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Sometimes it’s the little miracles that bolster our faith and prepare us for the hard moments in life.
In our mid-twenties, when my wife and I were discerning a call to move from Chicago to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with members of our Catholic Charismatic community, we decided to visit Eureka to see what kind of housing was available. Two of our community members hosted us and showed us around. After a week, excited about our future in this picturesque town, we started our return trip to Chicago to make final preparations for our move to the Ozark mountains.
Twists & Turns
A few hours into our trip, engine trouble forced us off the road. The service station had good news—it was not a major problem, and bad news—they couldn’t get the replacement part till the next day.
We had to get a room at a nearby motel. The next day, with our car in good working order, we headed out a good bit lighter—money-wise that is. The motel room and the repair work used up most of our cash. We’d barely have enough for food, and since Nancy was pregnant, skipping a meal was not an option. I had no credit cards in those days.
We were sailing down the road when we were stopped by a state trooper. He flagged us down, along with five other cars, for speeding. One car after another, we pulled to the side of the road awaiting our tickets. I knew nothing about how to pay an out of state ticket nor, more importantly, how to dispute the speeding charge. Very politely, the officer said, “You can go to the courthouse if you want. Get off at the next exit, follow the signs into town, and you’ll see the courthouse.”
The year before, Nancy and I took a delayed honeymoon to the Italian town where I was born. On the way there, we stopped at Assisi to visit our favorite Saints, Francis and Clare. In the basilica of Santa Chiara (Clare’s Italian name) we saw her actual golden yellow hair preserved in a glass case. Nancy turned to me and said, “If we ever have a girl, I want to name her Chiara.” I heartily agreed and looked forward to the day Saint Clare would have a namesake in our family.
As we neared the exit, knowing we couldn’t pay the traffic ticket, Nancy and I turned to Santa Chiara. “Dear Saint Clare,” we prayed, “help us get out of paying this ticket. Please help us.” Half-jokingly I added, “Saint Clare, we’ll definitely name our baby after you… even if it’s a boy!”
Immediately, the sign pointing to the town came into view. We could not believe our eyes. The officer had not told us he was sending us to St. Clair, Missouri! Not till recently did I learn it was named for a Revolutionary War general. But our naïve eyes saw the “St” followed by “Clair” and Saint Clare filled our hearts. We did not notice the difference in spelling of what we assumed was our beloved Saint’s name. This town of 4,000 in the American Bible-belt, we thought, was named for the Saint of Assisi! Overjoyed, we were convinced we had chosen well in turning to our dear Chiara.
I rushed toward the courthouse hoping to beat the other drivers so I could plead to the judge for mercy, but immediately the others pulled into the parking lot alongside us. When the courthouse clerk asked how I wanted to pay my fine, I said I didn’t think I was speeding and asked if I could speak with the judge. Though surprised, she said I could and nodded to a man seated at a desk across the room. As he took a long black robe from a nearby hat-stand, the clerk motioned us toward the courtroom where the man I had just seen was already sitting behind the bench wearing judges’ robes.
He called the first “speeder.” She insisted she had not been speeding and, to my delight, the judge was understanding, even agreeing that sometimes police officers make mistakes and innocent drivers get wrongly ticketed. I was much encouraged until he said, but he is the police officer and I must take his word. Your fine is seventy-five dollars.
The second defendant tried the opposite tack; all sugar and kindness, she explained the good officer must have made a mistake. Again, the judge indulged, conceding that officers are not perfect and sometimes even the radar equipment fails. But again, he turned on a dime reminding us that the officer is the duly appointed officer of the law. Her fee was eighty-five dollars.
I was next, and I started with a question. “Your honor, is it possible for me to be found not guilty here today.” “Oh no,” he said. “The clerk said you wanted to speak with the judge, so I’m happy to listen. But no, I can’t find you not guilty. We would need a jury trial for that.”
My only choices, it turned out, were to plead guilty and pay my fine or plead not guilty and pay my fine. There was no leaving without paying the fine. If I wanted a trial, I would have to return to St. Clair.
When Hopelessly Lost
“My wife and I are moving to the area in September,” I told him. “I’m willing to return for a trial.” The look on his face told me I was making progress. But suddenly Nancy rose to her feet, protruded her pregnant tummy, and called out for all to hear, “Oh honey, don’t try to reason with him. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t care that our car broke down and we spent all our money on a motel room and repair costs. Don’t try to reason with him, he just wants our money.” Try as I did to hush her lament, she forged on.
When I turned back toward the judge convinced hope was lost, he motioned to me to approach the bench. As I neared, he asked, “You’re planning to move to this area?”
“Yes, your honor. We’ll be moving to Eureka Springs in September.”
He reached under his robe into his pants pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to me he said, “The next time you drive past St. Clair, give me a call.”
I stood there, uncertain what to do. He gestured for me to go. I still did not understand. He motioned again, more forcefully. Tentatively, Nancy and I slowly left the courtroom.
As we approached the counter, the clerk asked, “What did the judge say?”
“He told me the next time we drive through town I should call him.”
She looked annoyed. “What’s your fee?” she asked.
“He didn’t give me one,” I said.
She looked as befuddled as I had been. “This has never happened before,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with your ticket.” She looked at us and said, “Ok, I guess you can go.”
Nancy and I entered our car in disbelief, stunned by what had happened.
