Tag Archives: Pope Francis

God Does Care About Your Sports Team

Recently I saw a video making the rounds on Facebook. One of its claims was that God does not care about whether your sports team wins or loses.

This brought to mind an excellent article which I read on a Christian parenting website some months ago, and which I lamentably cannot locate. It was written by a father reflecting that he came to understand God’s love for us and every detail of our lives, by thinking about his own love for his children and their beloved possessions, in particular three ratty old stuffed toys.

Because he loves his children, he loves what they love. What they care about matters to him, not because of the intrinsic value of the objects, but because whatever concerns his beloved children, concerns him. Their happiness and fulfillment concerns him.

Certainly, as God is transcendent, He possesses an awesome majesty that goes far beyond the nitty-gritty of our mundane lives. In one sense, it really does not matter to Him if a sports team wins or loses. But at the same time, God is Love. He is the God Who made Himself vulnerable to us, sacrificing Himself in order to save us from eternal damnation and separation from Him. He cares profoundly about every detail of our lives. Jesus listened when His mother observed the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana, and He provided it in abundance, performing His first miracle and beginning His public ministry. Little things can have a profound impact which we cannot foresee.

“Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details. The little detail that wine was running out at a party. The little detail that one sheep was missing. The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins. The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay. The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had. The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at daybreak. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present.” – Pope Francis via Gaudete et Exsultate ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TheCatholicWoman // Photo by Annie Spratt

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When I was about 12 years old, I was upset when my mother gave away a little packet of sherbet powder from Disneyland, not because of the sherbet itself but because I had planned to use the tiny spade-shaped spoon inside for my Barbie dolls’ garden. A decade or so later, my brother returned from a trip to Disneyland with a packet of sherbet for me. I didn’t really appreciate the sherbet itself, but my heart was filled with joy because he had remembered that detail from my childhood. As the Chinese say, 爱屋及乌 (ài wū jí wū): if you love someone, you will love even the crow on the roof of his house.

The Church has given us the wonderful gift of patron saints for every possible profession and situation. God’s heavenly family cares about every member of the Church on Earth, and they are always available to us, encouraging us on our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Hebrews 12:1).

So, although God may not be as invested in the outcome of a sports match as you are, He definitely does care about it because He cares deeply for you, and He takes joy in sharing every aspect of your life, no matter how trivial it may seem to others. God, the ground of our being, sustains us in every moment, the magnificent and the mundane, and through each moment He grants us the outpouring of His sublime love.


Image: PD-US

Why we should read “Gaudete et Exsultate”

Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?

1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.

As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians.  In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from. 

2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.

In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us.  Pope Francis notes that:

“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).

3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners. 

I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.

If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.

If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.

If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.

Image credit: “Pope Francis” by Mikedev, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain. 

#AllforJan: Slovakia mourns a young Catholic journalist

After Laetare Sunday Mass, a fellow parishioner asked me: “Have you heard of the protests in Slovakia? They are the largest since the fall of Communism! 50,000 people marched in the streets of Slovakia on Friday, and 25,000 on March 2, not to mention even more people gathering in cities across Europe. A 27-year-old investigative journalist was killed, along with his fiancée, because he had uncovered links between the Italian mafia and the government.”

Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová were found fatally shot in their new home on February 25, 2018. They were to be married in May.

A funeral Mass was held for the young couple at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Štiavnik, north-western Slovakia, attended by his parents, friends and fellow journalists. Kuciak’s sister Mária Kuciaková said, “Our whole family got a bullet to the heart.”

Former Archbishop of Trnava Monsignor Róbert Bezák C.SS.R. stated: “The murder of a person should not be lost in time. It would be a sign that we are morally broken and that we don’t care at all. But we do care. Janko and Martinka will always remain in our hearts.”

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský of Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, who celebrated the funeral Mass, observed: “If the murderer wanted to silence Jan, he managed quite the opposite. Believe that evil won’t win — even if it might seem so now.”

Slovakia is the third most Catholic Slavic country, after Poland and Croatia, with 62% of the populace being Roman Catholic, and 4% Byzantine Catholic. Trnava is known as “parva Roma”, that is, “little Rome”. The first Slovak in Australia was a Jesuit missionary who arrived in 1888. The first recorded Slovak immigrant in the USA was also a missionary, albeit Mennonite.

My fellow parishioner said, “Slovakians are hardworking people, but because of government corruption, they work hard for very little. It is sad to see how living conditions in Slovakia haven’t improved much since the fall of Communism.”

Kuciak’s last, unfinished story also reveals how Italian businessmen with mafia links have been siphoning off European Union funds meant for the development of eastern Slovakia.

A memorial website, https://www.allforjan.com/, has been created for people to express their sorrow and their gratitude for Kuciak’s work uncovering the criminals manipulating Slovakia’s government. On Twitter, the hashtag #AllforJan has been trending, displaying photographs of the crowds who came out in the bitter cold in honor of this young man’s life and death. His fellow journalists have refused to be cowed by his murder, vowing to continue his work.

