At age eight, little Bogdan Mandić knelt miserably in the center of his Catholic parish. After committing what he considered a slight fault, he had been scolded by his sister. To make matters worse, she hauled him over to the pastor, who suggested a humble posture as penance. It was then that the boy decided that when he grew up, he would become a friar—a confessor, specifically—but one who would treat sinners with goodness and mercy.
Bogdan did go on to become a Capuchin friar, taking the name Leopold. And he spent a majority of his life inside a tiny room in Padua, Italy, hearing confessions twelve hours a day. It is this dedication to the ministry of Reconciliation that caused Pope Francis to choose the relatively obscure Saint Leopold Mandić, along with household names like Saint John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, as representatives of the Year of Mercy. Along with that honor, Pope Francis requested that Leopold’s body—still intact seventy-four years after his death—be displayed in Rome this past February.
When I visited Leopold’s cell in Padua, almost by chance, it still had the sparse feel of a confessional. But what dropped my jaw was the room next to it filled with gifts and offerings. They are all tokens of thanksgiving brought by people who have turned to Leopold for help and believe they have been healed through his prayers. It got me wondering, “Who is this man?”
A LARGELY UNEVENTFUL LIFE
As I looked into Mandić’s life, I realized that there really is not much to say. He did not travel much. He did not found a new religious order or perform dramatic miracles. He never wrote a book. But what did strike me was his profound understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and his creative, but deeply faithful, grasp of God’s mercy. No wonder he got my attention! No wonder too that two of our greatest modern-day popes have felt drawn to him.
Leopold Mandić was born in 1866 on the Adriatic coast of what is now Montenegro. He was the youngest of twelve children in a Catholic family of Croatian origin. His parents, Petar and Dragica Mandić, made a living with their fishing fleet.
He was baptized Bogdan, a name that means “given by God.” From an early age, Leopold dealt with poor health. It stunted his development so that when he was fully grown, he stood four foot six. A form of arthritis gave him a slow lurching stride, and stuttering made it difficult for him to read aloud. But what he lacked in health, he made up for in studiousness and prayer. By age sixteen, he was ready to enter the seminary, and by twenty-four, he was ordained a priest.
Mandić’s superiors quickly assigned to him the task that would define his life: hearing confessions. Pope John Paul II noted the importance of this vocation at Saint Leopold’s canonization in 1983, saying, “His was a largely uneventful life. . . . Then came his assignment to the friary in Padua.” This was where he would spend almost fifty years listening to sinners cast off their burdens.
A CALMING CONFESSOR
On a regular day, the hall outside Father Leopold’s room was besieged. People of all kinds, from all over Italy, lined up to confess their sins. Every penitent was different to Leopold, and each needed his attention and tact. But Leopold’s main principle as a confessor was his confidence in God’s mercy. There was no sin too big for God to forgive. And it was his job to share that message with sinners.
Even after long hours in the confessional, he continued to make himself available. One doctor who often visited Leopold after grueling hours on the late shift recalled, “Not once did he tell me to come the next day; not once did he show signs of tiredness.” Just the opposite, Leopold welcomed anyone coming for confession with smiling kindness. He regularly sought the friendship of his penitents, knowing that one can accept everything from a friend, even an occasional admonishing.
Leopold’s welcoming nature disarmed one nervous man who had come far to see him. Heart racing, the man stood a ways off, afraid to enter the confessional. Leopold opened his door and, seeing him, called out, “That man over there! Come on in! Come on in!” The man followed him and introduced himself with these words: “Father, I’m a wicked man.” Leopold replied, “Here you are not anymore. You and I are brothers, and we will become very good friends. Let’s start off with a sign of the cross.” He listened to the long confession, offering a kind word here and there. By the end, tears of joy glistened in place of the man’s tears of shame.
“PUT EVERYTHING ON MY SHOULDERS”
Leopold’s fellow friars sometimes thought he was too lenient. He replied that if that was the case, the first to give a light pardon was Jesus Himself, dying on the cross to erase sins. He asked them what the point was of further humbling the souls who came for confession. “Aren’t they humiliated enough?” he asked. “Did Jesus humiliate the tax collector, the adulterous woman, and Mary Magdalene?”
And he meant it, so Father Leopold would never give harsh penances. If more reparation for sin was necessary, he offered to take on a share of the penance himself. When people were distressed by the weight of their sins, he reassured them. “Don’t worry; put everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it.” Taking care of it meant extra time in prayer at night.
