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Every driver knows that one of the worst places you can find yourself in—is the “blind spot” of another driver. That is the little space in the line of sight between the coverage of the rear view or side mirror and the actual car next to us.
I think we have all had the experience of checking our mirrors and then changing lanes, only to hear the mad blast of a horn as a car that was previously unseen to us speeds past. While our heart races over the near collision, we practically break our necks double checking the next twelve lane changes.
And then sometimes the collision does happen. We could have sworn there was no car next to us but the accident happens and the problems and trauma ensue.
One of my friends noted that this is true in our personal lives as well. How many times have we “run into or over” others simply because we did not “see them.” It is the boss who regularly becomes angry and screams at his employees because “that’s just how he is.” It is the meddling mother-in-law who cannot get through a conversation without saying something cutting or judgmental, when “trying to be helpful.” It is the spouse who is more concerned about him or herself than the marriage or family. Often no one wants to confront these issues and so the problem continues. Self-awareness is minimal and the pain it inflicts on others pours forth.
Most of the time, our ‘blind spots’ come not from an area of malice, but simply from a lack of self-awareness. We do not know ourselves or our story well enough to understand what it might be like to interact with ourselves on a daily basis. I am often personally convicted when I complain about others because people have to live with me as well! They have to work, interact and relate to me—broken, fragile person just the same.
But there is also another aspect to ‘blind spots’—we often do not see ourselves as we truly are in our deep lovingness to God. As Saint Paul writes in the context of speaking about authentic love, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We all long to see face-to-face. Our deepest desires involve loving and being loved, knowing and being known. This is an ache for eternity. When we see God face to face, we will finally see, know and love in fullness.
Until then, we undergo this process of revelation, of knowing only parts and pieces as we move towards the whole. It is beautiful and sorrowful, wounding and life-giving. It is the path of true love—to behold ourselves and others as unique, precious and unrepeatable creations of God Himself.
We could ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our ‘blind spots’—that He reveals the areas where we “run over” and miss people because we just do not see them.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to speak to our true identity, our true lovingness, and live in that reality rather than relating to ourselves and others from our masks, our wounded and skewed vision.
We often do not know what we do not know. Let us ask to see clearly, all the way around.
© Sister Miriam James HEIDLAND, S.O.L.T. was raised in Woodland, Washington. She is a graduate of the University of Nevada-Reno where she played volleyball on a scholarship and majored in communications. Upon graduation, she joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), a missionary community that serves global areas of deepest apostolic need. Sister Heidland has served at various SOLT missions including Rome, Seattle and Texas. In addition to speaking, her apostolate includes working with elementary school students, parish ministry, coaching high school volleyball and co-hosting a Catholic radio program. Her story has been featured in the “Seattle Times,” The National Catholic Register and heard on Relevant Radio, Sirius XM, Catholic Answers Live and EWTN’s Life on the Rock, as well as at Steubenville conferences, the Share Jesus campaign and international conferences and retreats. Sister Heidland holds a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute and often attends courses at the Theology of the Body Institute. Her book, “Loved As I Am,” was released by Ave Maria Press.'
What could a shepherd possibly provide me that would leave me lacking of nothing? Though familiar with this famous Psalm, it was not until recently that I started to recognize it as a lesson in trust, which is something I seriously struggle to possess within my faith. Psalm 23 builds an understanding of the trustworthiness of Christ, especially when you consider the role of a shepherd in relation to his sheep.
Curious to know how this relationship looked, I searched in Google the “role and responsibilities of a shepherd” with regard to the care of his sheep. This gave me a great insight into that special bond between the two and enlightened me as to why Jesus uses this image in His teaching to help us see His role in our own lives. In calling Himself the “Good Shepherd,” the people first witnessing Him preach would understand the shepherd as protector, comforter and provider.
THE LOWLY SHEPHERD
Jesus, however, was not the first to use the bond between shepherd and sheep to teach; this image can be seen throughout the Old Testament as well. Though clearly this reference is a foretelling of the Messiah, who is Christ the Lord, the Old Testament provides many examples of those who made a living (at least at some point during their lives) in shepherding, such as Moses, Jacob, Abraham, King David and the prophet Amos.
Isaiah uses the shepherd imagery in his poetry as well: Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care (Isaiah 40:11).
The shepherd was not typically seen as the most illustrious career path. This was a lowly position but incredibly crucial to the livelihood and lives of the people in the Old Testament as well as in the time of Jesus. As I read Isaiah’s description of the shepherd, my heart is moved by the tender, loving care evident toward the sheep. I am sure they were gruff shepherds working the pastures, but more often these men were clearly of great compassion. They certainly possessed a strong sense of protection for their charges. The more you know about being a good shepherd the more your heart will be filled with gratitude for Jesus the Good Shepherd.
WHAT A SHEPHERD DOES
Here are a few of the responsibilities of a shepherd and how they juxtaposition Jesus’ loving and tender care for us:
First, the shepherd is responsible for the flock’s welfare and safety. According to my research, sheep are not as dumb as they are often portrayed. They can, however, still get themselves into a lot of trouble. Do you see the comparison to people already emerging? Well-meaning sheep, who just want to graze upon the green pasture, have been known to myopically follow the grass, away from the flock and into harm’s way. Sheep can become lost, putting them in grave danger from predators or even stumble off a cliff while fixated on eating the grass before them.
How often have I become short-sighted in my own life? Losing my way or unaware of the danger and continuing on the path only to get hurt. My free will can be a real hindrance to my well-being some days. There are paths that look fulfilling but if I head down them apart from Jesus I am apt to find more harm than good. When I look back at Psalm 23, I see the benefit of staying near and following Christ: He guides me along the right path for the sake of his name (Psalm 23:3). In order for me to submit to the leadings of the shepherd, I have got to feel he has my best interests in mind. I have to trust him. This quote from the commentary on Psalm 23 from “The Didache Bible” encouraged this surrender as it again points out the closeness of shepherd and sheep. “This Psalm portrays God as one who knew the psalmist intimately and was with him on every step of his journey, in every moment of his life” [Cole, Jeffrey, Editor. “The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible Edition”(RSVCE). Ignatius Press, 2014. Page 628].
Second, the shepherd protects the sheep from predators. His ultimate concern is flock perseverance. Wolves, coyotes, foxes and mountain lions are all natural predators to sheep. The predators either seek the sheep out of hunger or stumble upon those that have lost their way. Saint Peter warns us that sheep are not the only ones with a natural predator and in need of protection: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
There was a time when I was ignorant to the “snares of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26) to the point of even denying his existence, which is his greatest snare. Unaware of this danger, I was the most vulnerable. Gratefully like the sheep, Jesus pursued me. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus gives us another reason He pursues us when we are lost: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:4-7). Protecting us from the predator absolutely means preserving us for heaven. He values every single soul and rejoices for each one preserved for eternal glory.