Two politicians, Viliam Jasaň and Mária Trošková, have taken a leave of absence, and the Minister of Culture, Marek Maďarič, has resigned from his post.

Pope Francis last year publicly acknowledged Italian victims of the mafia, in particular three assassinated judges. He created a new category for sainthood which allows the canonization of those who freely give up their lives for others.

May the terrible sacrifice of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová be the catalyst for real change in their country, freeing it from the grip of organized crime. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

The Apparition that Changed the World: A Review of Jean Heimann’s New Book on Fatima

The following review was originally written on the blog Sacrifice of Love. It is republished here with permission from the author.

With depth and simplicity, Jean Heimann’s new book, Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World (Tan Books 2017), instructs and inspires as it delves into the story of Our Lady of Fatima. However, instead of solely focusing on the apparitions themselves, Heimann provides a holistic view which shows the people and societal conditions that were so drastically affected by Mary’s appearances at Fatima. Heimann begins her work by introducing the three young children whom Mary appeared to: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. She then continues to discuss the Marian apparitions that took place in 1917 and continue to be important 100 years later.

Used with permission.

Instead of simply discussing each apparition and then moving onto the next one, though, Heimann really dives into the messages of Our Lady. Following the scenes of the first two apparitions, she includes a “Lessons from the Apparition” section. This part of the book connects the faithful, humble “yes” that the three young visionaries gave to God with the fiat of Mary, the Mother of God. Heimann also explores Mary’s words, and how typical, “normal” lay Catholics can live out these messages. Instead of just throwing around terms like “reparation” and “Rosary,” she talks about what these aspects of the Faith are. I found the small section on the Rosary particularly inspiring as it discussed the importance of contemplation in this prayer.

In discussing these apparitions, Heimann draws from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on Fatima, which helps illustrate various symbols that were in the third apparition. She also provides the historical context of political events that were happening in Portugal at the time. Learning about these historical details was eye-opening, and helped me see how pivotal it was that Mary appeared in Fatima at this specific time period, and helped revive the Catholics there.

After diving into the sixth apparition—the famous incident of the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917—Heimann talks about the lives and deaths of the visionaries in the years that followed. I really did not know much about the events that followed the apparitions, and I was fascinated as I read about Lucia’s life in the convent. The book concludes by discussing the different popes who have visited Fatima, and some miracles connected to Our Lady of Fatima that have taken place in the years since the apparitions.

I really enjoyed this book, and think that Heimann did an excellent job crafting a well-researched, thorough resource on Fatima that is very approachable and engaging. Whether you are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Fatima or grew up watching the animated movie about Fatima, this book is a great read that inspired me.  I found that this isn’t just a book about Fatima as an isolated set of Marian apparitions; instead, it shows us how Mary’s appearances at Fatima are part of the beautiful, rich tapestry of God’s work throughout the centuries.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, by Jean Heimann, is available for pre-order at Tan Books and at Amazon. 

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Extraordinary Jubilee: Extraordinary Divine Mercy

This year is the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. I am sure that many of us still recall the Jubilee song of 2000:
It’s a time of joy, a time of peace/A time when hearts are then set free…/It’s the time to give thanks to the Father, Son and Spirit/And with Mary, our Mother, we sing this song/Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery/That we are all together as one family/No more walls, no more chains, no more selfishness and closed doors/For we are in the fullness of God’s time/It’s the time of the Great Jubilee.
But what is the Jubilee? What does it mean?
The tradition of the Jubilee year goes back to Ancient Israel. God decreed that every 50 years would be a Jubilee year. On the 50th year all debts would be cancelled and all conflicts reconciled. People returned to their homelands, and they bought back any land they may have sold. Life would begin anew. This economy of mercy emphasized the need for repentance, conversion, mercy and renewal.

Normally, the Jubilee occurs every half century. Yet in November 2015, Pope Francis declared an extra-ordinary Jubilee of Mercy. A mere 15 years later! Why so soon?

