Tag Archives: Young Adults

Cardinal Pell’s response to his charges

The sexual abuse crises in Catholic dioceses from the USA to Ireland have created great distress and fomented considerable media attention. It is a sickening tragedy and grave injustice, always and everywhere, when adults in positions of trust take advantage of vulnerable children and young adults under their supervision. However, it is also a tragedy and injustice when the reputations and lives of the innocent are ruined by false allegations, and also when organizations which provide significant support to the community are tainted by scandal, with the ongoing contributions of the majority of their members overlooked.

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, and also in Australia, providing vital healthcare, educational and social services every day. At the same time, the 2016 census found that, for the first time in Australian history, there are now more people identifying as non-religious than Catholic. Meanwhile, the media has fudged the statistics to make levels of historical abuse appear higher than in actual fact. In reality, priests are less likely to commit sexual offenses than the average male (for example, in the USA, 4 percent of priests active between 1950 to 1992 were accused of sexual misconduct, and it is estimated that 10 percent of American males commit sexual abuse; as George Weigel notes, the Church is probably the safest place for a young person today). David Gibson of The Washington Post reasons:

Part of the issue is that the Catholic Church is so tightly organized and keeps such meticulous records – many of which have come to light voluntarily or through court orders – that it can yield a fairly reliable portrait of its personnel and abuse over the decades. Other institutions, and most other religions, are more decentralized and harder to analyze or prosecute.”

The charges against 76-year-old Cardinal George Pell in particular have occasioned significant media frenzy, in Australia and overseas. His case is unique, because he is the highest-ranking Australian Catholic and highest representative of the Universal Church to be charged. Pell was ordained in 1966 and served as the Archbishop of Melbourne (1996–2001) and eighth Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014) before becoming the first Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (2014–present), in charge of managing the Vatican’s finances. He is the third most senior official in the Vatican.

Cardinal Pell was not obliged to return to his homeland to face the charges, as the Vatican has no extradition treaty with Australia. However, he said: “Court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome to work.” Pell has willingly cooperated with the entire legal process, beginning with an interview with three Victorian police in Rome last October. His legal bills will not be funded by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

On 26 July, Pell appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a filing hearing and entered a plea of not guilty, even though he was not obliged to do so, and had to walk through a massive media scrum including reporters who had flown in from other countries. Pell has thus demonstrated his complete willingness to engage with the proceedings against him.

Pell’s forthrightness is unsurprising, given that he established the Melbourne Response in 1996 to handle allegations of clerical abuse, six years before The Boston Globe broke the scandal which became the premise for the 2015 movie Spotlight. The Melbourne Response was the first Catholic redress scheme addressing child abuse. It was only last year that the Australian federal government introduced a national compensation scheme. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been holding inquiries into various Australian organizations and state institutions, including the Australian Defence Force. Child abuse is a horrible scourge in Australian society, now increasing with technology.

Let us pray not only that the truth will be uncovered and justice be done, but also that the wounds of all involved, and all those affected by the media coverage, will be healed.

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Review of “Christian Dating Simplified”

Aaron K. Torch’s Christian Dating Simplified: A Short, Practical Guide to the only Four Questions You Need to Ask is an enjoyable read, weaving scriptural exegesis and personal experience into a compelling analysis of how to date in a holy and healthy manner. As a Catholic who has studied scriptural theology, I have quibbles with some of his statements, but overall I agree with his advice.

Torch begins by describing his attitude to dating right after his conversion – it was legalistic, rule-bound, and ultimately illogical and stifling. While trying his best to live by the words of Scripture, Torch applied Holy Writ and friendly advice to his relationship in a strict, over-literal manner, and this caused him and his girlfriend no end of grief.

He writes: “Too often, things are over-complicated and made unnecessarily difficult, with the guise of being godly… [there is] the danger of putting a weight on your relationship that God never meant for it to bear.”

Torch begins with the story of redemption, going right back to Adam and Eve. He points out that Scripture presents marriage as a ministry of redemption (Ephesians 5:32), mirroring God’s love for us. Torch emphasizes the covenants of the Old Testament, culminating in the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ.

