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I am five years old. I am sitting in my bedroom, pondering as I tend to do at this age. “God, I just want You to know that I am here when You need me,” I silently pray as I gingerly caress a favorite image of Our Lady. “I want to do great things for You one day.” This was not an uncommon prayer for me as a little girl, though I later discovered that it was unusual for most kids to be thinking in such a way at such a young age. For me, it was a fire that had been planted in my heart at Baptism. That fire awakened when I began Catholic grade school, and it only emblazoned all the more fiercely as I grew older, received the sacraments of First Holy Communion, First Confession and confirmation.
The Holy Spirit set His seal upon my heart. It was time for me to discover my purpose on earth. We are all anointed, brothers and sisters. Our Baptism seals us as God’s beloved ones. As such anointed people, we are all called to greatness, to do great things for God as I once prayed as a youngster. Your calling differs from mine, but they are all from the same great source: the Holy Spirit.
How do we live as God’s anointed ones when life is so hectic and seems to get in the way of all we long for and dream of? I am not sure I have an exact answer, but I do know that it involves the risk of vulnerability. When you and I are vulnerable—that is, open to authentic and wholehearted living—we become clay in God’s hands. First, we must become broken, and that brokenness is what we feel on a daily basis: lost, alone, afraid, overwhelmed, exhausted, confused. Maybe we just feel nothing, a sort of numbness that has led us to a place of complacency or apathy as we maintain the daily drudgery of life.
God wants more from you and me, my friends. He is calling us every day to continually hand Him our brokenness, our weakness, our littleness. How can we truly serve Him when we are still serving ourselves? Living our anointing means that we become totally His—Totus Tuus, as was Saint John Paul II’s personal motto—and belonging to another means we no longer live for ourselves. That is why we feel broken and alone in such a cold and calloused world.
To move beyond where you are, you must allow that brokenness to reach a place of His wholeness. Recall how He allowed Himself to suffer and die an unthinkable death so you and I might live eternally. His brokenness became our wholeness. That is why being broken ourselves and living in total dependence on God each day is a necessary first step in living our anointing, or our calling on earth. I have come to understand that living our anointing extends beyond what we expect. It is more than going to work every day. It is more than doing the laundry. It is more than taking the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons. It is beyond the mundane. Even if your life ends up being one that is hidden, like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s was, when you live your anointing, you are moving beyond the ordinary into the eternal. Doing the laundry becomes an opportunity to pray the rosary. Taking the kids to soccer practice becomes a way to discuss with them how life is going and what kinds of issues they are encountering in the real world. Going to the office is a place where countless opportunities arise to evangelize others.
Live your anointing. It will not be easy, friends. It will challenge you. It will change you. But you, in turn, will encourage others. You will, one by one, change the world through the influence of your life: through every conversation, every smile, every act of kindness. Do not underestimate the simple ways you are called to be Jesus today and to encounter Jesus in others.
Be open. That is the first step. When your heart is open, you are ready to become malleable clay in His hands. Even should He choose to shatter you when you are a finished clay pot, you will not be dismayed but, rather, overjoyed. For a life lived in and for Christ is a life fulfilled. There will be no greater way you can give back to Him than by giving Him everything, starting today.'
There is no greater force against evil in the world, says Cardinal Raymond Burke, “than the love of a man and woman in marriage.”
Keep in mind that marriage, as a sacrament instituted by Christ, is a reflection of the exchange of love between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. Because of this, marriage is under attack, perhaps in a way that it has never been before. We should pray for married couples, that they may receive abundant graces to live out their vocations in fullness. As married couples, we should turn to prayer each day to seek renewed strength and love from God. We should also celebrate Catholic weddings as a reverent and joyous occasion. Do you know who the patron saint of marriage is? Actually, that is a bit of a trick question, because there are more than one. Some are patrons of specific situations within marriage, which might make one of them in particular a very fitting intercessor for your needs.
Saint Adelaide of Burgundy: Patron Saint of Second Marriages
Saint Adelaide, born around 931 AD, was daughter to the king of Burgundy and “one of the most influential women of 10th-century Europe.” Her first husband, Lothair, is believed to have been killed by enemies of his throne. Later, it seems that Otto, the emperor of Germany, fell in love with Adelaide and married her. Together they had five children. She was widowed twice, since Otto died long before she did. During the course of her life she was imprisoned, forced from her throne, held in solitary confinement and treated with contempt by certain family members. Throughout all of this, she remained humble and gentle, giving her life to the Church and her people. She founded many monasteries and churches and was overwhelmingly generous to the poor, even to the point of putting the kingdom’s treasury at risk. She died on December 16, 999.
