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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.'
Lots of different images come to my mind when I think of the word “home”—first, the house where I live with my parents in the northern suburbs of Brisbane: the sloped driveway, incessant plover birds, our dog Chief barking at five in the morning and the smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. I then think of our old house in western Australia. That still feels like home in an odd way. I can still close my eyes and mentally walk the streets of the entire suburb of Waikiki, where I grew up five minutes from the beach.
I also think of my new wife, Katelyn, and our long- realized dream of having our own physical space all to ourselves, together at last! That surely feels like home, a new and exciting home as husband and wife.
Finally, I think of my church. I think of my local parish on a Sunday morning, alive with the familiar face of community, coffee cups tinkling, Father’s old jokes that only half make sense, the smell of snags on the BBQ, a simple gathering raising some money for the youth group or an upcoming mission trip or the local Vinnies conference.
I think of my office in that same parish, where I work—the ladies from the front desk always offering me a cup of tea or coffee even though I have never said yes; children with big eyes tapping on the window asking for lollipops.
For me, the notion of home calls up all these images and places. What feels like home to you? Maybe it is a certain place, a familiar smell or just a feeling you get. If you had told me just a few years ago that I would find a home in the Catholic Church, I may have laughed at you! Me, finding a home in organized religion?
You Will Know They Are Christian By Their Love
How did this happen? Great question! The easiest and most honest answer is people.
In my younger, rebellious days (I am still rebellious, I promise) the people around me heavily influenced the choices I made. In some cases, this led me down some dark paths, and the wounds of those choices are still healing today. My biggest fear was that I would not have a home, not have people, a place or something identifiable to which to truly belong.
When I moved across the country from Perth to Brisbane that need intensified. This new place was definitely not home. The same pattern emerged—the people around me heavily influenced the choices I made because I wanted to feel at home, no matter the choices I made, unhealthy or not.
The deep desire underneath the unhealthy choices was not bad—all of us want a place to belong. Even if you are the type of person who cannot live in one place for more than five minutes, there surely is a place where your heart and soul come to rest, like a piano resolving the chord. My heart was stuck on a discord, trying desperately to resolve, to find peace and rest.
It was there I encountered people of faith. People who were confident in themselves but accepted me where I was in life. People who never shied away from drawing out the best in me, through their example, their encouragement and their honesty.
The Church is, after all, made up of people. As I became more involved in the young community of awesome faith leaders mixed in with people my own age who were experiencing life in similar ways to me, I slowly began to feel that odd, familiar feeling that happens when you just know this is where your heart belongs. I started to feel like I had a home in the Catholic Church.
Home Is Where God’s Heart Is
Ultimately, it was through the people I encountered, the very church itself, that I developed a personal relationship with God. This is God’s heart, to be in relationship with us. If the Church is the people, then God’s home is with His Church, in the hearts of His people.
In the home, I found in the Church, I am fed and nourished by the Eucharist. Jesus is waiting for me all the time in that special room of God’s house. In this home, my faults and failings do not define me, and they are not swept under the rug either. At any time, I can go to a priest and directly, humanly experience divine mercy and forgiveness. In this home, I am surrounded by a community of friends and family who support, encourage and challenge me, who ultimately want the best for me, and who are on their own faith journey alongside me. We grow in this home together, in God’s heart as a family. Oftentimes, I get angry at this new home of mine, at how it is run in certain areas. I might fight or argue with brothers and sisters living under the same roof. Or (and this is both a metaphor and a habit) I might leave the house entirely and come back quietly at some early hour of the morning. Whatever the case may be, I know that my heart still rests with God and that my home will always be with His people, the Church.
My encouragement for anybody new to the faith, unsure about the Church or even considering what having a relationship with God looks like is to get to know the people. Millions of people living and billions of people past have found a home in the Church. God finds His home in our hearts. Find your home in His heart—He resides in the hearts of His people, who are the Church. Knock anytime!'
Consider the lilies, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Luke 12:27).
Simplicity. Peacefulness. Orderliness. Serenity. We were created by God in His own image to live in harmony with each other and nature. The inherent nature of God is one of simplicity and orderliness. The different seasons of each new year consistently pass by in a simple, orderly fashion. Crops grow, new life begins in the animal kingdom, all within a sequenced order and precision, usually without the assistance of man. The flowers bloom in early spring and throughout summer, then go into peaceful slumber in the fall and winter. There is order and simplicity in the very essence of nature and so also is the heart of man called to the virtue of simplicity.