CONSTANT CARE AND ATTENTION
Third, the shepherd is often trained to assist the sheep with health issues. Just like sheep, we are susceptible to diseases. Humans, being multifaceted beings, face more than just physical ailments. We must contend with our emotional and spiritual well-being as well. Jesus the divine physician is more than adequately equipped to tend to those needs.
In addition, like the shepherd who “will make frequent checks on the ewes at all hours of the day and night, and may assist the ewe if birthing problems occur,” Jesus is ever present with us. How comforting knowing that Jesus is constantly checking in on us throughout the day and through the night. His grace is abundantly available to assist us when we birth problems in our lives.
MY SHEEP KNOW MY VOICE
The last characteristic of the shepherd I wish to expound upon is the unique call each shepherd has to summon his flock. Each shepherd trained his sheep to recognize only his voice, so regardless of the number of shepherds sharing the pasture, they would have known to whom they belong and whom to follow. Knowing this, Jesus words from John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I will lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15) take on an even richer meaning.
To train our ears to hear only the Good Shepherd’s call we must spend time listening to him. Reading Scripture, the Word of God, is perhaps one of the most obvious places to learn His voice. In the Bible, we encounter the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ very words and works are shared with us. In addition, we can hone our hearing through time in prayer and regular participation in the Sacraments.
WHAT SHEEP TEACH US ABOUT TRUST
So what does this all have to do with trust? A shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus has done that for us as a great sign of His tender care. Unlike the shepherd laying down his life to protect his livelihood, Jesus did it out of His immense love for each and every one of us. Psalm 23 reminds us that He will not only make straight our paths but along that journey will satiate our thirst, lay a banquet before us, anoint us and bring us to the joys of life everlasting. We have nothing to fear and that is why this is a lesson in trust.
“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish You with all that is good, that You may do His will. May He carry out in You what is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever [and ever]. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
© Allison Gingras is a Catholic radio host, blogger, author, retreat leader and inspirational speaker. She is the founder of ReconciledToYou. com (#RTY) and host of ‘A Seeking Heart with Gingras’ on Real Life Radio. Allison created the “Words with” daily devotional App Series: ‘Words with Jesus’ and ‘Words with Mary’. She offers presentations on forgiveness, mercy and social media Evangelization. Gingras shares these with great enthusiasm, passion and a sense of humor—with a great desire to open hearts and minds to the beauty and blessings of following Christ through the Catholic faith.'
In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Saint Paul writes, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.”
Purpose of the Spiritual Gifts
These gifts—described by many as “Charisms or Charismatic gifts”—are given by the Holy Spirit to individuals for service or ministry to edify or build up, to encourage and to comfort the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3-5). The word “gift” in Greek is “charismata,” meaning “favor freely given to whomever the Lord chooses.” It is not something that the recipient has earned or deserved. In the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 799, the Church asserts, “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men and to the needs of the world.” The gifts of the Spirit manifest the presence and power of God in our midst. Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
The Greek word for this kind of power is “dunamis,” meaning “dynamite.” God’s power is surely more potent than all powers in this world combined because God’s power is supernatural and unequalled in nature. When the Lord unleashes His power, it is always to accomplish His purpose and to establish His Kingdom. I believe that the Holy Spirit is looking for people whom He can count on to further God’s kingdom and to achieve His purposes for His honor and glory. The Documents of Vatican Council II under the Decree of the Apostolate of Lay People state, “From the reception of these charisms, even the most ordinary ones, there arises of each of the faithful the right and the duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church, of exercising them in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who ‘breathes where He wills’.”
In his homily at the closing Mass of the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “But what is this power of the Holy Spirit? It is the power of God’s life! It is the power of the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation, and who, in the fullness of time, raised Jesus from the dead. It is a power which points us, and our world, toward the coming of the Kingdom of God.”
Let me focus more specifically on the gift of prophecy. Saint Paul says “Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1. In Acts 2:17-18, we read about Peter standing up with the 11 and reiterating what the prophet Joel had prophesied, “It will come to pass in the last days, God says, that I will pour out a portion of my Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy,” To prophesy means to speak or sing a message from God under the unction or direction of the Holy Spirit. Simply put, to prophesy is to be a spokesperson for God. However, not all who prophesy are prophets but all prophets must prophesy. Some, who are called into the prophetic office by the Lord, are continually using the gift of prophecy and other gifts of revelation such as the word of wisdom, word of knowledge and discernment of spirits in their lives and ministries.
Prophecy may forth-tell or foretell the truths from God. A prophecy that forth-tells means a message that does not necessarily pertain to the things in the future. An example of this is when Jesus, from the Cross, told the “good thief.” “Amen, amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise,” Luke 23:43. On the other hand, foretelling relates to the things or circumstances that will come to pass in the future. An illustration of this is found in Acts 11:28, “One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine all over the world, and it happened under Cladius Caesar.”
I was once a recipient of this type of prophecy that foretells about the future. After my wife, Chita, and I experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit back on November 11, 1984, we started to pray together. On December 8, 1984, while we were praying, my wife came up to me and started prophesying, “My son, do not be afraid. My name is Jesus and I’m talking to you through your wife. I’m going to use you to heal millions in My name. Believe my son that this will happen and be humble always. You will preach the gospel in My name. Many will come to ask for healing. Heal them in My name because healing is good news. You will travel far and wide. You may find this hard to believe, but remember, for Me nothing is impossible.”
Soon after, I asked her what had prompted her to say those words to me. She said, “I only repeated what I heard the Lord was saying in my ‘inner being’. To date, I have been to 39 countries, preaching and proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick in the name of Jesus, in spite of my many limitations. The Lord had opened the doors for me to start traveling and ministering internationally in the year 1991, exactly seven years after I received the prophecy about the works that the Lord wanted me to do for Him and for His Kingdom.
A prophecy may also come forth through someone who speaks in “tongues.” In 1 Corinthians 14:5, Saint Paul says, “Now, I should like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be built up. When someone speaks in tongues in a prayer meeting, for instance, the gift of interpretation of tongues should also be operative to make the message in tongues understandable to the hearers. The person who is speaking in tongues may give the interpretation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit or somebody else in the congregation may be prompted to do it. It should be noted that interpretation is not necessarily a translation of the message delivered through speaking in tongues.
How to Hear the Voice of God
The Lord wants to talk to us and He is always speaking to us! In the book of Genesis, we read these words many times, “Then God said.” In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice; I know them and they follow Me.” Jesus also says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, many prophets longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).
Our God wants to have fellowship with us. Jesus died on the cross for us not only to set us free from the bondage of sin and death, but also to bring us to a personal relationship and fellowship with Him. The Lord is more delighted to speak to us than we are to hear from Him. Most of the time, the Lord communicates with us through a still small voice from within our spirit. A person may perceive it as a sudden impression or a “sense” of something that God is saying or a passing thought. If we open ourselves, our hearts, our senses and our minds to God and be obedient to Him, we will surely hear His voice. The Lord can give us an impression or a vision or a thought. He can also communicate with us through dreams, through scriptures, through our circumstances, through other people and even through His audible voice, which is very rare indeed. He is sovereign and He has no limitations.
