- Latest articles
On that luminous light in Bethlehem, when the world had fallen asleep, a mother wrapped her first-born son in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger. But the bitter cold pierced His tender body like a thousand knives and poor baby Jesus lay tremulous. His dear mother latched Him close to her bosom to give a little warmth, not knowing the cold He would experience all through His life.
Many scurried to Him for signs, miracles and even food, but they never knew or loved Him.
In the garden of Gethsemane He wept tears of blood and was deeply grieved to the point of death when He realized His sacrifice was for an ungrateful generation. On the cross at Calvary He was rejected and betrayed by those He loved, insulted and mocked by those around. The bitter cold pierced His very bones as He looked up to heaven and said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Today He waits for us in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, truly present in body and blood in the form of bread and wine. Still He feels the bitter cold. Jesus thirsts for our love and what do we give Him? There are those who still insult, mock and do terrible things to Him. Others are called His followers, but they deny Him by saying “not practicing.” Those who know Him receive Him into their hearts but look for gifts, miracles and healings and fail to love Him alone. How much more will He suffer the cold in our hearts?
This Advent let us make our hearts warm for baby Jesus to take abode. Only the love of God that reaches as far as the cross can open a breach in our hardened, cold hearts. In every act of love and kindness let us pray unceasingly, “Sweet kisses to baby Jesus, quivering in the bitter cold.”'
When I was little, a Ugandan priest used to come and visit our parish. The families in our parish took turns inviting him to dinner. When it was our family’s turn my parents, in their usual fashion, went all out. They provided a big meal complete with t-bone steaks. In a story that is now etched in the annals of our family history, Father Matthew looked at the steak on his plate and asked how many pieces he should cut it into to share. My dad smiled and said, “No, it’s all for you, Father.” His eyes widened. Back home his one t-bone steak would have fed an entire family. Father Matthew ate that steak until only a clean, white bone was left.
What I take away from this story is extreme gratitude for and knowledge of the gifts God gives. How easy is it to forget the gifts we have been given? In a sense we are surrounded by “t-bone steaks” and sometimes forget to appreciate the immensity of our gifts—our Catholic parish itself, perpetual adoration, praise and worship … the list is endless and the gifts are HUGE. When was the last time we spiritually “ate the steak to the bone”? None of the meat of spiritual gifts has to be saved for later. The Holy Spirit is just waiting to give us more. Truth be told, I am the most-guilty party in all of this. I have been given gifts galore and have done practically nothing with them. So let us pray together:
O God, I seek Your face and ask with humility and love that You help me realize how great and wonderful all Your gifts are and how abundant they are in my life. Sweet Jesus, I beg You to help me use the gifts You have given me every day, every hour so that Your Holy Name will be praised. Mother Mary, I ask that you intercede and pray for me in this venture today and every day. Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.'
You can never fail to notice us at Mass, whether it is on Sunday morning or during the week. We fill the front pew on the right-hand side with our chaos, noise, and disarmingly cheeky smiles. Our youngest tries to escape from our pew, and the church, while Mass is going on and spends the time after Mass trying to get back into the church to run amok.
Hubby and I have not listened to a homily from start to finish in almost ten years. Despite our regular attendance at Mass, we do not seem to be getting any less noisy or less distracting, especially now that our eldest is an altar server and our almost two year old considers it vital to point and call out his brother’s name on a regular basis.
Additionally, our second youngest likes to ask, loudly, from the offertory onwards: “When is Mass going to be over?” Because, of course, when you are four, the highlight of Mass is putting your money on the plate and once that is over, well, what is left?
As you can imagine, I have conscientiously tried to find that elusive secret to keeping five children under ten manageable at Mass. I have scoured the Internet and tried to implement the strategies employed by mommy bloggers who have had more success in this area. Except, of course, they have not because we all struggle to make it through Mass with small children and not lose the plot altogether. Some weeks you think you have made a gain and the next week disaster is putting it mildly.
God in His wisdom has allowed this to be the case. If there is one thing I have learned about this vocation it is this: parenting is full of chaotic, messy graces but they are graces nonetheless.
For us, Mass attendance falls somewhere into the humbling category of why are they having more kids when they obviously cannot control the one’s they have? For a mother with a choleric temperament and a tendency toward pride, you know this hurt—but that is the point.
Our parenting chaos and challenges are the path to our sanctification; if it was an easy road we would all be saints already. Perhaps the reason there are so few married couples canonized by the Church is that it is easy to lose sight of God among the piles of dirty laundry, childish disobedience, and self-deprivation. It is too easy to think that our daily challenges have nothing to do with His presence in our lives.