But we knew who to thank. When we are young and less mature in faith, God often blesses us with small signs, like this, that strengthen our faith and ready us for the challenges life inevitably brings. Nancy and I received many small signs in those early days with the Lord. They persuaded us that God cares even about the smaller things in life—not just the cancers or heart attacks, not just the foreclosure or lost job. And God uses his faithful ones, the Saints, to be channels of his grace. As we grow in the Lord and our faith matures, we may see fewer signs because those early ones have built a foundation of solid faith that enables us to “walk by faith and not by sight (or signs)” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
But on that day long ago, in a town we were sure bore her name, we prayed that Santa Chiara would help us. And we have no doubt she did. Five months later our daughter was born in the Eureka Springs, Arkansas hospital. She was christened Chiara Faith.'
This past year my life went through a shrinking, as did most people’s due to the restrictions and lockdowns from the pandemic. After several months of slowly getting used to that, another big change occurred when my elderly mother came to live with me, and I became her main caregiver. That entailed further shrinking of my life and activities. It was a shrinking within a shrinking, and it has not been without its challenges.
Yet there is a deep peace and a joy in serving my aging mother, especially when I accept and embrace this new chapter in my life.
We live through different seasons of our lives, and each season has its own challenges, crosses, joys and rhythms. Sometimes we suffer during a particular season because we resist what is being asked of us. We become angry and resentful. But if we believe God is with us using circumstances to shape, guide and love us, then the season we find ourselves in can become beautiful and filled with meaning and peace.
Not that it is easy. Recently after a particularly challenging two weeks of health issues and doctor’s appointments for my mom, I was discouraged and exhausted. But during a conversation to which I was only half-listening I heard a friend talking about the rose bush outside the window. She said, “Keep cutting the roses as they come out. When you cut one, even more grow in its place.”
Those words reverberated through me. I thought of what Jesus said about pruning. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:1-2). I desire to live a fruitful life for the Lord. But that means there are things in me that need pruning—selfishness, impatience, lack of charity, etc.
How is God going to prune us? Many times the pruning shears that the Lord uses are the specific circumstances in our lives. Those things that annoy us, prod us, or cause us to stretch beyond our personal comfort zone can actually be the sharp edge of the pruning knife. As it cuts, it makes way for new growth within us.
I have learned that if I start resenting my current season and the demands it brings, I get grouchy and miserable. However, if I lean into the present moment and embrace what today holds, knowing that God is with me, a gentle, peaceful strength seeps in and my inner equilibrium is renewed.
So after thinking about all of this, I pulled out a pair of pruning shears from my storage closet, went out to the rose bush and cut a rose. I put it on the table, and I am letting its lovely scent remind me that through every challenge and trial, the Lord can bring more fruit into my life. And perhaps I will be able to share that fruit with others who need it.'
Seeking inner peace? Here are proven ways to heal your soul
The evening was cool; the church quiet, save for the soothing voice of a priest from the Prelature of Opus Dei. A dozen women reflected on his meditation. Despite the liturgical season of Easter, it was focused on the Cross.
“The Cross does not make victims,” declared the priest, as he indicated the crucifix hanging above the tabernacle. “It makes saints!”
He repeated that truth before continuing: “Faith in God does not mean that there will be no darkness in our lives. Faith is the light that guides our path through the darkness.”
It is easy for us to forget that The Cross can be a channel for inner healing. Too often we fall into the mindset of ‘carrying our crosses’ as a way of dismissing suffering without fully entering into its redemptive potential.
Playing the victim, and feeling sorry for ourselves does not aid the healing process. Instead, we are called to imitate Christ—the perfect victim.
A Lifelong Journey
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” This famous line from Saint Augustine of Hippo never fails to resonate because we are made to know, love and serve God. To be fulfilled, we yearn for a meaningful life.
Although we deeply desire to know, love and serve God, we are still human: the spirit might be willing but the flesh is most certainly weak (cf. Matthew 26:41).
What began with the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, continues with the shadow of concupiscence—that part of our human nature that responds to the allure of sin. “The new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1426)
In other words, even though the stain of Original Sin is washed from our souls through Baptism, we still find sin attractive. This attraction to sin will remain with us in this lifetime, but with the grace of Our Lord, we can grow in holiness.
Our willing submission to His will—the growing in His likeness—is the vocation of every soul. In practical terms, inner healing and our spiritual health are irrevocably intertwined. If we want to achieve true and lasting inner healing, then we need to advance in holiness, but it cannot be achieved overnight.
How Can I Touch Him?
In Matthew’s Gospel we read the following: And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent round to all that region and brought to Him all that were sick, and besought Him that they might only touch the fringe of His garment; and as many as touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:34-36)
As many as touched it were made well—what a blessing for them. But what about us? We are not contemporaries of Jesus who can flock to Him and jostle with each other to touch the fringe of His tunic to gain inner healing.
However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “In the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us.” (CCC 1504)
He comes to us in the sacraments! This is both a tremendous blessing and an ongoing source of hope. In particular the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist are a beautiful manifestation of God’s healing in action.
Through Confession: ‘The whole power of the Sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship.’ Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the Sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation ‘is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.’ Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true ‘spiritual resurrection’, restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God. (CCC 1468)
Frequent reception of the Eucharist is a supernatural phenomenon with benefits that are out of this world: “Holy Communion separates us from sin.” (CCC 1393) “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.” (CCC 1394) “By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in His friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from Him by mortal sin.” (CCC 1395)
Better Late Than Never
Zelie Martin, mother of Saint Therese of Lisieux, was canonised in 2015 alongside her husband Louis. This industrious mother and lace-maker knew all too well the effort and work required for inner healing.
She famously penned the following: I want to become a Saint; it will not be easy at all. I have a lot of wood to chop and it is as hard as stone. I should have started sooner, while it was not so difficult; but in any case ‘better late than never.’