Despite his defense of sinners, Leopold took pains to make sure penitents were not abusing the Sacrament. On rare occasions when people refused to reject sinful ways, they left his confessional without absolution. This was mercy too, he believed.
HIS OWN PATH TO SAINTHOOD
Although Leopold’s gifts as a confessor were renowned across Italy, serving in this capacity could be a struggle as well. He was reclusive by nature, but his work meant hours of conversation every day. He was known to be touchy and irritable around the friary. In the confessional, those who tried to justify their sins risked provoking his short temper.
Because of his physical ailments, Leopold was sensitive to embarrassment. If he thought someone was eyeing him with too much pity, he would defend himself proudly. But there were some humiliations he could not protest. Because of his speech impediment, for example, he was passed over in the friary for the reading of the daily liturgy and preaching.
Leopold’s solution was to nourish his relationship with God—whom he said was both doctor and medication. Through their close friendship, he learned to accept his lot and forgive trespasses against himself generously.
A DREAM REDEFINED
Part of accepting his duties involved rethinking a dear wish: to be sent as a missionary to Eastern Europe. The desire had originated from his earliest days growing up in an area of cultural and religious crossroads. The thought of uniting Catholic and Orthodox factions there remained with Leopold long after it became clear that his superiors would keep him in Padua. But rather than giving up the dream, Leopold decided to shorten the distance and adjust his method.
Creatively, he offered up his ministry as a confessor in Padua for the reconciliation of the Eastern Church with Rome. Leopold wrote repeatedly in his personal diary, “Every person who will ask for my ministry will be my East.” Although he did not accomplish reconciliation on such a large scale, he devoted his life to individuals’ reconciliation with God, for the sake of unity. Because of this, Leopold is seen as a forerunner of ecumenism and an intercessor for all who work to bring Christians together.
You may find you relate to Saint Leopold in unexpected ways. He was a man who slept only five hours a day and spent an enormous amount of time in one room. He had unrealized dreams of traveling the world and preaching. He found his vocation in listening to other people’s miseries and speaking God’s forgiveness. Some might call this drudgery, but Leopold looked upon it as a high privilege.
Leopold Mandić was a tremendous gift to the Church. His ability to practice the mercy of God serves as an inspiration to many confessors today. His determination to be an instrument for God despite his limitations is a lesson in humility. And he is one of us, reminding all Christians that God’s will is in the smallest of jobs. To me he is a personal friend, whom I can turn to for any kind of need. Go talk to him, and find out yourself; his door is always open.
Federica Paparelli Thistle
© writes for "La Croce" magazine and lives in Maryland with her husband. Reprinted with permission of "The Word Among Us" (www.wau.org), 7115 Guilford Dr #100, Frederick, MD 21704, 800-775-9673.
I know that we have all heard stories in the Bible when God speaks to His people. Sometimes we are not sure how that was manifested: a feeling, a message spoken through someone, a voice booming down from the sky. Almost every month I come across at least one person—a friend, an enlightened blogger, a televangelist—who uses the term “God spoke to me,” “God spoke to me and told me you need to sign over your yacht, that vessel is keeping your soul in the devil's grip!” I sometimes wonder how God actually spoke to them. I have experienced many ways in which God is very clearly leading me, directing my path, and speaking to my heart in a way that just somehow perfectly answers the questions before me; it is usually a moment of true wisdom and understanding. He has also spoken to me through someone completely oblivious to my predicament, 22 Shalom tidings September/October 2018 someone who says exactly what my soul needed to hear at that moment. One time, I literally heard God speak to me. I heard His voice. No, I do not need to seek out a psychiatrist. It was ten years ago. I was changing my two-year-old son, Christian’s, diaper. My older son was three years old, my daughter was one, I had recently miscarried my fourth and was newly pregnant with my fifth little one. As I peeled back Christian’s diaper, I gasped. There was blood. I checked for lesions and soon realized the bleeding was coming from something internal. He had also developed a fever, so I was worried about a possible