Our challenges are different. For some the generosity of being open to life is tempered by infertility or the loss of beloved children; for others that same openness might result in a large family that results in an overwhelming workload. The support, or lack thereof, of our extended families can make these burdens seem even more insurmountable.
These challenges are our chance to pick up our cross and walk alongside Christ. Now, it certainly does not sound as inspiring as the lives of the saints and martyrs that we read. I know I would certainly much rather read about the life of someone like Saint Edith Stein than a fellow mother struggling in the trenches of her vocation.
Yet, how many of the saints implore us to do small things with great love? What if every small act I undertake, as necessitated by the demands of my vocation, was done out of great love? If I consider all of the tasks I perform each day—and add in the unexpected dramas that family life can throw into the mix—and look at each one as a paver or a stepping stone, how far would they reach?
There is no doubting that they would reach a long way. I know I am not alone in feeling as though the demands of a big family are almost never ending. Right now, those stepping stones are not leading to anywhere in particular. They are packed haphazardly in a big stack, collecting dust and dirt, while the paving project experiences continual delays.
If, however, I complete each of these tasks with a great love for God and my family—offering each one out of love not a grudging obligation—then that pile of stepping stones is repurposed. Each one is carefully placed next to the one next to it, increasing in length.
Perhaps one day the project will be complete, my humble stepping stone path will reach all the way to heaven where I will be welcomed with open arms. That, my friends, is worth toiling for.'
The mountains are moving. The seas are parting. The storms are calming. Promises are being fulfilled. But no, it could not be. There is no way that this could be this great. There is no way that everything you have been longing for could actually be here. Am I the only one to experience this? His yes?
The Lord has been leading so many of my friends into good, holy relationships. After season upon season of brokenness, growth and preparation, He has been slowly leading them into this season of fulfilled promises.
It is not just about relationships, though—it is when plans are anointed and now becomes the time. Waiting ceases for a particular miracle. The job is found, the team is formed, the logistics are working out beyond anything that you could have planned.
The time comes that we never thought would. Wow, God does actually keeps His promises.
There is no way this could be real. There is no way this healing could be real. There is no way that this much goodness could manifest itself. There is no way that now is the time. There is no way that this could be for me. There is no way that He is doing this much with my life.
Even as we are seeing the promise, doubt threatens our receptivity of this beautiful reality.
Huh? Reality? Who sets the terms and conditions on reality? Who dictates what makes sense?
Is it you? Is it your broken heart, so let down by placing your hope in things less than a God who never withholds? Is it your misunderstanding mind, wounded by an addiction to control, to the belief that you are unworthy of miracles?
Why would we choose to believe in a false reality, created by daydreaming and doubting, when the true reality of adventure orchestrated by a God madly in love with us is unfolding?
Your story does not get to make sense to you. Your Father does not get to make sense to you.
When we were little girls and received a gift, what did we do? Shyly deny it and say, “No, I don’t want it?” No, we ran with open arms, squealing with delight. We did not worry about it being taken away. We did not worry that it would break. We did not worry that it was not as amazing as we thought it was.
If you are in a season of promises being fulfilled, claim that. Receive the promise that you prayed for the night that there were no stars, when it physically hurt to hope. Are you surprised that it has come?
Are you surprised that He did not speak in vain? Stop waiting for your story to make sense.
Stop waiting for reality to feel real. If you equate reality with what makes sense, that is never going to come. If reality is what you feel worthy of, it is never going to happen because we worship a God who gives immeasurably more than all we can think or ask.'
We all want to help our children go to Heaven. In seeking this, we all know that our children need to learn the basics of the Catholic faith. Therefore, we teach them; at home, in Sunday School, etc. It does not take a genius to figure out these details. Yet, if we all know the importance of a religious education, why is it that so many children still fade away from the Church? Yes, many of them come back eventually, but that does not make it acceptable to fall away in the first place. Just because people survive plane crashes, does not make me want to be in one.
I would like to present the idea that the child’s mind is not a neutral object that we can “pour” Catholic doctrine into, and expect them to behave rightly as a result. Taking them to weekly Mass and a religious education class are good, but not the sum total of a parent’s responsibility. We need to “fertilize the soil” of the child’s mind in order for the seeds of God’s truth to survive in that soil and take root. Parents need to be working actively to help their children’s minds be spiritually healthy, or all the Sunday School classes on the planet will not be enough to keep them in the faith.
Here are three simple steps to help save your children’s minds:
1. Reduce their time in front of a video screen (in some cases, drastically reduce it); generally, the more video they see, the less they will be interested in the truth of God.