Perhaps our age is the age of which Jesus spoke to Saint Faustina, the apostle of mercy. We are living in the era of Divine Mercy! According to Father Michael Gaitley MIC, the graces raining on us now are the fruit of the countless martyrs of the 20th century. World wars, dehumanizing ideologies, and violent revolts in the 20th century resulted in more martyrs in the past century than all the martyrs of the Church of previous years combined.
Fra Angelico
These martyrs united their suffering with Christ, their blood shed as His blood was shed. When we beg for mercy, the graces we receive are the fruit of Christ, the Vine and His holy branches. We harvest the fruits of these martyrs — in their self-giving love they sowed the seeds of toil and tears.
What does this mean for us? As recipients of abundant mercy, we are called to be merciful to others as the Father has been merciful towards us. Love is a gift, an act of self-giving. Hence, love only exists in the measure that we give it away. When we hoard love, love disappears. Love is replaced with selfishness and pride. When we share ourselves with others, love grows and multiplies.
But this still doesn’t answer our question — What is so special about this year?
It has been said that the day Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb to the
day He died was a perfect cycle. We celebrate Christmas on December 25. On March 25, we celebrate the Annuciation, exactly 9 months before Christmas. This year, Good Friday fell on March 25, exactly 9 months before Christmas. A perfect cycle!
Affirming this perfect cycle, a relic of the blood of Jesus in Italy liquefies on Good Friday, whenever Good Friday coincides with the Annunciation. The last time this happened was in 2005.
Do you remember anything remarkable about 2005? 2005 was the year that the Divine Mercy Pope, St. John Paul II, passed away on the Eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. In 2005 and in 2016, Good Friday coincided with the date of the Annunciation. In 2005 and in 2016, Divine Mercy Sunday fell on April 3. Proclaiming the Jubilee of Divine Mercy in this year affirms the Divine Mercy devotion propagated by St. Pope John Paul II.
Truly, this Jubilee of Divine Mercy is extraordinary! It is replete with proof that God has prepared this period of grace and mercy to bring His people back to their homeland; to give them a chance to renew their baptismal promises and live a life of deeper intimacy with Him!
Leia Go
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.

Have You Talked to Your Angel Today?

God, in His merciful goodness and abundant love, assigned an angel to protect and help me as I stumble awkwardly towards Heaven. Furthermore, God has assigned a guardian angel to each person, which we know from both Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go,” states the psalmist (Ps 91:11-12). In the Gospels, Jesus notes, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matt 18:10). Countless saints, from St. Bernard of Clairvaux to St. John Vianney, have spoken about guardian angels. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, whose feast we celebrated recently, is well known for having a special relationship with his guardian angel.

Pope Francis has even spoken on the importance of guardian angels. In his homily on October 2, 2015, Pope Francis declared, 

“He is always with us! And this is a reality. It’s like having God’s ambassador with us. And the Lord advises us: ‘Respect his presence!’ And when we, for example, commit a sin and believe that we’re on our own: No, he is there. Show respect for his presence. Listen to his voice because he gives us advice. When we hear that inspiration: ‘But do this…this is better…we should not do that.’ Listen! Do not go against him.”

Guardian angels are not cutesy, chubby, fictional greeting-card images; they are real, powerful, prayerful beings. My guardian angel is always present—yet, I often forget about this amazing reality. I neglect to think of my guardian angel and, instead, try to do things on my own. Does this make any sense? Why would I, a rational, semi-intelligent young woman—who needs all the help she can get—ignore an angelic being whose sole job is to help me? It doesn’t make sense. So, I am trying to remember my guardian angel. Nearly every single morning, my husband and I pray together, asking our guardian angels to be with us throughout the day. While this is a good practice, I need to continue this prayer as the hours pass by and I am faced with challenges, sorrows, and joys.

For hundreds of years, on October 2, the Catholic Church has celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Let’s celebrate this feast by talking with our angels—not just on the feast, but throughout each day of our lives.

Amoris Laetitia, Beyond the Controversy

happy-FrancisWhen Pope Francis issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the mainstream media and major Catholic websites were all over it, highlighting the broad structure of the document and, mostly, focusing on the tricky issue of just what exactly Chapter 8 of the text means.  If that’s the type of article you’re looking for, look elsewhere.  Instead, I want to highlight some of the other features of the document.  There are a number of issues I could focus on, and I would encourage everybody to read the entire document, carefully and patiently, or to read the particular sections that might be most applicable to your situation (AL #7).

While this is a rich document, I will limit myself to reflecting on just two issues today: (1) Chapter Four, #90-119 because it contains one of the most beautiful reflections on 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind”) that I’ve ever read in my life, and (2) Chapter Five, which focuses on “Love Made Fruitful” and extols the great beauty as well as the challenges of having children.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind
Whereas many in our contemporary world associate “religion” and “marriage” with oppressive notions of male dominance and female subjugation, Pope Francis brings to the forefront a beautiful reading and exegesis, as well as personal reflection, on the nature of love as described by St. Paul in his memorable poem from 1 Cor. 13, often read at weddings.  By breaking down each of the metaphors that Paul uses, Pope Francis shows us how the true meaning of love, in marriage and elsewhere, is about serving others, being humble, and meeting the needs of the weakest among us.  Love therefore is never about the self, about pridefully displaying one’s own importance.  Indeed, Francis notes that “the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love” (AL #98).  Rather, the true heart of love is the desire, above all, to love, with no expectation of a return on the investment.  This is to love the way God loves us and we see that example most profoundly in mothers “who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.”