infection. I took him to a medical clinic and they sent us to the emergency room (ER). An ultrasound revealed he had a tumor on his right kidney. They were quite certain it was what is called a Wilm’s tumor: cancer. The tumor and his kidney would have to be surgically removed. He also had a blood infection—unrelated to the cancer and the source of the fever—and they could not operate until that was resolved. For two weeks I lived at Sick Kids with my son. My two other little ones were being cared for by various family members. It was so painful every time they would call to inform me that the toddlers were not adjusting well to my absence and, yet, I knew Christian needed me more. He was terrified by every poke and prod, so confused by everything that was happening to him. One day, my mother-law called to say that my one-year-old was very sick. She was not able to keep anything down and had been lethargic for days. She would need to go to the ER. My husband dropped her off to me and I sat holding her in the waiting room. I was so worried about her. Already small for her age, she looked especially fragile. When it was my turn to speak with the attendant, he began to ask me a bunch of questions about my daughter: “When did the fevers begin? How much had she been drinking? How long had she been lethargic?” Every question was painful for me, as I mustered out a feeble “I’m not sure. I haven’t been with her.” Then I fell to pieces, stammering, “My son has cancer. He’s up on the eighth floor right now recovering from surgery. I haven’t been there for my little girl. I’m so sorry but I can’t answer your questions.” I could hardly get the words out as tears streamed down my face. Up until that point, I had been so strong. I had not even cried and I had resided in a state of calm and trust, feeling that somehow everything was going to be okay. Suddenly, the reality, the magnitude of all I was facing was hitting me full on. The world seemed to drop out from beneath my feet. I thought of my baby girl, my sick little boy, my other baby boy at home who was feeling completely abandoned by his mother and I felt like the biggest failure. The world was pressing down on me. I was too weak to stand and kept thinking that if I could not handle this how would I be able to care for the little one still growing in my womb. I could not take the oppressive, crushing weight of it all. I could not breathe. Then, all at once, it was lifted. Everything was taken up off my shoulders and I felt like I was being carried, enveloped, and inexplicably wrapped in peace. That is when I heard the voice. I heard it as though it was being spoken aloud. It was clear and powerful. I felt each word resonating in my heart. I knew no one else could hear it. I knew it was from within but it was real, almost more real than anything I had ever experienced. He said, “See this is how it would be if I were not carrying you.” I breathed in His graces and once more I was calm, serene, and unafraid. From that point on I seemed able to meet each demand with grace. My daughter soon recovered from her illness, I was able to return home to my three-year-old son and, after six months of chemotherapy, Christian was completely cancer free (he is a healthy twelve-year-old now). I gave birth to my daughter, Mary, a month after his last dose of chemo. I know that God almost never speaks to us with a clear, audible voice. He does not usually work that way. I was already madly in love with Him, I had already placed my life in His hands, but much of it stemmed from the gift of faith. Everything up to that point was simply a sense of His presence, a continuous knowing that He was with me and a state of amazement, time and time again, as I experienced personal miracles and direct answers to my prayers. Faith is such a precious gift given to His children and I never needed a physical voice to confirm the reality of who He is: a loving Father who desires to work for our good, for love of us. He left a profound mark on my heart that day. I wanted to share this story because so many people close to me are really hurting, finding it hard to surface, drowning in life's trials. I wanted to share His message that if we place our lives in His hands, He will lift us up, pulling us out of the suffocating anguish. He may let us experience a taste of it, a moment (or sadly a period of greater duration) where we are overcome by distress. It should only serve to help us understand how greatly we need Him, how lost we would be if it were not for His great love for us, and His desire to draw us back up into His arms. This message is not some crazy, religious platitude. He has remained constant and faithful throughout the ages, His voice ever clear, cutting through the chaos.