We live in a fast-paced world where simplicity and orderliness have all but gone by the wayside. From the moment we awaken to the moment we go to sleep late at night, our days are filled with constant, non-stop activity. From work, to school, to evening activities, we are busy, with little time for what is truly important in life. There is much social pressure to be involved in various outside activities, from sports, dance, church activities and community involvement. So few families are eating home-cooked meals together anymore. Instead, dinner is either picked up in a haste and eaten in the car, while driving from one activity to another, or frozen meals with little nutritional value are hurriedly reheated at home in between activities, with little interaction among the family members. This is not to say that all extra-curricular activities are wrong, only that they need to be done in moderation so that God, family and relationships are placed first, above activity. Meal times nourish both body and soul and give family members a chance to reconnect after a busy day. Simplifying our lives allows for this and strengthens the family; non-stop activity interferes with family members having the time to truly connect with each other.
Everywhere we go in modern-day society we are bombarded with advertisements to purchase yet another item that will supposedly make our lives easier and simpler; instead, they contribute to the ever-growing amount of clutter in our lives. Clutter distracts us from what is truly important. It calls out for constant attention, needing to be either used, cleaned or organized in already too-full spaces. It fills our non-existent spare moments with activities that distracts us from God and others. Its constant demands for our attention leave us with little time or energy for anything else, yet we continue unnecessarily adding to it and the cycle continues, draining us of our peacefulness and serenity.
The busy, materialistic society in which we live leads us to having very little time for what is truly important—board games that could be used for family time sit on shelves unused while we tend to outside activities and other material items we have, especially computers, video games and hand-held electronic devices. How many families take time to spend time together outside of extracurricular activities or the internet anymore? How often do we take the time to go sledding, play baseball in the yard or catch butterflies with our children? How many of us know who are neighbors are? We are more connected through social media and less connected with each other. Through the virtue of simplicity, letting go of unnecessary possessions and limiting the time spent on electronic devices and outside activities, we are given the freedom to make time for what is truly important in our lives and further deepen our relationship with God and each other.
Simplicity. The virtue of letting go of what is not important and of opening our hearts to God’s presence in our lives. Simplicity leads to orderliness, peacefulness and the significant reduction of stress created by non-stop activity and clutter. Simplicity unites and brings us back into harmony with God, each other and His creation. By focusing on what is truly important and letting go of what is not, we then have time for each other and to contemplate on God’s unfailing love and mercy for us.'
The other day my two oldest children got to go to a professional basketball game and I was left with the tricky choice of sending my 5 year old or keeping him home. He so badly wanted to go, and I wanted him to have that memory, but we were also on vacation and he would be getting to bed so late. I did not want to risk him being drained the next few days. After days agonizing over it, going back and forth about whether he would always remember the time he did not get to go, in the end I decided he should not go. I kept him with me and in an attempt to make his night memorable I told him we were going to get ice cream sundaes.
We were staying with my aunt and she lived down the street from a Dairy Queen. I imagined this being an amazing drive-thru adventure. As we were about to leave, I mentioned Dairy Queen to her and she informed me that they had closed. The look of horror on my face sent her into hysterical laughter. My plan was failing! The options were the cheap drive-thru or the expensive ice cream shop. Needing to save face I decided on the expensive one. As we drove by the cheap one, he saw it, and begged for us to go there. There is nothing special about that one; in fact, I never really like their sundaes—but to him, it is a treat. I asked him if he wanted the expensive one but he reaffirmed his desire for the cheap one.
Realizing this was about him and his memories, I settled for the cheap drive-thru. Later, as I thought about the event, I compared it to the choices and plans God has for us. He always wants to give us the absolute best! He wants us to feast on the what will fill us at a deeper level, yet we are quick to jump at the scraps and settle for the drive-thru. If my son had let me pick the ice cream for him, he would have gotten a two-scoop sundae made from fancy ice cream flavors complete with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. Instead, he got some flavorless vanilla soft-serve with M&Ms. Maybe he is teaching me a lesson on humility but I think it is bigger than that. He went with what was familiar. He did not take the risk of the place he was unsure. He settled with the safe choice. What if I am settling with the safe choice? What if I am not taking those risks in life that God is offering me? How can I know if I am settling or if I should demand more?
My plan to “distract” him ultimately did not work because he woke up the next morning asking why he did not get to go to the game! Ugh, the life of a parent! It got me thinking: I really want to show my children how to discern their choices, weigh their options and, most importantly, learn to listen to that nudging parental push from God, encouraging us to choose the best!
