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What is the difference between drifting along and letting God do His will in your life? I have not really pursued many of my life goals because I love God and I want to please Him by doing what He wants me to do in my life. Should I be living this way? Is this a wrong approach to goals in life and doing God’s will?
One thing that it sounds like you are getting absolutely right is the concept of “God’s will in all things.” It is vitally important for us to understand a couple of key things with regard to God’s will. The first is this: not everything that happens is the result of “God’s plan.” Sometimes, when tragedy strikes, or a person experiences suffering, or a loved one dies, a well-meaning (but erroneous) person will say, “This was part of God’s plan.” Again, this is not necessarily true in all senses.
In creating a world outside of Himself, God put certain “laws” in place. He created physics and chemistry and the material world which operates according to the way He created it. But one consequence of this is that not everything that happens in this world is a result of God’s having directly willed it. Because of this, we have to realize that God does not “cause” all things to happen. In addition, human beings (and angels and demons) have free will and can choose things that are clearly contrary to God’s will.
We need to understand the difference between God’s “perfect will” and God’s “permissive will.” God’s perfect will is when God directly wills a thing to happen or not happen. This is always immediately and ultimately for the good. God’s permissive will is when God allows a thing to happen. This is not necessarily an immediate good. In fact, God often allows evil things to happen. He does this for a couple reasons (that we know of). First, God allows evil things to happen in order to preserve the gift of free will that He has given us. Second, God allows evil because He knows He can bring about a greater good. At this point, it is important to note that God does not cause evil to bring about a good (that would be evil and impossible for an all-good God to do). Rather, God allows something to happen that is contrary to His will because He knows He can use this for an even greater good.
If this is true, then it follows that we can trustingly submit to everything that happens to us as falling under “God’s will.” Either it is a good that He directly willed or it is an evil He allowed to happen, through which He can bring about a good. For this reason, your having “let things in life happen to you” is not entirely a bad thing at all! In fact, many people would be greatly blessed if they began seeing the events of their day as falling under God’s will more often!
Yet, while we are able to say “yes” to God at any moment because of the fact that He is present in all things and either wills perfectly or permissively all things that are … we can also discern direction and goals.
There was a kind of error in some Christian circles sometimes called “quietism” or “fatalism.” The idea there is that we ought not take any action ourselves, but just sit and wait for something to happen to us. The attraction in this posture is that we will never make the wrong decision (because we are not making ANY decisions), but the truth is that not to decide is to decide.
At the same time, the decision to “be open” to God’s will is a decision! The decision to choose to accept all things as they come as a gift from God is in no way harmful, negative or a bad idea. I believe this decision should come from a place of trust and intentionality and not merely because a person is afraid to choose the wrong thing or does not like making decisions.
There is also something very “God-honoring” in the process of making goals. Part of that is rooted in the way God has created us. He made us to have an intellect and reason. Because of this, we have the ability to discern the good in all of its complexity and to choose one road out of many. We can often choose any number of options and this is good. Part of conforming our will to God’s will is the beautifully complex process of making choices. We get to “co-operate” with God, not merely as passive receivers but as active participants.
With this in mind, you could take a step and make a decision. This decision could be toward or away from a relationship. It could be to discern a religious community or have a conversation with your pastor about being a consecrated single. In each of these cases, you would be walking with God, using the gifts He has given you and learning even more clearly how to hear His voice. Even more, in this process you would be required to listen to God’s voice along the way and learn when He is calling you to persevere, when to adjust your direction or when to stop and go back. Think of how this dynamic interaction would bring an even greater closeness between you and the Lord!'
Deep within each one of us there is a hunger and a thirst. We all experience this yearning of the soul—a heart that burns with longing—but we do not always recognize for what we yearn. We can spend years trying to satisfy this yearning, yet never be satisfied.
Saint Augustine expresses this reality so beautifully, “Thou move us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” He included this prayer at the beginning of his spiritual autobiography, “Confessions.” Its placement emphasizes the importance of this discovery by Saint Augustine in his life after years of searching in all the wrong places.
Saint Augustine was not always a saint. He spent a portion of his life, maybe like you and me, in pursuit of what he incorrectly thought would satisfy his hunger and thirst. We all know the story of his mother, Saint Monica, who spent many long years praying for her son–a son who refused to submit to God and the Catholic faith, a son who lived with a woman who bore him a son out of wedlock. Such is the love of a mother for her child. In grief, compassion and concern for her son, Saint Monica never failed to pray with urgency, persistence, faithfulness and hope for her son to come to faith.