2. Give them activities that strengthen and stimulate the mind (rather than those that turn it to mush); if you reduce their video time but do not stimulate them with something good in return, their minds will stagnate. The mind is like a muscle; it needs to exercise.
3. Assert your loving authority as a parent (so that they understand you really want what is best for them); if you are wimpy in your leadership, the children will not take you seriously.
In the ideal world, parents should begin doing all this before their children turn three years old. I know for many of you reading this, however, your children are already older than three. That does not mean that the work is useless, or that success is impossible, it merely means that you have to put more effort into accomplishing this. Depending on the children’s age, you will need to explain to them the need for some changes in their lives (i.e. point three above), and do so in a manner in which they genuinely understand that you are not doing this merely to maintain control over their lives, but to save them from a lifetime of pain.
I know that these three steps run counter to much of what parents are being told today. Someone said to me recently that, “unless you entertain children, they won’t listen to you in religious education classes.” She then proceeded to ask, “What can we do that will entertain them better, because they still are not listening?” That is the wrong question. The assumption that we have to respond to these children’s problems (an obsessive need for entertainment) by making concessions to them (and giving them more entertainment), is wrong from beginning to end. All we are doing with this response is enabling them to avoid overcoming their problems. We cripple their minds, and do not help them to learn how to think. We need to ask, “How can we help them to reject the self-absorbed demand for entertainment?” What would that look like if we actually carried it out? Maybe some parents would take away their children’s cell phones (!). Maybe some parents would throw their television sets in the trash. I certainly am not advocating a radical and sudden change in the home that will only alienate the children. What I am advocating, however, is that parents (especially fathers) need to discipline their children and teach them what it means to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind and body.” They need to educate them, and get them to the point where the children see the need for change. This is not done overnight, but it must start sooner rather than later.
I found it difficult to answer the earlier question about “better entertainment” in the religious education class because my children do not need to be entertained in order for them to pay attention. In fact, they appreciate learning about God without any desire for “a new and entertaining methodology” to keep their attention. No, they are not perfect; we have just avoided letting them become obsessed with having a constant barrage of entertainment.
Yes, there will be children who resist this. In my experience, however, I have found that children will generally follow through with changes for the better if the parents explain things all along the way, and make it clear that they are doing this for the good of the family (and also show that they themselves are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the children). In general, it is the parents who resist the changes far more than it is the children. Parents will say, “That’s too hard,” or “They won’t listen to me,” or “They’ll never let me do that.” We are not talking about choosing a different brand of socks, we are talking about their eternal souls; we cannot afford to find excuses.
In a mindless culture, children need to learn how to use their minds, and this goes beyond a class in logic (though, please be aware, that logic is incredibly useful). It means that we need to work, intentionally and purposefully, to help our children to think like Christians. We cannot merely throw a couple of Bible stories at them and hope that they will make the right choices when they grow up. Parents have done this, and it fails every time. This is treating the child more like a puppy than like a human. They have minds, and those minds can be cultivated and made fertile ground for the truth of God. Parents, begin the work today.'
Edmund Hilary was the first person to conquer Mount Everest. The first time he tried, however, he failed. The Queen of England knighted him and at the gala occasion, on the wall behind the head table, was a huge picture of Mount Everest. The people gave him a standing ovation for even daring to attempt the climb. When they ceased applauding, Hilary turned his back to the audience, faced that picture and said, “Mount Everest, you have defeated me once and you might defeat me again. I will come again and conquer you because you can’t grow, but I can.” With Tenzing Norgay, Hilary conquered Mount Everest in 1953. Hilary spoke to the mountain and he conquered it.
If you do not talk to your mountains, your mountains will talk to you. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11: 23). Jesus chose a mountain to represent our problems. Mountains are big. They seem permanent, as if we cannot do anything with them. A lot of times we pray about our mountains: “God, please help me conquer mountains of temptations. God, please take away mountains of fear and anxiety. God, please cast out mountains of sickness and sorrows.” It is okay to ask for God’s help, yet this is not sufficient. When you face a mountain, it not enough just to pray. Rather, you must speak to or command the mountains.
You can speak to mountains of temptation, fear, anxiety, sickness and sorrows. You need to say, “Fear, I command you to leave. I will not allow you in my life.” If you have health problems, instead of begging to the Lord to heal you, you can declare to that sickness, “Sickness, you have no right in my body. I’m a child of the most-high God. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not welcome here. I’m commanding you to leave my body.” You need not worry in speaking to your problems. As Saint John says, “You are of God. The one who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4: 4). We are of God—what an assurance and reinforcing promise! Do not underestimate what God can do through you.