Her own earthly journey to holiness would end with an early death, passing away from breast cancer when her youngest daughter Therese was just four years old. She knew the value of imitating the perfect victim; she carried her crosses, successfully ‘chopping the wood’ that was as hard as stone. The fruit of such work is easily visible in her family: religious vocations and canonizations.
Each of us has different ‘wood’ to chop. Our journeys to inner healing will vary, for though we are all created in His image and likeness, we are each of us unique and thus our strengths, weaknesses and personal experiences are different.
Regardless of this, the Catholic Church, the institution entrusted to Saint Peter, is a treasure trove of aids for inner healing and spiritual health. But we have to take the first step and reach out to Jesus, through the Church, and grasp firmly onto the hem of His tunic, resolving to continue to reach out should our grip loosen because we are distracted by our attraction to sin.
True inner healing can only come about if we have the faith to touch Jesus, to embrace both Him and His Cross; to trust in the redemptive suffering of The Cross in our own lives, to make frequent reception of the Sacraments a priority, and to look for our spiritual and emotional fulfillment in the eternal.
Pope Saint John Paul II was one of many who understood that true inner healing comes from God alone. Because of this, he spent much of his pontificate urging the faithful to cling to Christ, and to have the courage: “to be the Saints of the new millennium.”'
Is church imposing “burdensome moral restrictions” on people who have same-sex orientation? Get the facts straight, right here
Over the years, I have had very fine students in my classroom who have a same-sex orientation, and, of course, as a Deacon of the Church, I know a number of practicing Catholics with a same-sex orientation. It is important to note right away that many people with same-sex orientation do not live a sexually active lifestyle. Many have been down that road and have found it wanting (i.e. not all that it was cracked up to be). Many are committed to the virtue of chastity—a part of the virtue of temperance. In other words, many same-sex Catholics have come to realize what many heterosexual couples have yet to realize, namely, that happiness does not come from an intimate sexual relationship. Rather, happiness comes from a profound relationship with God, and a moral life consistent with such a relationship. Unless a person has had a genuine encounter with the Lord, much of the Church’s moral teachings will appear to be little more than burdensome impositions, that is, unnecessary restrictions on our own happiness.
What is interesting is that a number of Catholics with same-sex orientation have explicitly pointed out that the unwillingness to be direct, that is, the unwillingness to come out and teach the basic principles of Catholic sexual teaching, has actually done a great disservice to them. Had clergy, catechists and teachers been more responsible and shown greater solicitude for the faithful in teaching about sexual ethics and the nature of marriage, they (clergy, catechists, and teachers) might have saved them (Catholics with same-sex orientation) from a great deal of pain and wasted years. In other words, the picture that is often painted by media and popular culture is that persons with same-sex orientation are all on one side, and the Church with its “burdensome moral restrictions” is on the other. Such a picture is just not true to the facts. There are many Catholics with same-sex orientation who are well aware of the difference between pleasure and joy, chastely living very devout lives centered around the Eucharist, taking their inspiration from those priests and Sisters who are faithfully living their vows of chastity or promises of celibacy.
Sexual morality cannot be understood outside of an understanding of the nature of marriage. I teach Marriage Preparation for the Archdiocese, and I can say with relative certainty that the majority of couples getting married today are not entirely clear on what it is they are doing when they choose to marry. In other words, they are not entirely clear on what marriage really is and how it relates to sexual expression. This is understandable because we live in a culture that has really lost a sense of the true nature of marriage. There are number of factors that might explain this, beginning with the Sexual Revolution of the 60s; the introduction of no-fault divorce in the late ‘60s; the introduction of Common Law “marriage” (a couple cohabitates for a period of time and is then treated by the state as if they were married); the separation of sex from the idea of children (a separation made possible by the production and distribution of modern contraceptives, etc.).
But marriage has always been understood as an institution. It is more than a friendship—our friendships are private, they are not institutions. Marriage is an organization that exists for the public welfare (institution). Just as a cell is the basic unit of a living organism, marriage is the fundamental unit of society. Marriage is a unique phenomenon.
In short, it is a joining of two into one flesh, one body. It is a complete (total) and mutual giving of the self to another, and since “you are your body”, to give yourself is to give your body. Because it is a complete and total self-giving, it is irrevocable—I cannot revoke what I give if I no longer hang on to a part of what I am giving. If it is mutual, the two have given themselves over to one another such that her body belongs to him and his body belongs to her. They have become a one flesh union. The natural expression of this union is the act of sexual intercourse (the marital act). In this act, male and female become “reproductively one organism” (a male is reproductively incomplete, and so too a female. But in the marital act, the two become reproductively one body). In the sexual act, the two become a one flesh union, which is what marriage is. And so, the sexual act is an expression and celebration of conjugal love (married love). There is a two-fold goodness to the sexual act; it serves two purposes: 1) to express and celebrate married love, and 2) the procreation of new life.
That is why one of the impediments that renders a marriage invalid (non-existing) is impotence, which implies the inability to actually perform the sexual act (the inability to consummate the marriage). Infertility is not an impediment to marriage; it is not necessary to actually have children in order to be validly married, but the openness to children is a necessary condition for a valid marriage, and so the deliberate intention not to have children renders a marriage invalid (non-existing). Other impediments that render a marriage invalid are coercion, fraud (he’s not the person you were led to believe he was), leaving an opening for divorce (the intention must be until “death do us part”), psychological immaturity (the moral and psychological conditions to actually be married are just not there in at least one of them—this is a serious problem among many people today, for the culture in which we live is not conducive to producing morally mature adults).