Another beautiful note in this section is Francis’ words on forgiveness.  Given that this is a Jubilee Year of Mercy, his thoughts on mercy here are of critical importance.  He holds up family life as an inherently challenging vocation, one where we all know the reality of sin and shortcomings.  But it is therefore the kind of place where we can learn to forgive and learn to be forgiven.  This is why the Catechism calls the family a “school of Christian life.” (CCC #1657).  Francis says that “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.” (AL #108)

Love Made Fruitful
In Chapter Five of Amoris, Francis devotes his attention to the concept of fruitful love.  His reflections in this chapter focus, naturally, on children, but also on the wider implications of family life.  For instance, he considers the way families impact culture and also the role of the elderly in families. First, Francis looks to the importance of children.  He notes that women, by the miracle of pregnancy, get to share in “the mystery of creation, which is renewed with each birth.”  He then says that children, while coming into being in a specific moment of time, have always resided in God’s heart, and thus, in a certain sense, the beauty of birth is not only that it renews creation, but that it in a way fulfills a dream of God’s.  Finally, women are able to even participate in this “co-dreaming” with God during pregnancy, as they await their new child: “For nine months every mother and father dreams about their child…You can’t have a family without dreams.  Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies” (AL #168-169).

Naturally, the Pope doesn’t limit himself to beautiful reflections on just motherhood or the woman’s role in fruitful love.  He also has some moving and important words for fathers.  Noting that a child has a right to both a mother and a father, he goes on to exhort fathers to “help the child to perceive the limits of live, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort.  A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother.” (AL #175)

That quote really grabbed my attention, as it on the one hand validated my somewhat natural inclinations in parenting but also to call all fathers to a more intimate relationship with their children.  Do children need clear boundaries and limits, rules and expectations?  Sure.  But that doesn’t mean that only the mother can be affectionate or that only the father bears the responsibility for discipline.  Instead, Pope Francis notes “there can be a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family.  But the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of a child.” (AL #175).

But Papa Francesco wasn’t done with fathers yet!  He goes on to deplore the “society without fathers” which is so common in the West and also to call men to a sincere masculinity which, while not being overbearing, doesn’t then slide into a permissive relationship absent of any discipline or authority.  Then he really hits into something I think far too many fathers (myself included) need to deal with: balancing their lives between work and family obligations: “Fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfillment, that they neglect their families.  They leave the little ones and the young to themselves.  The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to communications and entertainment media” (AL #176).

There’s no real way to capture the beauty and richness of this apostolic exhortation short of reading it in its entirety.  But I do hope that even with these few items, which are developed in a couple of chapters, you have a sense of some of the great beauty to be found within the pages of Amoris Laetitia.  Don’t let yourself get too caught up in all the controversy; read it for yourself and follow the Pope’s advice: focus on the parts of the document that matter the most for you.

Last thing: as a pro-tip, if you download the PDF from the Vatican, the index is, for some reason, at the very end of the document.  So head to the last few pages to get the chapter-by-chapter break down in case you want to look into only specific issues.



The Catholic Church is “Crunchy”, Too

Someone told me recently, in a tone of shock and disbelief, “Did you know the Catholic Church is even more to the right than republicans?” I tried to explain that the Church might be to the right on some issues, or to the left on others, but certainly cannot be reduced to “right” or “left” or to any political party. It might even be true that the Church is more to the right on most issues (against abortion, etc.), but the Church is not a primarily political institution. God’s plan for us and His revelation that is passed down through the Church certainly touches on all human aspects of life, including politics, but is not a simple “left” or “right”.

A couple of months back, this came to light for me in a special way when I did a birth preparation course with a doula. A doula is a woman who helps other women in childbirth and although they can have many different ideologies, and there are even Christian doulas, they are usually pretty “crunchy”. Crunchy is defined by the online urban dictionary as an adjective “used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc.” People that are “crunchy” in parenting usually are in favor of non-medicated or even homebirth, breastfeeding instead of bottle, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, etc.

In this doula course I was attending there were no other Catholics. The doula made her own soap and cleaning supplies to avoid harsh chemicals (in a typical crunchy manner) and the other attendees included a worker for the communist party and vegetarian musicians. There didn’t seem to be many similarities between us and them.

However, throughout the course some interesting similarities did pop up. Mainly, the doula explained that she uses “natural contraception” by which she meant natural family planning. She explained how she tracks her fertility signs and abstains during fertile periods, because “it really isn’t that long” she said. She also mentioned how much she is enjoying teaching this method to her adolescent daughter, because it is counter-cultural and teaches her how to respect herself and her body, unlike the animalistic ideology she is taught at school. Another completely non-Catholic couple in the course was also using natural methods and another couple was interested. The doula told them where she had learned these methods and said many courses were given by “religious” people. I immediately jumped in and clarified that it wasn’t all religions that endorsed natural methods, no. It was the Catholic Church!

It was amazing for my husband and I to have common ground with such “crunchy” people, in natural family planning, in sexual education (kind of) and in more topics such as respecting the woman’s body in childbearing. It felt great to proclaim in the middle of the course that it wasn’t just any religion that was right about contraception being harmful, it was the Catholic Church. All other religions have backed down about this topic throughout the years.

The Catholic Church has common ground with people to the “right” ideologically, but also with crunchy people. With Pope Francis’s Laudato Si and attention to ecological topics, even more so now. I have already written that Pope Francis seems to use environmental issues to build bridges to more intimate issues such as spousal love, the domination of our bodies by human power and natural law:

“Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).”

