.

Then opportunity presented itself. The opportunity to give of herself, to rise above the weakness, to purposefully choose heartbreaking pain for herself, for the good of her children.

Into her life came The Davidsons, an angel and an idiot. Into her fractured and confusing life of limited sustenance and overwhelming odds came a random couple who had said they’d help if she ever felt open to it. Suddenly in front of her stood a way out. Not a way out of responsibility for her, but a way out of unavoidable neglect and need for her children. And, faced with the choice of letting things stay the way they were or leaving that burdened life of struggle behind, this mother, Teresa, chose the way of severance and pain.

Fittingly, there were no memorable last words as we parted ways. I am sure Teresa was afraid, as was I. I didn’t know how things would work out any more than she did. But there was a giddiness in the prospect of hope. Now, when I tuck these little psychos in every night, I look into their eyes and see the grandeur of potential that she must have glimpsed, however thickly it was veiled by hunger and stress. I am sometimes bowled over by how much her one act of leaving has changed our lives forever. I’m glad I wasn’t too much of a wimp to leave free time and financial stability behind and I’m inexpressibly grateful for Teresa’s sacrifice.

In the end, my point is that it’s not for us to determine our life’s circumstances. It is for us to determine what we’ll do when we encounter them. It is also not for us to determine the outcome of our choices. We cannot make circumstances turn out in a specific, pre-determined resolution of our preference. We can, however, know that when these decisions greet us, we can cut every tie, every umbilical, every grasp, and offer ourselves to the equation, regardless of the pain.

You may be the next Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint and inspiration on all fronts. Or, you might currently be the mother, Teresa, scared and confused on all fronts.  Either way, begin your practice of the art of leaving now, in the present, while you still have the chance.

If you pray, when you pray, pray for Teresa.

St. Teresa, pray for us.

 

The Right Kind of Fear

Mother Angelica QuoteRemind me to get and read a good biography of Mother Angelica then next time I have a spare moment…

As you probably know, Mother Angelica died of a stroke on Easter Sunday. She was the founder of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) and one of the most well known and influential Catholic TV personalities since Venerable Fulton Sheen, with the difference that while he was known primarily for his own show and writings, she was known for the network she built which (God willing) will endure for many years to come.

If you’ve been on facebook at all since then, and your friend list contains more than two catholics, you’ve probably seen this quote, or a variation of it.

“I am not afraid to fail,… I’m scared to death of dying and having the Lord say to me, “Angelica, this is what you might have done had you trusted more.”

Mother Angelica.

This quote caught my eye and I have been turning it over in my head for several days, because it rings true with me. Fear has been a close companion of mine for my entire adult life. In fact, much of my military career, especially my attempts at being Special Forces, has been about trying to conquer fear: fear of heights, fear of tiredness, fear of hunger, fear of humiliation, fear of discomfort, etc

But deeper than all those fears, the strongest fear in my life has always been the fear of failure. I have always been terrified of trying it and not making it, not having what it takes. This causes me to be hesitant in my decisions. When faced with a choice am very prone to “paralysis by analysis.” I want to analyze all of the facts, relevant or otherwise. I want to have all of the facts (most of the time that simply isn’t possible). I want time to figure out all possible contingencies, and that time is almost never granted. Even if all the time in the world were granted, I still would not be able to foresee and account for every possibility.

A key to success in the military, in Special Forces, and even in life, is to develop the ability to say, “—– it! We’ll do it live!” That is, an early step in the path from Hebrews 2:15 to 1 John 4:18 is learning not to fear the wrong things. We do this by learning to fear the right things.

So I learned to overcome the baser fears like fear of getting shot or blown up, fear of heights, fear of physical discomfort etc. by pitting them against the deeper fear of failure. I learned to overcome the fear of failure by recognizing that real failure more often involves not trying than not succeeding. Eventually I realized that the only failure that matters in the end is failing to please God.

Of course, the truth is that no one can ever quite succeed in perfectly pleasing God in all things. We fail, we stumble, we fall. This is where the parable of the talents comes in, in which the only person who was condemned was the one who, through fear of failure, did nothing with the gift he had been given.

This quote of Mother Angelica is the distilled essence of that parable. The servant was afraid of the wrong thing, failure, not afraid of the right thing, which was displeasing his Master. Failing on an investment would not have displeased His Master as much as not making an investment at all. Or as Mother Teresa would say: Bl Teresa of Calcutta

“God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.”

This is the next step, to move from fear of success or failure in worldly terms, to fear of success or failure in spiritual terms. Or as Jesus would say:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28.