Marriage as understood by the Judeo-Christian tradition is an objective institution with a determinate nature. It is not a social construct, as the postmodernist claims it is. And because marriage is a joining of two into one body, one flesh, it can only be achieved between a man and a woman. It is not possible for two people of the same sex to actually become one body in the act of sexual union; in other words, it is not possible to consummate a marriage if the two are of the same sex.
Sexual ethics—for us, at least—always starts from an understanding of the marital context. Pre-marital sex is fundamentally an instance of lying with one’s body—for the two are expressing and celebrating a marriage that isn’t there. But the sexual act between a genuinely married couple is a holy act; it is a grace-meriting act. Outside of that context, the sexual act is usually and for the most part a matter of procuring sexual pleasure. To have sex with another person not as an expression of a complete and total giving of the self in marriage, but merely as a means to sexual pleasure, is to use other as a means to an end; and using another as a means to an end is always a violation of a basic moral precept to treat others as ends in themselves, never as a means to an end.
There is far more to this philosophical/theological understanding of marriage and the meaning of the sexual act than can be adequately expressed in an article of this size, but for a large percentage of the population, sex is no longer really anything that has a great deal of significance. It is often not much more meaningful than having a martini or heading out to the Dairy Queen for a sundae, something you can do with almost anyone. But the Church’s determination to protect the nature and sacredness of the sexual act and the true significance of marriage is rooted in her conviction that marriage/family is the fundamental unit of society, and anything that harms that unit harms the civil community as a whole.
And so, the Church calls those persons with a same-sex orientation to a life of chastity. Now this may sound cruel to some, but it might very well be the case that it is the opposite approach that is actually cruel. Moreover, clerical celibacy is probably more important today than it ever was. A good-looking priest or Sister who has taken a vow of chastity or promise of celibacy, and radiates joy, gives very powerful testimony that happiness (or joy) does not come from an intimate sexual relationship; but rather, happiness is found in Christ. It’s even difficult to get married couples to see this. They often believe that their happiness will be found in one another. But Saint Augustine said it long ago, on the first page of his Confessions: “Oh Lord, You created us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. In other words, God created you for Himself, not for another. Complete happiness cannot ever be found in another human being, but only in God. If God calls a man to married life, He is calling him to love his wife for her sake, not for his own sake or his own happiness. He is calling this man to love God by loving this woman for her sake and for God’s sake. Unfortunately, many people “reveal their hand” by the words they speak, saying such things as “he fills a void within me”, or “I just didn’t feel fulfilled anymore, so I left her”, as if marriage is about “my fulfillment”.
There is a tremendously rich heritage in this area of sexual ethics and the nature of marriage in the history of the Church, which has undergone tremendous development in the 20th century (i.e., the Theology of the Body), and when we teach this to our students, they really do react positively. And this is true also of those students who have same-sex attraction. Many of them discern the truth in these teachings and are grateful to receive them. Unfortunately, many clergy are afraid to teach it, and many educators are just not familiar with it.
The fact of the matter is, we all have our own struggles. Whatever road the Lord calls us to walk, there will be sacrifices we will have to make, battles against ourselves and our own unique proclivities that we will have to engage in, but our eternal happiness is precisely at the end of that road. More importantly, “the road to heaven is heavenly”; conversely, “the road to hell is hellish”. When people come to chart out their own unique battlefield and specific road that the Lord is calling them to follow, with all the sacrifices they will be required to make, they begin to experience a joy that they didn’t think was possible. Most people are under the illusion that I will only be happy when I get to do what I want to do; they often go down that road and discover that they are not happy at all, much to their dismay. But when they finally begin to do what the Lord is calling them to do, they discover something that they had no idea they would find, namely, a deep sense of fulfillment.'
Have you let the past with your earthly father define your future with your Heavenly Father?
I was born and raised just north of Tampa, Florida, USA. My Mom and Dad were Catholic, and raised me as a Catholic from the cradle. However, things went downhill when I was six. My parents separated and my Dad filed for divorce. A custody battle ensued until my parents got back together when I was eight. Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
When I was ten, my Mom filed for divorce. She was awarded custody, but I still had to visit my father. He had many good qualities—a hard-working, thrifty, and sporty guy—but there was one downfall to his personality that seriously damaged my relationship with God, and that was his lack of patience. One moment he would be happy, but if you accidentally spilled a glass of milk, he would blow up and start verbally berating you. This atomic-bomb type of anger could affect children in one of two ways. Either a child develops a thick skin and becomes uncaring, so it can be brushed off; or a child develops a tremendous fear of making mistakes and starts walking on eggshells. I did the latter. This is important to note because it was a perfect setup for me to develop scrupulosity.
Our human fathers are supposed to be images of our Heavenly Father, God (Ephesians 3:14-15). Whatever your earthly father does, including his qualities, how he speaks, and how he acts will be reflected in your image of God. So, when I was a teenager, I started seriously fearing my Father in Heaven. I walked on eggshells each day, thinking that at any moment, I would commit a mortal sin and be destined for Hell. In every thought, every word, and every action, I thought I might be sinning.
To give an example: when I would eat a small chicken sandwich from Wendy’s, I thought it would be gluttony to eat a second. But I was not certain, and would go back and forth over the morality of eating the next sandwich. This obsessive-compulsive disorder caused me to drop twenty pounds off an already thin frame.
