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St. Paulinus of Nola (Bishop)

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

The fifth century bishop and poet St. Paulinus of Nola (354?-431) was the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul (modern-day France). His family’s wealth insured his rapid rise in Roman society; Paulinus became a distinguished lawyer and held several public offices, before retiring at an early age.

Paulinus and his wife Therasia, a wealthy Spanish woman, were baptized in 390, and then moved to her estate in Spain. After many childless years, their prayers for a son were briefly answered, but the child died a week later. Profoundly moved by this tragedy, they dedicated their lives to God and gave away most of their property, while devoting themselves to the care of the poor. Paulinus was ordained a priest by popular demand (celibacy was not yet a requirement), and in 395 he and Therasia established a small community near the Italian town of Nola.

In 409, he was chosen as bishop of Nola. During this time, the Roman Empire was under increasing pressure from barbarian tribes such as the Vandals. After one of their raids, Paulinus voluntarily exchanged himself for one of his parishioners who had been enslaved. When the Vandals discovered his identity, they were amazed by such charity, and released him and all the other townspeople of Nola who had been captured.

Paulinus corresponded with many of the leading Christians of the day (including Saints Augustine, Jerome, Martin, and Ambrose), and spent much time composing religious poems and hymns. He showed special concern for the poor, even arranging to give alms while on his deathbed. Soon afterwards, while lamps were being lighted for evening prayers, Paulinus said, “I have prepared a lamp for Christ,” and died.


1. Jesus spoke of the need to “let your light shine before all” (Mt 5:16), and St. Paulinus did this through his generosity, humility, and concern for the poor.

2. Tragedies can bring us closer to God. Paulinus and Therasia grieved over the death of their son, but also used this event as an opportunity to deepen their commitment as Christians.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. John Fisher (1535), Bishop, Martyr

St. Thomas More (1535), Martyr, Patron of Lawyers

Make Known the Mercies of God

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 02:35
Make Known the Mercies of God

In the name of the Father, Christ sends His disciples into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to make known the mercies of God. The humble movement of God’s heart reaching out to ours, extending even into the deepest recesses of our misery, ought to evoke our love and gratitude. Those who come to realize what Christ suffered for their sakes yearn to give a return. They are so overcome by how much they are loved by Christ that they are willing to do anything for Him. They want to imitate Him in everything. We find this sentiment in the prayers and reflections of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who wanted to imitate in his own heart all the movements of the Heart of Jesus:

My Father, I abandon myself into Your hands. Make of me whatever You please. Whatever You do with me, I thank You: I am ready for all and I accept all; only let Your Will be done in me, my God. Provided that Your will be done in all Your creatures, all Your children, all those whom Your Heart loves, I desire nothing else, my God. Into Your hands I commend my spirit, and I give it to You, my God, with all the love of my heart. I love You, and I give myself to You for the sake of this love in me. Into Your hands, I entrust myself without measure, with an infinite confidence, because You are my Father.*

Blessed Charles wrote this prayer while meditating on Luke 23:46 — the prayer of Jesus on the Cross. It is the most powerful of all prayers ever offered. It was the prayer that Blessed Charles wanted as the heartbeat of his own life. This kind of union with Christ’s prayer is filled with wisdom in the face of apparent defeat, a wisdom that he in fact witnessed to in his own ministry.

As a priest and hermit, he worked for the conversion of the Taureg People in North Africa. They were Muslim, but not very devout, and he had hoped to win their hearts to Christ by showing them the mercy of God through his own kindness to them. Blessed Charles befriended them and gently entered into their lives. No one ever converted as a result of his efforts, but many were impressed with the hermit. Then there was an uprising, and the old hermit was betrayed by a friend, attacked by soldiers, and shot in the back by a frightened teenager. It seemed as though his whole life had been a failure.

Yet his abandonment to the Father and his life of prayer would influence many of the new religious movements throughout the twentieth century. Why was he so fruitful in the face of so much failure? To make this movement in the heart of Christ the movement of one’s own heart is to allow oneself to be as rejected and hated as was the Lord Himself. The more rejected and the more Christlike we become, the more fruitful our prayer becomes — even in ways we do not expect it to. Mental prayer in the Christian tradition leads to this solidarity with the Lord. It is the mystery of the Cross that unlocks the power of mercy in the world.

Primal hostility toward God in our culture and in the lives of individuals is directed at the person who is holy. This is the reason Blessed Charles was betrayed to his murderers. It is why great saints such as Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross were killed in Auschwitz. It seems this is really the reason Saint John Paul II was shot. It is also the reason he went into prison, embraced the man who shot him, and prayed with him. What does this mean for those who want to live with fire from above? Saint John of the Cross says, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”**

*La Prière d’abandon, January 23, 1897.
**See Letter 26, in Complete Works, 760.


This article is from a chapter in Fire from Above, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on how to make known the mercies of God: Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission. Detail of Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti, 1510, Picture by Motty, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Charlie McKinney

Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers,,, and Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.





This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

Job and My Greatest Fear

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:07

Fatherhood has changed me.  I used to be able to handle stories of tragedies involving children with a sigh and a prayer; now, as a husband and father, I can barely sigh for the sorrow I feel.  Stories from friends about miscarriages or the death of a child mix in my mind with reports of school-aged Syrian refugees and pictures of a young boy washed up on a beach.  I can no longer simply sigh and say my quiet prayer, and then move on with my day.  I feel the weight of sorrow for strangers I have never, nor will ever, meet.

My greatest fear is losing my wife or our boys.  They are my life’s greatest treasures, the greatest gifts with which God has blessed me.  I will look at them, at their smiling blue eyes, and feel God’s love beaming out of them.

And the tragedies of this world, of friends, family, and strangers, shouts at me in my bliss: what if I lost them all?  What if I lost everything?

Strangely, or perhaps appropriately, my favorite Bible story is that of Job.

Job was a man who had it all and lost it: his wealth, his family, his friends, even to an extent his wife (she turns against him in his suffering).  He does this not because of his sins, but rather because of his righteousness.  Satan asks God to let him take away the good things God has given Job, to prove Job will not remain faithful to the Almighty.  God allows this evil, and thus Job finds himself childless and broke.  What follows is one of the most moving statements in all of Scripture.

Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair.  He cast himself prostrate upon the ground and said,
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall go back again.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:20-22).

In such a trial, in such a great tragedy, Job remains faithful to God.  Even after Satan increases his oppression of Job, attacking his very body (and, interestingly, Job’s wife), the just man remains faithful.  In his faithfulness to God, he questions why this happened to him, lamenting his life.  His friends come and give some encouragement, but eventually decide that Job must have done some heinous sin to deserve his suffering.  After all, isn’t that why people suffer?  Jewish tradition would seem to think so (hence the Apostles’ reaction the man born blind in John 9).

But Job is adamant.  He may have sinned, but never something so severe to deserve this much suffering; he, he holds, is an innocent man.  The speeches between Job and his friends go back and forth, until finally his youngest friend, Elihu, chastises both the older friends and Job.  “He was angry with Job for considering himself rather than God to be in the right. He was angry also with the three friends because they had not found a good answer and had not condemned Job” (Job 32:2-3).  Elihu is a necessary voice in this dialogue.  He reminds Job that God is the judge of Job’s life, not Job.  God decides if Job’s offenses fit the punishment received.  In essence, Elihu notes, God is just.  He does not punish unnecessarily or without reason.  God has everything under control.

So far, Job’s story is my personal nightmare.  There is that terror when everything we hold dear to us, our very life, is taken away from us, and we are left with nothing.  What can we do but worry, or turn to God and ask Him why?  It is a bad dream that seems to have no ending.

Then, as with the worst bad dreams and dark nights, we awaken like Job to the light of morning.  It isn’t that Job dreamt the whole affair; his suffering is as real as anyone’s.  However, a light has sparked in the darkness.

God speaks to him out of the storm.

God’s response to Job is famous for its indirectness.  If the main question of Job is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” then the answer God seems to give is “Who are you to ask?  Stop asking stupid questions.”

But there is more to God’s response than a divine “shut up.”  God’s response sweeps through creation.  The God who, by speaking creates, uses descriptions of His creation to answer a question.  God speaks both of the vastness of creation and of its intimacy.  In one verse, God asks Job, “Have you entered into the sources of the sea, or walked about in the depths of the abyss” (Job 38:16)?  This and other verses indicates the greatness of God, His omnipotent providence.  He formed the world, shaped the universe, without anything, ex nihilo.  What can we do that even approaches that divine majesty?

At the same time, God notes his intimacy with creation.  In Job 39: 1-4, God brings up, of all things, pregnant mountain goats.  He asks Job if he watches the goats, noting when they give birth, what they go through as they bear their young, and where each of those young go.  He goes on like this for several chapters (the whole speech of God stretches through chapters 38-41), describing the grandness and details of creation.

Why would God bring all of this up?  What does this have to do with Job’s suffering and those of us who fear losing our loved ones?


God can’t give Job a straight answer for why there is suffering because neither Job nor us could ever fully understand God’s providence.  In our own lives, we can look back at a tragedy that befell us or our family and see the good that came from it, the flowers that sprang from the filth.  That is product of God’s hand, that same loving hand that stretched the length and breadth of universe and guides every individual created thing, including his most fickle creation: us.