Reverend Mathew Naikamparambil is a pioneering Charismatic preacher in India. He once shared with me one of his healing experiences. Once, he and his team committed to a three-day preaching and healing service in Manchester, United Kingdom. They were almost ready to go when two of the team members were found to have chicken pox. The office staff at their retreat center made arrangements to isolate them. A day before having to fly out, Father Mathew also found two bubbles on his hand. Instead of preparing to isolate, he decided to command to this mountain of chicken pox. He said, “My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You, chicken pox, have no authority to control me now. You are not welcome here. I’m commanding you to leave my body. I will preach the works of the Lord in Manchester next Tuesday.” Faith succeeded: the mountain of chickenpox disappeared. He flew to Manchester and offered the healing service.
If you have dealt with long-term sickness, depression or addiction, it may seem like it is never going to change. When you speak words of faith, something will happen in the unseen realm. Mountains crumble, the forces of darkness are defeated and the enemy trembles.
What is the logic of this sort of prayer? When you declare and speak to mountains, you do it not in your authority but in the authority of the Son of the Living God. All Heavenly forces come to attention and become alert in working for you. The mighty army of the Lord will stand behind you. As the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me” (23: 4). He continues: “No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways” (91: 10-11). Since we are of God, the mighty warriors of the almighty are always with us. No power can stand against our God. Let us rekindle the gift of faith given to us. When you speak and you do not doubt, the mountain will be removed.
Pope Francis says, “Christ has fully triumphed over evil once and for all, but it is up to us, to the people of every epoch, to welcome this victory into our life and into the actual situations of history and society.” In your trials, sufferings and disappointments, remember Christ’s victory. Invite the reality of Jesus’ triumph into your life.
Hilary conquered Mount Everest not in a day or in few months. At each stage of success, he celebrated. Never fail to speak to the mountain that you will conquer it one day. Your mountains may look the same month after month. Do not worry about it. In the unseen realm, things are changing in your favor. The very first day you start speaking to the mountain in faith, its foundation starts crumble. Scripture tells us that once when Jesus was walking through a town, He saw a fig tree and went to get something to eat. The tree did not produce any fruit. Jesus looked at the tree and said, “You will not produce anymore.” Jesus talked to the tree. Jesus walked away and it did not look like anything had happened. The tree was just as green and healthy as it was before. I am sure some of His disciples whispered, “See, our Master’s word didn’t work. Jesus must have lost His touch because He said for it to die but it didn’t die.” What they failed to realize was that underneath the ground, in the root system, all life was cut off to the tree the moment Jesus spoke.
When they came back through the town a little later, the disciples stood in amazement. They said, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered” (Mark 11:21). In the same way, when you speak to your mountains in faith, the forces of Heaven go to work. The Lord releases favor. He moves the wrong people out of the way, sending healing, sending breakthrough, sending victory.
You may not know what God has done for some time. That mountain may look just as big and permanent and strong as it was before. If you stay in faith and keep speaking to the mountain, all of a sudden you will see that the mountain has been removed. Your mountains will respond to your voice in faith in the power of the Lord. Regularly reading scripture passages that inspire you to speak to your problems encourage you. Jesus spoke to the storm (Luke 8: 24), He spoke to the fever (Luke 4: 39), He spoke to the spirit of the mute (Mark. 9: 17) and many others. You probably have talked about the mountain long enough. Now you need to talk to the mountain.
Faith in Jesus is one thing. Faith of Jesus is another. We talk more about faith in Jesus. Indeed, it is significant. Yet, it is only a starting point. More significant for us is to speak about faith of Jesus. This faith helps us speak to the problems rather than speak to the Lord about the problems.
Prayer: O Lord, share Your burden about Your people with me as you shared it with the Prophet Nehemiah, so that I may be able to pray eagerly, love gently, and minister confidently. Help me to understand Your unfathomable ways of leading Your people to an eternal city of God. Let my hope and trust never tremble when I walk through the valley of challenges. Amen.'
I was already about eight weeks along and we were going to Mass at a friend’s house as part of a birthday party. We had not yet told anyone. Odd for me since I usually like people to know right away and want all the prayers. But for the first time ever, I was still in a bit of denial. I was still processing the fact that yes, this was real and yes, we were doing this again. I was not ready to share just yet. Plus, I was feeling pukey and it was better for me to just buck up and get through it than think about it too much.
Mass was in the backyard. There were dozens of little kids and we brought our lawn chairs and the parish priest walked over to celebrate Mass for us. And despite my general pukiness, it was beautiful: This whole group of families praying and singing together on a chilly and sunny October afternoon.
There was music and as we made our way through the blankets and cold grass to receive Him, it played: Fill my cup, let it overflow.