Laudato Si, and the entire tradition of social and economic Catholic teaching, also leads us to not buy into the consumerist culture, do our part and encourage others to live simply, respect natural resources, and think about a more humane culture when building cities and technologies.

“It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” Laudato Si, n. 217

So it’s true, the Catholic Church might be to the “right” on many topics, but it’s also very crunchy. The word “Catholic” means universal, and it is truly beautiful to discover God’s view and original design of every aspect of human life.

Salvation through Wrinkles

“I prefer a family with tired faces from generous giving, to a family with faces full of makeup that know nothing of tenderness and compassion. I prefer a man and a woman, don Aniceto and his wife, with faces that are wrinkled due to the daily struggles over the fifty years of strong married love; and here we have them, and their son has learned the lesson from them and is now twenty-five years married. These are families.”
—Pope Francis’s message to families in Mexico

While the whole world is fascinated by the statements Pope Francis made on the plane ride back from Mexico, it is this quote, directed to the family, that struck me. I am expecting my fifth son in a few weeks/days, to go with four boys (5, 4, 3, and 19 months). Quotes like these, which affirm the joy of family, appeal to a young father like me who still struggles to see the joy in every minute of every day. Yet there is something more to this quote than just my experience or comprehension of it. In this I see the small daily conversion to Christ’s teachings that takes place when someone encounters a holy person (or even someone who strives for holiness). Rather than being repelled by the physical appearances of this elderly couple, Francis is renewed in his mission to speak for the beauty of the family. Where society sees suffering, sacrifice, pain, and waste, Francis sees joy, beauty, goodness, and truth.

Family life is filled with great experiences of games, joy, and laughter. Along with them, there is exhaustion, strain, and exerted patience. The “sacrifice” of the family, however, is not arbitrary or fruitless. The sacrifice is the constant kenosis—the emptying of the self—that imitates Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. What Francis is calling for in his homily is, in many ways, a societal return to true heroism and true selflessness, which is manifested in and through the family. He calls for a society built on selflessness, heroism, and virtue—in other words, a society centered on love. Francis’s description of the ideal family reveals his belief that a virtuous society will arise only from the family.

The Selfless Family

Family is the first and vital cell of society (Apostolicam Actuositatem 11), society’s root (Gaudium et Spes 52). A healthy society, therefore, comes about when families form and create persons who are for others. The family begins from the free and open self-gift between a man and a woman (AA 11). This self-gift naturally leads to the fostering of offspring that will further the future of society. Rather than being prepackaged robots, children come with their own originality and personalities. They need to learn how to eat, sleep, behave, and do many things their parents have taken for granted. With these experiences come joy and accomplishment. They also bring anxiety, sleep deprivation, and frustration. Frankly, they bring out the best and the worst. I can speak of this from experience. With each child, my ability to love has expanded to reach horizons I never thought possible. Yet this expansion has revealed levels of sin I thought were long gone or never knew I had. For example, I am more patient than I have ever been, only because I have seen how impatient I was before. In calling me out of my own sinfulness and my own way of thinking, my children challenge me to become the man God desires. While the wrinkles are forming (as Francis stated), these wrinkles are only part of the kenosis I must undertake to imitate Christ in all things, including suffering. In this selfless giving of life, the parents become examples for the future generation to imitate, showing that life is only truly lived in service to others.

The Heroic Family

“The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death” (Pope St. Leo the Great). This simple and yet direct statement from Francis’s predecessor proclaims the mission and focus of discipleship in the family. As seen above, the expansion of the parents’ love for their children brings with it much work, responsibility, and sacrifice. These experiences are God’s way of calling us to closer communion with Him in our imitation of His Son. Christ’s suffering on the Cross for the sake of others is the greatest example of heroism for all humanity to imitate. The sacrifice of one’s life, the giving up of the will for that of the Father, is the call to all Catholics: ordained, religious, or lay. For the layperson, vocation is lived through the family. The family becomes the sacrament of the Church for the world and is the apostolate for the laity. The ideal of heroism shines through the Church, and not simply through the examples of men and women who died, were persecuted, or gave up everything for the faith. The Church shines with equal brilliance through the simple daily living of the “quiet” saints. These holy men and women may not have done deeds to be told from generations to generations, but they do the small things that light a fire that will not be quenched. Helping neighbors move or clean house, shoveling the snow for the elderly, giving up time to assist in a church function like a fish fry, or simply stopping to assist someone in need on the road or sidewalk: these simple, quiet acts produce saints. These hidden saints support the more-known heroes, instilling virtues within them. St. Augustine had his mother Monica to give witness to patience and humility; St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents bore patiently her difficult temperament in childhood and are now canonized saints. Behind the portrait of each saint is someone, be it a parent, family member, or family friend, who inspired and instilled the courage to take on the great task of sainthood. For every great missionary, there is someone in the background who gives the saint inspiration to continue forward regardless of the cost. The family is the environment upon which true heroism is created. The family is the environment to which we need to return.