In His providence, God knows what is best for us.  Christ assured his followers of this fact (see Matthew 6:25-34).  I still do not want to lose my loved ones.  Yet in such fear I find assurance in the “meek and humble” pierced Heart of Christ, which shows, more than anything in this world, that no matter the tragedy, God is in control.

image: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gripped by the Eucharist

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:07
A homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Her husband had left her after close to 40 years of marriage and five grown kids and moved in with another younger woman. Her friends made fun of her for choosing to remain single and faithful to her marriage vows and not follow their warped advice to “move on with her life” and get another “husband.” She had also recently been diagnosed with a form of cancer. Yet this woman would silently enter the pew each morning for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in her local chapel and to receive the Eucharist with a face that betrayed the pain in her heart.

Why should she continue to come to receive our Eucharistic Lord every blessed day though her entire life seemed to be falling apart? I always see in her example a reminder that we need the presence of God in our lives more than we need the gifts of God.

God’s gifts come and go and we cannot hold on to them forever. Think about how our youth, beauty, relationships, loved ones, joys, health, and off course, our earthly life, necessary pass away. But when God is present in our lives, it is not so much us holding on to God, but God who holds on to us forever and He never lets go in good or bad times.

Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of today’s Mass contains two guarantees connected to the Eucharist that call us to trust completely in the worlds of Jesus. Jesus first of all guarantees us His abiding presence with us through the Eucharist, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” We are guaranteed eternal life (not a mere sign of eternal life) that is nothing but the presence of Jesus with us under the form of bread and wine. The second guarantee is that He will hold on to us till the very end and give us all that we need to hold on to Him, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ that we celebrate today reminds us of this double guarantee that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist: to be with us and to hold on to us even till death. Jesus freely surrendered the gifts that His Father bestowed on Him during His earthly life. He saw the death of St. Joseph, He saw His beloved disciples betray, deny and abandon Him, He saw His good reputation destroyed by the Jewish leaders, and He saw His life unjustly taken from Him. But His Father held on to Jesus even in the grave and raised Him from the grave, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of Him, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Jesus held on to His Father as intensely as the Father held on to Him whether the gifts were present or not. By having His life in us, we are guaranteed that God holds on to us too and gives us what we need to hold on to Him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we receive God’s gifts or not, whether we preserve them intact or not, whether we use or lose them, let us continue to come to our Eucharistic Lord so that we live our lives with that guarantee of God’s presence with us always, holding on to us till the very end.

What does Jesus do as He holds on to us? In our Eucharistic Savior Jesus, God is fulfilling and perfecting for us the very same things that He did for the Israelites in the Old Testament. Moses reminds the Israelites in today’s First Reading of God’s power to set them free, “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” First of all, Jesus’s Eucharistic presence is all about setting us free from sin, selfishness, worries, addictions and all things that hinder our freedom from becoming what God wants us to be.

Moses also reminds them of God’s wisdom that guided them through the treacherous desert, “(Do not forget) the God who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched land and waterless ground.” Secondly, Jesus in the Eucharist is our Good Shepherd who guides us along the way of life and enlightens our choices in the journey through life. Lastly, the Israelites are to remember the God who “brought forth water from the flinty rock and fed them in the desert with manna, a food unknown to their fathers.” Thirdly, Jesus in His love mysteriously nourishes and strengthens us with His own body and blood so that we can overcome all things and journey to the very end with Him.

Our Eucharist Lord is present with us to free us, to guide us and to nourish and strengthen us till the very end of our lives. We must go beyond attending the Eucharist in search of earthly gifts alone and then judging the presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs based on the presence or absence of His gifts in our lives. We must also go beyond attending the Eucharist as a mere obligation or duty imposed on us by the Church. How much more transforming will our Eucharistic celebrations be if we approached the Eucharist with the that readiness to be set free by Jesus, guided by Jesus alone in all our life choices and strengthened to do His will in this life?

A woman here in Marawi, Philippines, who has been displaced by the fierce fighting between the government troops and the Islamic Maute group, had this to say recently, “Our homes and stores have been destroyed, our neighbors and relatives killed. We have lost everything. It is only God that we are holding on to now.” Gifts and blessings come and go, often in painful and difficult circumstances. We can always hold on to the divine presence with us. Our Eucharist guarantees us that we are not just holding on to God but God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, is holding on to us as we receive His body and drink His blood, placing all our trust in the words of Jesus alone and in His divine guarantee.

Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist. He knows all our needs even before we ask Him. He comes to give us what we need most – His presence with us. Whether we have and enjoy His gifts or not, let Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, be ever present in our lives to free us, to guide us, and to strengthen us with His body and blood so that He will hold on to us even till the grave from where He will raise us up on the last day…guaranteed.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

image: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“St. Aga, Who?”

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:02

Just when I think that I’ve “heard” it all, I read some new, bizarre, nonsensical idea. Let me explain.  I was in the thrift store, scanning the bookshelves, when I came upon a book about simplifying your life while at the same time living your life more abundantly. So far sounds good!

I cracked it open to a random page and read, “This year, for a refreshing change, I thought we’d celebrate the feast of Saint Agabus, the patron saint of fortune-tellers, instead of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of disappointment. For who among us does not secretly want to know what the future holds, especially concerning matters of the heart?”

Well, that certainly is a lot to ponder! My first thought was St. Agabus, who? For what? And close on its heels, vying for my attention was “Clearly this woman does not know who St. Valentine is.” Reading the next sentence confirmed what a priest friend has repeatedly stated, “Curiosity is not a good thing.” He believes that studiousness not curiosity is a virtue.

Why is curiosity about the future not a good thing? Sure, we can be curious and wonder about the future. A young woman often wonders what kind of man will she marry. There are plenty of love songs that express that curiosity. Wondering is one thing. Curiosity to the point of seeking a fortune teller or “praying to the saint of fortune-tellers” is something else. What’s wrong with that?

In the CCC, we read 2115 “. . . A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.”

Simply stated, by seeking out the “advice” of a fortune teller, that person is placing her “faith” in the fortune teller and not God. The fortune teller may be telling her absolute gobbledygook but she is going to believe it instead of believing that God, who is a loving Father cares about her personally and about her future.

To clarify a few more points. While there really is a St. Agabus, a prophet in the early Church, the Church would never give him the title of saint of fortune-tellers.

Furthermore, why does this woman label St. Valentine the patron saint of disappointment? In reading bits and pieces of the book, the answer becomes evident. She labels St. Valentine such because sadly she herself has been disappointed in love and has transferred her disappointment to St. Valentine, whom I venture to say she knows little about other than the secular notion of hearts, flowers, chocolate and love.

While it would be easy to dismiss her strange ideas as an anomaly, I venture to say considering the number of copies her books have sold, she is not alone with these strange ideas. She is a poor lost soul, searching for meaning, even if she doesn’t recognize it as such. Sprinkled throughout her book are bits of wisdom, “Accustom yourself to continually make many acts of love for they enkindle and melt the soul. ” Saint Teresa of Avila. But those moments of insight, gratitude or appreciation of simple wonders are closely followed by long passages narcissistic, self-indulgence.  Like so many people today, she has fashioned God to fit her concept of God, even so far as giving him names that she fancies for the moment–not that in her mind God is a he.

Where am I going with this? Do we know who God is? Do we have a relationship with him? Do we spend time in his presence? Do we have confidence in him? Do we believe he is a loving, kind Father, who cares about us personally. St. Agabus did or he wouldn’t be a saint. But what about us?

“If we all take up the mission of

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

“If we all take up the mission of praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon priests, the Spirit will surely grant the Church a new infusion of much-needed love, a new Pentecost, a new springtime of faith.”

-Kathleen Beckman, Praying for Priests

One of the memorable homilies I

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

One of the memorable homilies I remember was from our school head before we graduated from High School, “Go, make money and be rich!”

It was just before our graduation. He paused a few moments to let his words sink in. “Magpakayaman kayo,” he reiterated. We were not quite sure what he was saying, what he meant. Why was our school head urging us to become rich, rather than to live simple lives?

Having caught our attention, he then explained that wealth was both boon and bane. With it we could live good lives; but it could also corrupt us. Too much attention and desire for wealth could lead us to sin.

The challenge, he continued, was to have financial capacity not only for ourselves but more for the marginalized. Every peso we earned could help those who needed it. Give abundantly when we could. With this generous mindset we avoid the temptation of wanting more just to have more.

It is not bad to aspire for a comfortable life. But as we work for it, especially as we achieve it, let us not ignore our brothers and sisters who do not have the capacity or opportunity or resources to have the same. It is our responsibility to share with others cheerfully and generously so that they do not get left behind.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591) was a young man who experienced his faith as something more important than the worldly concerns of life. He lived in Renaissance Italy, a time noted for its high cultural achievements and low moral standards.