I would have liked Torch to have mentioned the ancient definition of a covenant, being an exchange of persons, so that the other is received permanently into one’s family. Torch refers to the contractual understanding of an agreement, which does not capture the depth of a covenant, and lends itself more to the acceptance of divorce. Happily, Torch points out that the New Covenant demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us, and that divorce is not an option.

Torch then goes through three myths about dating, regarding soulmates, God’s will, and holding the other to a mental checklist of Biblical perfection. He emphasizes the need to look at the other through the eyes of grace, lest we crush them under the weight of our expectations.

He then address the question of compatibility in faith, the importance of true friendship with the other, the purpose of dating, and each person’s vision of the future and “what [their] relationship can offer the world”. He makes it easy to grasp each issue by outlining various hypothetical situations and posing relevant questions to ponder over.

Finally, Torch stresses the need for a supportive community to help your relationship develop into a fruitful, life-bearing witness to Christ.

As someone who has struggled through incompatible, unhealthy and Puritanical relationships, and has recently embarked on a delightful new one with a fresh convert who is doing his best to live a holy life and demonstrate his love in virtuous ways, Torch’s book really resonates with me. I recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed by conflicting advice about dating and relationships, and would like a simple, reassuring and frank analysis of how to date in a loving manner.

I was invited to review this book by Top Christian Books.

Identity in Relationship

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
– Jane Howard

Etymology: identity (n.)
c. 1600, “sameness, oneness, state of being the same,” from Middle French identité (14c.), from Medieval Latin identitatem (nominative identitas) “sameness,” ultimately from Latin idem (neuter) “the same”.

How are we identified? We are identified by our names, which have been given to us by others, usually our parents, and which display our relationship with them. Our surnames show the families which we have been born into, adopted by or married into. For humans, identity is found in relation to others.

When two people enter into a relationship, it is usually a cause for congratulations and celebration. Others recognize the glorious gift of finding someone with whom one can share a loving communion, embracing the trials and joys of life together, and helping each other grow in virtue and maturity.

On the other hand, for those who are emotionally insecure and uncertain about their own identity and purpose, a relationship can become an idol. They derive their entire self-worth and happiness from being loved by another creature, and fall apart if they lose the other person. This places tremendous pressure on the other person and creates a toxic relationship.

Ultimately, it is only in God that we find complete love, fulfillment and joy. It is only from our relationship with Love Himself that we can find our true worth, identity, security and purpose. When we recognize that we have been made in the image of Love and that He will always remain with us no matter what we go through in life, then we are able to love ourselves and our neighbor with a fearless love which accepts the beloved completely while purifying and transfiguring him. True love is a love that frees a spouse, child or friend to grow in wisdom and stature, fulfilling his God-given telos and not warping him to suit our limited vision or personal desires.

As the Persons of the Holy Trinity have identified themselves by their relation to each other, in an eternal generation of Love, so should we base our identities in healthy, life-giving relation to God and one another in the communion of saints.

Dear Future Husband

Dear Future Husband,

I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions.  Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.

I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.

Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.

I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.

I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.

Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.

I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.

Learning to Listen to the Divine Whisper

It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!

In deep waters.

A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college.  As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.

Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.

At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.

Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.

Let’s Hear It For The Church!

While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)

That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.

I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.

Theology of the Body in ‘Friends’

The classic TV sitcom, Friends, is iconic for its long run, humor, and relatable characters that made everyone feel they were part of the “gang.” Friends also pushed the envelope, dealing with themes that America was just beginning to delve into in the 1990s. Taking a supportive and liberal approach to topics such as hook up culture, marriage and divorce, “alternative” families, and homosexual relationships, Friends dealt openly with themes previously considered taboo.

Yet, in the 10 seasons Friends ruled TV, the show made a compelling argument against all the social changes it tried so hard to support. Homosexual relationships, hook-up culture, and the redefinition of the family played prominent roles in each of the characters’ lives, yet, it is apparent that each of these elements were inherently bad for the characters on multiple levels. This ironic social commentary opens the door for a rich engagement with Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the themes of which play out in many of Friends’ characters and episodes. The relationships of the six characters provide an in depth social commentary as their friendships help one another to grow in maturity throughout the show. In the interest of time, I want to focus on the experience of one of the main characters: Chandler. 