The Virtuous Society

The heroic family brings about a truly virtuous society. As Gaudium et Spes explicitly states, a just society has the human person as “the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions” (25). A society naturally does this because it is composed of persons who came from a family that constantly focused on the building-up of persons into other well-centered humans. This family comes with wrinkles; it comes with suffering and with sacrifice. Yet, formed in love, these wrinkles become a wealth of knowledge, not scars of exhaustion. Done in love, suffering becomes redemptive, a victorious sign of our ability to overcome our own selfishness to build something greater. Done in love, our sacrifices allow us to become what we truly desire; they become the source of our freedom and life. The wrinkles, sufferings, and sacrifices show that the person we were before these events carried a yoke that was heavy and a burden that was not light. I’d like to conclude with an example of virtue that was exhibited to me not too long ago. Our son was sent to the hospital, and due to the nature of the visit, we were held up all weekend. We could not bring all four kids with us and needed to give attention to our hospitalized son. Our family came to our aid and took the three other kids over the weekend (with no forewarning). Friends who heard of our situation came to our aid, cleaned our house (which was a mess at the time), and chipped in with some appliances and furniture that needed to be replaced (without us even asking or making any indication that it was needed). They came in during their weekend, missed events they were scheduled to attend (with good speakers, I might add), and donated their financial resources to help us out in a time of need. In these saintly acts I am sure some wrinkles were added, but in doing so new stories of heroism and courage can be told. This was a case of a virtuous community that was formed not out of self-love, but of the selfless assistance to those in need. When I see these families, I see the description of what Francis has been calling for. No, he is not naïve; he sees the real challenges and burdens we face from society and mostly from our own sinfulness. But among these ashes comes the greater joy, the joy of being loved—first by God, then by family, and finally by friends. Always rooted within the family, we are shown God’s love and mercy and come to express this through our love of others. The family is the place where this takes place. It is God’s designated vehicle to make His Son known.

Making A Murderer, Loving the Guilty

If you haven’t joined the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve binge watched Making a Murderer on Netflix since December, then…well…I guess that leaves you still in the ranks of the hundreds of millions of people who haven’t, and that’s fine, so don’t worry about it. Regardless of if you’ve seen it or not, you most likely know that the documentary focuses on the question of Steve Avery’s innocence in the murder of a young woman named Teresa Halbach.

Spanning 10 episodes, the film paints a largely one-sided picture of an innocent man from underprivileged means who, after being wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime and serving 18 years in prison, is, upon release and exoneration, framed by the police and given a patently unfair trial. I admit that I was very drawn in by the series. I took great joy trying not to scream at the screen at 1am whilst I watched an episode on my phone under a pillow next to my sleeping wife. It was fun to be drawn in by a well-told story and also to get to cry “OUTRAGE” for ten hours. It sparked multiple conversations with friends–and one Apple Store worker–as to the nature of innocence and the broken justice system.

At one point, when asked if I liked it, I replied, “It made me want to quit everything in the world and become a lawyer so that I could devote the rest of my life to heroically and single-handedly correcting our broken judicial system.” So, yeah, I liked it. I found myself wanting to somehow get in touch with Steve (yep, the film makes you feel like you’re on a first-name basis with him) and let him know that there are people who care about his plight, isolated as he may feel in there.

However, at some point last week, I began to ask a myself the question lurking in the dark behind the series’ overt message of defending the innocent: what about the guilty ones? So much of the show’s power comes from the unfairness of it all. The tale of the man just trying to live his life combined with the critically wounded mechanism of justice create the perfect storm of righteous anger for us, and it is fine and good that it does so.

As Christians, though, we aren’t supposed to stop at defending the innocent; we’re supposed to press on into the realm of extreme and acknowledged guilt. God has a pretty clear history of approaching the traitors with compassion, welcome, and, honestly, even trust. Just think Judas. Or Peter. Or me.

It’s so simple and affirming to stop at the truth of “well, they got themselves into that situation…”, when we’re actually supposed to move past that into things like “…and so have I, a million times” or “…and I am the chief of sinners”.

If Steve Avery is innocent, then it would be odd for anyone not to be on his side. It doesn’t take Christianity or love to ally yourself with the wrongfully accused. It is the heart of Christianity, though, to leave the safety of innocence and take the pain and suffering of someone else’s guilt upon yourself. It is in the DNA of every Christian to place themselves at the crime scene, to incriminate themselves by our associations, and to glaringly remind the accusers and the accused that nothing can separate them from God’s love.

Yesterday, we celebrated Paul’s encounter with Christ, and subsequent conversion, on the road to Damascus. We know him so well as “The Apostle” Paul that we can very quickly and easily forget that he began as an extremely violent and guilty man. According to the Book of Acts, Paul “…began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) Paul met Christ when he was guilty. God loved him and reached out to him when he was in his sin. We should strive to do the same in our lives.

This is the Year of Mercy, when we are being exhorted daily to offer God’s startling grace and compassion to the world in an overt and intentional way. Taking Matthew 25 as our springboard, we’re encouraged to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead.”