Because he was born of a noble family, Aloysius was very familiar with court life, serving for a time as a page to King Philip II of Spain. The more he saw of such life, however, the less he appreciated its violent and licentious aspects. His father desired him to be a great military leader, but Aloysius, inspired by a book describing the work of Jesuit missionaries in India, decided to enter the Society of Jesus. His appalled father forbade this, and had eminent churchmen attempt to convince his son to follow a “normal” lifestyle, but Aloysius was not to be deterred.

After a four-year struggle of wills between father and son, the youth was allowed to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Rome. Aloysius had to adapt himself to Jesuit discipline, which was less rigorous than that which he was already observing on his own (for instance, he was now obliged to eat and recreate more, and pray less often than was his custom). Nonetheless, Aloysius was a model novice; he studied philosophy and had St. Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual director. The Jesuits established a hospital in Rome when a plague broke out in 1591; Aloysius was very active there in caring for the patients. He himself caught a lingering fever, but he continued his great discipline of prayer until his death at age twenty-three several months later.


1. Jesus said, “What profit does a man show who gains the whole world at the cost of his soul?” (Lk 9:25). St. Aloysius Gonzaga took these words to heart, and rejected the allurements of the world in order to follow Christ.

2. Sometimes parents’ desires for their children are contrary to God’s will; as Aloysius’ life shows, a holy persistence (combined with respect for those in authority) can eventually bear fruit.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Terence (1st Century), Bishop

Announcing Our Next Book: The Lord by Romano Guardini

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 14:47


Announcing Our Next Book: The Lord by Romano Guardini The Lord (Week 1 of 23)

Dear Spiritual Direction Family,

Please join our Book Club as we read one of the great treasures of Catholic thought – The Lord, by Romano Guardini.

Following are the accolades from the back of my edition:

“Monsignor Guardini…has written more than just the life of Jesus. He places that life in the context of history and shows how the teachings of Jesus are related to the whole body of church doctrine and practice.” — New York Times

“This book is a masterpiece. It embodies the wealth of modern exegetical criticism opened by Protestant theologians like Karl Barth, the greatest traditions of ‘devotio modern,’ French seventeenth century thought, the great insights of the Catholic mystics, and the matured speculation of scholasticism. But above all, it is an approach to Christ through the Gospels.” — H.A. Reinhold, Commonweal

“Guardini’s book The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.” — Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]

I’ve previewed the first couple of chapters, and I’m telling you – this book is rich! It is beautiful, insightful and directly applicable to our lives today. Let me just say, Chapter II: The Mother – Wow!

This book will carry us through to our Thanksgiving break – we plan to take our time so we can savor every chapter. Here is our prospective calendar:

We look forward to the discussion!!!

 NOTE: Speaking of discussions, our Comment Box has been getting slim lately – please drop a note to let us know you are there. And also, as we embark on this book, remember that our discussion is only as rich as the ComBox is full. Have you ever been involved in a book club where only one person does all the talking? Not nearly as much fun as when everyone contributes. We’d love for this online book club to be as personal as one meeting in your living room. When I designed this book club, I decided to write my posts as I would talk in my own home – this paragraph or chapter made me think of X,Y or Z. And then the discussion would go from there. The idea was that others could comment on that passage, or about something that particularly moved them in their reading – just as they do when we discuss books in person. So get in there – don’t be shy!!! We want to hear (read) your insights, your thoughts, your feelings, your resolutions!!!

Happy Reading! Reading Assignment:

Author Preface; Part 1: Chapter I-IV

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever read The Lord? If so, do you have any insights you’d like to share? How would you say it compares with other writings that examine the life of Christ?

2. See the NOTE above – please drop us a note in the Comment Box to let us know you are there – and if you have any suggestions that would help our book club serve you better, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Read More:

For More Information on the Book Club:

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven – A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at




This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

How a Young Couple Rejected Contraception & Embraced NFP

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:07
From Shaun

Long before we trusted the Catholic Church or even considered marriage, my wife and I got into a heated debate about abortion.

“So you think abortion is a sin?”

“There’s no question: it’s wrong,” she said, as if it should have been obvious.

“What gives you the right to say that? I think there are several cases where a mother should have the choice to have an abortion.” “Like what?” she replied.

“Well, what happens if a father rapes his daughter?” “Um . . .”

“And what about the mother who is addicted to drugs?” “Well . . . ”

“See what I mean now?”

“No. Absolutely not! There’s no case in which a woman should abort her child. You gave two examples in which you think it would be good for that child based on outcomes you can’t predict. Do you just end lives because you think a life might be of less quality? I think all lives have limitless quality!”

“Um . . .”

She was making a good point. She continued:

“Then there’s the fact that you’re punishing an unborn child for the mistakes of adults.”

“But why would you force a child to be born with a disability?”

“Why would you take life away from any child? You’re not even giving them a chance! Some of the happiest people I’ve known are kids with Down syndrome, and their parents are filled with love for their kid.”

“. . .”


“Well, I just think women should have a choice. I guess I would put it this way: personally, I’m pro-life; I would never have or encourage an abortion. But at the same time, I think, legally, women should have a choice. I mean, how can we take away someone’s free will?”

We didn’t talk more about abortion that day or for many months to come. Talking about pro-life issues can be incredibly frustrating for disagreeing parties. Her opinion made some sense at the time, but it didn’t persuade me to abandon my sentiments on the subject. Even though we disagreed, what Jessica told me that day has come to mind every time I’ve had a conversation about pro-life issues.

From Jessica:

I remember the conversation Shaun mentions. His tone shocked me, and, like him, I’ve not forgotten it.

I went silent. That’s when I first realized we were not on the same page on the pro-life issue. He agreed that an abor­tion shouldn’t happen just because a baby was inconvenient. However, Shaun said, “It wasn’t that simple in real life.” He told me he had once helped a woman consider whether to abort her baby. The father wasn’t someone she was with any longer. She felt trapped between two bad alternatives: being tied to a man she didn’t want to be with, or being a young single mother. Months later, Shawn looked up the woman on Facebook and was surprised by her profile picture with a beautiful baby girl. Shaun was immediately taken with the baby.

“Are you happy she didn’t abort the baby?”

“Jess . . .”

“Think about it. Had she made that decision, regardless of when you think life begins, that little girl would not be alive. Period.”

The conversation went on to the usual: rape, incest, birth defects, and handicaps. I had the classic, thought-provoking answers. In the end, he left the conversation saying he thought women should have the choice, and I left it saying that every­thing possible should be done to save and bring dignity to both lives — mother and baby, but especially the innocent baby.

When we realized our relationship was heading toward marriage, I brought the subject up again. Abortion was a deal breaker for me. Although Shaun’s beliefs weren’t as strong as mine, I was relieved that in the meantime he had become very pro-baby as well as pro-woman.

From Shaun:

Fast forward a year: we were planning to be married; there was lots to discuss, and we wanted to be responsible. Our plan was, after about a year of being married, for me to get out of the military so I could finish my undergraduate degree.

This article is from a chapter in Surprised by Life. Click image to check out other chapters or to order.

We agreed that having a child was something we wanted, but not immediately, and so I asked Jessica if she would go on birth control. Jessica hesitated for health reasons, so I said I would go to the doctor with her. The doctor assuaged all of her concerns. From there, it seemed as easy as choosing a method. Was she going to take a shot? Pop pills? Wear a patch?

For reasons I don’t remember, Jessica decided to receive her birth control with the shot. One shot provided birth control for about ninety days, which eliminated problems that would arise if she forgot to take a pill.

For me, the goal was to make the issue “out of sight, out of mind.” To achieve my educational goals and maintain the integ­rity of my future family, using birth control was a no-brainer. I convinced myself that postponing children now would be better for kids born later.

It was 2008, and the job market was weak. With my unem­ployment imminent, I didn’t want to start our new life together without a solid plan. Since money problems were a major cause of divorce, I was convinced that the thirty-dollar cost of birth control was better for our marriage than the thousands of dollars it costs to have children — at least until I got my college degree and had a good job.

From Jessica:

Shaun and I had a very short engagement — just under a month! He had been working very hard on his degree and had to complete it.

My dream was to be a stay-at-home mom. We needed to work as a team on a strict plan. Time wasn’t on our side because of reproductive problems I had, so we wanted to work fast to get to a place where we could have babies.

We decided to postpone children for at least the first two years of our marriage and then revisit the topic. That meant we needed to choose a responsible method of family planning. We wanted to ensure the egg and the sperm would never meet, but if they somehow did, that life wouldn’t be aborted by the con­traceptive. We wouldn’t risk the life of our baby, planned or not.

The doctor allayed all our worries. He assured us that we could use any of the following methods without compromising our will to protect life at every stage from conception onward: the implant, the shot, the pill, or the patch.

We chose the shot, the easiest of the methods. The nurse administered it while Shaun held my hand, and within ten min­utes I felt nauseated and lightheaded. I was glad Shaun was there to drive us home. I hoped that the symptoms were the result of stress. On the way home Shaun thanked me, saying he wished there was a way he could take the shot instead of its being a burden laid solely on my shoulders.