Saint Gengulphus of Burgundy: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Gengulphus is a little-known saint who has been called a great miracle worker. He was a knight who served King Pepin the Short in the eighth century. One story told about the saint is how his sanctity was revealed to the king when a lamp continued to miraculously rekindle beside him as he slept. Though he was renowned for his great charity and piety, his own wife was unfaithful to him and he was murdered at the hands of her lover. There are not many details known about his life, but a certain Gonzo of Florence wrote that, “This blessed Gengulphus daily performs among us so many remarkable miracles that, were he alive today, even the swift pen of the poet Thespis could not have described them individually.” His feast day on the Roman calendar is May 11.
Saint Joseph: Patron Saint of Married People
It will come as no surprise to us that we can turn to Saint Joseph as a patron of married couples. There is not a better earthly exemplar of Saint Paul’s teaching: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her …” (Ephesians 5:25). Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a beautiful book called, “The World’s First Love.” In it there is a chapter called “The World’s Happiest Marriage,” in which he speaks of Joseph and Mary. “No husband and wife ever loved one another so much as Joseph and Mary …” writes Sheen. “But in the case of Mary and Joseph, there was no need of the symbol of the unity of the flesh, since they already possessed the Divinity.” Theirs was a virginal marriage, but a true, happy marriage. Who does not want a happy, holy marriage? Turn to Saint Joseph as intercessor. He is said to be the most powerful saint in heaven after Our Lady. March 19 is the feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary.
Saint Monica: Patron Saint of Married Women
Saint Monica was born in the fouth century to a wealthy Christian family. They may not have been particularly devout, however, for when she came of age, they married her to a pagan Roman official, Patricius. He was infamous for his “violent temper” and “dissolute habits.” Though irritated by Monica’s faith and by her devotional practices, he did respect her. Saint Monica suffered greatly on behalf of the godless lifestyles of her husband as well as her son (who we now know as Saint Augustine) but she wept, prayed and fasted on their behalf, begging God for their conversion. Her prayers would be answered. Her husband was baptized a year before his death, and although it was much longer before Augustine converted, he would become one of the greatest saints in the Church. Almost everything that we know about Saint Monica we have learned from his classic book, “The Confessions of Saint Augustine.” Her feast day is May 4.
Saint Priscilla: Patron Saint of Good Marriages
Saint Priscilla and her husband Saint Aquila were Jewish converts to Christianity. It appears that their conversion was brought about when they met Saint Paul. We know about them from the Sacred Scriptures (read the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 18 for starters) and here is something beautiful: their names are always mentioned together, never separately. This reveals the unity lived out in their marriage. They were tentmakers by trade (as was Saint Paul) and were some of the earliest Christian missionaries. They were martyrs for the Faith, and their feast day is celebrated on July 8.
Saint Rita of Cascia: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Rita was born in Italy to devout parents in 1381. When she grew up, Rita desired to become a nun, but her parents arranged for her to marry a man named Paolo Mancini, with whom she would have two sons. It seems that Paolo was a complicated man (and there are varying accounts of his character) but we do know that Rita suffered during her marriage. Paolo was impetuous and had a fierce temper and seems to have been irresponsible with gaming and debts. Violent conflicts between noble Italian families were common at this time and Paolo was involved in these feuds. He was rough with Rita and may even have been physically abusive. In spite of all this, she exercised the virtues of patience and humility toward him and was a truly loving and faithful wife and homemaker. Over time, her love, example and prayers bore fruit and Paolo’s heart began to undergo conversion. (One biographer writes that he would become ashamed of his temper when it got the best of him and rush out of the house, returning only when he had calmed down.) Paolo did have enemies, who eventually ambushed and killed him. His sons wanted to avenge his death, but Rita tried to dissuade them; finally, she begged God to take the lives of her sons rather than allow them to commit a mortal sin which would endanger their salvation. Both sons did pass away from an illness and were prevented from acting in violence. Rita subsequently entered an Augustinian order of nuns. She died in 1457. Her feast day is May 22.