We learn early on that Chandler’s parents divorced and his father left to become a drag queen in Vegas. This, understandably, sows many issues in Chandler that are most obviously noticed in Chandler’s inability to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since that was the day he learned of his parent’s separation, it has been irreparably ruined for him. Indeed, we see that Thanksgiving brings up enormous emotional scarring in Chandler that is hard for him to handle at best and completely debilitating at worst.

Chandler’s issues with his parents become more apparent as the show progresses. We see that Chandler is riddled with insecurities regarding his sexuality, social abilities, and worth as a person. He is incapable of maintaining long-term relationships, and finds intimacy threatening. He focuses on casual dating and one-night stands, resulting in a promiscuous and concupiscent character early in the show. This “concupiscence signifies … that the personal relations of man and woman are one-sidedly and reductively tied to the body and to sex” with no deeper intimacy established (TOB 259). This inability to establish long-term relationships is a reflection of Chandler’s “concupiscence [which] brings with it the loss of the interior freedom of the gift [of self]” (TOB 259). In fact, it isn’t until Chandler makes peace with his father that he is able to move forward and prepare for marriage to Monica. By mastering his fear of commitment, history of promiscuity, and the wrong he was dealt in childhood, Chandler is able to be vulnerable to his wife and “become a gift” which is only possible “if [man and woman] each masters himself” (TOB 259-60).

Chandler’s relationship with Monica also helps him engage with his sexuality in a healthy way. This allows him to establish the confidence so drastically undermined during childhood. Just as Adam in the tobgarden, in his original solitude, stood in “search of his own ‘identity’” and “falls into his [sleep] with the desire of finding a being similar to himself” so too does Chandler search for his own identity, only to find it when he awakens from his concupiscent torpor and enters a relationship with Monica (TOB 159). For Adam, it is only in the creation of the female Eve that he is finally able to understand himself as “male”, and rest in “the identity of human nature” (TOB 161). Likewise, Chandler struggles to establish his manhood before dating Monica. Yet, in the context of a woman who challenges Chandler to grow as a person, he does find his masculinity and rests in that knowledge. As Adam understands his “particular value before God [as] male first and … second because he is for ‘woman’” (TOB 161) so also Chandler finds a value in his role of male in his relationship with Monica.

Chandler’s character also makes a strong argument against alternate families. Chandler is dealing with the effects of his father’s homosexuality, his parents’ divorce, and his father being “replaced” with a womanized version of his father as a drag queen. Likewise, Ben, Ross’ son, has a mother who is homosexual, his parents got divorced, and his father is replaced with the woman of Susan. Since episodes focused on Chandler are repeatedly aired in close proximity with episodes focusing on Ben, it seems that, knowingly or not, Friends makes the statement that Ben will be dealing with the same problems as Chandler for a very long time. In many ways, Chandler’s experience prefigures Ben’s and establishes a strong stance against homosexual relationships. Chandler’s parents, “by violating the dimension of the mutual gift of the man and the woman … cast doubt on the fact that [every person] is willed by the Creator ‘for himself,” a doubt that plagues Chandler long term (TOB 259).

Finally, only Ross and Monica’s parents are still married, which is reflected in their children’s relationships. Monica and Chandler are able to get married and stay married only because Monica “coaches” Chandler in the ways of healthy relationships. While Phoebe does get married, it is only after several seasons of observing Monica and Chandler’s marriage and often inquiring into the inner workings of their relationship.

Furthermore, while Monica is able to establish a healthy and long-lasting relationship with Chandler, Ross’ marriage breaks apart and his separation from his wife subsequently causes him to lose his consistency and identity as a man. As the show progresses, we see Chandler’s and Ross’ characters reverse rolls. Chandler grows into the easy-going, good guy that Ross was at the beginning of the show and Ross slowly devolves into an insecure and awkward character.

It is significant that we learn in the first season that at the time of his divorce, Ross had only ever had intercourse with Carol, his wife. Since this fundamental human bond has since been broken, Ross continually tries to return to the married state his soul desires. Since Ross wants to know that the relationship is “for keeps,” every relationship he enters gets too serious too quickly on his part. John Paul II notes that in such situations, the over-sentimentalizing of relationships are often their downfall: “the ideal is more powerful than the real, living human being, and the latter often becomes merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject’s emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person”(L&R 44). Ross becomes progressively more emotionally needy and awkward in relationships and makes a deity out of his idea of the perfect relationship, an effect consistent with the spiritual turmoil that these broken relationships are sowing. However, since Ross is anxious for marriage and many of the women he meets do not share his goals, the relationships Ross begins throughout the course of Friends never result in anything long term since “love between two people is quite unthinkable without some common good to bind them together” (L&R 28). In contrast, we see Chandler become healthier and “more Chandler” as his healthy relationship with Monica progresses, while Ross becomes more and more dysfunctional as relationship after relationship fails.