Two primary factors that keep people from seeking help for pornography addiction are guilt and shame. While they often act together, they are two very different emotions. Guilt focuses on the behavior while shame focuses on the person. Both need to be resolved for a healthy recovery. GUILT Guilt is an emotion that focuses on actions. It is the emotion that says, “Okay, you’ve done something wrong and now you have to correct it, fix it, or clean it up.” As uncomfortable as this emotion may be, it is actually very healthy. It requires a person to take responsibility for his actions and atone for them. To do this, one must embrace the virtues of honesty, humility, responsibility, courage, faith, hope, and love. Taking responsibility for one’s addiction and recovery can be very healing for individuals and for relationships. It shows that you understand how wrong your actions were and that you are taking positive steps to end your pornography use. This resolves your guilt and can reunite you with loved ones. The same effect happens in our relationship with God. When we sin, it damages our relationship with God. Here is where God uses guilt to bring us back to Him. To be reconciled with God, we must admit our sins, take responsibility for them and confess them. In many cases our penance can be to make amends for our sins. By confessing your sexual sins and doing penance, you resolve your guilt and are reunited with God. Addressing guilt is also an important part of the twelve steps of recovery. Steps four through ten state that we: 4. made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves; 5. admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs; 6. were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character; 7. humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings; 8. made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all; 9. made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others; and 10. continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. While it can be difficult to take responsibility for an addiction, doing so actually strengthens a person. It takes the addiction out of the darkness and brings it into the light. This can diminish much of its power over you. While some people may be hurt and angry with you for a while, most will forgive. In the end they will respect you for admitting your guilt and resolving it. Guilt can help you address your addiction while still affirming your value as a person and as a child of God. SHAME Shame is the emotion that focuses on the person. It is the emotion that says, “You did something wrong and because of it you are a bad person. You need to hide so that no one will ever know how bad you really are.” This is not of God. Ultimately, this is a tool of satan to keep a person trapped in his addiction. It fuels the five faulty core beliefs by which many addicted people live: 1. I am unworthy of being loved. 2. If people really knew me, they would reject me. 3. I cannot count on anyone, including God, to meet my needs. 4. I must find something I can control that will meet my needs. 5. Pornography/sex is my greatest need and source of comfort. Shame can result from sinful acts you have committed, such as viewing pornography. It can also develop out of sinful acts committed against you. For example, a person who was abused as a child might feel responsible for it and develop a deep sense of shame as a result. Both sources of shame can lead a person into addiction. Regardless of where your shame came from, it is important to know that your worth as a person is not determined by your actions or the actions of others. When God created you He instilled in you an infinite worth that no one can diminish. It does not matter what kinds of sexual sins you have committed or how often you have committed them, you are still a good person. There is no need to hide. God still loves you. He is always ready to take you back and cleanse you from your sin. As you take responsibility for your addiction, you will find many people who still love you regardless of what you have done. Letting go of shame can be very difficult for many addicted people. If shame is a major stumbling block for you, I recommend you consult with a therapist and/or a priest. They can help you let go of your shame and bring your addiction out into the light so that you can overcome it! EMBRACING YOUR TRUE IDENTITY It is important for all people who are addicted to pornography to understand that you are not defined by your addiction. Guilt and shame are proof of that! Guilt focuses on the action, not the person. By addressing your guilt and making amends you actually strengthen your ability to recover from your addiction. Others will also respect you for your work in recovery. Shame is not of God and thus does not define who you are. No matter what your addiction has led you to do, God still sees you as His beloved child. This is how you also need to view yourself!
It is 4:00 am. I had gone to bed only a few hours earlier, setting the alarm for 6:30 am. An exhausting day of packing our household goods into boxes awaited me in the morning. After a short while of fighting the sheets and glancing at the clock every few minutes, I realized I would not be getting any more sleep that night. The best I could hope for was to doze on and off until the alarm finally broke my misery. I struggle with insomnia and have been fighting a discouraging and losing battle with it for years. I dislike using sleep medication yet unless I take something at night I would not get more than a few hours of rest. That night, with such an intense day facing me, my frustration grew with each passing quarter hour. I found myself focusing my annoyance—now that I think back, it was anger—at, of all people, God. “Lord, if You don’t put me back to sleep,” I threatened (yes, that was what I was doing), “If You don’t put me back to sleep, I’m not going to read Scripture or pray when I finally get out of bed.” I was like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum. Most who know me well think that I am a spiritually mature Christian who knows Jesus on an intimate level. I pray and read Scripture each morning and evening. I teach a weekly Bible study and write an evangelistic blog encouraging others to walk more closely with Christ. I have written three books about the love of Jesus and how to love Him in return. I receive the Holy Eucharist each week at Mass and I try to live according to Biblical principles. But there I was at four in the morning, frustrated and angry with God—and actually threatening Him that if He did not answer my prayer and let me fall back asleep— well, I