And the words hit me hard.
“Lord? That cup of mine? It’s pretty full already, Lord. You see that, right? Haven’t I shown you already that I’m terrible at this cup handling thing? And yet You’re really going to keep going? Really, I’m okay. You can head on over to the next table, please. See that lady, there? She needs it more than I do and it looks from here like her cup is pretty empty. She should have my share. I’ll set that cup out when I’m ready but I’m all set for now, thanks.”
How often we hear that phrase “overflowing cup” and yet I had never really stopped to think what a dang mess that is. I mean, who wants their cup to overflow? I do not really mean that. I want mine just full enough, thank you. Ready when I want it, full when I want it, and certainly not empty, but NOT runnething over and all that, getting my hands and table all stained and messy. I want the blessings to be neat and perfectly timed and manageable, filling my cup just enough so that it does not make a mess and still brings joy. You can pour, Lord, but You should know better than to spill.
Yet His method is so different. His table-waiting methods would never pass at even the most mediocre of restaurants. He chooses as He wills to pour until we feel we cannot on our own handle it anymore and the blessings come streaming down the table, until our hands and lips are stained with the blessings and we are changed and become more like Him, reveling in the good and beautiful. We learn how to love and trust with abandon, letting those blessings overflow to the people and world around us. He pours where He wills and sometimes it seems unfair and ridiculous, not pouring when we are desperately thirsty and overflowing our cup when we already cannot catch a breath.
It all seems so very messy. At least from our perspective. And I am not sure that there is anyone who loathes and distrusts a mess more than I do. Why cannot this life, this whole plan, be a little more organized? Why cannot we each get the perfect amount in our cup, enough that we can handle it well and it all makes sense?
God is perfect order. His plan is not haphazard or out of control. Yet, it often seems that way to us.
I have begun to think of it like a mosaic. If I were all shrunken down and standing in the midst of a giant mosaic, what would I see when looking around? Fragments and random colors and lines of mortar gluing the jagged and crooked pieces together. It would seem a mess. Why would this color be next to this color? I do not see any pattern or order anywhere and this piece certainly should be here and not there. But from the eternal God point of view, high above our understanding and limited perspective, it all makes sense. What we thought was a mess was a million little pieces perfectly and intricately put together to create something beautiful. And someday I believe, I hope, we will see that mosaic in its fullness.
So I did that afternoon what I do and I tried to let the words begin to penetrate my overwhelmed and fearful heart. And, of course, I cried. Because that is also what I do.
“Lord, (deep breath) okay. Fill my cup and help me handle the overflow. I don’t particularly like it, but this life is messy. Love is messy. Opening my heart to Your will is messy. Teach me how to see this perceived mess as beautiful, as blessing, as part of that perfectly amazing mosaic you have planned. This crazy, beautiful, messy life…it’s Yours. Fill my cup, Lord. Let it overflow.”
To let go of the control, to trust in His ways is not easy for an organized control freak like me. But one drop at a time, or perhaps one gushing spill at a time, He will help me get there.'
Have you ever seen a tightrope walker? The most important part of getting started is not balancing. Balance is important only after you start. In the beginning, the most important thing is to make sure the rope does not go slack. To cross the distance, the rope has to be held at both ends. There has got to be tension.
That is a good image when we talk about a lot of questions, including this one: Why do I have to go to church? There are two things that we have to hold in tension, and by doing so, we can make it safely across to the other side.
Regarding the question, here is the tension: we are sacred and social. We are sacred individuals, created in God’s image. We are also social individuals, and this is also because we are created in God’s image.
On one side of the rope, we assert that we are each awesome and unique. We are loved personally by a personal God who is fully invested in us as if we are the only one He has ever created! This is why G.K. Chesterton pointed out that going to Church does not make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes one a car. Because God is relational, my worship of God must come from my heart. I must make a personal profession of faith in Him.
Here is the other side of the rope: we are also created by a God who dwells in “community.” The mystery of the Holy Trinity reveals that God is one in nature, but three in persons. God is not alone, and so He creates individuals who are interdependent.
The family is the first community we experience and the only way we enter into the world, understand ourselves, and gain insight into our destiny. Heaven is the communion of a perfected human family united to God’s Trinitarian life. If we ignore this social dimension, we misunderstand the point of our personal relationship with God—it is so that we can learn to love and be loved by others the way God desires.
So, when answering the question “why should I go to church?”, we need to remember to hold both sides of the rope in tension. On one side, we need to understand that we are created as sacred individuals and on the other, that we are created as social individuals. Our response to the reality of God, our worship of Him, must therefore be both personal and public.