From Shaun:

Before we were married we had what was for us responsible discussions about the future of our family. How many kids we should have? How should we space them? Did we want boys or girls?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but these questions were selfish. I see now that they weren’t really “responsible” conversations. We were concerned with convenience and selection, as if having a family works well only when it is arranged around material or professional goals. Unconsciously, we had judged that we could not take part in the creative act of childbearing unless we determined how, when, and where it happened. As good as our intentions were — not to form a family that we couldn’t manage — we were deeply mistaken about our obligations in marriage.

After two years of preventing pregnancy through contraception, I earned my undergraduate degree and landed a decent job. One night in September, Jessica was brushing her teeth, and I said to her, “Jessica, I’m ready to have kids. Can you stop taking birth control?”

I’ve only seen her that happy a few times. It’s a unique sort of satisfaction that filled her face. It was a mix of “Really? Are you sure?” and “Definitely!

We stopped the contraception immediately, hoping she would be pregnant soon. But we had a tough road ahead of us.

From Jessica:

The shot was horrible. Horrible!

I woke up every morning so nauseated I couldn’t function for the first half hour, was miserable until noon, and miserable again at bedtime. I had daily headaches, was always tired, constantly “spotting,” and emotional. I had to force myself to eat well when I didn’t want to eat at all, and I gained weight at an alarming pace. I had had two rounds of the shot when, in a social situation, I met the nurse who had administered the shot to me.

She told me about methods of contraception she couldn’t believe were legal, and what women complained about. The thing that she said she hated most in her job was giving women that shot and not being allowed to warn them ahead of time what they were in for, knowing two of the doctors gave poor information.

I requested a different doctor.

I would love to say that this is when I wised up and did my own research and at minimum read the small print for each of the methods we considered, but I did not. I have no one to blame except myself.

Next I tried the patch, which became increasingly unpleasant. I was glad when we ran out. Shaun was no longer in the military, and we had no health insurance. Although we both worked long hours, we had minimal income.

Someone recommended that I get the pill from Planned Parenthood.

Wasn’t that the place that does abortions? I wasn’t sure, but if it was, I wanted no part of it.

So I called.

The receptionist said they didn’t perform abortions, so I made an appointment. One small step at a time, our use of contracep­tion — even while we tried to protect life — led me to the doors of Planned Parenthood.

The waiting room was well lit and comfortable. I couldn’t find anything about abortions anywhere. I was looking for any reason to bolt. Sexually transmitted diseases and safe sex seemed to be the push. I went back to the room with the provider, who gave me my annual physical and a prescription for three months of the pill — the most affordable method they provided. She seemed as if she truly cared about me. She told me, when I asked, that their clinic did not perform abortions, but others did.

As I checked out, they pushed for full payment, which I didn’t have. Eventually the receptionist said they would cover half. I didn’t want to give them my business, but if I did, at least they were footing part of the bill.

The next two years I bit my tongue a lot and wondered when, if ever, we would try for babies. Then it finally happened.

Shaun came home from work one day thoughtful and quiet. That evening, he said, “Jess, I think I’m ready for us to have a baby. If we keep waiting for the perfect situation, it may never come. But we can make it work. What do you think about coming off the pill?”

Only a few times in my life have I been that happy and excited. I couldn’t hug him tight enough. I flushed the rest of the pills the same hour. A week later I couldn’t believe how good I felt; it was like someone had physically lifted a weight off my body and a fog had cleared. I told Shaun I didn’t care what we had to do in the future, I wouldn’t be going back on contraception. He laughed, thinking I was just happy we were trying to conceive. But two weeks passed, and he noticed the differences in me as well.

From Shaun:

Days after I asked her at the bathroom sink if it would be alright to stop using birth control, I remember inquiring with excite­ment, “So have you stopped taking the pill?” She assured me she had. “Great!” I remember thinking. “You’ll be pregnant soon.”

But those couple of days turned into a couple of months, and still no sign of pregnancy. I asked her about it — why it might be taking a while — and she told me that it would take time for the hormones completely to exit her system.

I had to be patient.

Around nine months went by.

“How long should this take?”

As much as I tried not to stress about it, I was worried that our use of contraception had left Jessica sterile. I was afraid to ask her the questions that haunted me: “What have I done? Is my wife barren now?”

From Jessica:

The likelihood of infertility and miscarriage tormented me. I placed my desire for children in God’s hands and continually had to remind myself to trust God. He could make fertile even a barren womb. He alone could bring forth a life — no one else could.

I had cried and prayed over so many of my friends and heard of their infertility struggles, the doctors, the injections, and the humiliating intrusion into the most intimate areas, with sex be­coming a chore and their hearts sinking at every negative preg­nancy test, month after month. Worst were the miscarriages.

Rather than worry, I made a plan. We would give it a year of trying, and I wouldn’t get my hopes up in that time. I plugged everything into an app, and we focused in on days it said we were fertile.

Shaun was due to go on a business trip over the time our app said I was next going to ovulate, so we set ourselves up to let it go for a month and a half. While he was gone, I had a lot of time to myself to think things through. I finally let myself feel it all: the fear, the disappointment, the hope I didn’t even realize had been building. I steeled myself for what would likely be a long road toward getting the family we wanted through fertility treatments or adoption, or both. I didn’t know how we would afford either, but we would figure it out.

I pulled myself together and was refreshed with a newfound trust that God’s plan was greater than mine: He would lead and provide for each step, and He would use the pain and disap­pointment for good somehow. I again handed Him my hopes and begged Him to return them in one way or another.

Shaun came home, and just over a week later I took my habitual pregnancy test before having a glass of wine.

It was positive!

My heart soared!

I couldn’t wait to tell Shaun we were going to be parents!

From Shaun:

While we were trying to conceive, I began considering the Cath­olic Church. For me, authority, morals, and sexuality were big stumbling blocks. “How could a group of people be free from doc­trinal and moral error?” The way I saw it, nobody could be free from error except for Christ Himself, and claiming to “know it all” smacked of blasphemy, equating a creature with the Creator.

As I began reading Catholic books, however, I often found myself thinking, “Well, that actually makes a lot of sense. I’d better keep reading to see where this argument falls apart.” Next thing you know, I’d be at the end of the book. “Better get out another book, because Catholic morality can’t be flawless.”

Next book, same result: arguments that were complete, chari­table, and satisfying. Not only did they thoroughly explain the Catholic Church’s position and the defense thereof; they re­vealed the terrible errors in my own logic, much of which was made up of what I had learned as a Protestant.

One thing helped me immensely as I drew closer to the Church: an understanding of her authority. Once I came to see that it came not from the Bible, but directly from Jesus by way of the apostles (who later wrote much of the New Testament), almost all of my issues with Catholic teachings evaporated.

Two of the Church’s moral stances continued to trouble me, however: her prohibition of abortion and of artificial contra­ception. I wanted to confess my sins of supporting pro-choice ideologies and using birth control, but I still did not understand why they were judged to be sinful.

I suffered from a classic case of relativism, a powerful, seductive, and deceptive heresy that denies all universal truths, holding that their truth or falsehood depends on how they are judged by any individual.

I had always been personally against abortion but thought that it should be a personal decision for a woman. I thought that if a woman truly believed abortion was right, then it was, in fact, right for her. Clearly, I was confused about the application of universal moral truths.

The answer to one question destroyed my relativism: “If the unborn child is truly a child, then how can killing him be wrong for me but licit for someone else?”

Overcoming my relativism brought healing, consolation, and reconciliation. Next, I had to decide how I would treat birth control.

Frankly, I had never given birth control much thought. The word contraception seemed more medical than anything else. Since my teen years I had heard stories from female friends about how their parents had them on birth control. These parents claimed that it was not that their teen was sexually active; rather, they said, the pill provided regularity in their menstrual cycle. So, from the onset, it seemed perfectly responsible to use birth control.

Any conversation I had with my wife or Christian friends about birth control mainly addressed the physical risks, rather than the moral questions. In the decades I had been an Evan­gelical, I never once heard a sermon about birth control. Not once.

Interestingly, this was one of the first things I learned about the Catholic Church; but I wasn’t impressed when I learned that many Catholics ignore the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception. So if I was going to become an obedient Catholic, which I wanted very much, I had to understand the immorality of contraception prior to making my first confession.

Although I didn’t realize it at first, my former opinion on abortion was related to my opinion on birth control. It seemed evident to me that birth control would reduce unwanted pregnancies and therefore would reduce abortions. So birth control seemed to be a force for good. I assumed that people on birth control were no more or less prone to promiscuity than those who didn’t use it. In fact, in repeated studies, birth control has been directly shown to promote sex outside marriage and with multiple partners. It has aided in the creation of a society that values the pleasures of sex over sexual responsibility.

I was wrong about artificial birth control as a positive force in society, but I still needed the Christian basis for saying it is immoral. Where was I to look? Naturally, I searched the Bible but nothing there directly referred to contraception.

Or did it?

Online, I came across a reference to the story of Onan. I thought to myself, “I know this story, but it has nothing to do with birth control. It’s about masturbation.”

But what did masturbation have to do with birth control? Everything.