Saint Thomas More: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Thomas More was born in England in 1478. He is a well-known and beloved saint who was a husband, father, statesman and renowned lawyer. Sir Thomas was a just man who was brilliant and blessed with innumerable talents. He married a gentlewoman by the name of Jane Colt. They had a four children and theirs was a happy marriage; but sadly, she died very young. Thomas More married again. His second wife was Alice Middleton. Though she was of a different temperament than Jane, who was so quiet and meek, we are told that this second marriage was also a very happy one. Thomas More was a devoted husband and loving father. Why is he a patron saint of difficult marriages, if both his marriages were happy ones? The reason is due to his opposing King Henry VIII’s divorce, which would eventually lead him down the path of martyrdom. After his trial, he was officially condemned to death for his refusal to acknowledge the king as the head of the Church in England. Saint Thomas More’s feast day is June 22.
Saint Valentine: Patron Saint of Happy Marriages
There is very little known about Saint Valentine, who lived in the third century under the reign of Claudius Gothicus. It is understood that he was a priest (possibly even a bishop) who was martyred; his remains were buried along the Via Flaminia in Rome. Recent archaeological finds have proven that he lived: the remains of catacombs and a church dedicated to him have been unearthed. There are two legends as to why he was martyred, which might be due to the fact that there may have been more than one “Valentine” and their stories were mixed. One legend says that he was executed for giving aid to Christians. Another legend says that the emperor Claudius had banned marriage in order to obtain more soldiers for his army, since married men with wives and children would be less willing to die in battle. Thus it is said that Saint Valentine married couples in secret and was eventually found out. Various churches today have relics from him, including his skull. He was canonized in 496, but his feast was removed from the general Roman calendar in 1969 due to the resulting confusion over the years of possibly three or four Valentines being treated as one person. However, in various localities the Church still celebrates his feast day, which is, of course, February 14.
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin are the first married couple to be canonized together. They lived humble, ordinary lives, in which both suffering and joy played important parts. Together they bore nine children, but only five survived childhood. Each of these five daughters would eventually enter the religious life. One of them is well known to us: Saint Therese of Lisieux, called “The Little Flower.” It is usually the case that we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the lives of “great saints”; we feel that they are super humans whom God has called in a special way and that He does not mean for us to attain such a level of sanctity. This is not the case. Simply by cooperating with God’s grace in our particular state in life we can be deeply purified and closely aligned to Our Lord and His loving will. Louis and Zelie are perfect examples for us. They faithfully fulfilled their roles as spouses and parents and through their quiet lives of love, service and self-sacrifice, God brought them home to Himself. In his homily for their canonization Pope Francis said, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters …” Although it has not been officially stated that they are patron saints of married couples, they are beautiful examples of the vocation of marriage expressed in all its fullness, and we can certainly imitate their virtues and seek their intercession. Their feast day is July 12.
… And Other Wonderful Saints
If you are reading this, and you are a single man or woman hoping to meet your future spouse, remember that there are patron saints for you, as well! Saint Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary, has long been a faithful intercessor for young women who pray for a husband. Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (who is usually forgotten outside of the Christmas season) is the patron of young people seeking a husband or wife. This is because of an incident in his own life in which he provided a dowry for three poverty-stricken sisters so that they could marry.'
In the night when you walk down the little sidewalk in the village of Chontal, you can look to your side and see a large cliff on the other side of the river that goes along the side of the village. At night, it is pitch dark. Just all black. Some time ago, I was sitting near the sidewalk with one of the neighbors and noticed one bright light shining from the other side, in the middle of the cliff. Someone has a farm there, my friend told me, and they just got electricity. They are pretty happy about it. As that single bright light in the midst of the dark stands out, it is impossible not to notice it.
Now, let us say you were an artist, a painter. And let us say that you wanted to paint that image. You would need a lot of black paint. You would actually need to first cover the entire canvas with black paint. After that, all you would need is a tiny bit of white-yellow mix to put in one single spot of light. Then viola! A light in the darkness that you cannot miss. When you put a light in the darkness, it makes it stand out all the more. You need a whole lot of the black paint to make the effect.
I say all that because Jesus is going to say—and show—that He fulfills not just the law, but also the prophets. You know the prophets. Doom and gloom. End of the world. Sin and punishment. War, famine, pestilence and the wild beasts. The prophets are writing about a lot of bad news and sins and problems with the Israelites. Then, all of a sudden there is this unexpected burst of good news, this hope and light. Go ahead and read them, it is the same thing again and again—a lot about the bad stuff the Israelites have done and the bad stuff on the way for them, and then a promise of miraculous and permanent salvation from it all. You know what the authors are doing? That is right, they are putting a lot of black paint on the canvas and one bright light. It is meant to bring all your attention to the bright light, because when you put a bright light in the darkness, it stands out all the more. The key to reading and understanding the prophets is to look for the light! Find that light in the darkness and follow it, because there is where you are going to find the son of God. That is where you are going to get the lift in your life—from the Bible.