While Friends presents great food for thought on the Theology of the Body, there are definite week points in the show. For example, the indissolubility of marriage is never truly resolved which is problematic. Nevertheless, there are many other situations in the course of this sit-com that lend themselves to deeper analysis. I’ve only focused on one character and the other five have as much to offer as Chandler. I myself have only scratched the surface!

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.

Tidbits from St. Therese: Anecdotes, Books, and Prayer

When I was little, I decided that I was going to take a new and unusual saint for my confirmation patron. I wanted to stand out from the crowd and show off my knowledge of hagiography at the same time. But when confirmation time did come, I didn’t know how I could choose anyone other than my sister in Heaven, St. Therese of Lisieux. I wouldn’t stand out—about half of the girls I know chose St. Therese as their confirmation patron—but a relationship was more important to me than a name. From an early age I had read about St. Therese- I was attracted by her self-sacrificing humility (which was something I definitely needed) and struck by her genuine love for God and everyone around her. She is especially famous for her “little way”, a path to sainthood. Last week, October 1st, was the feast day of St. Therese, and this post is in remembrance of her.

St. Therese anecdotes

Many people now know the story of the little girl who entered the convent at 15 and, despite her early death, lived a life filled with love. I always enjoy learning more about her, and hearing some of the lesser-known stories from her time on earth.

  • St. Therese was baptized Marie Therese Francois, after the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. Francis Xavier. Therese was never able to fulfill her wish to be a missionary in foreign lands like her patron St. Francis Xavier. But today, she and he are the patron saints of the missions.
  • St. Therese admired St. Joan of Arc and even wrote a play about her life. Therese herself acted in the title role.

    Therese12Jc
    St. Therese as Joan of Arc
  • Eclairs were a favorite treat of St. Therese (who had a sweet tooth). They weren’t served in the convent, though, and Therese ate whatever was given to her.
  • St. Therese went to Rome to ask the Pope for permission to enter the Carmelite convent at an earlier age than usual. She was told not to speak to the Pope, but her resolve to enter the convent was so great that she did. In fact, Therese had to be dragged from the audience room when she wouldn’t stop pleading with the Pope for her intention.
  • “Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” St. Therese once said that even picking up a pin off the floor could save a soul, if it was done with love for God. She would offer up every small thing this way. When Therese was once erroneously blamed for breaking a vase, she offered it up and asked for forgiveness rather than try to correct opinions.
  • One story from near the end of St. Therese’s life is (I think) very typical of her. As Therese lay in bed, she often suffered too much pain to sleep, so she prayed silently instead. One of the sisters asked her what she talked to Jesus about during these times. Therese replied, “Nothing. I just love Him.”
  • The Story of a Soul, St. Therese’s autobiography, was alternatively titled by her as The Story of the Springtime of a Little White Flower. It was written under obedience, and Therese would not have had it otherwise. In fact, she advised another of the nuns against writing memoirs, saying, “You cannot do it without permission…It is more humble not to write anything about oneself.”

But under obedience, St. Therese’s book was written, and so many more were written after her death that people of nearly every age group can be introduced to St. Therese.

Books about St. Therese

  1. “Catholic Treasure Box” series, edited by the Maryknoll Sisters- For children ages around 3-8, with crafts, stories, and poems. In the beginning of the first six issues are simple stories about St. Therese.
  2. The Little Flower by Mary Fabyan Windeatt- For ages 7+, this biography of St. Therese is told in first person, similarly to her autobiography.
  3. Olivia and the Little Way by Nancy Carabio Belanger- Written for tweens. The story is about Olivia, a girl who builds a friendship with St. Therese amid the challenges of her new school.
  4. The Story of a Soul– St. Therese’s autobiography. Its sweetness and profoundness in its simplicity have made this book a Catholic classic, and its author is now beloved around the world. (There are also several letters and poems of St. Therese which are easily available to read through an Internet search.)
  5. I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean d’Elbee- Wonderful spiritual reading for teens and adults, this is an insightful discussion of love, humility, faith, and more, highly influenced by St. Therese’s “little way”.