Since Onan spilled his “seed” (semen) to avoid procreation, God’s condemnation of Onan shows His disapproval of sexual acts that are not open to life. When couples use withdrawal to avoid pregnancy, it is mutual masturbation. Absolutely preventing conception in this way — or any other way — is contrary to God’s law. Couples who use devices, techniques, or hormones to prevent conception violate the very nature of the act of intercourse.

I realized that my sins were equal to Onan’s, and I was in desperate need of God’s grace and forgiveness. To my relief, I was soon to become Catholic and could enter the Church with a clean conscience after my first confession.

In a matter of months, through my uncompromising search for the truth and my desire to follow Christ, I had gone from a pro-choice, birth control–endorsing relativist to a Christian in full communion with the social and moral teaching of the Catholic Church. I made my first confession on Good Friday 2012, and the next day I receive my first Eucharist and was confirmed.

From Jessica:

After telling Shaun I was pregnant, I set about to find doctors who would do everything in their power to protect our unborn baby in the womb. That led me to NaProTECHNOLOGY, which specializes in women’s reproductive care, especially in infertility and bringing high-risk pregnancies to term.

The NaPro medical staff treated me with a courtesy I had never experienced before and extended it to Shaun and to our baby as well. From the start, I was in their office every two weeks receiving the care I needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

After the baby was born, we began charting my cycles using the Creighton Model method. The longer we charted, the more trust I had in it. Not only did it teach us to manage our fertility, but we were encouraged to be mindful of all the various aspects of our relationship. As we learned to trust each other with our fertility, our trust in each other in general grew. I can honestly say that manag­ing our fertility and seeing the dignity it brought to my marriage and my family drew me to the Catholic Church. When we were expecting our second baby, our FertilityCare office approached me, offering me a scholarship to become a practitioner myself.

Charting was much more than a different form of contraception. I learned the actual effects of artificial contraception on women, on marriages, and on the culture as a whole. I learned that the pill is a class-one carcinogen, and that it also weakens the lining of the uterus to cause early miscarriage in cases where conception manages to occur. Moreover, some forms of artificial birth control also disguise the symptoms of curable diseases, caus­ing women not to get the treatment they need.

During my training, I fell in love with Humanae Vitae, the celebrated encyclical of Pope Paul VI. It explains God’s design for marriage and love, and presents responsible parenthood as a vocation we should take seriously and manage as good stewards. It promotes the dignity of all human life in a straightforward, no-nonsense way.

“Value of Self-Discipline” is one of my favorite paragraphs in Humanae Vitae. In it, periodic abstinence is not presented as easy. Instead, the encyclical encourages us to see the positive effects of periodic abstinence. Practicing self-control helps us to value ourselves and each other. A further benefit is the value children feel from growing up in a loving marriage that holds strongly to these truths. Says Humanae Vitae:

[Periodic abstinence] brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers. (no. 21)

This moral training was providential to me because, until then, I had a very contraceptive mind-set regarding natural family planning. Although I liked NFP better than the pill because I wasn’t altering my body, I didn’t see the fundamental difference between the pill and NFP. I had to ask myself, “Why is artificial contraception a sin, but NFP is not?”

Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI acknowledge that there are many pleasures in sex but remind us that it has only two fundamental purposes: unity and procreation. Obviously, sex is how babies are made, but our society sees babies as a risk of sex rather than the blessed fruit of sexual union.

When we don’t accept both purposes of sex, we rob ourselves and our spouse of its wholeness, its life-giving power, and its total unity. In fact, we rob our spouse of his inherent human dignity by saying, “I like everything about you — except the way your body is inconveniently fertile.”

In his encyclical Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II puts this well:

When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality — and with it themselves and their married partner — by altering its value of “total” self-giving. . . . When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they “benefit from” their sexuality according to the original dynamism of “total” self-giving, without manipulation or alteration. (no. 32)

Sexuality is a gift we give and receive in totality, holding nothing back, never using one another as a means to an end, but always going back to the two purposes of this sexual aspect of our relationship. When Shaun and I began charting, I managed our fertility as a burden instead of the powerful gift it is. I robbed my marriage during that time. In a letter to the director of the Centre for Research and Study on the Natural Regulation of Fertility, John Paul II writes:

In the act that expresses their love, spouses are called to make a reciprocal gift of themselves to each other in the totality of their person: nothing that is part of their being can be excluded from this gift.

Denying oneself isn’t always pleasant, but when done for the correct reasons, a husband and wife say to each other, “I cherish you, everything about you, so much that I would deny myself on occasion rather than alter you in any way.”

Contraception and natural family planning are worlds apart, and I’m grateful to have come to understand this in my Faith and within my marriage. Since we began practicing self-control together, stopped holding back parts of our personhood from one another, and worked responsibly as a team without denying God’s ultimate control, the peace and unity we have achieved is unlike anything we experienced before. We have become more giving, more loving, more accepting, and we aren’t afraid of our own fertility or of a method “failing” us.

Today, Shaun and I have been blessed with three wonderful children who are among the greatest sources of joy in our lives: Gabriel, Tristan, and Dominic. We have healed from the negative effects of contraception in our marriage and are thrilled to encourage others to discover the same freedom found in practicing true, authentic love with the use of natural family planning.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Churchwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Five Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:05

How much time and energy is exerted in obtaining a degree from some prestigious University?  How much blood, sweat and tears are expended to win a trophy from some sporting event? How much time and energy can even be consumed in preparing for a surprise Birthday party?   If we can expend so much time, money, emotional and physical energy for such natural pursuits, should we not at least expend more of our time and energy in what is the greatest of all arts, “The art of all arts” and that is learning the Practice of Prayer?

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, calls prayer the key to salvation and following are five short, clear and concrete steps we can undertake to improve our personal prayer life, grow in holiness, be a source of holiness to many others and experience a nearly constant peace and overflowing joy!

1.    Conviction. First, we must be convinced of the importance of prayer in our life and for our eternal salvation.  St. Alphonsus expresses it concisely: “He who prays will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.” St. John Damascene defines prayer: “Lifting of the mind and heart to God.” St. Augustine has a catchy way of expressing the indispensable character of prayer: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and for he who dies well, all is well.”  A final easy analogy: as air is to the lungs, so must prayer be to our soul.  No air for the lungs, death arrives quickly. Likewise, the prayer-less person can easily fall prey to temptation and fall into mortal sin and lose out on God’s Friendship

2.     Confession.   If we are not at peace with God, if our conscience is reproaching us, if we have unforgiven and unconfessed sins we will find that talking face to face with God as friends will be all the more difficult. If we hurt our friend, we apologize, seek forgiveness, and then return to amicable relations.

3.    Set a time and a place to pray.  Man is a creature of habit. We do certain things every day at the same time and place.  Of capital importance should be to form the habit of prayer. This habit will result in our salvation and possibly the salvation of many others.  We can pray at any time and any place and in any circumstance. However, there are “Prime times” that we should pray. Morning prayer upon arising from sleep, grace before meals, before going on a trip, the family Rosary in the evening before dinner, and night prayers—these are traditional times for prayer.

4.    Mass and Holy Communion.  By far the greatest prayer in the world is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sunday Mass is obligatory, under pain of mortal sin. However, if we are truly in love with God, we should not aim for the minimum but rather the maximum!   The greatest action and gesture under the heavens that will lead us to eternal life in heaven is to assist at Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion fervently, humbly, and with great confidence.  The angels in heaven experience a holy envy towards us because even the greatest of angels cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion. How privileged we really are!

5.     Seek Our Lady of the Rosary.  Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1917 from May to October. In every one of the Apparitions she insisted on the praying of the Rosary. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary, also insisted that we pray the Rosary and for two specific important intentions: 1) for world peace, 2) for the sake of the family.   The Rosary priest, Father Patrick Peyton, coined these immortal proverbs: “The family that prays together, stays together….”  And “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”   The family should find a time and place and pray the Rosary every day. May the father who is the spiritual head of the family initiate this practice, bring the family together, and persevere in this prayer for the salvation of his entire family.

If we can implement these five concrete practices in our personal prayer life then we will bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance! May Our Lady of grace inspire us to undertake a daily growth in our prayer life.

Lying and Lifestyle

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:02

Dinosaurs were living at the city dump. Velociraptors, to be precise.

When I was nine and my sister was seven, I convinced her that this was the case. It didn’t take much persuading, either. The hard work had been done by Jurassic Park, the blockbuster movie we had already seen several times that summer. The city dump, which was visible from the highway, had this tall fencing stretching around the perimeter. To me the fence resembled the barricades meant to pen in the movie’s dinosaurs. So one day, on a drive to visit our grandparents, I leaned over to my sister as the dump came into view. In a hushed, conspiratorial tone, I pointed out the window and informed her, “You know that’s where they keep the velociraptors…” She looked concerned. “Really?”

The cover story in this month’s National Geographic explores the human propensity for lying. It is fascinating both for what it reports and how it reports it. In an age obsessed with each and every individual’s capacity—nay, “right”—to embrace the lifestyle of his or her choosing, the article is unabashed in its portrayal of lying as something that we don’t choose. In an age of particulars, lying remains a universal. It is a constitutive part of who we are as rational beings, the article suggests. “To lie is human,” the author states, and while “honesty may be the best policy,” as the blurb beneath the title reads, nevertheless “scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.” “That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us,” the reader is assured. Why not? Because it is “a deeply ingrained human trait,” a behavior that, according to researchers, “arose not long after the emergence of language.”