What steps do you take in your discernment process to ensure you are making the best choice?'
It was several years ago, during a time when I was really struggling with my singleness. I was pouring my heart out to my spiritual director about how I hated the prospect of never marrying, how I was sick of only finding the “wrong” guys and even more sick of showing up at events alone, how every vision I had ever envisioned for my future revolved around children and how a life without marriage felt to me like a life without love.
He listened sympathetically and then we began to pray about it. I do not remember exactly how the praying went. I do remember that, at the end, we both had a very clear sense that God had spoken. His response was this:
“Simple love is sufficient.”
Simple love? What the heck is that? I want love love. You know, romance and fireworks and forsaking all others and the whole package.
“Simple love is sufficient.”
Even though I want complicated, exciting, romantic love, I am called to simple love.
I was left with no choice but to confront the concept of “simple love.” I had spent my entire adult life traveling the world speaking to audiences about love. I knew what it was. I knew there were different types of love—agape love, family love, friendship love, romantic love. Of all of them, romantic love—the love of a husband and a wife—was certainly the least simple. It involves the blending of two lives and the meshing of two egos. It is day-in-and-day-out working it out, building a life together. It can be incredibly rewarding (or so I have heard), but it is not simple.
I did not have romantic love in my life, but I did—and do—have simple love. I have single and divorced friends who share my dateless Saturday nights and my lonely single moments. I have married friends who include me in their family dinners and their kids’ birthday parties. I have brothers who have my back and a sister who has made me an extended part of her family. I have nieces and nephews who call me “Bopper” (or “Mom … I mean Bop”), whom I love like they are my own. I have a 91 year-old dad who still walks over to my house to put my cans away on trash day and an 82 year-old mother who still makes dinner for me when she is afraid I am not eating well enough. My life may be lacking in romantic love, but it is certainly not lacking in love.
How does a single person cultivate love in their life? It is not automatic.
Like married love, simple love needs to be constantly cultivated. I need to love. I cannot take friends or extended family for granted any more than I could take a spouse for granted. First, I need to force myself out the cozy cocoon of my house to meet people who may later come to join my circle of simple love. Once they are there, I need to love them, to think about how I can be God’s love in their lives. I am not saying I am great at any of that but I have realized I need to try.
I know what you are saying: “But it’s not the same!” Of course it is not the same. Having a lot of people in your life who care about you is not the same as having one person who has given himself to you. Loving somebody else’s kids is not the same as loving your own kids. I get that. I feel that. I live that.
God did not tell me it was the same. He did not tell me it was ideal. He told me it was sufficient. He told me it was enough—that, if I would stop grasping for the one kind of love I did not have and instead look around at all of the love I did have, I would find that there is great joy and happiness to be found in that simple love.
What do you do when you feel the sharp distance between romantic love and simple love? Offer it to God.
Of course I still have difficult moments, lonely moments and moments when I clearly see that this arrangement may be sufficient, but it is hardly ideal. But that—the gap between sufficient and ideal—is something I can offer to Him. It is in those moments, turning to Him in prayer, when I most clearly see that nothing in this life is ideal and that His is the only love that will ever fully satisfy.
I am not closed to the possibility that I may someday marry. Who knows what God has in store? But I do know that He gave me a great gift that day. When He shot down my silly notion that an unmarried life must be a loveless life. He opened my eyes to the love already surrounding me. He assured me that, when it comes to love, He will provide me—and you—with our daily bread.
He showed me that, for now, simple love is indeed sufficient.'
I am five years old. I am sitting in my bedroom, pondering as I tend to do at this age. “God, I just want You to know that I am here when You need me,” I silently pray as I gingerly caress a favorite image of Our Lady. “I want to do great things for You one day.” This was not an uncommon prayer for me as a little girl, though I later discovered that it was unusual for most kids to be thinking in such a way at such a young age. For me, it was a fire that had been planted in my heart at Baptism. That fire awakened when I began Catholic grade school, and it only emblazoned all the more fiercely as I grew older, received the sacraments of First Holy Communion, First Confession and confirmation.
The Holy Spirit set His seal upon my heart. It was time for me to discover my purpose on earth. We are all anointed, brothers and sisters. Our Baptism seals us as God’s beloved ones. As such anointed people, we are all called to greatness, to do great things for God as I once prayed as a youngster. Your calling differs from mine, but they are all from the same great source: the Holy Spirit.