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to conduct a Parish Mission in Sarasota, Florida. While giving a talk on “Repentance and Forgiveness,” the Lord spoke into my heart that there was a person in the congregation who tried to commit suicide and that the Lord was setting him free from the feelings of guilt and self condemnation. When I received the words, there was a deep conviction in my heart that they came from the Lord. I announced what the Lord had said and a man named John came up to the altar, with tears in his eyes, to acknowledge everything that I said. I sensed that John tried to do it not only once but twice, and he admitted it when I asked him about it. That day, he received an emotional and spiritual healing and an assurance that the Lord, in His mercy and love, had not condemned but rather had forgiven him. Recently, John told me that his life had been changing rapidly for the better since then because he had grown closer to the Lord.
Discerning of Spirits
There are four sources of voices that we hear in the spiritual realm—namely, the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, the evil spirits and holy angels. In 1 John 4:1, the word of God says, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone into the world.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, Saint Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.” Both the “giver” of the prophecy and the “receiver” or the hearer should discern the words. A very careful and thorough discernment must be undertaken, especially in cases of directive prophecies, to make sure that they are from God and not from false prophets. To discern rightly and accurately we need the wisdom and assistance of the Holy Spirit who “guides us to all truths.”
Following are some of the practical guidelines in judging or discerning a prophecy:
◗ It must edify or build up and give comfort. If a prophecy is negative and condemnatory, it is a sure sign that it is not from God.
◗ It must bear good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits, you will know them” (Matthew 7:19-20).
◗ It must be scriptural. Jesus says, “My words, they are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).
◗ It must conform to the teachings of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church.
◗ It must produce peace. Saint Paul says, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
◗ It must ultimately bring glory and honor to God. Saint Paul states, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
◗ It must strengthen the faith of both the “giver” of the prophecy and the “hearer or hearers.” “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the words of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
The gift of prophecy, if properly used, has the power to change people’s lives. I believe that the Lord has chosen and appointed us, in spite of ourselves, to be His instruments. The world is waiting to experience the life-changing and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Are you willing to say “Yes” to the Lord and be His vessel to change the world around you?
© ROBERT “BOB” CANTON is a council member of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) representing the English-speaking North and Central America as well as the Caribbean countries. He is one of the 14 Council members who represent ICCRS to all the continents in the world. Canton also founded the Robert Canton Ministries, a non-profit organization aiming to evangelize the entire world through teaching, preaching and healing in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He and his family have been residents of Stockton, California, since 1973.'
My journey in faith began to come alive in about mid 2005. I would have considered myself “agnostic” at the time, but my search for truth led me to the Catholic Church. I was confirmed in 2007 and married my beautiful wife, Maria, in October of the same year. We have eight amazing children and my vocation as a husband and father teaches me something new every day. The most valuable lesson that I continue to learn is about love.
Lesson: Love is an Action Verb
The Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis states, among other things, that language affects a culture’s worldview and societal mores. That struck me as a profound statement. It is sad, then, that the English language uses the same word to describe both my affinity for college football and my attitude toward my wife—love. If our language truly shapes the way we view things—and if we rely solely on what we perceive from our culture—we will be incomplete husbands/fathers at best. When I Google the definition of love, I get the following:
love (lv) – noun: an intense feeling of deep affection. verb: to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).
Sadly, these definitions only refer to feelings. I do not want to diminish the importance of these feelings in the least. They are a gift from God and should be cherished. Instead, I want to focus on how Scripture talks about love.
The first passage that comes to mind is 1 Corinthians 13. Here, Saint Paul gives us a set of behaviors to help us understand what love should be like. Another example comes from John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son …” Again, love is an action in John 14 when we are told that “Whoever loves Me will keep My commandments.” These are not small actions, either. These are life-changing and life-giving actions.
God calls Christians to a higher standard. Instead of only resting in the truth of our feelings about our family, we are meant to show love to our families through our action. This business of putting our feelings into action can be challenging for us men. The good news should be that, as Christian men, we welcome a challenge! Thanks be to God that we were not left to figure this out on our own. We can stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us. In my experience, the formula is actually quite simple. The execution, however, is anything but easy!
Before an army goes into war, there has to be a strategy. Make no mistake–we are at war! What is at stake is of immeasurable value. We are at war for the souls of our families. We have to know the objective and know what we are up against. We are battling forces that seek to pull our families apart. Love will win this war! So let us talk about a battle plan.
The Good Actions That You Can Take:
Daily Prayer and Meditation—We have to put first things first. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” To know God is to know love itself. Devoting time for daily prayer is a foundational way to put love of God into action. In order to discern the will of God amidst all the noise and distraction, we need to schedule our lives around daily prayer. For me, this means starting my day with prayer. With eight children, it is almost impossible to find quiet time for myself. I have only been able to find it early in the morning. When I went on my first silent retreat, I learned about Ignatian spirituality, which has changed my life. One of the exercises is a form of meditation that incorporates Scripture. It did not come easy to me at first but, with practice, it has become transformational. I like this routine because it also incorporates another essential element: Scripture.
Sacramental Life—Instituted by Christ, the Sacraments invite us into the divine nature. Visit the Sacraments as often as possible because this is the source of love. Once our cup is full, it naturally overflows. For many of us, daily Mass is difficult. Fair enough. I promise that when you are able to make a daily Mass, there is something special that happens. It reminds me that the bare minimum is not good enough. The same concept applies to confession. I go A LOT! If I only went to confession when I had to (being conscious of mortal sin), I would find myself believing that those other sins do not matter as much. Well they do! If you do not know what to confess, might I suggest to start with lack of humility and then ask the priest for guidance. If you really want to show courage, incorporate another Sacrament and ask your wife! Now we are getting somewhere.
Network – Associate with other men. There are giants among us! Find them and talk to them. Most are eager to share their experience, strength and hope. Join a men’s group. If your parish does not have a men’s group, start one. My life has been enriched more than I can express by the men in my parish. We do a Bible study on Tuesday mornings. There is also a men’s retreat every Spring that is a highlight of my year. These men demonstrate love, courage, strength, humility and service. They hold me accountable, they give me something to strive for and they make me a better man.
Die a Little – Here is the hard part: every day is a little Lent. In Romans 8 and Galatians 5, Saint Paul talks about living according to flesh versus spirit. I have to work daily to die to myself for the sake of self discipline. This takes form when I deny myself something that I want. Maybe it is nothing more than an extra helping at supper or dessert, but when I die to self, I can better love my wife. Another way is to do something for my wife without her knowing. There is always something that needs cleaning or fixing around the house. Pay attention to your wife’s favorite lotion or shampoo. When it gets low, replace it without telling her. Do it before she asks. I do things for my kids as well. They all have chores and I will occasionally do a chore for them without them knowing. Usually when I do something for someone, I want them to know. There is that part of my ego that wants the appropriate praise and acknowledgement for my kindness. I need to go kill that part of my ego a little bit every day.