If we can hold both sides of the rope in tension, we can start to walk across. A quick look into the Old Testament and the New shows us just how to do that.
In the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments affirm that God cares about what we do on the day of rest, the Sabbath. He does not suggest it, but demands that we honor it. He is not doing that for His sake any more than a doctor is when he demands that you take a few days off from school or work to get better. It is not for your doctor, it is for you. To stay spiritually alive and healthy, God demands that we honor the Sabbath weekly.
Resting is directed at remembering what the right order of relationships are: God, others, self.
Stepping away from daily business, we are free to do what God desires—to enter into rest and grow in intimacy with God and others. So one part of this balancing act is knowing that in the Old Testament God really does care about our time.
In the New Testament, we see why God cares about the time we set aside for the Sabbath. The New Testament reveals what the Old Testament was preparing us for. The Passover meal in the Old Testament commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. Jesus elevates this ritual in His Last Supper and now it communicates what it once only commemorated: new life, a life of freedom, the fullness of life itself. God’s life given to us in a sacramental action. Jesus becomes the very food for our own journey towards Heaven.
Eucharist is a sacrament where we gather together, as the “new Israel” to offer thanksgiving to God (that is what Eucharist means), and participate in the very sacrifice of Jesus that sets us free from sin, separation, and death. At the Mass, it is Jesus giving Himself to us and our response of thanksgiving is what we give back to Him.
So it would not make much sense to desire intimacy with God but ignore the very way that God wants to weekly (and daily!) invite us to share in His life.
Two ends of the rope: personal intimacy and public participation in community. Sacred and social.
So you see, when the Church reminds us that we have an obligation to go to Mass on Sunday’s, it is not ignoring our need for intimacy. Mass attendance assumes that we are honoring the Sabbath already by resting from unnecessary work and growing our relationships. If we only honor the Sabbath by just going to church, we miss the meaning of rest and relationships with others that God desires from us. But if all we do is rest and grow relationships, and not go to church, we miss the very place where we get to intimately receive and respond to the new life Jesus is offering us.
We need both ends of the rope to be held taught because whichever side gets loosened, the result is the same: You do not make it across to the other side. So instead of loosening one side of the rope or the other, let us keep the tension and get started on the journey together by asking Jesus to help us with our balance as we honor the Sabbath, and grow in intimacy with Him and others!'
Imagine you are looking for a parking spot at the mall on a busy weekend. You finally find someone pulling out of a spot, and once it is empty, you pull into it. But because there is a lot of traffic, you did not see another driver who had been waiting for the same spot for five minutes. You took the other driver’s spot and did not know it.
As you and your family leave the car, the driver jumps out of the car enraged and screaming obscenities. He is well-built and looks like he could do some serious damage. You try to calm him down and explain that you did not see him, but it is not working. Finally, he pulls a knife and begins brandishing it aggressively while moving closer to you. Your family is terrified. What do you do?
IS SELF DEFENSE EVER JUSTIFIED?
Hopefully the above situation never happens to you, but these and similar scenarios do happen all the time. As Catholic men, are we justified in defending ourselves and our families? Or should we meekly turn the other cheek, come what may?
The short answer is “yes, self-defense is justified.” The Doctors of the Church and the Magisterium have made it clear that self-defense is not only a right, but in some cases, a duty. In the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the guidelines for when exactly self-defense is legitimate are presented. Let us take a look at what it has to say.
First, the Catechism makes clear that killing a human being is always a grave issue, and it should never be taken lightly. Obviously, we should not be trigger happy vigilantes killing anyone who gives us a dirty look (2261-2262). But then, the Catechism goes on to explain that the fundamental principle of morality is love and preservation of one’s self (2264).
Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life
In other words, loving one’s neighbor means nothing if you do not first love yourself in a rightly ordered way. After all, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The instinct of self-preservation is based on the fact that life is a good given to us by God. We have an intrinsic and fundamental right to live. Therefore, we also have a right to defend ourselves.
But what about defending others? Do we have a right to do that, too? Absolutely. In fact, defending the innocent is not only a right, it is a duty. We have the ability to lay down our own life for a greater good (as Jesus and the martyrs of the Church did), but we never have the right to lay down the lives of others. I can surrender my own life, but I can never surrender your life for you. The Catechism makes this clear (2265):
“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”
While this paragraph specifically refers to the defense of the civil community, it also applies to the family. If someone is presenting a clear danger to the lives of your wife and children, you have the right and duty to do whatever is necessary to render them harmless—even if it means killing them. And that leads me to my next point.