If the ubiquity of dishonesty is a truth that fails to console, the article goes on to reassure us of the important role which learning to lie plays in child development. Apparently it is actually good for kids to lie:

“The truth comes naturally,” says psychologist Bruno Verschuere, “but lying takes effort and a sharp, flexible mind.” Lying is a part of the developmental process, like walking and talking. Children learn to lie between ages two and five, and lie the most when they are testing their independence.

Walking, talking, lying: which one of these is not like the others? To speak what is true is a good act, but to utter what is false is… just as good, developmentally speaking? As children age, another psychologist’s experiments have revealed, those individuals who are more adept at lying actually demonstrate a greater capacity to understand others and exhibit more self-control. So by this logic, my velociraptor fabrication was just part of my social and intellectual development. (Regardless of the nightmares it might have caused my poor kid sister during the week, I let this lie fester.)

There is a difference between developing and ascending, however. All humans may develop as liars, because of our fallen human nature, but only conformity to the truth, through grace, can truly elevate the mind. The accomplished liar, whether he fabricates for pleasure, gain, or pride, is simultaneously learning to live on an island. All alone. The mainland, on the other hand, is made up of that communion fostered by honest and just exchange. This terrain slopes ever higher, toward God. Indeed, the ascent is marked by assent—assenting to God, who is First Truth. To live in the world described in this National Geographic article, then, and develop the virtuous habit of truthfulness—now there’s an alternative lifestyle for you.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

In the first reading Paul praises the

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading Paul praises the Corinthians for their generosity to help those in need and exhorts them to continue being generous, following the example of Christ: “You know well the generosity of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Although he was rich, he made himself poor to make you rich through his poverty.”

The generous person enriches others with his help but is himself also enriched by being open-handed; and of course, he is repaid by God.

In the Gospel reading we are enjoined to love our enemies. We have enemies because we may have offended them or others may be envious of our good fortune or the evil one may have provoked others to go against us. If, with God’s grace, we are able to do good to our enemies, they may

even be our staunchest supporters.

There may be others who are, for whatever reasons, simply evil and unjust, conceited and self-serving, who enjoy persecuting and destroying others: God calls us to love them and to pray for them. With God’s grace, they may soften their hearts and reform. For indeed, with God’s grace, nothing is impossible.

St. Silverius (Pope and Martyr)

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:00

Born in Frosinone, Campania, Italy, Silverius was a subdeacon, when, on the death of Pope St. Agapetus, he was named pope in 536 by Ostrogoth King Theodehad of Italy. By the time he was consecrated, he had been formally accepted by the Roman clergy.

Silverius soon incurred the wrath of the Empress Theodora when he refused to accept the heretical monophysites Anthimus of Constantinople and Severus of Antioch who had already been excommunicated and deposed by the previous pope. (The monophysites denied the human nature of Christ.) Silverius knew what it meant to oppose the strong-willed empress and is said to have remarked that by signing the letter of refusal to her request, he was also signing his own death warrant.

In an attempt to save Rome from further destruction by the Ostrogoth General Vitiges, Silverius invited the Byzantine commander Belisaurus into the city. Unfortunately, Belisaurus’ wife Antonina was as much a scheming woman as Theodora, and in order to gain the Empress’s favor, Antonina urged Belisaurus to depose Silverius on the false accusation that he had conspired with the Goths. Silverius was kidnapped and taken to Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor, and Theodora’s favorite, the Archdeacon Vigilius, was wrongly named the new pope.

When the Emperor Justinian received a message from the bishop of Patara telling him what had happened, he immediately gave orders that Silverius be returned to Rome and reinstated in the Holy See. But soon after his return to Italy, Silverius was captured by Vigilius’s supporters and imprisoned on the island of Palmaria. He did not survive long in prison and was either murdered by one of Antonina’s hired assassins or was left to die of starvation. The year was 537, and Silverius had served less than two years in office.

On the death of Silverius, Vigilius was now legitimately named the new pope. But if the Empress Theodora had hopes for her monophysites, the Holy Spirit had other plans: once Vigilius became pope, he ceased to support the heresy and in fact became a strong defender of orthodoxy, condemning the heretics in letters to both the Emperor Justinian and to the Patriarch of Constantinople.


1. The life and death of Pope St. Silverius should encourage all Catholics in the truth of papal infallibility. Despite the irregularities regarding his election and the outright treachery that lead to his death and Vigilius’ subsequent election, both men became firm defenders of the Faith and condemned heresy, despite the cost to themselves. We are reminded of Christ’s words to St. Peter concerning the Church: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).

2. Silverius was described as a humble man, a “lamb among wolves” caught in the middle of political ploys and falsely accused of treason. When we find ourselves the victims of false accusations, may we, like St. Silverius, put our trust in the Lord and say with the psalmist: “When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall” (Psalm 27:2).

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady of Consolation

Mystery of Hope

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 02:35
Mystery of Hope

Presence of God – Let me hunger for You, O Bread of Angels, pledge of future glory.


Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” The Jews disliked this speech; they began to question and dispute the Master’s words. But Jesus answered them still more forcefully: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:51-54). These are definitive words which leave no room for doubt; if we wish to live, we must eat the Bread of Life. Jesus came to bring to the world the supernatural life of grace; and this life was given to our souls in Baptism, the Sacrament which grafted us into Christ. Thus it is a gift of His plenitude, but we must nourish it by a deeper penetration into Christ. To enable us to do so, He Himself willed to give us His complete substance as the God-Man, making Himself the Bread of our supernatural life, the Bread of our union with Him. St. John Chrysostom says, “Many mothers entrust the children they have borne to others to nurse them, but Jesus does not do that. He feeds us with His own Blood and incorporates us into Himself completely.” Baptism is the Sacrament which engrafts us into Christ; the Eucharist is the Sacrament which nourishes Christ’s life in us and makes our union with Him always more intimate, or rather, it transforms us into Him. “If into melted wax other wax is poured, it naturally follows that they will be completely mixed with each other; similarly, he who receives the Lord’s Flesh and Blood is so united with Him that Christ dwells in him and he in Christ” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).


“O heavenly Father, You gave us Your Son and sent Him into the world by an act of Your own will. And You, O my Jesus, did not want to leave the world by Your own will but wanted to remain with us for the greater joy of Your friends. This is why, O heavenly Father, You gave us this most divine Bread, the manna of the sacred humanity of Jesus, to be our perpetual food. Now we can have it whenever we wish so that if we die of hunger, it will be our own fault.

“O my soul, you will always find in the Blessed Sacrament, under whatever aspect you consider it, great consolation and delight, and once you have begun to relish it, there will be no trials, persecutions, and difficulties which you cannot easily endure.

“Let him who wills ask for ordinary bread. For my part, O eternal Father, I ask to be permitted to receive the heavenly Bread with such dispositions that, if I have not the happiness of contemplating Jesus with the eyes of my body, I may at least contemplate Him with the eyes of my soul. This is Bread which contains all sweetness and delight and sustains our life” (Teresa of Jesus [Teresa of Avila], Way of Perfection, 34).

“All graces are contained in You, O Jesus in the Eucharist, our celestial Food! What more can a soul wish when it has within itself the One who contains everything? If I wish for charity, then I have within me Him who is perfect charity, I possess the perfection of charity. The same is true of faith, hope, purity, patience, humility, and meekness, for You form all virtues in our soul, O Christ, when You give us the grace of this Food. What more can I want or desire, if all the virtues, graces, and gifts for which I long, are found in You, O Lord, who are as truly present under the sacramental species as You are in heaven, at the right hand of the Father? Because I have and possess this great wonder, I do not long for, want, or desire, any other!” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).


Note from Dan: This post on the mystery of hope is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contain one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art for this post on the mystery of hope: Last Supper, Peter Paul Rubens, between 1631 and 1632, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.





This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

How the Sacred Heart Transforms Us

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:07

There seem to be two types of icons of the Sacred Heart.

In one type, such as this one and this one, flames twist out of the top of the Sacred Heart, with a cross rising out of them. The heart is encircled with a crown of thorns and shines bright.

Note that the Heart is exposed and Jesus is pointing to it. Here then is the radical openness of His love. Normally a wound is something concealed and bandaged up—because an exposed wound continues to bleed and risks infection. But Jesus exposes His innermost of wounds from the cross to us. And He does so deliberately in directing our gaze to it.

The icon thus becomes an invitation.

The second type of icon, as exemplified here and here, extends the invitation. In this type, many of the features of the first are present—the fire of love, the cross and the crown. But there is one key difference. In this second series, Jesus is holding His heart, as if to offer it to us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

So it was promised to us in Ezekiel 36:26.

In the Sacred Heart, this prophecy is profoundly fulfilled.

But how exactly do we receive the heart of Jesus?

The answer is rooted in the reasons for the prophecy in the first place.