Now you might be asking, “What do these things have to do with love?” By my estimation, love was perfectly demonstrated by Christ crucified. These kinds of actions help me make my life an act of love and unite my life with the life of Christ. Any time I start to get delusional about what love looks like, I should take a hard look at a crucifix. That did not feel good. It hurt and it was not easy. I may not be called to that kind of demonstration, but I am called to profound and radical love. I am called to take up my cross and I cannot think of a sweeter cross than the one I carry as a husband and father. God knows I do not do it perfectly and you probably will not either. But there is good news. I finished the Book, and the war has already been won. We just need to show up and love.
© ZAC MCCAY is a devoted husband and father of eight. As a convert to Catholicism, he joined the Catholic Church in 2007. He is active in several ministries including Fraternus, ACTS and Men of Saint Joseph. Working from a home-based business, McCay also spends time helping individuals trying to recover from addiction and speaking to men’s groups, youth and recovery communities. Originally published at www.catholicfamilymen.com. Reprinted with permission.'
My knees jabbed into my chest as my arms curled and tangled themselves around my forlorn body. My whole being was twisted and contorted. The space I was being shoved into was undoubtedly too small for me to fit inside. Still, the force would not stop shoving me, taunting me and driving me deeper into the tiny, dark box. The limited air supply was stale and suffocating. With every attempt to save myself, my body was crammed deeper into the incredibly restrictive space.
As I attempted to suck in untainted oxygen, I was overwhelmed with an influx of stale air, littered with my own panicked exhales. Fear coursed through my body in a frantic pace I could not control. Everything in me was crying out for help, yet I was forcibly being muffled. I was helpless. My body’s beckoning to escape manifested as exhaustion, fiery temps and intense perspiration.
I gained some small semblance of strength and reached high, grasping the side of the deep, dark box my body had become wedged inside. My strength quickly dissipated as my body slunk back down like a wet noodle because of the preceding struggle that had drained me of all my vigor and fight. Someone, something of extreme power and seeming authority, stood over me, pushing me back down with every last effort I made at breaking free, ensuring I would not find success in a breakaway. I collapsed again, falling deeper into the pit, the abyss that consumed and wrecked me. With each failed attempt at freedom, I felt more defeated and crushed.
Trapped and debilitated, my body conformed to the demands of this force which I could not terminate or diminish. I had been robbed of my voice as each frantic attempt to cry out for help went unheard. I found myself gasping for air, focusing only on survival now. My vision grew blurry and my thoughts were no longer coherent. What was happening? I had believed myself to be stronger than this. In fact, I had believed in my own strength so much that I could not reconcile this complete absence of power. How had I gotten here? What is this “thing” that could have this kind of control over me?
Deflated, rejected, crushed, paralyzed and powerless. What now? How would I escape? This pressure, this unwelcome force had consumed me. What now?
Fortunately, this description is not a direct reality for me. Although it is not a direct reality, it does, however, emulate the imagery often painted in my mind of how it must physically feel to be trapped and restricted—much like it feels to be spiritually trapped and restricted—by other people’s expectations and desires for me and my life.
The box has been created and unwanted expectations stuff me into it, stripping me of my own authenticity, of my own way, the story of my life. It is something I cannot understand. Why? Why would anyone choose to do this to anyone else, especially those they love? Yet, I know it is more often than not entirely unintentional. This driving and guiding of other people’s lives comes from a space of fear and a need to control. It is a near-sided point of view and a death-grip on the steering wheel due to fear of what could happen if they were to let go. WHAT THEN?!?!
Sure, your loved ones may stumble around in millions of directions, living a path you do not understand and may not even be able to relate to, but in the end it is still their path. My greatest desire is to live God’s will for my life, to follow His path and His path alone, but these feelings I write of are the images and flashes of emotions that I would catch a glimpse of every now and then prior to where I am now. You see, I used to allow all these expectations and other people’s desires to shape me, drive me, and guide me. It never felt right; it never felt whole. Do you know why it never felt right? No one else is capable of knowing your path. That is between you and God. Your path should be discerned and prayed about with your Father, your Creator. He should be the one with the steering wheel, and it is up to you to try and figure out which direction He is driving you.
Although other people’s intentions are usually good, those other people are still not God. Others may offer good, necessary and needed advice at times, but still those people ultimately are not God. A good friend, a good mentor, a good ally will always strive to point you to God because it is with God where your individual answers lie. It is with God where the box is shattered. It is with God where the force of other people’s expectations wither and die. When you are in deep communication with God, He will guide you, and the pressures and forces of the outside world will not be able to touch you or force you to be without Him.
I am sure that in my lifetime I have inadvertently shoved people into a box as well. We all do at some point or another and some of us are worse at it than others. I encourage you to take a step back, especially with those you love. Where are you pushing them, where are you shoving them and why are you shoving them?
The pivotal mediator is found in the act of trusting. Where there is force, where there is fear, there is a lack in trust. Let go and trust in God. Trust Him in every moment of every day. Trust Him with your loved ones, trust Him with your heart, trust Him with your future and trust Him right now. He is calling you to follow Him, to follow His most divine and unique plan, created only for you. It is not even possible for anyone else to know your calling and the infinite intricacies of your heart.
Do you not sometimes find it difficult to know even the urging of your own heart? How then would you ever be able to know the complete picture of another heart’s urgings? Do you want to be responsible for potentially leading another person astray from God’s most divine plan for his or her life? The way he or she chooses to live his or her life may not be comfortable for you, but no one else’s life is meant to be lived for your own satisfaction. When you get to the pearly gates how will you feel if and when you have to answer simple questions of how you influenced the life path of your loved ones?
Every moment, every interaction counts. It is all an opportunity for purification and sanctification. It is all an avenue to grow in humility and character. You WILL NOT be able to live flawlessly, it is not possible, but our desire to live good, holy lives should certainly be the aim, the goal, the ultimate purpose of life here on earth. Ironically, that desire to live a good, holy life will not shove you into the box that many think it does. Instead, it breaks you out of the box, and springs you forward, farther than you could ever imagine. Striving to live a good, holy life is where your greatest happiness lies.
So do yourself a favor and focus on your journey first. Choose love. Point people to God simply by the way you choose to live your own life and let God do the hard work. Let God steer the ship and control the transformations. If you trust in Him, you have nothing to worry about—for you or for your loved ones. Break out of the box and allow others to break out of theirs as well.