How do we live as God’s anointed ones when life is so hectic and seems to get in the way of all we long for and dream of? I am not sure I have an exact answer, but I do know that it involves the risk of vulnerability. When you and I are vulnerable—that is, open to authentic and wholehearted living—we become clay in God’s hands. First, we must become broken, and that brokenness is what we feel on a daily basis: lost, alone, afraid, overwhelmed, exhausted, confused. Maybe we just feel nothing, a sort of numbness that has led us to a place of complacency or apathy as we maintain the daily drudgery of life.
God wants more from you and me, my friends. He is calling us every day to continually hand Him our brokenness, our weakness, our littleness. How can we truly serve Him when we are still serving ourselves? Living our anointing means that we become totally His—Totus Tuus, as was Saint John Paul II’s personal motto—and belonging to another means we no longer live for ourselves. That is why we feel broken and alone in such a cold and calloused world.
To move beyond where you are, you must allow that brokenness to reach a place of His wholeness. Recall how He allowed Himself to suffer and die an unthinkable death so you and I might live eternally. His brokenness became our wholeness. That is why being broken ourselves and living in total dependence on God each day is a necessary first step in living our anointing, or our calling on earth. I have come to understand that living our anointing extends beyond what we expect. It is more than going to work every day. It is more than doing the laundry. It is more than taking the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons. It is beyond the mundane. Even if your life ends up being one that is hidden, like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s was, when you live your anointing, you are moving beyond the ordinary into the eternal. Doing the laundry becomes an opportunity to pray the rosary. Taking the kids to soccer practice becomes a way to discuss with them how life is going and what kinds of issues they are encountering in the real world. Going to the office is a place where countless opportunities arise to evangelize others.
Live your anointing. It will not be easy, friends. It will challenge you. It will change you. But you, in turn, will encourage others. You will, one by one, change the world through the influence of your life: through every conversation, every smile, every act of kindness. Do not underestimate the simple ways you are called to be Jesus today and to encounter Jesus in others.
Be open. That is the first step. When your heart is open, you are ready to become malleable clay in His hands. Even should He choose to shatter you when you are a finished clay pot, you will not be dismayed but, rather, overjoyed. For a life lived in and for Christ is a life fulfilled. There will be no greater way you can give back to Him than by giving Him everything, starting today.'
There is no greater force against evil in the world, says Cardinal Raymond Burke, “than the love of a man and woman in marriage.”
Keep in mind that marriage, as a sacrament instituted by Christ, is a reflection of the exchange of love between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. Because of this, marriage is under attack, perhaps in a way that it has never been before. We should pray for married couples, that they may receive abundant graces to live out their vocations in fullness. As married couples, we should turn to prayer each day to seek renewed strength and love from God. We should also celebrate Catholic weddings as a reverent and joyous occasion. Do you know who the patron saint of marriage is? Actually, that is a bit of a trick question, because there are more than one. Some are patrons of specific situations within marriage, which might make one of them in particular a very fitting intercessor for your needs.
Saint Adelaide of Burgundy: Patron Saint of Second Marriages
Saint Adelaide, born around 931 AD, was daughter to the king of Burgundy and “one of the most influential women of 10th-century Europe.” Her first husband, Lothair, is believed to have been killed by enemies of his throne. Later, it seems that Otto, the emperor of Germany, fell in love with Adelaide and married her. Together they had five children. She was widowed twice, since Otto died long before she did. During the course of her life she was imprisoned, forced from her throne, held in solitary confinement and treated with contempt by certain family members. Throughout all of this, she remained humble and gentle, giving her life to the Church and her people. She founded many monasteries and churches and was overwhelmingly generous to the poor, even to the point of putting the kingdom’s treasury at risk. She died on December 16, 999.
Saint Gengulphus of Burgundy: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Gengulphus is a little-known saint who has been called a great miracle worker. He was a knight who served King Pepin the Short in the eighth century. One story told about the saint is how his sanctity was revealed to the king when a lamp continued to miraculously rekindle beside him as he slept. Though he was renowned for his great charity and piety, his own wife was unfaithful to him and he was murdered at the hands of her lover. There are not many details known about his life, but a certain Gonzo of Florence wrote that, “This blessed Gengulphus daily performs among us so many remarkable miracles that, were he alive today, even the swift pen of the poet Thespis could not have described them individually.” His feast day on the Roman calendar is May 11.