Saint Augustine gives us a glimpse into what was taking place in his life during those years:
“Late have I loved You, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Late have I loved You! And behold, You were within me, yet I was outside, and there I searched for You; deformed, I plunged amid those fair forms which You had made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those beautiful creations held me far from You, which, unless they were in You, were not at all.“You called and cried out to me; overcoming my deafness. You shone upon me and set aside my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me and I drew in breath and panted for You. I tasted, now I hunger and thirst for You. You touched me and I burned for Your peace.”
Here he speaks of the burning deep within his heart and recognizes that it was God he sought all along. But in his deformity, he sought for those pleasures and beauties of creation instead of the Creator—and so his hunger was not then satisfied.
Reflect a moment on this. How many times have we made the same mistake? Have we sought to satisfy our hunger with material pleasures and riches, even good things, failing to see that our yearning is for God who alone can satisfy our deepest desire? Very likely, just like Saint Augustine, we have had a mother who prayed for us, beseeching the good God to open our hearts to Him.
In the end, the breaking open of the Scriptures by Saint Ambrose of Milan and the good Saint Monica’s prayers touched Augustine’s heart and opened the door for Christ to rush in.
God’s Call, Our Response
We are called by God to a life of faith and holiness. Each one of us will have to give an account to God for how we responded. In my diaconal ministry, I encounter many people who are in search of meaning for their lives; they are in search of the God who called them into existence. By the time I meet them, they may have acknowledged in some vague way that it is God they seek, but where will they look and how will they find Him? A few have the wisdom to ask in humility, “Why do I feel this way?”
One of the greatest truth about “Man’s Search for God” is that it is truly God who first searches for him. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”) 2567 explains, “God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.”
Saint John of the Cross explains this first movement of God toward us in “Living Flame of Love.”
“In the first place, if a soul is seeking after God, the Beloved is seeking it much more; if it sends after Him its loving desires, which are sweet as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense, He, on His part, sends forth the odor of His ointments, which draw the soul and make it run after Him.” (From the “Works of Saint John of the Cross,” translated by David Lewis; Living Flame of Love, Stanza III).
This is so reassuring. We do not have to travel far to find God. He is beside us always, calling us to Him by His grace.
A few years ago, I met a man while running the trails in a nearby park. I had paused beside a pond, deep in a valley, to pray my mid-afternoon prayers. I had just taken out my breviary when Sam approached. I had noticed that he was standing a short distance away. Assuming that he was taking a break, I returned to my prayer. When I had concluded and made the closing sign of the cross, Sam came and stood by me. Apologizing for disturbing me, he asked if I was a priest or something. I smiled and silently November/December 2018 Shalom tidings 7 prayed a Hail Mary for help and said, “I am a Catholic deacon, Deacon Mike, can I help you?”
For the next hour, Sam and I sat beside the pond and talked, cried a little and prayed together. He was a life-long Catholic and a husband and father. He loved his family very much, but something was missing. As it turned out, Sam and his family had not truly welcomed God into their home. Both Sam and his family were restless and he did not know why. His wife took the kids to Mass, but he did not go very often. He could not totally keep from thinking of his faith and his God.
I shared with Sam that our meeting was not an accident … nor was his restlessness. Many of us, at times, choose to ignore God and go our own way—yet God never ignores us and He never ceases to call us to Himself. These words made a positive impact on Sam, thanks be to God. When we parted, he was at peace and resolved to ask both God and his family to forgive him.
I am certain that God orchestrated the encounter that day. I was following the example of a good friend when I decided to take my breviary with me that day. Sam had no idea why he had decided to visit the park that day. It was the sight of me praying from that book that arrested Sam’s attention. We laughed as Sam recalled a memory of seeing a priest back home pray from a book “just like yours” while he walked in a park. Even my quick prayer to Mary was an actual grace prompted by God.
The Gift of Faith
Faith is God’s gift to us. Our thoughts turn to God because God Himself has placed that thought in our heart. As Saint John of the Cross would say, it is not our doing at all—this thought we have of God, it is His work, His loving call to us. We were made by love for love. The invitation from God that first turns our mind and heart to Him and prepares us for conversion is a prevenient grace and is not conditioned upon our holiness or our works. It is a gift from the Father who created us and desires all good things for us.