I thought things were sinful when they were not. In fact, I would take up all of the priests’ time in the confessional. Praise God, I had an excellent pastor at my church who patiently counseled my struggling conscience. But this was only the tip of the iceberg. My whole image of God was bizarre. What I needed was a gentle and patient father-figure. After I graduated from high school, I attended Ave Maria University in south-west Florida. It was there that I would start to have my fear dealt with. I would go to the chapel every day, and began to understand the love of God my Abba.
A song kept coming back to me when I prayed— “Shoulders” by “For King and Country.” The words, “I don’t have to see to believe that you’re lifting me up on your shoulders, your shoulders”, revolutionized my thinking and changed my heart. Over time, my fear started to change into love. God saw me as His Beloved Son, with whom He was well pleased (Mark 1:11). He is a gentle Father, who takes into account my weaknesses. As the Psalms say, He is “slow to anger.” I developed a little litany for God, my true Father:
Father most gentle (1 Kings 19:12).
Father most kind (Isaiah 40:11).
Father most generous (Matthew 7:11).
Father most sweet (Psalm 23:1).
Father most humble (Luke 2:7).
Father most soft-spoken (1 Kings 19:12).
Father most joyful (Zephaniah 3:17).
Father most supportive (Hosea 11:3-4).
Father most loving (1 John 4:16).
Father most affectionate (Jeremiah 31:20).
Father most tender (Isaiah 43:4).
Father, my protector (Psalm 91).
I urge you to read those passages as I have, and grow in your intimate relationship with the Father. The path towards healing and wholeness is open to you. Join me on that journey.
Let us always remember these words from Saint Therese of Lisieux, “What sweet joy it is to think that God is just. He takes into account our weakness, He knows the fragility of our nature perfectly. What should I fear?”
(Story of a Soul by Saint Therese).'
The popular historian Tom Holland has written an extraordinary book called Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. The subtitle sums up his argument. Holland is deeply impatient with the secularist ideology that reigns supreme in the academy and that tends to regard Christianity as a debunked, outmoded religion, a holdover from a primitive, pre-scientific age, a block to progress both moral and intellectual. In point of fact, he argues, Christianity has been and continues to be the most powerful shaper of the Western mind, though its influence is so pervasive and so deep that it is easily overlooked.
His very effective strategy for bringing this out into the open is first to de-familiarize Christianity through a brutally realistic accounting of what crucifixion meant in the ancient world. To be put to death on a Roman cross was just about the worst fate that anyone at that time could have imagined. The very fact that our word “excruciating,” which designates the most agonizing kind of pain, comes from the Latin ex cruce (from the cross) fairly gives away the game. But more than the awful physical suffering of the cross was its unsurpassed humiliation. To be stripped naked, nailed to two pieces of wood, left to die in the course of several hours or even days, while exposed to the mockery of passersby, and then, even after death, to have one’s body given over to be devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field was just about as degrading an experience as possible. That the first Christians, therefore, proclaimed a crucified criminal as the risen Son of God could not have been a more comical, unnerving, and revolutionary message. It turned upside down all of the ancient world’s assumptions about God, humanity, and the right ordering of society. If God could be identified with a crucified man, then even the lowest and most forgotten members of the human family are worthy of love. And that the earliest followers of Jesus not only declared this truth but concretely lived it by caring for the homeless, the sick, the newborn, and the aged made their message even more subversive.
Though he explores many other ways that the Christian philosophy influenced Western civilization, Holland identifies this idea, radiating out from the crucified Jesus, as the most impactful. That we take for granted that every human being is worthy of respect, that all people are bearers of equal rights and dignity, that compassionate love is the most praiseworthy ethical attitude is, quite simply, a function, whether we acknowledge it or not, of our Christian cultural formation. Proof of this can be found by looking back to ancient civilization, where none of these notions held sway, and by looking, even now, at societies unshaped by Christianity, where these values are by no means unquestioningly revered.
The bulk of Holland’s book is taken up with analyses of key moments in Western history, which reveal the influence of the master idea of the cross. I would put special stress on his reading of the Enlightenment, whose political values are unthinkable apart from the Gospel, and of the contemporary “woke” movements, whose preoccupation with the suffering of victims and the marginalized is the fruit of a culture at whose heart, for two thousand years, has been a crucified and unjustly condemned man. I particularly appreciated his coverage of the Beatles’ famous 1967 Abbey Road recording of “All You Need is Love” in front of a live audience. The sentiment conveyed by that iconic song is one with which neither Caesar Augustus nor Genghis Khan nor Friedrich Nietzsche would be the least bit sympathetic, but which in fact is deeply congruent with the thought of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Paul the Apostle. Like it or not, the Christian revolution massively shapes the way that we in the West continue to see the world.
With this part of Holland’s argument—and it takes up 90% of the book—I am in complete agreement. The point he is making is not only true; it is of crucial importance at a time when Christianity is, so often, put down or set aside. That said, for me, the entire book unravelled at the end, when the author admitted that he believes neither in God nor, obviously, in the divinity of Jesus or his Resurrection. The revolutionary ethic that flowed from those beliefs he finds compelling, but the convictions themselves are, he feels, without warrant. This distilling of an ethical system out of deeply questionable dogmas is a familiar move among the modern philosophers. Both Immanuel Kant and Thomas Jefferson endeavored to do just that. But it is a foolish enterprise, for it is finally impossible to separate Christian ethics from metaphysics and from history. If there is no God and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, how in the world is it the case that every human being is worthy of infinite respect and a subject of inviolable rights? If there is no God and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, how could we not conclude that, through the power of his awful cross, Caesar won? Jesus might be vaguely admired as an ethical teacher with the courage of his convictions, but if he died and remained in his grave, then power politics prevails, and the affirmation of the dignity of every person is just a silly wish-fulfillment.