Saint Joseph: Patron Saint of Married People
It will come as no surprise to us that we can turn to Saint Joseph as a patron of married couples. There is not a better earthly exemplar of Saint Paul’s teaching: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her …” (Ephesians 5:25). Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a beautiful book called, “The World’s First Love.” In it there is a chapter called “The World’s Happiest Marriage,” in which he speaks of Joseph and Mary. “No husband and wife ever loved one another so much as Joseph and Mary …” writes Sheen. “But in the case of Mary and Joseph, there was no need of the symbol of the unity of the flesh, since they already possessed the Divinity.” Theirs was a virginal marriage, but a true, happy marriage. Who does not want a happy, holy marriage? Turn to Saint Joseph as intercessor. He is said to be the most powerful saint in heaven after Our Lady. March 19 is the feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary.
Saint Monica: Patron Saint of Married Women
Saint Monica was born in the fouth century to a wealthy Christian family. They may not have been particularly devout, however, for when she came of age, they married her to a pagan Roman official, Patricius. He was infamous for his “violent temper” and “dissolute habits.” Though irritated by Monica’s faith and by her devotional practices, he did respect her. Saint Monica suffered greatly on behalf of the godless lifestyles of her husband as well as her son (who we now know as Saint Augustine) but she wept, prayed and fasted on their behalf, begging God for their conversion. Her prayers would be answered. Her husband was baptized a year before his death, and although it was much longer before Augustine converted, he would become one of the greatest saints in the Church. Almost everything that we know about Saint Monica we have learned from his classic book, “The Confessions of Saint Augustine.” Her feast day is May 4.
Saint Priscilla: Patron Saint of Good Marriages
Saint Priscilla and her husband Saint Aquila were Jewish converts to Christianity. It appears that their conversion was brought about when they met Saint Paul. We know about them from the Sacred Scriptures (read the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 18 for starters) and here is something beautiful: their names are always mentioned together, never separately. This reveals the unity lived out in their marriage. They were tentmakers by trade (as was Saint Paul) and were some of the earliest Christian missionaries. They were martyrs for the Faith, and their feast day is celebrated on July 8.
Saint Rita of Cascia: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Rita was born in Italy to devout parents in 1381. When she grew up, Rita desired to become a nun, but her parents arranged for her to marry a man named Paolo Mancini, with whom she would have two sons. It seems that Paolo was a complicated man (and there are varying accounts of his character) but we do know that Rita suffered during her marriage. Paolo was impetuous and had a fierce temper and seems to have been irresponsible with gaming and debts. Violent conflicts between noble Italian families were common at this time and Paolo was involved in these feuds. He was rough with Rita and may even have been physically abusive. In spite of all this, she exercised the virtues of patience and humility toward him and was a truly loving and faithful wife and homemaker. Over time, her love, example and prayers bore fruit and Paolo’s heart began to undergo conversion. (One biographer writes that he would become ashamed of his temper when it got the best of him and rush out of the house, returning only when he had calmed down.) Paolo did have enemies, who eventually ambushed and killed him. His sons wanted to avenge his death, but Rita tried to dissuade them; finally, she begged God to take the lives of her sons rather than allow them to commit a mortal sin which would endanger their salvation. Both sons did pass away from an illness and were prevented from acting in violence. Rita subsequently entered an Augustinian order of nuns. She died in 1457. Her feast day is May 22.
Saint Thomas More: Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages
Saint Thomas More was born in England in 1478. He is a well-known and beloved saint who was a husband, father, statesman and renowned lawyer. Sir Thomas was a just man who was brilliant and blessed with innumerable talents. He married a gentlewoman by the name of Jane Colt. They had a four children and theirs was a happy marriage; but sadly, she died very young. Thomas More married again. His second wife was Alice Middleton. Though she was of a different temperament than Jane, who was so quiet and meek, we are told that this second marriage was also a very happy one. Thomas More was a devoted husband and loving father. Why is he a patron saint of difficult marriages, if both his marriages were happy ones? The reason is due to his opposing King Henry VIII’s divorce, which would eventually lead him down the path of martyrdom. After his trial, he was officially condemned to death for his refusal to acknowledge the king as the head of the Church in England. Saint Thomas More’s feast day is June 22.