Prayer to St. Therese

rnimagesFor me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward Heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

Many are also familiar with Therese’s promise that after her death, she would “let fall from Heaven a shower of roses”. The novena to St. Therese, to be prayed every consecutive day for nine days, is quite powerful. When you pray it for a specific intention, St. Therese will sometimes send roses your way to assure you. Now even when I am not praying the novena, seeing a rose makes me smile and think of her.

I encourage all of you to pray for the intercession of St. Therese in your lives and get to know her better. I know that she will help you and me, as she has helped many others, to approach sanctity and a more perfect love of God.

 

 

Why?

Enviably, I recently canvassed a room full of young people, my students, about church attendance.

The occasion was an all-school Mass earlier that day. A non-Catholic student broached the question of worship style, repeating the decades-old platitudes about young people abandoning the faith because of boring music and dull liturgy (for the record, the singing at this Mass was supported by electric guitar and bass). It took the 21 high-school students in the room about five minutes to demolish these assumptions utterly. At best, they concluded, popular music would make the Mass more tolerable if they were forced to go. It would not, however, make them into churchgoers.

This jives with my own experience. I know many faithful Catholics who are sincerely attached to contemporary or charismatic worship, for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes that music and style were for them a new lens through which they could see through to the Gospel past negative experiences in the past that were associated with other styles of worship.

Sometimes it was simply the environment in which they had first worshipped God in spirit and in truth after their conversion, their “earliest love songs,” as Michele Chronister so ably put it in her recent post, “The Grace of Those 1980s Hymns”.

But in all my conversations, including this one, I have not met any Catholic attached to contemporary worship whose attendance at Mass depends upon the presence of a drum set; rather, they are present faithfully at Mass because Our Lord is also present. Musical style is a preference or, at most, a sentimental attachment with deep personal meaning to them, but never a sine qua non.

Rather, what emerged in our conversation as a class was a much deeper crisis among young people, a crisis that is much more difficult to address than worship style; it is a crisis of faith. In some ways, it is attractive to think that the reason the Church is hemorrhaging millennials is because millennials do not like sacred music, vestments, and incense, and can only stand rock concerts and raves [demonstrably false in a significant number of cases, but that is beyond the scope of this article].  Music and worship style are something we can easily control and adjust; if that were the problem, we could solve it instantaneously by papal fiat. What we cannot control, and can only dispel with great difficulty, is the climate of unbelief to which young people are exposed and subjected by forces beyond our control.

The picture of the unbelieving high-schooler that my students imparted to me was that of a creature overwhelmed by data. A single Google search will yield more “refutations” of Catholic truth than you could consider and refute in a single lifetime. The orthodoxies of ten thousand world religions, and all of their sacred texts, and all of the finest works of their greatest mystics, sages, and theologians, may be summoned with a few keystrokes. Again, more than anyone could undertake to read, let alone consider, in a lifetime. And what of their heresies and schisms, equally well-articulated?

So, sanely, young people defer their judgment in particular matters to experts: scientists and their parents.

From the scientists, and from the technology on which they read and listen to what they have to say, they learn that a materialist, reductionist methodology has domesticated the laws of nature and made them into man’s servants. They learn that supernatural explanations for many natural phenomena have been overturned, and they are told to expect more of the same in the near future. They are used to unbelieving scientists speaking with bold confidence in the public sphere about the death of religion and the triumph of rationality, and they are conditioned to believe that the system of thought these scientists espouse provides them with as many motives of credibility as there are pieces of technology that they use every day.

On the other hand, from their parents, who are (and rightly so, according to the Church’s mind) viewed by their children as the expert teachers of religion and morality, too many of my students appeared to have learned complete indifferentism. I was actually shocked at how often my students claimed that their parents had encouraged them to “make their own decision” in matters of faith, teaching them about religions, but making no particularly strong case for any one of them. This, when contrasted with the confidence of the materialist Gospel’s zealous evangelists, has presented them with a fairly obvious choice: one of these people really thinks there are reasons to accept his religious beliefs, and one does not. Who is to be believed? And what of the apparently sincere parents of deep faith who are unable to articulate not merely apologetics, but the kerygma of the Gospel?