It is instructive that, when the first Christians evangelized, they did not speak of human rights or the dignity of all or of other such abstractions; they spoke of Jesus risen from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. They insisted that the one whom Caesar’s empire put to death God had raised up. Tom Holland is absolutely right that many of the best ethical and political instincts of the West have come from Christ. But just as cut flowers will last only a short time in water, so those ideas will not long endure if we deracinate them from the startling facticity of the cross of Jesus.'
Praying for your loved ones? Here’s a story to keep you hopeful
I remember it like it was yesterday—sitting in a dimly-lit living room with my future father-in-law after a holiday meal. It was the first time I had met my boyfriend’s parents, and I was noticeably nervous. The family had scattered after dinner, leaving Harry and I to engage in small talk by the fire. I had heard so much about him and was excited to have this opportunity to converse. Harry was truly larger than life with an incredible sense of humor. He was the father of six children—hardworking, an equestrian record holder and a veteran of an elite military organization. I was dating his oldest son.
I had admired him long before I met him and hoped to make a good impression. I, too, came from a large family, and was a devout Catholic—something I hoped he would view favorably. I knew that Harry had grown up in the Catholic Church, but left long before he married and started a family. This was something that piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more—to understand why. What could have made him leave this faith that I, even as a teenager, loved so dearly? When the topic of religion eventually came up in conversation, I excitedly shared with him my devotion to the faith. His response was unexpected and heart-sinking. He nonchalantly, almost coldly, stated that he was once a Catholic—even an altar boy, but now he was not sure if he could even remember the Lord’s Prayer. Wanting to respond without sounding disrespectful, I quietly mentioned how sad that was—and I deeply felt it. This conversation left an impression on me and I kept this memory closely tucked away.
The years came and went, and my husband and I held Harry close in prayer— hoping that one day he would return to the faith. Harry was there for my marriage to his son in the Catholic Church. He was there for the sacramental celebrations for our children, and he was even there the day his own son became a Catholic.
Unable to hold back my tears of joy as I watched my husband’s baptism, the memory of my conversation with his father, ten years earlier, came flooding back and I felt the very slightest heat of anger—anger that my husband’s father had cheated him out of a faith-filled upbringing. My husband wanted more for his own children. He had not just been supportive of raising our family in the Catholic faith, he himself felt an inner longing for more. His initiation into the Catholic Church was a wonderful example of his own deep faith and trust.
I saw small glimmers of faith in Harry over the years, and I always believed there was still some conviction buried deep in his heart. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, my father-in-law told me in confidence that he was praying to Our Lady for him, as he had always had a deep devotion to her. This was something he had never told anyone, and he confided in me. I felt a genuine happiness in knowing that this dedication, although unseen, was still in there. Optimistically, my husband and I continued to pray for Harry’s full return to the faith.
A Priceless Gift
The year 2020 was cruel to many, and my dear father-in-law was one of its victims. Having taken a bad fall, he was placed in a rehabilitation facility with no personal contact for weeks. His health was beginning to fail, and this strong, vibrant man was beginning to shrink—in stature as well as in light—as the onset of dementia had also become clear. My husband decided to take a chance and ask his father if he would like a visit from a Catholic priest. To our utter surprise, he eagerly agreed—and asked me to supply a copy of the Lord’s Prayer to refresh his memory. Once again, my conversation with him as a teenager immediately came to mind, but this time I felt excitement and hope.
In the days that followed, my husband accompanied a priest to his father’s home as mobility was limited now. Harry confidently participated in the Sacrament of Penance and accepted the offering of Holy Communion from his own son. Receiving both of these sacraments for the first time in nearly sixty years was a priceless gift. Harry received the Anointing of the Sick as well, and these precious sacraments indisputably gave him the graces to live out his final weeks in peace.
In his final days, his son brought him a rosary, and prayed it around his bedside with our children—knowing that Harry was now walking the fine line between this life and the next. As a devoted child of Our Lady, this seemed a fitting goodbye. Harry passed away peacefully soon afterwards, and our hearts will forever be filled with gratitude to our merciful God and Our Lady for bringing Harry back to the faith before he passed on. Knowing that Harry is at peace with the heavenly angels is of great comfort to us. It may have taken him decades to acknowledge it, after years of unceasing prayers, and a final chance offer from his loving son, but his faith was there. It was always there.'
One evening, my wife told me she had invited a Rosary group to our home. They would be bringing a statue of Our Lady and praying the Rosary. I shrugged it off because I had no belief in the power of prayer. I could not rationalize how uttering words could bring about a meaningful relationship with God.
To prepare a beautiful setting for the statue of Our Lady, my wife bought two vases of brilliant red roses. The prayer group brought the beautiful statue of Our Lady. When they arrived, I fled to the background. But as the Rosary was recited, I stood at the rear of the room looking at the statue and wondering about the Rosary. Questions like: “Are we really praying to a statue?” popped into my mind. But I also found myself asking, “Are you really present here? I really need to know!” I felt like saying, “I need a sign to show me you are here”.
My eyes fell on the brilliant red roses and I prayed, “If only you could change the color of one or two of those roses…” The next morning, I rushed to work. When I came home in the evening, my wife met me at the door exclaiming excitedly, “Have a look at the roses…Somebody must have asked for a sign.” When I glanced over to check them out, I was astounded to see pink roses instead of the brilliant red roses. It left me breathless. Regaining my composure, I told my wife, “Honey I think somebody did ask for a sign…and that somebody is me.” My wife burst out in delight, “It’s a miracle!”