But God’s invitation requires our response. We are free to say yes or no. I pray to God that one day each one of us will respond with our own fiat. When we believe and are baptized, then we are infused with the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—that make us members of His family, the Church and enable us to live a life pleasing to the Father.
“Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that He has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because He is truth itself. By faith ‘man freely commits his entire self to God.’ For this reason, the believer seeks to know and do God’s will.” [“CCC” 1814]
There are many different ways in which we come to faith. For many of us, it was within the family that we were first introduced to the faith, where we first encountered the risen Lord and came to believe. For others, it might have been a friend or even a stranger who God placed in our life to be a witness to His love. In all cases, it is the grace of God that moves us to Him if we will say yes.
So great a gift must be treasured and nurtured. We begin our life of faith as spiritual children. Conversion does not end there. Through the practice of the virtues (particularly humility), prayer and participating in the sacramental life, each of us is called to a mature faith of prayer and holiness.
Lord Jesus, I believe in You, increase my faith.'
I was so sorry to hear that my boyhood hero recently died. His name was Roger Bannister or Sir Roger Bannister as he later became known. I had seen him run several times, but sadly I was not present to see him break the record by becoming the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. When I did see the event on the news I was thrilled to see him fall into the arms of his coach Franz Stampfl as he broke the tape. Stampfl was one of the world’s leading athletic coaches of the twentieth century. He was simply a genius who trained more than 360 Olympians. He was my coach as well—our sports master invited him to be our athletic coach. It was from him that I learned far more than mere athletics. Although I did not realize it at the time, what I learned from him would help me immensely later in my spiritual life.
TRUE CHRISTIANS ARE LIKE ATHLETES
Saint Paul likens Christians to athletes who spend their time building up their spiritual muscles through daily exercise just as athletes spend their time building up their physical muscles. That is why the word asceticism comes from the Greek word for athlete. There can be no successful Christian life without an ascetical life. What I learned from Stampfl would be of immense value in
my future. The first thing I learned from him was that if something is really important to you, you will find the time for it. If you do not, or you cannot, it just means that despite what you may say it is of no consequence to you. He used to say that if you are unwilling to find the consistent and daily time for athletics then please do not waste his time because you are going nowhere. I can understand someone saying that athletics or sports are of no consequence to them, but how can a human being say that love and loving is of no consequence to him? Life without love is not only purposeless, it is dry, drab, boring, colorless and ultimately worthless. If love is offered to you everything else must take second place or you will miss out on the most important thing in life. That is what is offered to anyone who wants to take their spiritual life seriously.
LIFE IS FOR LOVE NOT RUGBY FOOTBALL
When I was a young man, my cousin James told me that his girlfriend suddenly dropped him. It seemed she did not love him anymore. When I tried to discover the reasons why, I found that all his Saturdays were taken up with playing rugby and his Sundays recovering from his efforts. For the same reason, he liked to take Monday evening off, sitting in front of the television. On Wednesdays, he went to the gym to start getting back into shape again and on Thursday evening he liked to treat himself to a night at the cinema. Apparently, she rarely came because she did not like westerns or war films! Friday night was taken up with pre-match training and of course Saturday was match day. Although she sometimes came to watch him, she rarely saw him for long in the evenings because he was usually detained in the bar with his mates, especially after away games. That only left Tuesday night and one night a week is simply not enough.
If someone loves you and you genuinely love them, then you must have time together to give and receive what is more important than anything else on earth. It is the same with the love of God. Without daily quality time for God in prayer, we simply cannot receive the only love that can permanently change us for the better. My cousin saw the error of his ways and he has been happily married for fifty years. God is loving us continually, but if we do not find time for the prayer where we learn how to receive His love then we will get nowhere—nowhere, that is, that really matters.
CHRISTIANITY IS FIRST A MYSTICISM NOT A MORALISM
The spiritual life seems to have become so complicated over the years that you almost feel like you need a couple of degrees in theology just to understand it, much less attempt to live it! Yet, it is essentially simple, so simple that you need the simplicity of a little child to see it. There is only one thing that is necessary and that is love. Not our love of God, but His love of us. In other words, Christianity is first a mysticism not a moralism. It is not primarily concerned with detailing the perfect moral behavior we see embodied in Christ’s life and then trying to copy it, virtue by virtue in our lives. That is stoicism, not Christianity, and it is doomed to failure. Christianity is primarily concerned with teaching us how to turn and open ourselves to receive the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus. The more we are filled with His love then the easier it is to return that love in kind, as the divine suffuses and then surcharges human love so that it can reach up to God and out to others. Then and only then are we able to love God with our whole hearts, minds, and whole beings and to love our neighbor as Christ loves us.