© JACKIE STAMMEN is a Catholic blogger. She was raised in the small town of St. Henry, Ohio as the youngest of five children to loving parents who are celebrating forty-three years of marriage this year. Ten years ago, after graduating from The Ohio State University, she migrated south to Nashville, Tennessee and this ignited a transformation in her life in many respects, especially in her faith journey. Stammen believes that one of the most important things you could ever choose in your life is to live radically, authentically, and unapologetically as your truest self. Vulnerably and candidly exploring this notion through writing has become her passion. Her blog, Laughs and Love (www.laughsandlove.com) originated as a space for her to share the stirrings of her heart and embrace the journey toward living a more authentic life.'
What is God’s Answer to the Problem of Suffering and Pain?
There are good, intelligent and true answers that we can gather from philosophers, scholars, saints and Doctors of the Church. A lot of those answers can feed the mind and when it is not us or someone we love who is suffering, we will find our intellectual appetites satisfied with those classic responses to the problem of pain.
In the abstract, when we are not suffering, it is a lot easier to see why a good and all-powerful God would allow evil, pain and even death. For example, God allowed that fire down the street because He gave us the gift of free will. Free will means that people can abuse their freedom by being irresponsible and failing to regularly check their smoke alarms. Even though the building burned down, which is bad, it created an opportunity for a lot of people to rise to the occasion and act heroically. That is good, right? By allowing it, God created space for good to win over evil. Something like this might forever change the future for those involved. It could have a ripple effect down to people’s grandchildren. It serves as an example to lots of other people who will now more regularly check their smoke detectors.
This wake-up call would therefore prevent other fires from happening. More than that, is it not the case that great tragedy has the potential to turn people back to God? We suddenly and sincerely start praying for other people. We might even realize that we have neglected our spiritual life and this event makes us ask some really serious questions about the things that matter most.
It is a lot easier to see your way through the woods when you are safe, comfortable, only thinking about the journey and merely looking at a map. It is a whole different story when it is dark, lonely and you are actually lost. Do not get me wrong, maps and intellectual answers are really important, but when it is personal and when it is painful is it really enough?
When it comes to suffering, these right answers are in fact right but they are not really enough. That is why we still cry out to God with our “Why?” We beg. We plead. We bargain. We get mad. We say things like, “Why did you allow it God? Why did You not stop that from happening? What is the point of all of this?” We ask these kinds of questions as if we really just want an answer. However, try imagining what would happen if God actually showed up. Imagine if He strictly responded to your question of why and gave a very clear, direct response? Then what?
Would we, as Dr. Peter Kreeft, Boston College philosophy professor, points out, really be satisfied with any rational explanation to our questions about suffering? Even if it is God’s reason—which is the best possible reason from the best possible source—would that not stop Him from leaving us with even more questions? Would we not, much like a child to a parent, ask, “But why that?” Would not every answer lead to another string of questions? If He indulged us and gave more answers, would we not just go on asking questions? Could this be a sign that we want something more than rational answers, no matter how often we demand them? Maybe what we are longing for is not just a something but a ‘someone’. Maybe the God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, knows this as well. Maybe that is why He does not often respond to our questions, especially when we are suffering.
A classic example comes right from the Bible in the book of Job. Job, a good man who honors the Lord, suddenly finds everything—his success, wealth, family and health—taken from him. The story opens with God directly acknowledging Job’s faithfulness and proceeding to allow his life to fall apart. By the end of the story, Job, although broken and beat, refuses to “curse God and die.” He refuses to let God off the hook for the misery he endures. He demands a response and, as the story continues, God shows up. If we jump to the end of the book, we find that Job is content. It is only after this satisfaction that God returns to him all that was lost and more.
The interesting part of the story is that Job does not find satisfaction based on God’s answer to his questions. In fact, God did not answer Job at all. When Job finally stood before God, his questions faded away and God turned the tables and instead asked questions to Job. These questions went beyond the scope of what Job could ever understand or answer. They reminded him, and us, that maybe we do not get an answer from God because our questions are too small and, right now, His answers are too large. God knows, like a good parent, that some answers must wait and, for now, all He can say to our demands for answers about suffering is, “Yes, I allowed this to happen. And for now, that has to be enough. For now, just know that I’m here. I’m with you. I love you. Let that be enough.”
In our own experience, we know that love and suffering are somehow already united. Though suffering is not explainable in a satisfying way when we are actually suffering, it is shareable. We can allow those that love us to suffer with us and when others suffer we can suffer with them. This is why, even more than fixing it or removing it, we are at our best when we love each other in suffering. It makes sense then that the cross is the central symbol and persistent paradox at the heart of Christianity: God, who cannot suffer or die, shares in our humanity to do these very things. God becomes man so He can be “with us,” not merely to take away the suffering—at least not yet—but to first let us know that He has always been there, that He Is here now, that He Is Emmanuel, that He is with us.
He is with us when it feels like our hands are held down and nothing is within our control. He is with us when we are taken advantage of. He is with us when we feel betrayed, when our body no longer can keep going, when innocence is robbed and hearts are broken, when senseless violence destroys hopes and dreams. He is with us when there are no answers and when there is only silence. Jesus actually died on the cross so we would know that even in death He is with us.
So let Him be with us in those happy moments—celebrate life!—but also in our suffering, in the small ways we suffer or, like Job, in the big ways. The Gospel is Good News because it promises that if we let it start now—this God-with-us existence—then we, like Job, will find contentment knowing He is present even in our pain. We find in His presence not just a God who shares our death, but a God who has risen from the dead and promises that we will not only get back what we lost, but more than we could hope to imagine!
JOE PHILIP (Twitter @joephilip101) is a theology teacher and retreat coordinator for Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan. He earned his M.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He and his wife, Tara, travel and share their love for Jesus and the Church by leading and speaking at retreats. They are happy parents to three young children. Philip served as host of SHALOM WORLD TV’s original series, “SEEKERS.” He serves as Contributing Editor of “Shalom Tidings” magazine.'
I had just returned from a vacation spent in the company of an old friend. Because it rained during much of our trip, we ended up talking quite a bit over the course of a week. We talked about our lives, our families and our love for God.
It turns out that we have a lot in common. One of the things we discussed was the direction each of our lives had taken with regards to our schooling (college and beyond), our careers and our interests and activities. This made me think objectively and in regard to myself; I have lived a pretty average life.
A lot of the people I have known throughout my life have strived to be successful, but I have spent my life honestly trying to avoid worldly success. It is just not something I personally believe is important. Now, that may seem odd. I mean, what kind of loser does not want to be successful? Me. I am that loser. Actually, truth be told, I am interested in being successful—but just not the world’s version of it.
THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
I think the problem I have with “success” is how it is normally defined. Is success becoming famous, wealthy, creating a big money-making business or coming up with an idea that people cannot live without? Perhaps. But again, it depends on how you define success.
If all you are striving for is money, a successful business or fame, will you keep your dignity to achieve it? Will you help to improve the lives of others? Will you please God? After all that success, what happens when you die?