Please note that nowhere in the passage does it specify to do these things to those who are in their situation through no fault of their own. The hungry and thirsty are worthy of food and drink no matter why they’re hungry or thirsty. The naked deserve clothing whether they’re guilty or pure. And on and on.

As Christians in this year of mercy, we’re asked never to rest on our laurels, but instead, to offer up each crevice and compartment of our lives and hearts to the mission of relaying God’s love to the most broken, the hardest hit, and those with the greatest guilt.

The degree and intensity to which we respond should mirror the degree and intensity of the wrongdoing.  If someone tosses a mild slam against you, a mildly loving response would make sense. The response to something more heinous, say a double murder, could look something like Agnes Furey’s:

Even if we are not the ones directly impacted by someone’s fall into sin and guilt, we bear within us the capability to respond with invasive love. Like Mr. Cavins:

I encourage you, starting today–starting right now!– to actively locate the guilty ones in your corner of the world and, instead of reminding them of the guilt they are already assured of, lavish attention, love, service, and sacrifice on them. As Micah 6:8 commands us, “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”.

Fight to preserve the innocent, but fight just as hard to restore the guilty.

As Christ does for you.

Obedience in the Year of Mercy

Obedience is an incredibly merciful virtue.

It is one that everyone, especially Millenials, need to learn how to embrace again.

I say Millennials specifically in part because I am one, and in part because our generation tends to take a condescending and patronizing tone, especially towards those we disagree with or those in authority over us. When Millenials are told to do something, we spend more time explaining why we think we shouldn’t be required to do that rather than just shutting our mouths and doing it.

More astoundingly, I find those Catholic Millenials who preach the most about the importance of reverence, sanctity, and tradition often have the greatest offenses against obedience.

Today’s Catholic youth long for Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and a rightly ordered life – all good things. Yet, they become overly suspicious when something doesn’t seem to align with their specific form of Catholic aestheticism. Whether it be a change in the annulment process, a Bishop moving tabernacles to the middle of the Church, or a call to integrate divorced Catholics more fully, the Millenial’s first reaction is regularly one of suspicion and skepticism, critiquing the actions of the Holy Spirit on Earth, rather than embracing all the ways the Church makes Christ’s love and mercy known.

Indeed, the youth, in their desire and search for the Truth, are often not merciful or charitable at all to the very institution that holds the Truth they so desire – the Church. Too often, in their vigor for objective Truth and morality, Millenials rail against that which provides them avenues for the spiritual growth they long for. A priest who dislikes communion rails because he feels that they distance him from his congregation, a Bishop who encourages openness to refugees, and a pope who works to encourage proper respect for the environment all become fair game for dissent and disrespect by the Objective-Morality Millennial.

Yet, in his haste to prove that the Tridentine Mass is the only Mass that can possibly create Saints in this day and age, the Millennial looks right past all of the opportunities that Christ is presenting him in his local parish down the street. The Catholic faith is an uncomfortable faith, and it doesn’t matter how much you know about it or how much in line with doctrine you are – or think you are. If you are truly engaging with the Catholic faith, eventually it will make you uncomfortable. Liberal Catholics may have to deal with the discomfort of rightly ordered sexuality, but conservative Catholics will have to deal with the discomfort of Mercy and the discomfort of being corrected. Simply because conservative Catholics understand the pro-life argument, doesn’t somehow make them the “good kids,” who never get corrected or chastised. Indeed, all Catholics must learn an openness to all the ways the Church works, else they risk becoming the modern day Pharisee: calling out our priests and bishops for “not doing it right,” while they pat their own backs and congratulate themselves for knowing more than those silly priests!

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:11-14

The lost virtue of obedience allows us to embrace the fullness of Church teaching because it forces us to be uncomfortable and wrestle with what the Lord is asking of us right now in the challenging request of this certain priest/bishop/Pope. What good would it do us if we could recite the whole Summa, yet found ourselves incapable of saying to our spiritual Father “I will do as you ask.” Without submission to those in persona Christe, how can we expect to grow in obedience to Christ Himself? What good is it to man if he gains the world, but loses his soul? Growing in knowledge of those doctrines we find discomforting becomes Christ’s means of challenging us to becoming better, wiser people.

Obedience is a virtue of mercy, and one that should be practiced now more than ever in this Year of Mercy. To be obedient to a priest or bishop (or pope!) you find frustrating, you must have mercy toward him. If we grow in mercy towards our leaders, we necessarily grow in humility as we begin to understand our right place in the grand order of things. In the book Roses Among Thorns St. Francis De Sales states that the virtue of humility “sees to it that we are neither troubled by our imperfections, nor in the habit of recalling those of others, for why should we be more perfect than our brothers? Why should we find it strange that others have imperfections since we ourselves have so many? Humility gives us a soft heart for the perfect and the imperfect: for the former out of reverence and for the latter out of compassion. Humility makes us accept pains with meekness, knowing that we deserve them, and good things with gratitude, knowing that we do not.” Does this not sound like mercy, especially as Pope Francis has discussed it? Yet how can we expect to grow in humility if we do not first humble ourselves to be obedient to the Magisterium out of reverence for the Lord, His work, and His Church?