In Genesis, God does not grant Abraham a son by Sarah until he has attained faith and demonstrated complete trust in God, for He wishes to raise up spiritual descendants to Abraham, not just sons of the flesh. Any spiritual children that we are to beget must also inherit from us faith, not simple enthusiasm.

Faith is more than attraction, than entertainment, although nothing is more desirable to the one who possesses faith than worship.

Faith is more than apologetics can ever demonstrate, since it does not merely imply that the claims of Christ are credible, but that belief in Christ is compelling.

Faith, we are told, comes by hearing.

In a religiously pluralistic climate, it is easy for unbelief to articulate itself in singular contrast to every other viewpoint, just as it was once for monotheism. The materialists provide a way out of the whole confusing mess, a confusing mess inhabited largely by the half-convinced, and very many millennials find that quite attractive.

If we cannot articulate the foundations of faith, the singular uniqueness of the Gospel in contrast so many other claims and religious traditions, how can we ever hope to be heard?

If I claimed that I knew how, I would obviously be selling snake oil.

Living at the Ends of the Earth

Growing up, I heard two things.

One was that I could be and do whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it. The other were stories about saints. The former spoke to my work ethic, high ideals, and diligence. The latter sparked my desire to do great things, be something great, and impact the world for the better in a bold and dramatic way.

Since stories about saints often involve romantic notions of leaving everything behind to go to the ends of the earth in service of the Lord, they also served to energize my natural wander-lust and implant the idea that it is only in great big sacrifices that holiness is realized.

The combination of these two culminated in a very impassioned desire when I graduated college. I wanted to give my life to God, and I knew that that was possible because I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough! I knew (or thought I knew) that I was supposed to leave everything behind and gallivant off to the yet undiscovered rain forests of Cambodia to serve the natives there (because that’s how you become holy, duh!) and by golly, I was ready to do so.

However, soon after graduating, I found myself working a retail job in Columbus, Ohio. Then I found myself living in a small, heavily depressed town in southern Michigan. Newly married, away from my friends and family in Ohio, and most certainly not at the farthest ends of the earth feeding the homeless of Transylvania.

For a while, I kept telling myself that this was just the first step in the grand plan to bring the Eucharist to the natives of Madagascar. Yet, my husband and I became more established in Michigan and the plan seemed to change. As I slowly began to realize that Iceland and I were not going to meet anytime soon, I also had to ask myself the question “how do I become holy here?” and then the insecurities had to be dealt with: “why am I not good enough for the Lord? Why doesn’t He want to send me to the ends of the earth?”

As I searched for the answers to these questions, the same stories of saints from my childhood kept popping up. As I got to know many of these saints better, I also began to understand that the stories of the saints paint an incomplete picture.

These stories make the saints’ lives out to be a great adventure, and surely they are, but the stories never delve into what the saints were truly experiencing during their great sacrifices. Sometimes the stories told mention that Saint so-and-so didn’t really want to go to China/Indonesia/Africa/you-pick-the-place, but it is usually presented as “but that’s why this person is so cool.” No doubt it is cool, but this approach cuts short the nature of their sacrifice.

The places considered to be at the ends of the earth several centuries ago were not at that time the hip, trendy, social justice places they are today. As I learned to live in (and even love!) my small, depressed town, I began to realize that when St. Francisco Álvares went to Ethiopia, he wasn’t going on a Christian Safari. He was going to the equivalent of my Michigan town. Ethiopia wasn’t some neat, exotic place to travel to, it was a place of loneliness, poverty, and distance from all that was known, familiar, and comfortable to him.

My little Michigan town is, perhaps, the absolute lowest on the list of places one wants to travel to. It is poor and distant from my family and friends in Ohio (even hostile at times to a natural-born Ohioan!). It was, consequently, lonely when I first came here, and certainly not comfortable.