For me, I have been approached to place advertisements on my website. I have had offers to publish my writing on simplicity if I remove the mention of God. I have even been approached with a book deal, if I agree not to discuss certain topics that I prefer to discuss (my faith).
But what is the cost for “success”? For this so-called success I would have to compromise my principles, writing about topics half-heartedly because I might possibly offend someone. Or worse, trick them into buying a book that excludes my faith and mention of God, when I know that God is the answer to all things.
It is not worth it. One thing, though, is for sure. Whatever your definition of success is, it is something you are looking for … something that exists in the future. It is based on your desire to achieve something due to the nagging feeling that you are not where you want to be.
Worldly people seek to define their success through the esteem and praise received from another. Success is often based on status and admiration. At best it is vain. It is also extremely subjective.
Human glory, worldly honor and earthly possessions—these are all empty and meaningless when compared to the love, honor and glory of God. True greatness and success is not in a person who is satisfied with himself, but it is only found in those with whom God is satisfied.
God will never estimate our merits or success by our knowledge, education, wealth, status or our position among others. He certainly will not be impressed if we are driving a new BMW. God will measure our success by our self-sacrifice, humility and charity toward others. God knows if we are thinking and relying too much on ourselves, or rather seeking His will. God knows if we give honor and glory to ourselves, rather than honoring and glorifying Him.
Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that having a good education, a good work position, owning your own company or even being a celebrity is a bad thing. But it is a bad thing when our motivation (or our end result) is the want or desire for admiration from others. God alone is to be worshipped; not us. If you love God in all things, you will praise His name, not yours. You will esteem and honor God’s will, not your own estimation of personal success and accomplishments.
In the end, success can only be measured in one way. Success is defined in finding joy, love, honor and glory in God. If you find your success and accomplishment in God and in God alone, you have found the greatest level of success ever possible.
© ALAN SCOTT is a writer and blogger. His work has been published on the Catholic Exchange, One Peter Five, The Stream and Catholic Today. His blog “Grow in Virtue” (www.growinvirtue.com) is about the journey towards a life filled with more virtue, faith, simplicity, generosity and far less complexity. He is listed on Top Catholic Blogs and is writing his first book, which he hopes to publish this year.'
I arrived home from work very tired. It had been a very busy and stressful day. I was looking forward to kicking back and watching my favorite rerun show, “Touched by an Angel,” at 6 pm.
I did not particularly want to make small talk with my husband or, for that matter, anyone else. I just wanted to tune everyone out for a little while. I wanted to escape into the world of the TV angels who had a way of fixing everything, no matter how serious and hopeless. I like the show “Touched by an Angel” because, in less than one hour, good always conquers evil. I like that time frame. How I wish life was like that—in 60 minutes or fewer your problems are solved and you live happily ever after.
Usually my husband is the quiet one and I am the one who likes to talk. But that particular evening, he just wanted to jabber on and on and on. I kept wondering to myself: Did he not know that I was not in the mood to talk or listen to him? Did he not know that? Could he not just read my mind after all these years of being together? I wanted to put duck tape on his mouth. Did he not know that I was trying to watch Tess and Monica, the TV angels, save the world in one hour or less? Did he not know how important that was to me? I felt a slow burning anger brewing inside of me.
I cannot remember if I actually told him to shut up or just gave him one of my priceless over-the-eyebrow looks. But one thing led to another and we ended up shouting at each other. I was in total shock at what happened next. I started screaming at him and all of my pent up frustration came pouring out like a dammed up ocean. At least for a fleeting, triumphant moment, I felt a great sense of relief, which quickly evaporated into a feeling of remorse and shame.
My husband had this stunned look on his face as he observed his usually calm, devout wife turn into a hysterical, out-of-control wild woman. We slammed doors as an added sound effect, just to let each other know the fight was finally complete. After several hours of a time-out period, I slowly crawled out from my corner while he cautiously emerged from his.
We talked and apologized for saying things we really did not mean. Nevertheless, the mean-spirited things we say in an outburst of anger have the power to destroy intimacy, love and trust in a relationship. If we allow these kinds of outbursts to happen over and over again it can have a devastating effect on the relationship as well as the children. Children who witness these kinds of outbursts frequently grow up repeating the same kind of behavior.
I must admit that even though I was completely ashamed of myself for my rampant outburst, at the time it felt deviously satisfying. Can the human heart understand or comprehend what kind of evil resides there, waiting to pounce on its unexpected prey? I could not help recall the words in James 3: 5-6, “In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.”
In order to avoid resorting to those out-of-control tactics, I am learning to state in a calm, direct voice, “I need a little time to myself.” This seems to work better for all concerned. It keeps my husband and me on speaking terms and helps me to keep a tight rein on my tongue.
I continue to ask daily for the grace to live the words of wisdom found in Psalm 37:30: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
© CONNIE BECKMAN resides in Helena, Montana with her husband and their four cats and dog. She is an active member of the Cathedral of St. Helena. She is a member of the Catholic Writer’s Guild and a small Catholic Writer’s Group in Helena that meets monthly. She is a former editor and feature story writer for a small biweekly newspaper. Beckman has been published in a number of Catholic magazines. Her desire as a writer is to encourage Catholic spiritual growth by sharing the truths of the Catholic faith. Beckman shares her joy and love of God at her website www.conniescatholiccorner.com. Originally published in ‘The Family Digest Magazine’. Reprinted with permission.'
The rationalizations are many…
“Why have a baby born into a family who does not want ‘it’?”
“What about school/career?”
“Should we really force a woman to bear a child against her will?”
“What if the baby is deformed or not mentally ‘normal’?”
“Maybe the woman just can’t afford a child right now!”
“It’s not my place to make such an intimate decision for someone else.”
“I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…”
I’ve heard them all. As someone who was in high school when the infamous Roe vs Wade and Doe vs Bolton decisions were being discussed and then handed down, I have been transfixed by the topic for years. The research that was required for my first Social Studies debate on the topic, caught fire in my heart and soul and has been a burning flame of conviction ever since. An otherwise timid public speaker, I could rattle off facts and arguments with fluid ease when pro-life issues were involved. Some of the rationalizations were very simple to dispute with Developmental Charts and Biological Facts. Others would tweak at the heart and seem difficult to counter – but were they?
“What about the rape/incest exception?”
Aha! Yep, that one makes folks a bit more squeamish. Would you really expect a woman to carry her attacker’s child? Well, in a word, ‘yes’! After all, why punish a child for his father’s crime? Would that not just create another victim? That child has committed no crime, has been convicted by no jury, and is given a death sentence through no fault of his own. But, but, but…
“Wouldn’t the woman’s life come to a screeching halt, with no chance of a future?”