The magi from the east saw the star in the sky and they knew it was the one to follow. How did they know? Because they were experts on the prophets. They were great at finding the light in the darkness and following it and finding God’s grace. When the star came, they were ready.
It is natural to want to get rid of the darkness in life. It is another thing to accept it and look for the light within it. If you practice looking for the light in the dark situations you face, you will get to find the hidden son of God. You will get a lift and freedom of life from God.
Remember, when darkness comes it means that God is all the more findable.
Look for the light.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).'
The leaves crunched underfoot as I walked down the narrow, bumpy path. I stopped briefly to inhale the crisp, fresh fall air. I viewed the splendid trees that were anxiously waiting to greet me on this path I chose to travel this day. The leaves on the ground were like a fall coat of many colors—several different shades of red, pale yellow and brown, some bright yellow and, a few, a blend of copper with a splash of deep purple.
I also noticed some persistent, perhaps even stubborn, green leaves that were still desperately clinging to the tree they had grown accustomed to throughout the spring and summer. These leaves intrigued me with their stubborn pride, refusing to let go and to allow the change to happen within them. These determined green leaves reminded me of my struggle to let go of my need to control situations and people.
“If I had my way,” I thought to myself, “I would scotch tape these green leaves to the tree, so they would never have to go through this painful process of letting go and letting God change them.”
As I continued my walk, I began to realize that it was indeed time for me to let go. It was time for me to surrender to the fact that I cannot change another person no matter how much I love that person. I tried, just like the stubborn leaves, to feverishly cling to my way of manipulating a change. It left me blaming, judging and condemning. I thought to myself: Perhaps by allowing God’s grace into the situation, I can learn to trust that God will take care of my loved ones just as He so gently takes care of the leaves that effortlessly fall to the ground.
The tree knows it will be left barren and stripped for a season of waiting. Yet, the tree also trusts in the Creator that after a season of patient waiting, life will once again bud forth, filling the branches with the glorious new birth of magnificent and vibrant green leaves.
As the gentle breeze beckoned the leaves to let go and float gently into the Creator’s hands, I also mentally released my hold on my loved ones. I gently placed my loved ones and myself in the palm of His hands, trusting in God’s glory to shine forth through the darkness.
I ended my walk with renewed hope, knowing I have entered into a season of patient waiting, placing my trust in my Creator to make all things beautiful in His time. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:2-3).'
I can relate a lot to Elijah. In 1 Kings 19: 1-13 (passage below) Elijah is at his wits’ end. He has done all that he has been asked to do and feels he has failed. In verse 4 he begs for death!
Now I might not be that dramatic or have all that going on, but I can relate to what happens next. God calls him on a long journey out to a mountain in the desert to talk to Him. For 16 days I walked across Spain on an ancient pilgrimage across the country to the tomb of Saint James the Apostle. This is a road that has been walked by Christians for hundreds of years.
Why? Well, I thought I knew.
I was so excited about the fun of the journey and opportunity for self discovery; how I was going to be on my own and do it all on my own. That did not last. Day 3 my knee gave out, I had blisters, I was afraid of a stress fracture, and I wanted to go home. Then, with the help of parents and friends I had met along the way (not to mention your prayers!) Jesus asked me the same question he asked Elijah in verse 9: “Why are you here?” I thought I knew. I rattled off reason after reason and kept trying to do it on my own. Day after day I could not. Day 4 I let a kind woman buy me a knee brace in Pamplona. I let people give me the lower bunk. Day 6 I got medicine and icy hot from kind fellow pilgrims—I could not have finished the day without either. People gave me places to stay, food, clothes, more than I could ever have imagined.
Finally I broke. I gave into His love and accepted the help I was offered, accepted his love. I opened every day in prayer. Each day now I pray the rosary from first joyful to fifth glorious for you!
I learned what Elijah did: God is in the soft, silent sound. During the past week of silence, God did so much in my heart that I am finally quiet enough to let Him lead. He got me over every hill I do not think I could climb. He helped me through the days when it was wet and cold and I still had five more miles to walk. He led me to the depths of my soul to heal my wounded heart.