As I began to put my situation next to the those of the saints, I slowly began to realize that my dream had, really, come true. As we live four hours away, I have in a sense, been asked to “give up” my friends and family, and live in a small town that in many ways, I didn’t at first want to be in. I consider my situation to be living at the ends of the earth in many ways. There is no good place to get a hair cut, no good date places, and we are surrounded by cornfields. Yet I am also living in a town that desperately needs love, mercy, and the Eucharist.

The ends of the earth aren’t in some far-away country. They are right here in our own nation. Africa isn’t the ends of the earth, Flint, Michigan, Hillsdale, Michigan, Cranks Creek, Kentucky, Harlingen, Texas and numerous other towns like them are. What’s more, the work the saints did wasn’t glorious in and of itself. It was – and still is – glorious because it made Christ present in the world in a place and a manner which He previously wasn’t.

That is glorious.

The work the saints did was really hard. It wasn’t, to them, the most romantic thing in the world. It probably stunk a lot of the time. No doubt, they asked themselves “am I really going to live the rest of my life here?” Yet knowledge that you are doing God’s will provides peace which surpasses such earthly discomfort.

Sometimes, it is really hard for me to be joyful or to believe that what I am doing is good and important. It is really hard to be away from a state, family, and friends that I love. Yet, holiness isn’t dependent on where you are, but rather who you are and how you respond to where God put you. Holiness isn’t about some misguided passion, it is about being passionate about your faith even in the smallest, most overlooked, most forgotten towns in America. Holiness is about trusting that God put you there for a purpose, and that if you can love this small town with great love, and do little things with great charity, then you’ve done more good than any mission trip you could have done to Australia. When it comes down to it, these humble towns and seemingly invisible callings do more for the development of humility, the interior life, trust in God, prayer, faith, hope, and love than any great work I could do elsewhere. Moreover, the peace and subtle, yet strong joy that comes from this town far surpasses any worldly comfort I could gain elsewhere. Indeed, I have fallen so hopelessly in love with this place that I wonder if I could ever leave, if given the choice. Indeed, how great is our consolation when we do the works of the Lord and allow Him to be present to us!

So, let us not be misguided by the shiny, exciting “calls” to Japan or India. No doubt, some are called there and God bless them. But for the rest of us, stuck with a “mediocre” calling in a boring old town, embrace it! The Lord has chosen you to go to the ends of the earth and make Him known there! The greatest adventures, and the greatest joy, await you right here, in the homes of your neighbors and the backyards of your neighborhoods.

radical-obedience

Silence and the Eucharist

The chapel was still and dark as we filed in, hushed, almost on tiptoe. The first sight we registered in our dim surroundings was the glow of the golden monstrance that framed Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It was my first silent retreat, held at a convent, with several other young ladies attending. We had just finished our silent meal (unfortunately made up of such indiscreet foods as raw carrots and celery) and were about to start a lengthy period of Eucharistic Adoration.

I knelt reverently in front of the Host before sliding into my pew. After everyone finished her initial settling-in, the silence around us grew thick and almost palpable, only occasionally disturbed with the sound of a covered cough or creak of a kneeler. Closing my eyes and bowing my head, I tried to project an image of someone thoroughly engrossed in prayer, an image in keeping with the circumstances.

But during the beginning of that period of prayer, I kept feeling annoyed and uncomfortable—the kneelers were hard, the stuffy chapel lacked air conditioning, my shoulder kept aching irritatingly. Most awkward to me was the utter and unfamiliar silence. This lack of outward distraction, so unlike what I was used to every day, only seemed to amplify my inward distraction. A few times I squirmed uneasily and almost felt like screaming with exasperation. Since it was so noiseless, why couldn’t I concentrate on the fact that my Lord and my God was here before me? Desperately gathering and dismissing, and re-gathering and re-dismissing, my scattered thoughts (everything from “she’s wearing an interesting top” to “I knew I would forget to mail that birthday card”), I struggled in frustration. I loved God—why couldn’t I “feel” it?

I was thinking this way and trying to concentrate on Our Lord for at least an hour. Silence continued to reign. I could almost hear the minutes, the seconds, heavily dropping away one by one.