READ FORWARD AND NOT BACKWARD
The trouble is that we make the same mistake with Christ’s life as we do with the saints. We read their lives backward. We read about their rigorous ascetism, their superhuman sacrifices and their heroic virtues and believe that the only way we can be like them is to do likewise. If we would read their lives forward instead of backward then we would see that they were only capable of doing the seemingly impossible because they first received the power to do it in prayer. If we try to be and do what they did without first receiving what they received in prayer, then our brave attempts will inevitably end in disaster. True imitation of Christ or any of His saints means copying the way they did all in their power to receive the Holy Spirit who inspired and strengthened them with His love, to do what is impossible without it. That is essentially all we have to do. That is why the spiritual life is so simple, if only we had the simplicity of a little child to see it.
ASCETICISM MADE EASY
Ascetism for a beginner is quite simple: do not give up anything you like or enjoy except when it prevents you from giving quality space and time to God in prayer each day. If you think it is so easy then try it and stick to it. You will soon find it is not quite as easy as you thought. Do not let first enthusiasm fool you into heroics you will never sustain. When you have persevered for long enough you will gradually begin to receive and then experience the love that will enable you to do what is quite impossible without it. When one falls in love and begins to experience being loved there is nothing one would not do or any sacrifice one would not make for his lover. In fact, one positively looks for things to do, the harder and the more exacting the better, to enable him to show the real quality of his love. What was impossible to a self-centered egotist only a short time before becomes not only easier but also his/her greatest pleasure.
It is exactly the same in the spiritual life. The exemplary behavior, the extraordinary self-discipline and the heroic sacrifices made by a person who begins to experience the love of God are not the result of an arrogant stoic trying to make himself perfect. They are the actions of someone desperate to express his love in behavior that could not be maintained for long without the love that sustains it. All the little pleasures and pastimes that were thought indispensable before suddenly become dispensable, with the greatest of ease.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Virtues that were noticeable by their absence before are born of the love in which they are contained and communicated to those open to receive them. This happens when the love of God strikes a human heart. It strikes it as a simple ray of light strikes a prism. Then, just as that light is diffused and transformed into all the colors of the rainbow, the love of God is diffused and transformed into all the virtues and gifts that are needed to live and love as Christ Himself did. This happens automatically as the love of God suffuses our own imperfect love, making it possible for us to love God in return, along with the neighbor in need, in all we say and do. In short, first seek God and His kingdom, which is love, and everything else you want or desire will be given to you.'
“I, Joey, take you Brigid, as my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you until one of us becomes unhappy.” Wait. What?! As funny as it sounds, the sad truth is that some people leave their spouse because they become unhappy.
Undoubtedly, there are numerous causes of divorce. I would like to focus on one problem I believe is underneath many marriages that split: consciously or not, we expect our spouse and marriage to make us perfectly happy. In “Three to Get Married,” Venerable Fulton J Sheen wrote: “In all human love it must be realized that every man promises a woman, and every woman promises a man, that which only God alone can give, namely, perfect happiness. One of the reasons why so many marriages are shipwrecked is because as the young couple leaves the altar, they fail to realize that human feelings wain and the enthusiasm of the honeymoon is not the same as the more solid happiness of enduring human love … In the first moments of human love, one does not see the little hidden deformities which later on appear.”
In his fatherly way, Saint John Paul II often tried to shatter the illusion in young people that marriage will only bring endless romance and happiness. He knew if we make an idol out of anything, it will eventually leave us empty. Only God can satisfy the ache in our hearts for perfect love and happiness. Yet we often look to another person for the love that only God can give us.
IF NOT HAPPINESS, WHAT ’S THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE?
“Marriage does not exist to make you happy; marriage exists to make you holy,” said Jason Evert. In other words, marriage exists to make you a saint; to transform you into the best version of yourself and draw you closer to God. Of course, marriage also exists for the procreation and education of children. Simply put, it means being open to life, parenting well, and helping your children become saints. (See “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 1601).