There may be a time for challenging corrupt orders. Certainly there have been – and continue to be – bad priests and bad times in the Church. There is certainly room for discussion and dissent of opinion. However, all and any dissent must be undertaken after serious prayer and in true humility. We must never challenge the Magisterium rashly out of pride or discomfort. When we are confronted with a teaching to which our immediate reaction is to dissent, we ought to check ourselves. Our first response should not be the prideful approach of “he is wrong!” but rather the humble and reverent approach of “I am wrong.” Let us look into these teachings and ask ourselves how the Lord may be calling us to grow through them. We have no need to fear because the pope declared that we should serve the poor betteadam_eve_snaker! “Be not afraid!” for the pope is Peter, the rock, upon whom the Church is built and against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. Fear is from the Devil, who desires us to sew discord in Christ’s institution. Don’t let him get the better of you, but rebuke him and his fear mongering and embrace those teachings which scare you, thanking the Lord for His goodness and mercy all the while!

In this Year of Mercy, let us focus on building up the kingdom of God on earth so that others may come to know, love, and serve Him. Let us embrace the forgotten virtue of obedience, the lack of which separated Adam and Eve from God, lead Martin Luther to destruction, and brought the world to its current divided and confused state. Truly, we need obedience to remain one with the Church, learn proper humility, and open ourselves to the graces that flow from God’s merciful heart.

Don’t be too narrow

After all these years, what has Pope Francis meant by the thought of being “narrow?” I have heard it plenty of times in different circumstances and that word seems to be pretty important to his line thought. Here are a few quotes and news snippets over the years:

April 10, 2014: “When this phenomenon of narrow thinking enters human history, how many misfortunes,” he lamented, adding that “we all saw in the last century, the dictatorships of narrow thought, which ended up killing a lot of people…when they believed they were the overlords, no other form of thought was allowed. This is the way they think.” 

September 8, 2015:  “’Francis has expressed concern several times that the synod shouldn’t become focused on a narrow canon of contentious issues, but should instead consider the broad range of challenges to family life, including the impact of poverty, war and forced migration,’ wrote John Allen, associate editor of the Crux website.”

September 27, 2015:  “Pope Francis ended his historic, and taxing, trip to the U.S. on Sunday (Sept. 27) after again renewing his call to American Catholics — and, by extension, the entire church — to move beyond a ‘narrow’ vision of Catholicism that he denounced as ‘a perversion of faith.’” 

November 30, 2015:  “Pope Francis said that efforts to push the Church to allow condom use to prevent HIV are too narrow and do not see the whole picture.”

The more I ponder what he sees with “narrowness” the more I realize the importance of his prescription to avoid it. At first, I fell into thinking that if the Holy Father does not want us to be narrow-minded, then he must want us to be open-minded. This left me uncomfortable because I know we cannot be open-minded on some things and I also heard from Pope Francis’ own words that he is “a son of the Church.” So Pope Francis must have something else in his heart when uses that word.

I am going to try a little thought experiment that helped me make sense of it.

Secular Steve: Is fornication a sin?

Catholic Cathy: That question is too narrow.

Secular Steve: So you do not support the Church’s teaching on fornication?

Catholic Cathy: I did not say that. You asked if fornication is a sin.

Secular Steve: I know I did and you said “It is a narrow question.” That makes you a pick-n-choose Catholic.

Catholic Cathy: I think we are speaking different terms here. Fornication, according the CCC, is “gravely contrary to the dignity of persons.” However, a sin needs three criteria for a person to be held accountable. By itself, fornication is grave matter and that is one part of a sinful action. The other two are: knowing the action is sinful and doing the action freely. Your question was too narrow. It would be like asking me “Is a pickle a cucumber?” In a way it is and in a way it is not. If I said “No.” then you would claim that I do not know that pickles are cucumbers. If I said “Yes.” then you would claim that I cannot tell the difference between pickles and cucumbers. In a way, your question is a trap.

Narrowness seems be bountiful. Many want to catch a leader into a word trap so they can claim him as one their own or be able to disqualify him as a heretic in their own imaginary Vatican. What would convince you that Pope Francis is a loyal son of the Church?

It has now been a few years since Pope Francis has taken the chair of St. Peter and it is time to walk the straight and narrow under the leadership of Pope Francis so that the Church can fulfill Jesus Christ’s prayer “that they may be one.” A wonderful gift has been given by the Father to the Church so that She will continue to breath new life, protect the Church from error, and help us avoid falling into word games that do little to convert hearts. The Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that traveled over the waters at Creation, the same Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed upon the Apostles, and the same Holy Spirit that fills the faithful with His gifts, is sending us out to bring the Gospel to the peripheries, the poor, the wounded, and the imprisoned. We have been afforded an excellent opportunity to evangelize, let us not miss it!