However, the longer I knelt in that sacred place, the less distracted I became. The thoughts and noises left in my mind from the everyday world eventually slipped away and dissolved into the silence. My soul slowly became stilled in the tranquility, and as it quieted I became more aware of Christ before me. I raised my eyes and looked on Him, in the appearance of a white Host, bordered by the shining gold and jewels of the kingly monstrance. Right here before us was the center of the chapel, the convent, the world—this Light, piercing the darkness that seemed to spread across everything else we could see. My eyes could not leave His Face, His Beauty. Suddenly I realized that, previously, I had been thinking selfishly. It didn’t matter how I “felt” within or without the silence, because He was the only one who really mattered. This silence which I’d found so oppressive at first became a vehicle of God’s love. The prayers which I had been struggling to express unknotted themselves and wound together seamlessly to make a wordless canticle of praise. I melted in love before the Lord my God.

My first prolonged and completely silent adoration became a defining period in my life. I had never realized how, in such a way, God’s love could be found in the calmness. God is easier to hear in the silence, as we can focus on His direction rather than on the events of the world. Of course struggles and distractions remain, and it takes quite a while every time to become interiorly still and attentive. However, I have glimpsed the power of silence as an aid to prayer and understanding. While I know the great importance of beautiful music and spiritual reading, I am no longer afraid or scornful of simply kneeling in inarticulate praise and love.

In fact, as I knelt that quiet night in adoration, I found no need for words or activities of any kind. Jesus Christ was before me and His Love was around me. And in the silence, my soul was singing.

The Moon, the Stars, and My Smartphone

We recently visited my in-laws, and they sent us home with a treasure from my husband’s childhood – a telescope. We brought it home, and my husband spent a whole evening re-assembling it. The following night, we set up camp in our driveway and managed to see some stars, as well as Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, through the lens. Saturn, with its distinctive rings, was particulary impressive.

In order to easily name and locate the celestial bodies we wanted to see, we downloaded an app for our smart phones. The app allowed us to span the skies, and would identify whatever we were seeing. We live just outside of an urban area, and there is a considerable amount of light pollution, so we were unfortunately limited in what we were actually able to see with our own eyes. The app told another story. As we spanned the sky, it named all sorts of stars and galaxies that we couldn’t see (because the intensity of the street lights). It even highlighted the Milky Way, showing us how it would look in the night sky in the absence of artificial lights.

It struck me as terribly ironic, that we were equipped with an impressive app and smart phones that would help us locate and name the stars, yet that same technology made it impossible to actually see them. I have visited parts of the country where the light pollution is almost non-existent, and the memory of that has always stayed with me. Unfortunately, that’s not the case where we currently live.

I am a fan of technology, and am IMG_20150709_204615758also aware of the fact that it has its shortcomings. The internet, computers, smartphones, are all wonderful tools, but can be distracting. We lack the focus we once had. With grace and near heroic self-discipline, we can find a balance with technology, and it can be a force for good.

However, there’s another side to technology, one that has spiritual implications. As I gazed through the lens of the telescope, and saw the tiny image of Saturn and its rings, I felt something that I don’t frequently feel. I felt a sense of awe. I was looking at something far greater than myself.

When I was a teenager, our family took a vacation to the mountains of Colorado, and I had a similar experience. Late one night, we drove out of the small town we were staying in, and stepped out of the car. The sky was incredible. There were so many stars, and there was so much light. I remember feeling overwhelmed by how small I felt, and there was something almost scary about it. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “Fear of the Lord,” and in that moment, the “fear” being talked about made perfect sense. Something inside us quakes when our littleness is faced with the greatness of God’s creation. The psalmist writes,

“When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the stars and moons that you have arranged – what is mortal man that you are mindful of him; mortal man that you should care for him?” (Psalm 8:4-5)

The greatest danger of technology lies in its ability to rob us of that sense of awe – to make us feel that we are greater than we are, more in control than we are. If you have ever stood under a night sky like the one I stood under in Colorado, you know that you are very small. If you have ever looked through the lens of a telescope and gazed at the planets, you know that there are things in creation that are much greater than yourself. And yet, it was not for the stars or planets that God became incarnate – but rather for you and me.

That realization means more when we realize how great the other aspects of creation are. We, who seem to be among the smallest and most insignificant, are the greatest in God’s eyes. It was for our sake that He took on flesh.

The temptation is to surround ourselves with light and noise to avoid that moment of feeling our littleness. Yet, without recognizing our absolute littleness, we cannot fully grasp the greatness of God’s love for us.