would just show Him a thing or two! My confession to you embarrasses me. When I finally crawled out of bed at 5:30 am, I went into the other room, plopped myself down on the couch, and opened my Bible. I had been reading two chapters each morning for nearly four decades and I was not going to stop now, even if I was angry with God. I should have expected what happened next. Before I got two verses into Genesis 25, I started feeling guilty about what I had said to God a few hours earlier. Really guilty. Who do I think I am to rail at God for any reason, especially because He did not answer my prayers about going back to sleep? To compound my sudden sense of shame, the Holy Spirit reminded me of at least a dozen scriptures I had memorized, scriptures that spoke directly to my accusation against God, such as Psalm 44:17-18: “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way.” Then Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” It is, as I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, embarrassing to admit to you what I consider my significant failure. I have a wider point to make. Two days later, as I periodically rehearsed my temper tantrum and lingering guilt, the Holy Spirit reminded me of, of all people, Saint Peter’s failure as recorded by Saint Paul. You can find it in chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Saint Peter, the first earthly head of the Church, played the hypocrite when faced with the choice of pleasing Christ or pleasing his Jewish friends. In this case, Peter chose poorly. Whereas he used to pal around with the Gentile converts, when James and the other Jewish apostles visited town, Peter “held himself aloof” from the Gentiles because he was afraid of what the Apostles would say. So great was his hypocrisy that even Barnabas—a man known for his benevolence—was swayed to choose as poorly as did Peter. What is my point? I have two. First, as well as you or I might know the Lord, as close to Him as we might be, sin is always crouching at our door and we must be ever alert if we are to master it. Second, and I think more important, the Lord Jesus assures us in Saint John’s Gospel that the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23). It is important that I say it again—the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus. That means when I, or you or anyone who is a child of God through faith in Christ’s blood atonement, gets frustrated with God—and even when I get angry with Him— He loves me as much as He loves Jesus. When you sin, He nevertheless loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. Remorse for our sins is a good thing, a necessary thing. Remorse should lead us to confession and confession always cleanses away the dirt. Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he wrote: "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:8-14). Prayer: Oh God, help us ever remember Your compassion toward us, even though we angrily accuse You. Help us remember to leave our guilt and remorse in the confessional and get back to doing the work You have called us to do. Amen.
Our priest spoke about envy in his homily yesterday. He said he suffers with it from time to time. And the truth is, so do I. It is such an ugly thing to admit. It is embarrassing. And, it is destructive. It can just devour. It steals from us joy, peace, and gratitude. We cannot be grateful for something while also being envious. The two seem to cancel each other out. So I try—my husband and I—both, to be intentional about what we are grateful for each day. We share three things that we are grateful for, usually around dinnertime. It was hard at first. But it has become easier the more we do it. And with each thing we mention with gratitude that day, the envy of another thing dissipates. Something else that helps me with envy: the realization that we all carry a cross. Many are invisible, even some of mine. And yet, they are still there. If you get to know a person well enough, you get to eventually see their crosses too. And so, getting to know the person I am envious of; that also quiets the envy. I think envy is a thing of superficial reality; not of what truly exists. Envy is the pseudo-reality of what I create without much interaction; not the reality of what I get to know when I listen, when I get close, when I get to know another. And it is a cross that I create for myself that does not bear any fruit or grace. It is dead-weight. When we see someone else with their many blessings, we have to remind ourselves that there are many things happening outside of that picture that we do not see. And while someone may have the blessings we long for, they may also be carrying a cross that would break our backs. And vice versa. God is good. God is generous. He loves us individually. Personally. We are unrepeatable beings to Him. We are precious to Him. And so He gives. He gives us what is good for us, and He gives others what is good for them. He does not give it to them instead of to us. He does not choose to give it to them and then runs out of the good for us. No, He looks at us, lovingly, as if we are the only one He sees when He casts His eyes on us. And He cares for us and for what our hearts desire. And the truth is that we are all so undeserving, anyhow, of those blessings. Do you think so? This too helps me with envy--blessings are not rights, they are not goods that we earn with deeds or even with faith. We do not get them when we become deserving of them as if it is a checkbox to mark–some kind of accomplishment or recognition. I do not even know necessarily what they are, but I do know that even my crosses have been a blessing for me at times. And I know that some others’ blessings have been their burdens at times too. I know that these experiences are not so isolated. They are the shared experience of this life. And that, also, is something that we are called to do with both our blessings and our burdens: to share them. Again, this helps close the door on envy. To share our blessings: praise God. To share our blessings and our burdens: raise another one to God. Share them so that we can ask others to lift us up to Him too. If you struggle with envy, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that other Catholic and Christian women struggle with this this too. And at times, that is me. I hope that we can help each other through those times with the reminder that there is always more to see, more to know, and more to understand than what we have put together in our mind. And, that God absolutely loves us each of us. Even when we cannot fathom it.
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