I examined them carefully to see if the pink roses were a different variety than the red roses, but they were clearly identical except for the colour. Truly it was sign from Our Lady telling me, “I am here. I am here to help you. Call on me”.
From then on, I began to “pray” the rosary rather than “say” the Rosary. Every time I pray the Rosary with all my heart, it is an enormously powerful experience of our Heavenly Mother. She is always at my side, holding my hand, and walking with me on the journey of life.'
As I sat in Mass listening to the priest proclaim the Gospel according to Luke (6:12-19), I heard the words with fresh ears and understood them in a way I never had before.
The message of the Gospel: Jesus chose Twelve. Twelve! Out of all of His followers, he chose only Twelve. What did it take to become one of the Twelve? I wondered what Jesus prayed on the mountain the night before. Was the decision difficult to make or was the deliberation brief because the soon to be Twelve Apostles were an obvious choice? What criteria did Jesus use to make his decision?
Then, all of a sudden, my heart started to pound and I saw RED. A bit of panic came over me as I placed myself inside the Gospel story. Imagining myself among the other disciples, standing there quietly waiting for the names of the chosen Twelve to escape the lips of the Son of God, I looked around at those beside me.
Suddenly, I was struck by the gravity of every decision I had ever made, each action I had taken, and every word I had spoken. Jesus was choosing His core group of followers—the ones who would carry out His works. My mind ferociously scanned over my own life and I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Am I living in such a way that Jesus would have chosen me? Would I have made the cut?”
Certainly, there were many disciples, not chosen to number in the Twelve Apostles, who accomplished incredible works in the name of the Lord. Good works were not exclusive to the Twelve, but we know the Apostles did play a very intimate, integral role as Jesus’ closest friends and followers. To have been selected was an unparalleled honor. Additionally, Jesus gave us a glimpse of His incredible love and mercy by including Judas Iscariot among the Twelve. Even though Judas would later betray Jesus I don’t think we can argue the Twelve were a very special, handpicked group of followers.
What would it have been like to be one of the Twelve?
Maybe the Apostles were grateful and excited, but also nervous about the path the Lord had chosen for them. Did the other disciples react in disappointment because they were not chosen among the Twelve, or was there a feeling of relief because the road laid out before Christ’s Apostles would certainly be difficult?
Just to be chosen was a sacrifice. Becoming an Apostle would prove to be a heavy cross to carry. Being chosen was just the beginning.
The Christian life isn’t easy, but the reward is divine.
Do you live your life to be “chosen” or do you live your life to simply get by?'
Question: I am preparing to be married in a few months, but the idea of such a lifelong commitment fills me with anxiety. I know so many marriages that end in divorce or misery – how can I ensure that my marriage will remain strong and full of happiness?
Answer: Congratulations on your engagement! This is an exciting time in your life, but also an important time to prepare – not just for the wedding, but for the many years of marriage that God will bless you with!
Humanly speaking, marriage is a difficult reality, because it puts two very imperfect people together into one family…for the rest of their lives. But thankfully, marriage is not just a human reality: it was established by Christ as a Sacrament! As such, it is a source of grace for all who enter into it – graces that we can tap into at every moment!
So, the first step to a happy marriage is to keep God at the center of it. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote a book entitled, “Three to Get Married,” because the marriage is not just between a man and a woman it also includes a third person– God, who must remain at the center. So pray together as a couple, and pray for your spouse.
The more time you spend with God, the more you will become like Him – which is good, because you will need to develop virtues as you go through your married life! Patience, kindness, forgiveness, honesty, integrity, and self-sacrificing love are indispensable virtues. Even before your marriage, work on growing in these areas. Go to Confession regularly as you seek to grow to be more like Christ. Pray for these virtues; practice them daily—especially forgiveness.
A good marriage never exists outside of a wider community, so surround yourself with mentors in your marriage – couples who have been married for a while and have weathered a few storms but have come out stronger. You can turn to them for advice and inspiration when rocky days come. Not all of these mentors need to be alive: some great saints lived the married life, such as St. Louis and Zelie Martin, or St. Monica, whose difficult marriage made her a great saint.
Your marriage WILL be attacked – the Evil One hates good marriages, because marriage is the clearest icon of the Trinity here on earth. Just as the Trinity is a life-giving community of love, as three Divine Persons give of themselves to each other for eternity, so a good marriage should be a visible example of that here on earth – two persons who give of each other to their spouse so fully that their love results in new people being created (children). So the Devil abhors marriage with a special hatred. Prepare yourself for spiritual warfare, then. Usually that takes the form of a natural human disagreement being blown out of proportion. Perhaps you have a small disagreement and all of a sudden thoughts of divorce start nagging your mind; perhaps you will be tempted, as soon as you are married, to daydream about other husbands or wives; perhaps you will just find yourself too distracted to spend much time communicating with your spouse.
Resist these attacks! As Protestant author John Eldredge likes to say, marriage involves two people “back-to-back with swords drawn”. The enemy is NEVER your spouse – you two are a team, bonded by vows and grace, fighting for your marriage by fighting the true Enemy, the Evil One.
And we have many weapons! The Sacraments, the Word of God, prayer, fasting…all of these should be a regular part of your marriage. Rest secure that God will give you the grace to live out your vows, come what may. He is always generous with those who are generous with Him; He is faithful to those faithful to Him. Study the Church teaching on marriage and family, such as the encyclicals Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio, or the “Theology of the Body” or “Love and Responsibility,” and conform your marriage to this beautiful vision for married love that the Church proposes.