In the Old Testament, those who worshipped idols became like them. As Psalm 115 explains,

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths but do not speak,
eyes but do not see.
They have ears but do not hear,
noses but do not smell.
They have hands but do not feel,
feet but do not walk;
they produce no sound from their throats.
Their makers will be like them,
and anyone who trusts in them (vv. 4-8).

As Isaiah 44:9 puts it, those who made idols—which are nothing but inert wood or stone—become like them, transforming themselves into nothingness. These texts point to an important biblical principle: “We become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.” (This quote is adapted from the book, We Become What We Worship, by G.K. Beale, who happens to be the author’s father.)

In worshipping spiritless, material objects, idolaters become like them: unable to think, speak, see, or feel. Idolatry makes us less than ourselves.

It is in this context that we should understand what Ezekiel 36:26 says about new hearts. The language is clearly reminiscent of other Old Testament texts about the dehumanizing effects of idolatry. And the context of Ezekiel is clearly about idolatry as well. As the previous verse states, “I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

Unlike the above texts, Ezekiel focuses just on the heart. Why?

In ancient Israel the heart was of cardinal significance. The greatest commandment of the Old Testament was “to love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” The Psalms constantly invoke the heart in describing our relationship with God. Joel 2:12 calls upon us to turn to God with all our heart.

But again, why the heart? In ancient Israel, the heart was regarded as the seat of one’s being. It was an organ of both desire and understanding that ultimately directed all of one’s thoughts and actions.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are in need of new hearts because their idolatry has turned them into stone: their hearts have become like what they worshipped.

Now if we really become what we worship then the converse must hold true. In worshipping the true God, we become our true selves, more human. And in being more human we also become closer to God, since we were created in His image. (The connection between image and worship is also explored in We Become What We Worship.)

However, we fail at the mission of worshipping God. Left to our own devices, in a postlapsarian world, we constantly fall into idolatry and our hearts harden into stone. Hence our need for the Incarnation and the Sacred Heart. In assuming our humanity, Christ renewed it. As Vatican II put it, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” And in returning us to our original humanity, Christ is also pointing us towards God, which was our original calling.

In the cross, God took upon Himself the painful task of restoring humanity to itself. He was wounded so that we might be healed and His heart was pierced so that ours might be made whole again (to paraphrase 1 Peter 2:24).

But how do we accept the heart that is offered to us? Recall the principle—we become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.

So, how do we let Jesus’ heart transform ours? Worship the Sacred Heart.

Against those who would dismiss the Sacred Heart as unnecessary or even a superstition, it is hoped the above demonstrates how crucial this devotion is. For Christ’s work of restoration to be complete, our entire humanity must be restored, down to our deepest core. For us to be able to love God with all our hearts, as Scripture commands us, we must have new hearts suited to this purpose. Do you want to accept Jesus into your heart? Then accept His Sacred Heart.

image: Sacred Heart of Jesus by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Symbols of the Spiritual Journey

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Since the ninth century the rock cliffs of Metéora have towered, practically inaccessible, high above the plains of Thessaly, Greece. In order to escape the tumult of the world, intrepid monks have ascended the forbidding natural formations, resorting to a combination of folding ladders, ropes, baskets, and nets.

Hundreds of years passing, they built and inhabited up to 24 monasteries. Only six remain today.

Early last century, steps were cut into the rock and the government, after the Second World War, constructed roads all the way up to the very perimeter of the remaining monasteries. St. Stephen’s Monastery, for example, is accessible without any climbing at all. Motoring up the road, visitors have but to step across the concrete footbridge spanning a windy chasm to arrive at the monastery door.

Metéora illustrates the truism that there is more than one route to a single destination. It is a metaphor that invites us to visit historic conceptions of the spiritual journey from the standpoint of multiple routes. We will touch upon watershed conceptions—the ladder, the threefold way, the mountain, the interior castle.

The Ladder

A common image in monastic literature is that of the ladder. Jacob’s ladder is probably the origin of this image. “Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 29:13)

Ladder of Divine Ascent, 17th c. icon.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the most famous—and elaborate—exposition of the image of the ladder is found in Saint John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a mature exposition of a long tradition. In this work Saint John divides progress in the spiritual life into 30 steps, organized into three major groupings. The first part describes the break with the world and the exile into the desert and consists of three steps. The second part, consisting of 23 steps, describes the practice of the virtues of the active life. They include virtues at the foundation of the monastic life, such as obedience or penance; virtues invoked in the struggle against the passions; and virtues of a higher attainment, such as simplicity or discernment. The third part consists of four steps describing the virtues of the contemplative life—stillness, prayer, dispassion, love.

The image of a ladder is also a central motif in the Rule of Saint Benedict, written about one century before The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The Father of Western monasticism describes the spiritual life as an ascent in twelve degrees of humility leading up to the “perfect love of God that casts out fear.”

Hence, brethren, if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which angels appeared to him descending and ascending.

By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.

And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.

In Concerning the Four Rungs of the Ladder of Monks, or The Ladder of Monks, for short, Guigo II, third prior of La Grande Chartreuse, originates the scheme of prayer in four steps—reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation. Lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio. It is a scheme that has long endured.

“This is a ladder for monks,” Guigo II says, “by means of which they are raised up from earth to heaven. It has only a few separate rungs, yet its length is immense and incredible: for its lower part stands on the earth while its higher part pierces the clouds and touches the secrets of heaven.”

The Threefold Way

One of the most influential schemes describing progress in the spiritual life originates in Pseudo-Dionysius, late fifth century, whose true identity is lost to history. Imbued with Neoplatonism, Pseudo-Dionysius divided the spiritual life into the threefold way of purgation, illumination, and perfection as an ascent à la Proclus back to God.

The threefold way of purification, illumination, and perfect is prominent in The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, where Pseudo-Dionysius assigns a different function of the threefold way to each of the three clerical orders of deacon, priest, and hierarch or bishop, respectively, (Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, translation by Colm Luibheid, pp. 235-37).

Pseudo-Dionysius holds the honor of originating “mystical theology” as a descriptive term and of advancing negative theology following the pioneering The Life of Moses by Saint Gregory of Nyssa.

The threefold way has been notably influential among spiritual writers.

The threefold way undergirds Saint Bonaventure’s The Life of Saint Francis, for example, where Saint Francis of Assisi’s life is described according to virtues corresponding to the three stages of purification, illumination, and union, culminating in the intimate identification of Saint Francis with the crucified Jesus, shown forth by the charism of the sacred stigmata.

Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Three Ages of the Interior Life is also based on the threefold way. He uses the threefold way as a framework to synthesize theological principles of the spiritual life according to the rich Roman Catholic tradition.

The Mountain

Another image of progress in the spiritual life is that of the mountain. This image of the spiritual life is very apt. Because God is transcendent, ruling over all creation, the soul must ascend, literally and metaphorically, to encounter God.

In the Bible, Mount Hebron, Mount Sinai, and Mount Tabor are all important symbols. They invoke the ascent to God, who is essentially unapproachable.

Sixteenth-century mystic Saint John of the Cross describes the spiritual life as the ascent of Mount Carmel. He assumes the threefold division of souls into beginners, proficients, and the perfect—a scheme which originates in the Carthusian Hugh of Balma—and uses the framework of scholastic theology throughout, bringing together important threads in Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism to accomplish a synthesis notable in the history of mystical theology.

Saint John of the Cross begins The Ascent to Mount Carmel by establishing a theme:

The following stanzas include all the doctrine I intend to discuss in this book, The Ascent to Mount Carmel. They describe the way that leads to the summit of the mount—that high state of perfection we here call union of a soul with God. Since these stanzas will serve as the basis for all I shall say, I want to cite them here in full that the reader may see in them a summary of the doctrine to be expounded, (The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh, p. 113).

He presents his poem describing the passage of the soul through the “dark night” of the purification of sense and spirit, arriving at the ecstatic union of love with God.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
(op. cit., p. 113)

The famous poem, The Dark Night of the Soul, eight stanzas long, is the basis for the exposition of The Ascent, which remains unfinished.

The Interior Castle

Saint John of the Cross’ spiritual confrere, Saint Teresa of Avila, in contrast, invokes the image of an interior castle. It maps out a journey not upward, but inward.

The image of an interior dwelling-place has antecedents, for example, the inner cell of the heart of Saint Catherine of Siena. However, Saint Teresa uniquely employs the metaphor of an interior castle in a highly developed manner. Her account is based on the extraordinary fullness of her mystical experience, so that her book has no precedent in the spiritual literature.

In the first chapter of The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa exclaims:

Today while beseeching our Lord to speak for me because I wasn’t able to think of anything to say nor did I know how to begin to carry out this obedience, there came to my mind what I shall now speak about, that which will provide us with a basis to begin with. It is that we consider soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.
(The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume II, trans. by Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. and Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D, p. 283).

She continues: “Well, let us consider that this castle has, as I said, many dwelling places: some up above, others down below, others to the sides; and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place,” (Ibid., p. 284).

The way inside the castle, she explains, is through prayer: “Insofar as I can understand the door of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection,” (Ibid., p. 286).