In a nutshell, no! What makes me so sure about my answer? Well, my ‘ace in the hole’ response comes from a very personal story…
Sometime in the 1970’s I found myself the recipient of unwanted advances by a neighborhood boy—I was barely fourteen years old. Weeks later I would reluctantly tell my mother the facts of that encounter and she would surmise that my persistent bout of nausea was not the flu after all. She would fall to the floor with the shock of it all and I would be forced to let go of the denial that had kept me halfway sane. The ensuing months were a blur and yet time stood still. My early high school career came to a screeching halt and was substituted with a ‘homebound’ teacher and an algebra tutor. Time, however, marched on and adjustments were made. This was not an era of ‘baby mommas’ and ‘baby daddies,’ this was a more sheltered time and after a while we began to attend Holy Mass in a neighboring town.
Then early summer hit and with it ‘the time.’ I remember the kind-faced nurse with the gold watch who held my hand—no visitors in the labor/delivery area were allowed then. She kept me somewhat calm by talking about mundane things—like my nice tan. The hours ticked by and the pain increased. There was a recurring little stream of tears at the corner of my eyes but I never called out. I just looked at that gold watch on the nurse’s arm.
Then there he was—a blue eyed bundle of around seven pounds. They laid him in my lap and I timidly poked at him—counted the fingers and toes, because that is what I had heard you did, and then quickly bundled him up again. I felt more fear than joy—more spent than at peace. I do not remember much more of the hospital stay but I do remember the early days of being back at home. My jeans fit again quickly and I hesitantly went outside for a walk on the sidewalk in front of our house. I looked ‘normal’ again but could not quite get the idea of what had happened to make sense in my fourteen year-old brain. The sun was still shining but somehow it did not sink its warmth into my skin.
Inside the house were my sisters and that little wooden cradle with ‘him’ in it. My parents had stepped up in support of us and decided to adopt the child and raise him as my brother. We were a family of firm Catholic faith and there could be no other option. They would add this child of mine to their brood even though my mother was four months pregnant at the time of his birth. He would soon have a little brother! The adoption papers were drawn up and there was no fuss or disagreement—after all I was still a minor. This plan was for the best—for all of us. Sacrifices were made in families every day—for the good of all—especially the smallest, weakest members. This was our Catholic faith in action!
Another Baby In the Family
The blue-eyed angel grew a full head of blonde hair and five months later his dark-eyed, black-haired ‘twin’ would become his sidekick. He always knew that I was ‘special’ and that he was adopted, even before he knew what that meant, because my parents wanted him to know the truth from the beginning. ‘The Boys,’ as we called them, would grow up together as brothers with a bond that grew stronger and matured with adulthood. Our little family of seven lived an idyllic life in our small town and acceptance was regained from most. The whispers would always be there but we all grew accustomed to them and we circled the wagons around our family and our Catholic faith.
Back to ‘Normal’
I returned to high school and met a young man during the summer of my sixteenth year. He was someone my mother trusted and the first one I dated. We became quite the pair and were soon ‘going’ steady. Another reminder of that time would come when we parked in a quiet meadow and I told him my story. He had heard the murmurs but I needed to tell him myself—that it was not quite the way it was portrayed in some circles. To my surprise and joy he accepted my tale with a loving calm! He was not in tune with the naysayers, his heart was his own—and mine!
We married the Thanksgiving weekend of my senior year, with the blessing of our parish priest. Our high school courtship had remained a chaste one—by our mutual agreement. After our wedding we approached my parents and asked if we could adopt the little one—now three years old–ourselves. My mother’s answer was an unequivocal ‘NO’! She explained that he was now her baby and she simply could not give him up. We did, however, have ‘The Boys’ over quite a bit. They were our ‘practice kids’ in those early years.
That fall, after having graduated from high school, I began my college life. Although my scholarships were rescinded when I married, I gained twenty-four credit hours by taking the CLEP test. I remained on track to graduate on time. In what seemed like no time at all I found myself in my senior year of college—and I was also pregnant with our first child! Our son was born before I walked the stage to receive my diploma.
Life Marches On
Since that time many things have happened. After graduation with a BA in Art my various jobs have included Art Teacher, Office Manager and Catholic Book Store Manager as well as a Field Representative for a pro-life US Congressman. In the pro-life realm I have been an Executive Director of Right to Life of Owensboro (twice), served as Newsletter Editor and Board Member of several pro-life groups. My life has been full and fulfilling. I tell you these things, not to brag about my credentials, but to enforce the point that your life is never over—no matter what cards you are dealt.
During our forty years of marriage, my husband and I have had three children and married off two of them. We have welcomed five grandchildren—gifts from their happy marriages. The two children born to my ‘special brother’ and his wife, round out our total of eight grandchildren. They are all eleven years old and younger. I am Godmother to all eight of these angels and we are quite the tight-knit bunch. Life prevailed and has come full circle. Contrary to being ‘ruined’, I can honestly say that my fifty-four years on this earth have truly been blessed!
The Rest of the Story
When he was sixteen years old, I went for a drive with my ‘special’ brother. As we sat in an empty church parking lot, I filled him in on the grim details of his origin. I had, of course, gotten ‘our’ mother’s blessing. He had a right to know but it needed to be the right time for him. We talked and exchanged thoughts of Our Story. Our relationship had remained strong throughout the years and that would never change. We just needed to ebb and flow in our own time.
Fast-forward to a few years ago when we discussed my idea of publicly telling Our Story. Of course the folks in our hometown know some version or another of the story and a few people currently in our lives know the details as well. I have also shared Our Story with frightened, pregnant girls and their mothers. I have shared it with intimate friends and fellow pro-life warriors. But it is not mine alone to publicly tell. However, we are comfortable with each other and I knew he would honestly tell me how he felt. His answer was as straightforward as he, himself, is. He said, ‘’It’s Our Story and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Tell it like it is.’’
We are quite the pair—praise God!
© BIRGIT JONES is a cradle Catholic who is passionate about the pro-life movement. Jones can be found on her personal blog Designs by Birgit (www.DesignsByBirgit.blogspot.com) and Facebook fan page Designs by Birgit, where she shares the pro-life memes she creates.'
November is the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. If you are not in the habit of hanging out in cemeteries and praying for the dead with your kids . . . well, you are really missing out. And so are your kids. AND so are the dead.
As Christians, we believe that the dead are not gone. Their bodies have died, but their souls live on forever. We believe that Jesus will come at the end of time to judge all human beings who have ever lived. This is called the general judgement. But those who die before Jesus comes again face what is called the particular judgement.
As Catholics we believe that our deceased loved ones who died in God’s love are a very real part of the Church. We the believers are divided into three parts . . .
1. The Church Militant: That is us. “Militant” because we are fighting . . . against our inclination towards sin, against our fallen natures, against temptation, against the devil.
2. The Church Triumphant: That is the saints. Everyone who has died and gone to heaven is a saint. Some saints lived lives of such heroic virtue that the Catholic Church recognizes them by name and holds them up as models for us to emulate.