In the silent sound God asked Elijah once again, “Why are you here?” I know my answer now, but that was between Him and me. My friends, you may not be called to walk across a country but we are all called to be still enough to listen and realize that He wants to lead us to places we never thought we could go, do things greater than we could ever imagine, be healed from wounds we never thought could close and give us peace. He asked us, “Why are you here?” Instead of trying to do it on your own, Let Him provide the answer. If I had thought of these 500 miles at the beginning of this journey, I would have given up. Instead, I let Him lead every step and now I was halfway there. Let Him lead. Listen to the still, small voice. I am praying for you, every day—be still. –1 Kings 19: 1–13
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done—that he had murdered all the prophets by the sword. Jezebel then sent a messenger to Elijah and said, “May the gods do thus to me and more, if by this time tomorrow I have not done with your life what was done to each of them. Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors. He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the Lord came back a second time, touched him and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” He got up, ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he walked 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him: Why are you here, Elijah? He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” Then the Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by.” There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Why are you here, Elijah?”'
I once heard a Christian speaker talking about the need to avoid certain movies and TV shows. Is it really a big deal what kind of entertainment I watch, listen to or read? Is it not better to know what is going on in the world than to be closed off? This is an extremely important question.
Not only is it pressing (we decide on our entertainment on a daily basis), but it is also deeply personal. All of us must choose how we will entertain ourselves. Let us clarify the importance of the situation. While we could look at this from a cultural perspective, let us skip that and bring things a little closer to home.
There is a psychological principle that has been termed “the law of exposure.” This states that the things we expose ourselves to have an effect on us. Music affects our moods. I have a friend who listens to “death metal.” He knows that it makes him angry and frustrated, but he listens to it anyway. Language affects our own language. I have another friend who finds himself, swearing left and right after a “weekend with the guys.” Images affect how we see other people. I talk to many men and women who find themselves in sexual sin after viewing certain photos or videos.
To deny “the law of exposure” is to deny reality. Some people like to claim immunity, but this is simply a lack of self-knowledge. It is not limited to people of a certain age. I do not know how much sillier we could be than when we turn off the TV for a child saying, “You should not be watching this,” but then return to it ourselves. Does the fact that I am in my 30s mean that I am unaffected by these images and ideas? Certainly, I am better equipped to discern the truth, but if a movie is bad for a child, how can I be so confident that it is good for me? If it is garbage for a 12-year-old, then it is garbage for me, even if I have learned how to sort through the garbage a little better.
Just as important, we live in a free market society. We vote with our dollars. On what do you spend money and time? For example, I know a number of Catholics who went to see “The Da Vinci Code” or “The Golden Compass” even though these movies are clearly anti-Catholic. It does no good to claim, “I don’t agree with them!” The people making this entertainment do not care if you agree or not. Your interior motivation matters, but it is not absolute. Once they have your money, you have already stated that you are on their side. If the movie is evil (or promotes evil ideas), then you just gave $9.75 to the cause of evil. (How much did you put in the collection plate? In the end, all of those numbers will be made known and there will be no room for excuses like, “It was only a movie!”)
Entertainment is never “only entertainment.” Every form of media presents some philosophy of life, a belief about the world, the human person and God. These ideas mean something, because ideas have consequences. Every great (and every terrible) movement started with an idea. Have you ever noticed that every dictatorship first seeks to control the media? Because when you control the media, you control ideas, and once you control ideas you can lead people wherever you want.
Rather than attempt to list movies, TV shows or songs, it is more important for our purposes to have some principles that we can apply. When encountering some form of entertainment ask yourself, “Does this reveal the dignity of the human person or in some way distort or obscure it?” Another way to phrase the question is, “Does this entertainment reveal truth and beauty?”
Some art does this in ways we would not expect. Flannery O’Conner is arguably the finest American fiction writer of the last century. She wrote about sin and grace in a powerful and truthful way, but it was not pretty. I always thought her stories were grotesque, but they were true. She revealed beauty through writing about ugly things. It is the difference between the violence and gore in “Saving Private Ryan” and that found in the “Saw” movies. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “We may never be entertained by the suffering of others.”
What does this mean when it comes to “Ultimate Fighting Challenge?” Will I have to change my TV watching? The next thing we need is conviction. If something is bad for me, then why would I expose myself to it? If I am going to be a follower of Christ, I need to be the kind of person who makes a decision. Are you the kind of person who can make a decision? Are you willing?
If you are convicted that “this entertainment does not uphold human dignity” are you willing to then not watch it? Seriously, we need to say, “no matter how funny this new ‘The Hangover’-style comedy is, it is not good for me and so I won’t watch it.” In the end, all of this entertainment will pass away. What will remain, for good or for ill, is the kind of person into which it has fashioned me.'