But even this is not perfect, and I do not think Mother Angelica would disagree. It is not perfect because it is not quite all the way to that perfect love which casts out all fear. The next step is full and unbounded trust in Jesus and His Will. It is the ability to look at and see our own littleness and weakness, and then to marvel at the fact that God can make whatever He wills out of that nothingness if we let Him. When we can recognize even our failures as part of His plan and not mope over them, but instead rejoice in His mercy through them, then we are well on His way to that level of trust.

A few months ago Kathleen and I began setting a service project in motion. We wanted to get together some of our Bible study friends and cook a meal at a local homeless shelter. Shortly after getting all of the pieces together and setting a tentative date, we found that I was going to be going to North Carolina for some National Guard training, leaving Kathleen solo to get the whole project moving along.

She did really well. She made all her coordinations early, she notified everyone involved well ahead of time, she had her menu and ingredients lined up. It was a masterpiece of prior planning…

And it all fell apart. The person she was coordinating with went on vacation. I was out of state. Most of our volunteers couldn’t make it. Her babysitting option had to be changed. Worst of all, no one took the meat out of the freezer, so at 7:00 the night prior the 30Lbs of ground chicken she had been planning on cooking were still 30 degrees below zero.

family-friday-serviceNow, those who know Kathleen know that she hates that sort of thing. That is why she plans so hard, so that all of those things won’t happen. But she laughed (over the phone, since I was only able to help via long distance) and she trusted and she winged it. It worked out. She drove Evie up to stay with her parents the night before. She and our friend Jenn went out hunting good deals on bulk ingredients the night before instead of going to see a movie as they had originally planned. Enough people showed up. They even found that they had extra ingredients and made two more pans than she had been planning on, and almost all of it was eaten.

There was enough. It was not the flawless execution she had been hoping for. It came limping in with a bit of duct tape here and there, so to speak, but it was (I firmly believe) the success God was looking for. The people were fed, and the credit went to Him, not to our prior planning.

Was it stressful? Kathleen informs me that yes, it was, but it wasn’t too terribly stressful. She plans on doing it again, and while she will take some lessons learned from what went wrong last time, she isn’t going to let the stress and the falling apart of plans stop her from trying to serve God. Of course she still wants to perform competently to have things come out well, but the real goal is to be faithful to God and let the outcome rest in His hands.

It is a step on the road to 1 John 4:18.

A Little Redemptive Suffering Never Hurt Anyone (besides you, of course)

I have a confession to make: the majority of my friends aren’t Catholic. Many are, indeed, Protestant and for some reason, they all look at me strangely when I ask them if they have heard of redemptive suffering.

I should back up a bit. You see, when I throw the big RS out onto the table, it is usually after they have shared with me some sort of difficulty they are going through. Like I said, they are my friends and, like all of us, they have problems. Some are emotional, others are physical but the fact of the matter is that they have not been introduced to this lovely facet of the Catholic faith.

The Catechism tells us this about said facet:

The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing.Illness becomes a way to conversion; God’s forgiveness initiates the healing. It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to his law restores life: “For I am the Lord, your healer.” The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others… CCC 1502

…Suffering…becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus. CCC 1521

Mother Theresa concurs:

I wonder what the world would be like if there were not innocent people making reparation for us all…?” (From her book, The Best Gift of Love)

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen seconds that:

What a blood transfusion is to the body, reparation for the sins of another is to the spirit.” 

Sin runs a muck throughout the world and good people like St. Monicacloistered nuns and monks and countless other religious and laymen and women keep humanity in check through their sacrificial union with Christ upon the cross. Finding meaning in suffering is the secret to a Christian’s joy.

St. Paul knew that when he wrote:

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”~Colossians 1:24

Psh, as if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough? Of course it was. It was MORE than enough. So abundant was His sacrifice that we too get to share in His struggle and redeem others through our mystical union with Him. We are all one body and when one member suffers, we all do. However, when one member of the body becomes well, the entire system rejoices.

St. Paul knew that. In fact, all of the Saints knew that because Jesus taught it so clearly as he hung on that Roman tree.

So, now it is your turn.

  • Does your fingernail hurt because you bit a little too deep? Offer it up for those suffering in Israel.
  • Have a headache because your kids won’t stop screaming? Unite it with the expecting mother who is contemplating abortion.
  • Hate waking up to go to Mass? Iraq.

Now go suffer.

jesus-pictures-crucifixion

Blessed are those who suffer for doing what is right.