Most of all, never give up! Once when I was teaching a religious education class, I brought in a couple who had been married for over 50 years. They gave a great presentation about their marriage, and then they asked the kids if they had any questions. A precocious 12-year-old boy spoke up and said, “Did you ever think about splitting up?”
There was a great deal of awkwardness in the room. Reluctantly, the wife said, “Well, yes, there have been days…” Her husband looked at her with surprise and replied, “Really? You too?”
They persevered – and made it to 50 years. I pray that your marriage will do the same!'
As an Author, Storyteller and National Speaker he seeks to emanate the light of Christ to the whole world. Meet Graziano Marcheschi the Senior Programming Consultant of Shalom World as he beautifully describes the essence of Shalom ministry.
They don’t come often. Days of singular focus where everything works together and everything hangs together; days free of crippling self-awareness when we surrender to the flow and the unfolding of events …and of God’s grace.
Such was my daughter’s wedding day.
I awoke happy, looking forward to the day without any of the father-of-the-bride wedding day jitters. Everything was just as it should be. Throughout the day, I found peace in every moment. The Mass, presided over by our local archbishop, was perfect—his homily a brilliant breaking open of the word of God. The reception, my father-of-the-bride toast, the 20-foot-long banner unfurled on cue by my nephews professing a father’s love for his little girl—all holy, all part of a seamless flow. Nothing could disturb the perfect balance. Even my daughter-bride’s frantic whispers in my ear that the caterers were serving the “wrong” menu brought no alarm. “What do you mean, ‘the wrong menu?’” I asked “It’s not what we ordered!” she stressed. But the food was good. Too good to upend the equilibrium of that special day. I visited with friends and family members. “Thank you so much for including us,” one said. “Of course, of course!” It all went by so fast, so smoothly, so like it was being guided from somewhere far beyond.
But the real grace of that day, what made it exceptional and unique, was my lack of self-awareness and self-preoccupation. Of course, I was there. I wasn’t withdrawn or in a daze. I was fully aware, though not of myself, but of all that was beautifully, gracefully unfolding among us. It was a rare magic I’ve tasted but a few times in my life.
When I first encountered Shalom World ministries, I wondered why a Catholic organization would adopt such a Jewish name. Friends who know of my work with Shalom often ask the same question. So, I decided to look deeper to better understand a word that’s peppered my vocabulary for as long as I remember.
Like the Italian “Ciao” or Hawaii’s “Aloha,” Shalom is a prosaic word used to greet and bid farewell: “Shalom!” when you meet someone. “Shalom!” when they leave. Though most commonly translated as “peace,” shalom holds a much deeper meaning for the Jewish people from whom we’ve borrowed the word. Much more than the absence of conflict, shalom implies a sense of completeness and wholeness. The word derives from the verb “shalem” which suggests a fullness and oneness in body, mind, and state of life. It celebrates an inner tranquility or harmony that manifests itself in the urge to give back, to restore and to make something whole.
When a Jewish person greets another with shalom, they are wishing them health, well-being, and prosperity. The same is true when Jews or Christians bless someone with the famous invocation from the Book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6: 24-26). This is not the “peace and quiet” that we sometimes scream for in times of stress. It is a tranquility and harmony that we can’t manufacture and which only God can give us. Only from God himself, from “his face” shining down upon us, from his protection encircling us, can we receive the inner peace and completeness that are the real meaning of Shalom.
Scripture identifies God with peace to such an extent that Shalom becomes a name of God. In the Book of Judges (6:24) Gideon builds an altar to the Lord and calls it “Yahweh-Shalom” (“God is peace”). When we wish shalom to someone, we are wishing God upon them.
Through a Christian lens, shalom becomes another word for the kingdom of God. In its deepest sense, the kingdom is Jesus Christ himself. In his person, Jesus embodies God’s kingdom. When he says, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” Jesus announces that in his person, as both God and man, heaven and earth have met and God’s kingdom, God’s very presence, is now among us. And what do we understand the kingdom to be but God’s rule over us, his reign extended through the earth, a manifestation of the very attributes of shalom—completeness, safety, tranquility, harmony, and peace.
In a book entitled Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, author Cornelius Plantinga presents the Hebrew bible’s understanding of shalom this way:
“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. … In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”
What a perfect description that is of the kingdom of God.
As Christians, when we say shalom, we wish for the fullness of the Kingdom. We pray for God’s governance over us as individuals and as nations. We long for the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. Shalom on the lips of Jesus was a reminder to the disciples that what he brought was but a foretaste of what was to come in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
This understanding of shalom is what I experienced on my daughter’s wedding day—a sense of harmony, the absence of struggle and of self-preoccupation, the letting go of fear and trusting effortlessly in the providence of God.
That’s why Jesus rebuked more than the winds when the disciples cried out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” in response to the sudden storm that filled them with terror as Jesus lay asleep in the back of the boat. He took them to task because he was disappointed that they had surrendered shalom. They weren’t simply anxious; they were afraid at their core. They forgot they weren’t in real danger because the lord of heaven and earth was in the boat with them. They feared he would let them down, sleep through the danger and let them drown. But true shalom means knowing we are never in mortal danger; remembering we are always in the hands of the lord of heaven and earth. It means trusting, at the core of our being, that in God’s hands we find safety, comfort, harmony, and peace.
If you wanted to create a ministry to bring the good news of the gospel to millions around the world, if you dreamed of a print magazine, television programming, and round the clock prayer that encourages readers and viewers with the message of Jesus— “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33)—what would you call that ministry?
How about Shalom World?'