A problem many Christians face is being too serious. One can almost measure the level of (noticeable) public contributions by Christians on newspapers, network television and social media by the amount of negativity and even bile staining the page or the screen.
At one level, this is understandable. Battling the powers and principalities of this world is not exactly a light-hearted affair. Be that as it may, the burden has made a good proportion of Christians into a dour race and people are noticing.
The mirthless nature that has become synonymous with many public expressions of Christianity is very often a ridiculous stereotype, but it is a stereotype that is not completely undeserved. Intended or otherwise, there is a noticeable layer of gloom sprinkled quite liberally on even the most faithful of Christians.
There may be good reasons for this, key to which may be the realization that our true happiness cannot be found in this world. That this somehow means that no happiness whatsoever can be found in this world opens up a whole metaphysical discussion on God’s involvement in the world.
Noticeably, dour orientation in which many Christians—or more honestly, all Christians—adopt in their engagements with the world, at various times and with varying states of permanence, is prominent.
The fact that there is a kernel of truth to the ridiculous stereotype is serious on a number of levels. It has evangelical implications for those both within and outside the Church. If Aristotle is right and we are constantly drawn toward a state of happiness, then no one would, on a natural level, be moved to enter the house of a sour people.
There is, however, a more profound problem with equating the sour orientation with faithfulness to the Christian tradition. It flies in the face of the Christian tradition itself, particularly in the writings of some crucial figures within that tradition.
Take for instance, Saint Teresa of Avila, the Doctor of the Church who, with all her profundity in reaching the depths of the spiritual life, was also renowned for her one liners— the most famous of which was, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Oh Lord, deliver us.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas, not exactly a lightweight on the Christian life, once remarked that a person who is unable to say or laugh at anything funny was morally unsound. Much, much later, GK Chesterton wrote that the test of a good religion depends on whether one could joke about it.
The moral implications highlighted, important as they might be, pale in comparison to the theological reality in which a properly exercised humor participates.
In his book on preaching, “Giving Blood,” Leonard Sweet pointed to a more serious, supernatural underpinning to an insistence for a lack of humor with these words—“the devil never laugh.”
In a similar vein, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in his Principles of Catholic Theology, “[W]here joylessness reigns, where humor dies, the spirit of Jesus Christ is assuredly absent. But the reverse is also true: joy is a sign of grace. One who is cheerful from the heart … cannot be far from the God of the Evangelium, whose first word on the threshold of the New Testament is ‘Rejoice’.”
Sweet also reminds us of the inverse, a theological reality that far outweighs the absence of real mirth inherent in satan.
Sweet draws our attention to the medieval Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, who spoke of the Trinity—in whose image all reality is made—in these terms:
“The Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy and the joy brings forth love.”
The Christian life, then—the taking up of one’s cross—is not merely, having to buckle under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. To be faithful to divine revelation (encapsulated in the laughing Trinity) while living in a sin-stained world ruled by the powers and principalities of this world (under the influence of a humorless satan) is to live with both lament and laughter.
We should not downplay our having to honestly face misfortune. Christ saw the depths of this sin-stained reality many times in Scripture and was on record as having lamented in the face of these realities.
Having said that, Christ also points out to us that sadness is not at the heart of divine revelation and, thus, is not the heart of our ultimate reality. The heart of revelation is a reality of two Persons whose laughing at each other produces a third. If Eckhart is right, reality actually is brimming with laughter, a laughter that echoes faintly in every age and behind every moment of sorrow; awaiting for the day when it will finally boom forth from between the cracks of sorrow, breaking the awkward silence of the cosmos that groans inward for its redemption.'
Sometimes the best thing you can do for the pro-life cause is to just “smile and walk out into the world.”
I have been to marches; I have prayed at clinics. I have written articles and letters to the editor. I have ten children. Yet, the most effective witness I ever gave to the pro-life cause was when I was not trying to do anything other than find a way to not be lonely.
Back in 1993, I became a mother and I felt the walls of the world encompassing me. So I went out seeking connections and adult conversations and anything to help distinguish one day from the next as I worked to recover from pregnancy and adjusted to being a full-time mom.
One day, I saw the receptionist at our apartment management company and it looked like she had been crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me, “You.”
I did not understand, but she invited me in to sit with her. It turned out she had just broken up with her boyfriend and found out afterward that she was pregnant. Two girlfriends already offered to drive her to get an abortion, but she said seeing my son every day, holding him as he smiled and kicked, she could not. She just could not.