The kingdom of heaven belongs to them. ~Matthew 5:10

What does Faith mean to you?

christ-faith-hope-jesus-light-Favim.com-214422In the Year of Faith I was asked by my local Catholic newspaper to write about what faith means to me. Here’s my thoughts:

Faith to me is life. In our world today, particularly in my peer group, faith I think can be seen as an optional extra, even something that you don’t need at all. It is far more than that. It is what I was created for. We were created by God for Love and to Love. That takes a life time. A relationship with a true and living God, Jesus Christ. Faith can’t be segmented into a section of our lives. It isn’t just an important part of life, it covers all parts of life.

My faith makes the rest of the world make sense. It reconciles personal sufferings with happiness. It gives me a joy and optimism that many I know without faith don’t have. My identity and a way of life, that is often hard, is still joyful and in many ways, logical. The ‘rules’ of the church that many don’t understand, actually make sense of the confusing modern world and are a natural law that keep me healthy and happy. Don’t get me wrong, its not always easy. There are many ups and downs, desolation and consolations. Its hard standing out in the way that we live trying to be faithful. It comes with persecutions. Yet also, it helps with persecutions.

l love what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said:

“For the life they would have to live, seculars would not be able to do it. For a work of continual self-forgetfulness and immolation for others, you need interior souls—burning with love for God and souls. Pure souls who would see and seek God in the poor.—Free souls—who would be able to sacrifice everything just for this one thing only, to bring a soul to God.—The work will need much deep, fervent prayers and much penance—and all these people of an association will not be able to bring to the work, and the work will not fulfill its aim—“to bring souls to God, and God to souls.” 

Faith helps us change the world. Not that we can’t change the world without it, but as Blessed Teresa said, it is very hard.

And in a way that is indescribable, faith (my God) moves me even when I don’t feel it. It brings joys that cannot be described. And that makes it all worth it.

What does faith mean to you?

The Useless People in our Life

I was scrolling through Facebook today and I saw the following message; “KEEP people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you & make you happy. If you have people who do NONE of the above, let them go.” These sort of short inspirational messages are all over the internet and I have posted up a few of them myself. However as I read this one I found myself wondering what I should do with the people in my life who didn’t love me or motivate me or encourage me or inspire me or enhance me or even make me happy. And what if these same people did not motivate or inspire anyone? What if these people were a drain on me, their families and on the whole society?

It is important to surround ourselves with people who are going to encourage and inspire us. After all we become a reflection of the company we keep. If we spend our time with those who live to get drunk and party then we will end up doing the same. If we keep the company of those who strive for higher ideals then we will begin to strive for those same ideals. It would be hard to get up every morning for an entire lifetime if there was never anyone to pat us on the back and say ‘you’re doing well, keep going’. At times we need encouraging and sometimes we encourage others. This is the story of good friendships, each person looks out for the other and when either one is struggling the other is there to pick them up.

However we might add another category of people in our life and that is those who are always a bit of a drain on us. These people are always down, always needy and they probably have no real prospects of making something noteworthy of their life. They may not be able to work, they may never marry, they may always be sick or they may just generally not ‘fit in’.

The reality is though our world is made up of a multitude of people from the strong and the successful to the unloved and those perceived to be ‘useless’. Throughout history various people and ideologies have tried to remove the useless from society and it continues to this day. It is estimated that China has approximately 35 million more males than females due to deliberate male sex selection. Have you ever wondered why you see less children with Down’s Syndrome these days? That is because 90% of them are aborted when their parents receive a prenatal diagnosis of the condition.

Admittedly it can be difficult to embrace those who will make our life harder but the mark of any of us is how we embrace the weak and those whom no one else will love. Jesus of Nazareth told his disciples in very explicit terms that to love the hungry, the sick and the lonely was to love him and to ignore the hungry, the sick and the lonely was to ignore him and thus salvation. This pursuit of such ‘useless’ people is what continues to make Mother Teresa of Calcutta an example of virtue to Christian, Hindu and Atheist.

As good as it is that we are all willing to open our wallets to the starving in Africa and the Tsunami victims in Indonesia I think the test of who we are is found much closer to us. It is in that friend from school who still calls us every week even though he has nothing to say. It is in our meddlesome aunt who lives alone with no one to talk too. It is in that person we have lunch with each month even though they probably get more out of it than we do. The truth is these are the very encounters that define us. When the rich young Pier Giorgio Frassati died in 1925, it was the poor of Turin that packed his funeral in honour of the life he had secretly given in their service.

It is good to surround ourselves with those who love, motivate and encourage us. But let us never dismiss or forget those who cannot and will not be able to offer us these things. The ‘rejects’ of society deserve as much friendship as the next person. For it is only by the undeserved grace of God that we find ourselves not in that category.