God is love. The central mission of our lives is to perfectly reflect His image. Therefore, the more authentically we love, the more we become like God and, consequently, the more we become ourselves. However, to love like God does, it is necessary to deny ourselves and choose what is best for those we love. That will inevitably lead to suffering. Jesus on the cross is the perfect example. Saint Clare of Assisi knew this when she said, “Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.”
When the struggles come, do not become discouraged. Rely on God’s grace via the Sacraments. Ask Our Lady for assistance. Find a good spiritual director to guide you. Remember: You were made for greatness. Did you think it would come easy? Nothing worth having comes easy. No Olympic athlete ever won gold by watching Netflix or quitting when sacrifice was required. He or she endured gruelling training just to win a piece of metal. Why should you expect any less sacrifice if you want a great marriage?
Does that mean marriage will be miserable? No! Marriage will be wonderful and difficult, joyful and frustrating, beautiful and challenging, just like life. The real measure of a successful marriage is not how happy the couple feels but rather how virtuous and holy each spouse becomes.
As you discern and head toward marriage, here are five ideas to purify your idea of marriage.
1. Make God the center of your life and ask Him to purify your idea of marriage.
2. Remember: Marriage does not exist to make you happy; it exists to make you a saint and holiness is the path to authentic joy.
3. Set realistic expectations for marriage by spending time with good families and holy couples.
4. Unhappiness in your marriage is not a sign that you chose the wrong vocation, married the wrong person, or that you should leave your spouse.
5. Do not despair. Even amid struggles, a great marriage is possible with God’s grace and your hard work.
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 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 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.'
Last summer, our family was living abroad when tragedy struck: My six-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a fall and had to spend several days in a German hospital. Being so far from the comfort of family and friends, I longed for their support. Many people asked my husband and me what they could do to help us during such a difficult time since popping over with a casserole was out of the question.
In the midst of my own tough situation, I began to think outside the box about ways to extend loving care to a friend going through a difficult time, whether an unexpected injury, debilitating illness, or grief following loss. There were so many comforts large and small I would have welcomed after my daughter’s injury if only friends had been nearby to offer them. Though there’s nothing wrong with bringing a home-cooked meal, here are nine other thoughtful ways to offer support.
Children can sometimes be a comfort in the midst of grief, but they can also exacerbate a difficult situation. Taking a friend’s kids off their hands for awhile may alleviate stress, allowing them muchneeded time and space.
2.Make a mixtape
Yep, I said mixtape. The days of actual cassettes may be long gone, but the concept of the perfect playlist lives on. Music heals. When my daughter was injured, if I had known a friend had carefully selected songs for my comfort and consolation, I would have clung to them like an anchor for my soul. You can easily create a playlist and share it with a friend on Spotify, iTunes, or Pandora.
Get the car washed, go to the post office, pick-up prescriptions at the drugstore. Who could not use help with these things even in everyday life? The unpleasant surprise of tough times throws us off, muddying up our routines. Getting assistance with the minutiae of daily tasks could sure take a load off.
4.Listen without judgment
In the midst of a recent family crisis, I received a text from a friend. “If you need to talk without any judgment about your situation, let me know.” Even though this friend and I are not that close, her offer of a safe listening ear allowed me the cathartic space to vent. Sometimes, all we need to feel better is the ability to be fully honest about our situation.
Grief saps energy as completely as any physical ailment. The last thing a person in crisis wants or needs to think about is mustering the oomph to clean house. You may find a grieving friend initially resists your offer to clean—it takes some humility to allow others to see our mess—but once accepted, this act of service can provide enormous emotional and practical relief.
6.Provide groceries or household supplies
Dinner is always welcome, but there happen to be two other meals most people eat each day, not to mention household items that cannot go neglected for too long. Bringing groceries for breakfast and lunch or supplies like paper plates, toothpaste, or toilet paper might actually be more welcome to someone experiencing grief than dinner delivery.
7.Put together a care package
In addition to helping out with the basics of food and supplies, a thoughtful care package goes above and beyond to offer TLC. Make self-care easy for your friend by putting together a gift basket of comfort items like her favorite scented lotion or his favorite aftershave, warm socks, or a book you have found helpful in sorrowful times.