Her reaction to me actually echoed my own reaction to someone else: I had become a stay-at-home mom because I had seen a baby boy in the daycare and witnessed his smiles. I could not not be with my son, I just could not. That unknown baby’s smiles led to my staying home and being desperately lonely … and that led to sharing my son’s smiles with this pregnant receptionist. I hugged her and we cried over her worries.
We talked about what she could do. I had never counseled anyone before, but we created a plan. It involved calling a doctor to get checked, calling her folks to get support and calling her boyfriend to let him know. I did not know what would happen but told her we would be there for her regardless. She gave my son a kiss and dried her eyes.
I left thinking that the loneliness of being a new stay-at-home mother was nothing compared to hers. It rained hard for the next week, so I did not get out for my daily walk. The few times I made it by the office, she was not there. I worried.
However, the next time I saw her she threw open the door and hugged me. Everyone had rallied for her—her boyfriend and her parents. Now instead of the loneliness, there was a family fully engaged and fired-up alive, eagerly anticipating the child’s birth. They married and before I moved away, they had had a son and a daughter. My son’s smiles allowed another two children’s smiles to be known to the world and a whole host of smiles for the mom, the dad and the grandparents.
It was not marching or protesting or lobbying that won a heart in a crisis pregnancy. It was presence. While we march for all those who were not given the opportunity of life or who were wounded by abortion (fathers, mothers, siblings and everyone else) and while we hope for a defunding of Planned Parenthood, we should recognize the other part of being pro-life: We have to be more pro-life and pro-living than protesting.
Smile and walk out into the world and know that God will put you where you can be most effective.'
While helping with a recent retreat for young people, I again watched the 1945 film, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (Actually I ended up “watching” my towel as I embroidered for part of the time).
During the course of the movie, I was intrigued by a little dialogue which took place between Patsy, an eighth grader, and the Sister Superior at Saint Mary’s School. I was actually edified by a remark the script writers put on the Sister’s lips: Sister Mary Benedict: “You don’t become a nun to run away from life, Patsy. It’s not because you’ve lost something. It’s because you’ve found something.”
Wow, leave it to Hollywood to provide us with a beautiful, succinct reflection on the meaning of religious life! I was impressed! The only change I would probably make is in regard to the last word in the superior’s response to the distraught young lady. She might actually have said, “It’s because you’ve found someone.” Too bad this message is not better known to young people today!
Reprinted with permission from the blog ‘Our Franciscan Fiat’ by Franciscan Sisters of Dillingen-Hankinson, North Dakota Province.'
Rest in peace my grades. Rest in peace all of my friends and any amount of “coolness” that I had. It was nice knowing you.
I did a class presentation against abortion during my sophomore year of high school. On that day I was pretty sure I was committing academic and social suicide.
But, hey, I am alive to tell the story. I am here to say that I won over the entire class. The teacher was crying. We even prayed a rosary together.
Just kidding. That presentation I did was pretty bad. But I have learned a lot from it. Since then I have done a handful of presentations, in-class discussions and papers on topics from the existence of God to other Catholic social teachings like pornograhy and genetic engineering.
I have learned a lot from failing and learning how to succeed. I learned that it does not actually have to be academic or social suicide. Frankly, your classmates have probably only heard what popular media has told them about these positions. They have probably never heard it said intelligently, charitably or from someone your age.
You have a beautiful opportunity to show them differently and here are some tips on how to do that:
Use Good Sources
We live in a culture where everything posted online is taken as “truth.” But you are smarter than that and so are your teacher and classmates. While they may be good places to start, avoid citing Catholic or any sketchy looking websites. There are plenty of good philosophical and secular (not religious) scientific sources to back you up. A good example of this is pornkillslove.com. At the bottom of every article there are dozens of academic journals listed, which makes them trustworthy.
Meet Your Audience Where They Are
What kind of people are in your class? What are the common misconceptions when it comes to this topic? Answering these questions are key to addressing your audience.
Here are some examples:
◗ Saying “Birth control is not just a religious issue” will open up the conversation and debunk misconceptions.
◗ Saying, “Pornography is especially damaging to women because … ” will address the people who care about women’s issues.
◗ If you are a guy and talking about abortion, saying, “I know I am a male and cannot experience what being pregnant feels like but …” acknowledges what people are already thinking.
Do Not Be Overly Emotional
Tread lightly. Remember, you are in an academic setting. Sometimes coming off too emotionally invested can make you lose academic credibility. Alarming statistics and real personal narratives should be able to speak for themselves. Preaching in this setting can come off as cheesy. Plastering photos of babies on powerpoint and using common sayings like, “Your mom was pro life” and “What if your best friend was aborted?” honestly are not very helpful and do not offer a lot of academic insight.