The Desert

In all images—the ladder, the threefold way, the mountain, or the interior castle—the spiritual journey is always conceived as a progression and often as an ascent, so that some charting of progress in the spiritual life is inevitably entailed.

An alternative image of the spiritual life is suggested by the journey of Elijah the prophet to Mount Horeb when he fled from the murderous Jezebel.

Mortally afraid, Elijah flees a day’s journey into the desert until, overwhelmed by exhaustion, he lays himself down beneath a broom tree, praying, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Roused by an angel from sleep, he is refreshed by a hearth cake and a jug of water. Descending into sleep a second time, he is awakened by the angel, who exclaims, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Afterwards, so fortified is he that at once he walks forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:1-8)

In this image of the desert the traveler is preoccupied—not with their progress upward or inward but with advancing in love toward their destination, often in darkness and struggle, but also as God wills resting in oases of light and peace.

The image offers the advantage that it is a spur to prayer and ascetical practice yet at the same time a check upon self-conscious introspection or prideful dwelling upon “spiritual progress.”

The image of a journey across a flat desert combines the images of the dark night of the soul of Saint John of the Cross and the desert oasis of Saint Bruno the Carthusian.

The dark night of the soul is a desert because it is a period of purification of the senses and the spirit—painful, mysterious, yet despite it all, ardent. Saint John of the Cross says it cannot be adequately described:

So numerous and burdensome are the pains of this night, and so many are the scriptural passages we could cite that we would have neither the time nor the energy to put it all in writing; and, doubtless, all that we can possibly say would fall short of expressing what this night really is, (St John of the Cross, “The Dark Night of the Soul,” II, 7, op. cit., p. 406).

Saint John compares it to a “dark dungeon” where a prisoner, “bound hands and feet,” is “able neither to move nor see nor feel any favor from heaven or earth.” The soul in this condition is “humbled, softened, and purified, until it becomes so delicate, simple, and refined that it can be one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree of union of love that God, in his mercy, desires to grant,” (Ibid., pp. 407-408).

Souls who endure this suffering “know that they love God and that they would give a thousand lives for him (they would indeed, for souls undergoing these trials love God very earnestly)” yet “they find no relief. This knowledge instead causes them deeper affliction,” (Ibid., p. 409).

In contrast, the desert oasis is the foretaste of the fruits of Paradise, the vision of God in purity of heart that for reasons entirely hidden to the soul and out of sheer gratuitousness God wishes to bestow upon the soul.

Saint Bruno’s letter to his friend, Raoul, offers us glimpses of this rarefied spiritual attainment. He writes, “In any case only those who have experienced them can know the benefits and divine exultation that the solitude and silence of the desert hold in store for those who love it.” They “enter into themselves,” “rest in quiet activity,” “eat the fruits of Paradise with joy,” even “see God himself.”

Of this divine exultation, Saint John speaks as well.

There are intervals in which, through God’s dispensation…the soul, like one who has been unshackled and released from a dungeon and who can enjoy the benefit of spaciousness and freedom, experiences great sweetness of peace and loving friendship with God in a ready abundance of spiritual communication, (Saint John of the Cross, op. cit., p. 408).

Thus the spiritual journey may be conceived and understood as a trek across the flats of Elijah’s desert.

image: Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, Meteora / Dido3 (own work) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mary as My Refuge

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:02

There are things about childhood that you relive in your dreams.  Maybe it’s therapeutic for the mental issues we all have.

For me, the long walks of my youth around the dikes of the camp where I grew up are a composite of long, friendly dreams.  When I am so lucky to have one of these dreams, I invariably awake in a sort of time-daze, not sure if I am still between 3 and 16, or if the sad truth is that I am “grown up” and here in “normal” central Ohio.

When the bird banders came in the spring, I helped them set up their nets. Sometimes I even got to help them band the warblers that come through in a swarm of yellow, hurrying to their nesting grounds in northern Canada.  My dad took me duck hunting a few times, and like any good daughter, I watched him skin at least a few hundred muskrats.

One of the best adventures of my childhood happened in junior high, at that gray hormonal point in every person’s life when nothing is right with the world.  No one understands you, strange things happen to your body, and in my case, my dad got remarried.  My new stepbrothers, in spite of being goons, were wonderful for expanding my creativity, especially when it came to seeking out havens for myself.

In our summer wanderings after sixth or seventh grade, we happened upon a fallen willow.  From the looks of it, lightning had struck it right down the middle.  Rather than just falling and rotting, the six-foot base of the fallen tree listed to the side and kept on growing.  It made a huge bridge, with nooks and crannies on the ground.

The tree house was hidden from view because of the overgrown path and brush.  We managed to clear a path, although it took at least a week of solid clearing.  We used the branches from the brush we cleared away to mask the booby-traps we built into the path…to keep people away, of course, and to lure our unsuspecting friends.

There was a kidney-U-shaped pond beside the tree.  The tree was at the closed end of the U, and though the pond often dried up in the summer (another great place to explore, with deep cracks and critters), it made for a much-need escape for me and my inevitable book.

I used to go there with books, with homework, with problems, and sit in the muted green.  When I visit it in my dreams, I always think of praying, though in my adolescence that never occurred to me.  I was pretty sure, back then, that God couldn’t hear me, or that if He could, that He was busier with more important stuff.

After a time, my stepbrothers tired of the tree, and so did I.  Before long, family situations changed, we moved, and the tree was forgotten in all but my infrequent dream visits.  I found other refuges as I got older: school activities, educational pursuits, romance.

Sometimes my refuges were hiding places — from the weight of my problems, from the stress of my life, from the things I didn’t understand.  Sometimes my refuges were places of comfort, places I went to let my hair down and be me, though I was often trying to figure out just who, exactly, “me” was.  And sometimes, in the flurry and bustle, my refuges were times of peace, sanctuaries of silence, places of rest.

I moved away and grew up, only to find that, in the loneliness of my soul, something was missing.  I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed to be linked to a young man and his Sunday morning habit.  As I sat with him in Mass, holding his hand and fighting back the overwhelming desire to cry (and losing most of the time), I sensed that same feeling I felt back in our fallen tree.  It was peace, and silence, and safety.  I could hide from the things that disturbed me and settle in to be myself.

Once upon a time, there was a refuge in the Garden of Eden.  It was Paradise, and it was perfect.  Before the loss of innocence, there was peace.  Now, living in the midst of our fallen world and my fallen self, I find my refuge is a glimpse of heaven.

I go to her, my refuge, and I snuggle in her lap.  Her cool hands brush my hair off my forehead, and she holds me.  She doesn’t talk.  She doesn’t distract me.  She lets me be.

When I’m ready, she points me to her Son, whose arms have always been open, waiting.  She understands that settling in, being myself, is not comfortable.  I don’t like what I see.  I have sinned and fallen short; I have fallen, just as Adam and Eve did, again and again.

I think of my early days of attending Mass and my childhood tree house when I hear Mary called Refuge of Sinners.  I think of how my children run to me first when they’re hurt, and I imagine Jesus running to Mary, to feel the solace of her strong embrace and the comfort of her soothing words.

Did Joseph go to Mary in his doubt too, to find refuge in her unwavering faith, her ongoing assent to the divine plan?  The disciples found her a refuge, from the three years of Jesus’ ministry to Pentecost to the present day.

Jesus took on our sin — my sin — and died.  What higher purpose could His mother have than to act as a refuge to the very ones he offered his life to save?  Jesus wants us to have His mom for comfort, just as He did throughout His life.

In my sin, I always expect a place like prison, dark and cold, gray and unwelcoming: a punishment.  Sinning makes me think of Hell, instead of repentance.  But through my repentance in Confession, I come closer to God.  When I cooperate with the great graces God has waiting for me — and which His mother so gently and often points me toward — I can grow past my sin, past my imperfection, past my faults.  Coming back to God, the ongoing conversion story of my life, makes me a better Christian.

And in being a better Christian, I am more like Mary, my refuge and the refuge of all sinners.  She stands there, offering comfort, encouragement, and peace.  She reminds me that it’s not about punishment or suffering; it’s about God’s will.

“Jesus revealed to us the

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“Jesus revealed to us the divinity of God, making it possible for us to enter into a profound relationship with Him.”

-Fr. Maurice Emelu, Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith

The Scripture readings tell us that to

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The Scripture readings tell us that to be a follower of Christ entails challenges such as avoiding evil and loving one’s enemies. One does not have to look so far to come across one’s “enemies”: they could be among family, among friends and co-workers. To love one’s enemies is to extend compassion and forgiveness on them, just as Jesus did. Jesus died on the cross for us, when we were his enemies.

Love is a choice, especially for those difficult to love. Choosing to use kind words instead of answering back, extending compassion instead of revenge and hatred can work wonders. We Christians are called to mirror Jesus’ unconditional love for others. Just as we seek and ask for God’s forgiveness for our failures, we should be ready to forgive others for their transgressions against us.

It is by the urging and grace of the Holy Spirit that we are able to accept and forgive those who have wronged us, to overcome our human tendencies of anger and pride, revenge and judgment of others. It is in choosing to love and forgive that we show our own repentance before God.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to show compassion, forgiveness and love for all, especially those who are so difficult to love.

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.