8.Take them out (or in)
Years ago, after I suffered a miscarriage, a group of my friends surprised me by showing up at my house and whisking me out to a nice dinner. My first reaction was one of aggravation—I wanted to huddle in my house with my grief—but after a couple of hours out with friends, I found I truly did feel better. Getting out for awhile can take us away from the world of hurt we inhabit in our minds. Alternatively, if your friend is not up for going out, perhaps they could join you for a good movie or cup of coffee at their place or yours.
9. Give a spiritual bouquet or place them on a prayer chain (and pray with them yourself)
A spiritual bouquet consists of a card that lists spiritual action being taken for the recipient, such as the number of Masses attended or rosaries prayed on behalf of the grieving person. What a beautiful gift to know others are regularly interceding for us! Similarly, placing a friend on one (or more) prayer chains ensures that they will be lifted up in prayer by many others. Churches, ministry groups, and even Christian TV and radio stations often have a system in place for submitting requests that others commit to pray for. Do not know of any offhand? Go online to find prayer chains anyone can add to. And of course, praying with and for your friend in person provides deep comfort and peace.
From my own experiences, I have learned that while the standard “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” means well, concrete action provides so much more assistance. When you know a friend is laid low in the mire of grief or despair, do not wait for their call. Take action. Step in. Show up. Whether it is bringing a meal or doing something less orthodox, any practical help will be welcomed with immense gratitude.'
I have been helping my friend, Susan, with a book she is working on about Christian moms and dealing with anger. Out of these conversations, I realized that overcoming our own issues in managing our tempers, can also give us a blueprint to help our kids. My goal? To one day not start my confession with, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a few weeks since my last confession and, oh my goodness, my temper…” We can demonstrate to our kids—by our own management of anger—how to manage theirs.
Preach It: Help your child to find a scripture passage to pray that encourages them. Perhaps the anger they are dealing with is really rooted in fear or anxiety. “Be not afraid” appears in Sacred Scripture 365 times; let them know that they can pray this to themselves to overcome fear. ” , don’t be afraid:’ Let your kids hear you do the same. I can often be heard saying, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control:’ (2 Timothy 1:7) This is a good reminder for me to act in love and self-control rather than anger.
Teach It: We can also use language and tools to help them be proactive rather than reactive. I used to ask my kids, “What color is your anger?” If parents defuse the situation and then provide an outlet (for example, have them draw what they feel) they will learn that anger is not wrong; it just needs to be managed well.
Model It: Express our own anger in words rather than actions: “I feel so angry when someone steals my parking space, but I remember to breathe and (reframe my thinking) remind myself that I am blessed to own a car that requires a parking space:’
Explain and Act on It: Even Jesus got upset and angry at injustice (flipping over the tables in the Temple). There are reasons to be angry; however, we must use that righteous anger to move us to work for good. The injustice of abortion is a great example. We can use that emotion to participate in 40 days for prayer against abortion or the March for Life.
If we look at overcoming these strong emotions as a way to strengthen our faith and help our kids, maybe we can be a little more forgiving of ourselves in the process. Meanwhile, I am running off to confession, because I need a little more grace.'
Having overcome a promiscuous past and knowing that I would soon be intimate with my husband for the very first time on our wedding night, I felt like I had attained success over sexual sin in my life. For the first time since becoming sexually active at the age of thirteen, I felt like I was entering a physical relationship that God would approve of. However, it was not until we started practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP), eight years into our marriage, that I really understood that the beginning of our marriage was still tainted by lust. Marriage does not cure sexual sin!
We became an instant blended family so it was important to us to ensure that our children did not feel like we were replacing them with each other. We knew that we wanted at least one child between us, but we wanted to wait a year to allow time for our little patchwork family to adjust.
Leading up to our engagement a friend recommended that I get on the pill so that if a proposal came sooner than later, the pill would have time to take effect in my body before our wedding, as we knew we wanted a short engagement. It made sense to me, so I made an appointment and started taking a low dose contraceptive. I made sure to ask my doctor all kinds of questions to ensure that I was on a pill that would not harm a baby if ‘one snuck through.’ At this point in my life, I was so ignorant as to how contraceptives worked, and I was completely oblivious on how they can make one’s womb a ‘hostile environment’ until I found myself experiencing a miscarriage just four months into my marriage.