Now that we have established that self defense is indeed justified, the question of lethal force arises. Can we justifiably ever kill an aggressor? There are certainly a number of good Catholics with a pacifist bent that would say no, it is never justifiable. Despite the feelings of these well-meaning Catholics, however, the answer given by the Church is “yes, lethal force can be justified.”
But before we examine what justifies killing another human being, let me first say that the Church is and always has been the defender of common sense. The Church defends sanity in an age that has gone insane, and this sanity applies to every area of life, including self defense. What do I mean? Well, I am a former member of the Colorado Rangers, a state-wide auxiliary law enforcement agency, and I received much of the same training mandated for police officers. What amazes me is how similar the standards for using lethal force presented to law enforcement officers are to those presented in the Catechism. You can trust the wisdom of the Church, folks.
The Catechism spells out that lethal force can be justified if one is left with no other choice. Killing should be a last resort, however, after everything else has been tried. Here is what the Catechism, citing Saint Thomas Aquinas, says (2264):
“Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: If a man in self defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.”
Saint Thomas, quoted by the Catechism, is basically saying, “Don’t shoot someone for stealing your wallet.” That is more violence than necessary. But if someone has pulled a knife on you and he, by all appearances, seem ready to use it, then you can respond in kind. Responding to force with like force is moderation in self-defense.
The idea of moderation in the use of force is very similar to the “use of force continuum” used by law enforcement officers. While the details of this continuum are beyond the scope of this post, it boils down to the maxim: Do not shoot someone unless you have no other choice. If your life—or the life of someone else—is in imminent danger, you have the right to use lethal force. If there is any possibility of anything else working (verbal commands, physical combat, pepper spray, etc.), you have an obligation to try that first.
The guiding principles laid out by the Church can be summarized as follows:
◗ We have a legitimate right to self defense based on rightly ordered self-love
◗ We have a duty to protect those in our care, such as our families
◗ Force should be used in moderation. Force should be met with like force
◗ The taking of a human life in self defense should be a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted.
Self defense can be a tricky issue, especially when lethal force is involved. Life and death situations involve split second decisions that can leave someone dead and alter the course of lives. Never, ever, should a human life be taken in a careless fashion.
I will conclude with a quote from Saint John Paul II’s encyclical letter, “Evangelium Vitae,” on the tension between respect for human life, obedience to the Fifth Commandment, and self defense. It summarizes the issue perfectly:
“There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God’s Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defense, in which the right to protect one’s own life and the duty not to harm someone else’s life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self defense. The demanding commandment of love of neighbor, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self defense out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus Himself. Moreover, “legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State.” [The quotation is from #2265 in the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.] Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.
What are your thoughts on self defense? Would you know how to defend yourself or your family if you had to?'
My grandson, Josh, who lives some 200 miles away spent one week with us in Helena, montana, at our home last summer. Josh is a twelve year-old who enjoys the adventure of exploring his world with child-like wonder.
Josh and I decided each day we would explore places we had not been. Our first adventure found us at Spring meadow Lake, renting a paddle boat and trying our luck at fishing. Spring meadow Lake is a small lake surrounded by plentiful trees nestled on the outskirts of Helena. For the people of Helena, it is a wonderful place to enjoy an outing with family and friends while sunbathing, swimming and fishing.
Josh truly longed to catch a fish. I decided I would be the captain of the ship and direct this voyage out into the deep blue sea. He found a perfect secluded place to fish, baited his hook and dropped his line in the water. “Grandma, I can see fish! Look, there are a millions of them!” He got so excited we almost tipped the paddle boat. He could watch the fish nibble at his worm and then he would give it a little jerk and, low and behold, he caught a fish. I just sat there and giggled and giggled at his excitement of catching his first fish.
As a matter of fact, he caught seven fish that day. He landed two bass and five sunfish. We placed all seven fish in the bucket of water. During this time as captain of the fishing vessel I let go of my adult-structured world and entered his world of adventure and awe—I became a care-free child once again.
He was yelling out orders to Captain Grandma: “Paddle this way there are more fish over there!” “No paddle over there I see bigger fish!” “Grandma, turn the boat around because I thought I saw a huge one over there.” Finally, he looked up at me and said, “Grandma I don’t mean to be so bossy but I am just excited. I’ve never caught a fish before. I can’t help it!” I just smiled. It was so much fun watching him tackle this new adventure with such remarkable enthusiasm.
Josh is a very tenderhearted lad. When it was time to return the paddle boat, I asked him, “Do you want to release the fish or take them home for dinner tonight? He looked perplexed and finally blurted out, “I have a great idea. Let us bring them home to Grandpa’s outdoor fish pond.” Caught up in his excitement I quickly agreed. “Won’t Grandpa be surprised!” he exclaimed, giggling as he carefully placed the bucket of fish in the car.