Seriously. It is better to not speak at all than to speak without love. A good starting point is to practice charity and love with your classmates and teacher long before and after your presentation or debate. You should be doing this anyway, but especially when you talk about a tough topic. They will better understand your heart.
A second tip is to watch your tone. If people feel like you are condescending or belittling them, they will immediately close off and become defensive. One way you can do this is to acknowledge other sides and demonstrate that you get where they are coming from. Be compassionate to that.
Offer It All Up for the Glory of God
It is tempting to make this all about us and try to show off that we are the smartest person in the room. We are not. We have been graced to know truth and given even more grace to share it. Depend on that grace. It is not about what we do, but what God does with our openness. Before even writing out a single word tell Jesus that this assignment is His and you want to do what He wants with it.
If you do this, you do not have to be a slave to fear because it is not your work but His. You can be confident in that. Somewhere in between the statistics and the compassion in your voice, we can pray that others will be able to experience the heart of Jesus.'
So Much Noise!
Have you ever noticed how we run from silence and how enthusiastic we are for noise? Noise in our cars—music, radio or audio books; noise at work—music or radio again; noise in our homes—music, radio or television. “… All that noise down in Whoville …”
It seems that we are obsessed with running from the silence. How many people have said, “Well even though I’m not watching it, I like to have the TV running in the background for company. I like it for the noise.”
Why are we so uneasy about silence? I think it is because the void it leaves makes us feel idle, dull, barren and perhaps it even seems a bit scary. So, we fill our lives with noise. This noise can at times bring with it chaos and clutter.
Back in 2008 I went on a weeklong silent retreat at a Catholic retreat house in Connecticut. By saying I went there, I mean I was coerced. I had no interest in going, but a good friend who had gone kept telling me how great it was.
I remember the drive up there. To say I was freaked out is an understatement. It is not like I am a raging extrovert (quite the opposite, actually), but the thought of no sounds for an entire week I found terrifying. The first day there, I handed in my cell phone. No laptop. I did not even have any books except the one that we were given to read—“The Imitation of Christ.”
During the retreat we prayed in silence, ate in silence, were instructed as we sat in silence and only communicated through hand gestures and written notes. The first day I wanted to poke out my eyes. The second day I found myself mentally slowing down, yet still fighting the distractions in my mind. The third day I felt like the clutter in my mind was truly starting to dissolve. The fourth day I never wanted to talk again. Ok, that is dramatic and not true. But, by the end of that week, I had developed a deep respect and gratitude for silence, and the grace that can come from it.
The Peace and Beauty of Silence
I learned during that week that silence can be beautiful, powerful and healing.
I also learned that when you can only talk by writing a note, you only say what is important. I realize now that before the retreat I talked often, but said little.
Silence forces us out of our comfort zones. When everything around us is quiet, we can either grasp for noise to fill that void, or we can go inside ourselves. What do we find there? Often it is things we do not want to find, yet that is where it starts. It is only when we discover things about ourselves that need improvement or changing that we can we begin to let God do His work in us. So often noise is a means for us to run from ourselves.
Since the retreat, I have learned about several benefits of silence:
Silence can enable us to go within ourselves and find a remedy for stress and anxiety. We can more easily relax if things are quiet. We can remove ourselves from the confusion and chaos of the world and discover many things in our lives for which we can be grateful.
Silence also helps us to focus on what is important. It is only when we can find silence that we can be more attuned to the voice of God that is speaking within us, guiding us with how to respond to the situations that come up in our lives.
Silence also teaches us that simplicity and joy are close companions. The more silence a person has in his life the more that he can notice and savor the simple joys of life, without all of the world’s many distractions. Also, silence helps us to realize that a few simple words well spoken have far more power than hours of chatter.
A Closer Relationship with God
It is important to note that as you create silence by subtracting, you do not fill the empty space with a different type of noise, distraction or clutter. Let your world go silent if just for a moment. Then try again, but for longer. Then try again.
Instead of letting your mind fill the silence with clutter, try to focus on God within the quiet space that results. Speak to Him, listen to Him. He will meet you there.
Let God speak back to you. It probably will not be in actual words, but you will know when He has spoken to you—through thoughts, inspirations, impressions, etc. You will be surprised by how much is actually there IN the silence itself if you will just take that first step. It is there where you will find the joy of silence.'