With adjusting to the unique circumstances of our instant family, as well as entering into a difficult season of deep personal healing from my past of trauma and abuse, I just stuffed this experience down and kept on moving through life. Two months shy of our first anniversary, I was informed for the first time that contraceptives have abortifacient qualities. I shared this information with my husband and we decided together that we would never again place another one of our children in harm’s way through contraceptives.
We went on to have our first and only child together and after a very difficult pregnancy. I had a tubal ligation that I regretted soon after. The combination of ignorance and fear can lead us into some very poor choices and my husband and I did not understand the physical and spiritual consequences we would soon face.
After my surgery, there was no longer a ‘fear’ of pregnancy but what I could not see was that my marriage was damaged and flawed. We took our most private moments together for granted and we did not prioritize the limited time we had to connect in deeper ways. I have chalked this type of damage up to what I call ‘Marital Fornication,’ that is, sexual relations in a marriage that are driven by lust, lacking self-control, and which exclude God.
These types of relations are simply physical. They lack intimacy, disrespect our fertility, and can even mask serious health issues in women. Our fertility is the road map to our health and if we cannot track our ovulation (or lack thereof) then how do we really know if we are healthy?
Before we get married, it seems there is often so much emphasis placed upon chastity and self-control, then suddenly when we get married that all goes out the window! That is how it was in my marriage and in my specific instance. I was the aggressor. I had spent ten years of my life giving my body away to uncommitted men who used and abused me, and I had no idea what true intimacy was.
After experiencing my second unplanned pregnancy from a second father, I chose abstinence. Abortion would never be an option for me and having more children from uncommitted men was no longer an option either so I had to change my lifestyle. It proved to be all surface changes though once I got married, because I immediately resumed the same type of behavior as I had before since it was now ‘allowed.’
I was no longer sinning, or so I thought. Even though our first time was on our wedding night, our most private moments together as a husband and wife were no different than when I had hooked up with random guys; it was simply lust-driven monogamous sex. There were times when my husband expressed that he just wanted to hold me and I would feel rejected and unwanted. What my husband was trying to experience with me was intimacy and closeness and I had no idea what that looked or felt like. All I had ever known was lust, so all I could give him was marital fornication.
As I became more involved in the Prolife Movement I learned more about NFP and I began to share my own experiences of losing my son to miscarriage while on the pill and how I had destroyed my fertility through surgery out of fear and ignorance. Even though I knew I was sharing the truth, I felt like a hypocrite. Who was I to point people toward Natural Family Planning when I did not even practice it myself? My heart began to feel more conflicted as I could no longer play the ignorance card. I got it, it made so much sense but it was too late for me!
Or was it?
One day I decided that I wanted to become an NFP instructor so that I could help other women avoid my past regrets. I had also read Christopher West’s book “Theology of the Body for Beginners” and my eyes and heart were opened to see the truth about what intimacy is and is not. I found so much healing through those pages.
About two weeks before my NFP course, I was lying in bed and felt God whisper in my ear that I would find peace with my past if I practiced NFP as though my fertility was intact and we were postponing pregnancy. It did not make sense to me but I told my husband and he readily agreed. I went on to become an NFP instructor and learned so much. After we started practicing NFP by the official rules it was like a heavy weight was lifted from our marriage. There was no more pressure or assumptions for either of us. My chart tells us if intimacy is an option on any given night and it is now anticipated and longed for in ways it never was before NFP.
And I can tell you that, we get the kids in bed on time and put our phones and projects down early when we have a green light! On nights when we know it is not an option, neither of us feel guilty for staying up late in the other room working on projects. Even on nights when we have a green light, we still do not place an expectation on each other. We would rather wait until we are both able to unplug and totally focus on each other than settle for just a physical encounter. NFP has healed our marriage in ways that we did not even know were damaged for all those years, and our ability to communicate has drastically improved as well.
We no longer engage with one another in a lustful manner and our intimate life has grown so deep through self-control, respect for one another’s fertility, and a desire to please God above our own physical gratification. Although we spent many years missing out on the blessings that Natural Family Planning had to offer our marriage, I know that my husband and I will never again settle for lust and temporal fulfillment when we know the lasting fulfillment that is available through intentional and unitive intimacy.
I hope that sharing our experience with NFP will inspire others to give it a chance. It is not simply about planning or postponing pregnancies, it is a pro-health lifestyle that also embraces the beauty of intimacy that God desires us to have in our marriages.'