3. The Church Suffering: That is who we are praying for especially in November, the holy souls in purgatory.
“Those in purgatory cannot pray for themselves, this is why they are called “poor” souls. They can no longer merit anything for themselves and rely entirely on others to pray and make sacrifices on their behalf. As they are nevertheless part of the communion of saints, they depend upon us to help ease their suffering and quickly advance them through their purification so that they can join the saints in heaven.
Prayers for the faithful departed please God, who makes use of our prayers to help purify these souls that He loves. It is an act of charity that we can give for those we have known and loved, for our ancestors who gave us life, for those souls whose memory is lost, and for those who have no one else to pray for them.” -Gretchen Filz
Death, and dying, and the dead are all things we mostly try to keep far, far away from our children. I did, anyway. But I do not anymore. And praying for the dead, especially in November, has become a really beautiful family tradition for us.
In case you are not in the habit of hanging out in cemeteries with your kids, I figured I would share the whens and whys and hows.
Now. Like RIGHT now.
The whole month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. From All Souls Day on November 2nd through November 8th, there is a special indulgence available.
A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
One of the Spiritual Acts of Mercy is to Pray for the Living and the Dead. It truly is a beautiful act of charity to pray for these souls who cannot pray for themselves, and to make sacrifices for them since they cannot make sacrifices for themselves.
Frankly, I was unsure how my kids would take it. But we have been doing special prayers for the dead every November for the past few years, and my kids love it.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).
The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Revelations 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
They really get that these are people who need their help. It is something important and meaningful and useful that kids can do just as well as grownups. Maybe better. At least with more enthusiasm.
1. On All Souls Day itself, if you visit a church, and pray the Our Father and the Creed: you can be granted a plenary indulgence applicable to the souls in purgatory.
A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace (as opposed to being in mortal sin):
—have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin (which is not the same thing as never sinning);
—have sacramentally confessed their sins within a few weeks;
—receive the Holy Eucharist within a few days (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);
—pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
2. Any time between November 1st and 8th, you can visit a cemetery and pray for the dead. Any time of the year, you can obtain a partial indulgence for praying for the dead in a cemetery, but during this period you can obtain a plenary (or full) indulgence. You can obtain one on each of those days. This year, on All Souls Day, we met two other families at a cemetery and the kids all (devoutly) ran around the cemetery praying for the dead by name and leaving a flower at the gravestone. It was beautiful and sweet and moving and fun.
We can always pray for specific souls like this, or for our own loved ones, by name. If that soul does not need our prayers, God will pass them along to another soul in need.
3. A partial indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, can be obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem Aeternam) is prayed. This is a good prayer to recite any time, but it is especially appropriate during the month of November:
4. Soul Cakes! I like the idea of having special foods we make that are associated with the liturgical year. During Lent, we make soft pretzels, during Christmas, we bake special cookies, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, we make soul cakes.
Praying for the dead with kids: it is not spooky, itis not scary. It is sweet and empowering and awesome.
KENDRA TIERNEY (www.CatholicAllYear.com) lives in Los Angeles, California, where her interests include blogging, homeschooling, looking after her eight children, and fixing up a hundred year old house. Her book, “A Little Book About Confession for Children” is available where books are sold.'
There has been much talk in recent years within ministry about the notion of radical hospitality. Not merely seeking to embrace those we know, it is an openness albeit a willingness to authentically meet and walk with one another in our weakness, suffering, and challenges of life. This is the experience of encounter, and as such cannot be superficial or thought of as just an act of charity. Each of us must be vulnerable, and ready to extend ourselves beyond our pew, well past our comfort zone, beyond even the doors of the church to welcome the stranger with love.
Yet, what does this look like in REAL life?
Over twenty years ago, my then fiancé and I were traveling the 1,400 miles to visit my family in Arkansas when the blizzard of 93’ hit. Praying that the weather would let up the further south we went, we pushed onward. However, that was not to be as the interstate in front of us was closing and we found ourselves in uncharted territory on a long stretch of road near Winchester, Kentucky. With only two choices available, a six foot tall snow bank to our right or a jackknifed semi to our left…we chose the snow bank. Sitting there in a car now engulfed in snow, I admit, I felt utterly despondent. For, as far as the eye could see was snow and farmland and we knew no one. We could not stay there forever, as our tank of gas and thereby the heat would only last for so long. So, there my later hubby and I prayed together. And, no sooner had we done so did we see a shadowy figure approaching from a distance.
With a steaming cup of coffee in hand he gingerly made his way to check on both the driver in the semi as well as us. “How are you?” he asked. “We’re ok, but a long way from home,” we answered. “Where are ya’ll headed?” “Arkansas, to visit my family but traveling from Massachusetts,” I replied. “Well, why don’t ya’ll come on in the house, warm up, let them know you are ok, and join us for dinner.” As we walked across the field and the house came into view I breathed a sigh of relief, finally ceasing to calculate fuel reserves.
With two young children in tow this beautiful family welcomed these two strangers into their home and lives that day. Inwardly, I wondered if they had even considered whether or not we were harmless or the gift that they were offering. Their gift of generosity came so natural and was so heartfelt that we very readily felt as if we had known them for years. A very good thing too, since it would be a couple of days before the roads cleared and our car could be unearthed. Even this was another example of the breath of their commitment to radical hospitality. Knowing that we had very little extra income to spare, Mike, our gracious host, called his friend who volunteered to use his tractor with chains to help rescue the stranded Camero. Then placing heaters under the engine they were at last able to bring it back to life.
The morning we left, well rested and well fed, John and I knew that God had placed these incredible people in our lives to teach us the true meaning of hospitality and Christian love. Not only exchanging Christmas cards, with the advent of social media we have made it a point to stay connected. Their children, now grown, are married and beginning young families of their own. What a legacy of Christian discipleship Mike and Connie have modeled for their children, for my husband and I, and all those they encounter.
This is the challenge for each of us in our everyday—to go forth living out our faith with radical hospitality; to accept the invitation to meet the lost, abandoned, marginalized and wounded with generous love. Since some wounds we cannot see, and anyone of us can be in need of radical hospitality at any time, we must begin to see with the eyes of the heart. This takes practice and reminders of the moments when God has taken the initiative to rescue us, unleashing his otherwise unimaginable love and mercy.
When and how have I been a recipient of radical hospitality? In what ways might God be asking me to witness his radical hospitality today?
© ELIZABETH REARDON, MA of Religious Education, is Director of Parish Ministries for St. Paul’s and Resurrection Parishes in Hingham, Massachusetts. Reardon hosts the radio show, “An Engaging Faith,” is a Faces of Mercy presenter, and writer at www.TheologyIsAVerb.com. Reprinted with permission.'
In high school, I had a friend in my youth group who had a tendency to live a pretty reckless life. She liked going out and partying. She liked spending time with boys, hooking up and never seeing them again. She would go out and party on Saturday night but come to youth group and church on Sunday. She always had wonderful spiritual insight, but she thought it was too late for her because she was carrying so much sin. She was a nice girl who was very charming, but had an addiction. (more…)'