The fishermen and the fish arrived safely home. Josh carefully placed the seven fish in the pond. The outdoor fishpond is rather small, so it was a bit overcrowded. But at least in Josh’s view of things, the fish were still alive and not going to be someone’s dinner that night. Grandpa chuckled at Josh’s effort at making sure the fish were spared.
The next day I asked Josh what adventure he wanted to embark upon for the day. He said Spring meadow Lake. So back to Spring meadow Lake we went again and each day he was here. On the last trip to Spring meadow Lake Josh decided to return the fish to the lake because, according to Josh, it was not fair for the fish to live in such a small pond when they were used to a huge home in the lake.
As he released the fish, I admired his kindness and care of God’s creatures. I am not sure if he will grow up to be a big game hunter or great fisherman but I do know that he will bless the world with his kindness.
The week ended all too soon and my adventure with my grandson quickly came to an end.
Looking back on our adventure, I was blessed beyond blessed. I had given my grandson a precious gift of my time and attention. In turn, my grandson reminded me to always keep my heart filled with childlike wonder. I also know that this precious time spent with my grandson is tenderly tucked away in my heart to stay. When I begin to take my adult life too seriously, I close my eyes and picture myself with my grandson, enjoying life through a child’s eyes.
Reflection: Make a commitment to spend time with your children and grandchildren, whether that is through phone calls, text messages, emails or in person. They will treasure the memories of this special time together. It does not cost any money but it is more precious to a child and to our adult children than silver, gold or diamonds.'
If chivalry is not already dead, then at the very least, it seems to have passed its expiration date. Gone are the days of the chivalrous knight in his shining armor—a knight who would slay any number of dragons to rescue a beautiful princess. A knight who would pull out a throne for the princess to sit upon during the following banquet, pay the full bill for said banquet and then, at the end of the evening, walk said princess back to the portcullis of her own castle.
For many men, their reluctance to display chivalrous behaviour is linked to a concern that women now view such acts as embarrassing or even insulting. The notion that chivalry is sexist is a belief subscribed to in many branches of feminism. Chivalry, it is claimed, relies on a gendered premise that women are weak and need protection. Thus, while chivalry might be benevolent (at best), ultimately it just puts down women.
In part, I think this problem with chivalry stems from a reluctance to actively recognize the differences that exist between the sexes. It is argued that chivalry is unnecessary—because if men and women are equal then there should be no substantial difference between the way men behave toward women and the way women behave toward men. This kind of thinking confuses equality with sameness. In reality, while men and women are certainly equal in dignity, we are not the same.
One of the most obvious differences is physical strength. A quick glance at a Belarussian female power lifter would reveal that strength is not the exclusive domain of men, but even so this trait has always been associated with masculinity. Strength has been an important aspect of chivalry since the middle ages, when knights would swear an oath to defend to their uttermost the weak, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. Chivalry was fundamentally about men using their strength to serve and protect others.
To be sure, this argument would be a lot easier to make if I was a sixth-century knight driving off hordes of invaders who sought to burn and pillage. These days, there are very few women out there who actually require a man’s physical strength to get a door open or pull out a chair. But there is a deeper symbolic significance to these acts.
At this point, I want to share a story from the life of Samuel Proctor, a 20th-century Christian minister. One day, Proctor was in an elevator and a young woman entered, so he tipped his hat to her. She was offended and responded by asking, “What is that supposed to mean?” to which Proctor replied, “Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things: that I would not harm you in any way; that if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you; that if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that so, instead, I just tipped my hat.
Ultimately, chivalry is not about performing certain courteous acts; it is about a mindset of respect. A man should not perform chivalrous acts for women because he thinks “they can’t do it themselves.” He should perform such acts out of love and service. This point is particularly important as we seek to address our culture’s huge problem with the objectification of women. Chivalry places a very special emphasis on the way men treat their female counterparts. The chivalrous man is called to uphold the value of women as human persons, not as objects for his pleasure.
To all of my female readers, I think that one of the saddest aspects of the disrespectful behavior some men exhibit toward the opposite sex is that far too many women tolerate it. In a society where this tolerance exists, alongside a widespread male perception that chivalrous acts are offensive, it is not surprising that the way men relate to women has degenerated.
However, a woman who sets her standards high will be far more likely to attract men who are willing to meet them. You deserve chivalrous men in your life, men who will respect you and authentically care for you. Do not give up on that. Do not settle for less.
And to the male readers: Saint Josemaria Escriva once said, “There is a need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.”
Live a life that demonstrates chivalry. Make your stand.'