Saint Valentine: Patron Saint of Happy Marriages
There is very little known about Saint Valentine, who lived in the third century under the reign of Claudius Gothicus. It is understood that he was a priest (possibly even a bishop) who was martyred; his remains were buried along the Via Flaminia in Rome. Recent archaeological finds have proven that he lived: the remains of catacombs and a church dedicated to him have been unearthed. There are two legends as to why he was martyred, which might be due to the fact that there may have been more than one “Valentine” and their stories were mixed. One legend says that he was executed for giving aid to Christians. Another legend says that the emperor Claudius had banned marriage in order to obtain more soldiers for his army, since married men with wives and children would be less willing to die in battle. Thus it is said that Saint Valentine married couples in secret and was eventually found out. Various churches today have relics from him, including his skull. He was canonized in 496, but his feast was removed from the general Roman calendar in 1969 due to the resulting confusion over the years of possibly three or four Valentines being treated as one person. However, in various localities the Church still celebrates his feast day, which is, of course, February 14.
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin are the first married couple to be canonized together. They lived humble, ordinary lives, in which both suffering and joy played important parts. Together they bore nine children, but only five survived childhood. Each of these five daughters would eventually enter the religious life. One of them is well known to us: Saint Therese of Lisieux, called “The Little Flower.” It is usually the case that we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the lives of “great saints”; we feel that they are super humans whom God has called in a special way and that He does not mean for us to attain such a level of sanctity. This is not the case. Simply by cooperating with God’s grace in our particular state in life we can be deeply purified and closely aligned to Our Lord and His loving will. Louis and Zelie are perfect examples for us. They faithfully fulfilled their roles as spouses and parents and through their quiet lives of love, service and self-sacrifice, God brought them home to Himself. In his homily for their canonization Pope Francis said, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters …” Although it has not been officially stated that they are patron saints of married couples, they are beautiful examples of the vocation of marriage expressed in all its fullness, and we can certainly imitate their virtues and seek their intercession. Their feast day is July 12.
… And Other Wonderful Saints
If you are reading this, and you are a single man or woman hoping to meet your future spouse, remember that there are patron saints for you, as well! Saint Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary, has long been a faithful intercessor for young women who pray for a husband. Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (who is usually forgotten outside of the Christmas season) is the patron of young people seeking a husband or wife. This is because of an incident in his own life in which he provided a dowry for three poverty-stricken sisters so that they could marry.'
In the night when you walk down the little sidewalk in the village of Chontal, you can look to your side and see a large cliff on the other side of the river that goes along the side of the village. At night, it is pitch dark. Just all black. Some time ago, I was sitting near the sidewalk with one of the neighbors and noticed one bright light shining from the other side, in the middle of the cliff. Someone has a farm there, my friend told me, and they just got electricity. They are pretty happy about it. As that single bright light in the midst of the dark stands out, it is impossible not to notice it.
Now, let us say you were an artist, a painter. And let us say that you wanted to paint that image. You would need a lot of black paint. You would actually need to first cover the entire canvas with black paint. After that, all you would need is a tiny bit of white-yellow mix to put in one single spot of light. Then viola! A light in the darkness that you cannot miss. When you put a light in the darkness, it makes it stand out all the more. You need a whole lot of the black paint to make the effect.
I say all that because Jesus is going to say—and show—that He fulfills not just the law, but also the prophets. You know the prophets. Doom and gloom. End of the world. Sin and punishment. War, famine, pestilence and the wild beasts. The prophets are writing about a lot of bad news and sins and problems with the Israelites. Then, all of a sudden there is this unexpected burst of good news, this hope and light. Go ahead and read them, it is the same thing again and again—a lot about the bad stuff the Israelites have done and the bad stuff on the way for them, and then a promise of miraculous and permanent salvation from it all. You know what the authors are doing? That is right, they are putting a lot of black paint on the canvas and one bright light. It is meant to bring all your attention to the bright light, because when you put a bright light in the darkness, it stands out all the more. The key to reading and understanding the prophets is to look for the light! Find that light in the darkness and follow it, because there is where you are going to find the son of God. That is where you are going to get the lift in your life—from the Bible.
The magi from the east saw the star in the sky and they knew it was the one to follow. How did they know? Because they were experts on the prophets. They were great at finding the light in the darkness and following it and finding God’s grace. When the star came, they were ready.
It is natural to want to get rid of the darkness in life. It is another thing to accept it and look for the light within it. If you practice looking for the light in the dark situations you face, you will get to find the hidden son of God. You will get a lift and freedom of life from God.
Remember, when darkness comes it means that God is all the more findable.
Look for the light.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).'