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Today I met a man. He has got to be a foot taller than me. He has quite a few pounds on me as well and I am no longer the perfect size six I so want to be! I met this man at a grocery store about twenty minutes from where I live. Actually, to be more precise, I met him in the parking lot outside my grocery store or, to be even more accurate, I met him as I was leaving the parking lot.
You see this man was actually sitting in the median between the entrance and exit of this particular shopping center. He sat on a scooter-/walker-type thing holding up a sign that read, “Disabled veteran. Need help with gas, food, kids.”
I pulled up in the lane next to his chair. I did not make eye contact. Seeing “those people” often makes me want to cry. The problem of poverty is so overwhelming! How could we ever hope to combat it? Even Jesus said the poor will always be with us. I am a struggling single mom of five boys. What difference can I make?
I slowed as I pulled up to the red light. I was the only car waiting, and I was glad to pass this nameless man sitting in the median without having to stop by his side, without having to look at him. I reverted to childishly hoping that if I did not see him maybe he would not see me.
Childish. Foolish. Selfish. Me.
I waited for the light to turn green. I thought of the turkey I had just asked the cashier to put back. I could pay for it another day. We are still on a tight budget and I buy only what I can pay cash for.
I thought of the donations I had just made leaving the grocery store to the Stuff the Bus campaign which would donate food to Catholic Charities. The bag I handed over was not much, but I had literally just donated a canister of oatmeal, a box of pasta, and a bag of brown sugar. The brown sugar was not on the requested food list, but I felt like a bit of a rebel buying it and smiled, hoping it might help some family make Christmas cookies together this season. I had done enough, more than many would.
If the veteran in the median needed help, he could go to the front of the store where they were stuffing that bus. I was on my way to Adoration. My rosary beads were in my pocket. I would say a prayer for this disabled Vet, this nameless man, but what more could I do? I had done enough.
I watched the light turn green. But while I was playing the Pharisee, patting myself on the back for all the good I do, another voice was speaking gently to me, calling me, telling me to go to the man whose eyes I would not meet. I pulled into the intersection and turned my vehicle around, heading down the entrance ramp. The man should have stayed on my left, but he had picked up his chair/walker and began shuffling his way toward the parking lot.
I drove toward where he met another man standing by a little, beat-up vehicle. The new man popped the trunk as I pulled into a space a few yards away still unsure of what I was to do. I sat awkwardly in the car, fidgeting, stalling and feeling a bit like a stalker as the two men talked and occasionally sent curious glances my way.
I was uncomfortable. They would think I was stupid. I was sure of it. What kind of high and mighty person did I think I was approaching them? And for what? I had already spent all my cash. I reached into my car’s ashtray. There was $3 I had saved for emergency milk money. I had one more in my pocket: $4.
That is all I had today. I wondered about the two suspicious men. What if they were scammers? What if they used the money for alcohol or drugs or something worse? What if they did not really need it? What if …?
The what ifs threatened to take over but there was a quiet, gentle, “What if…?” I heard as well. What if the man did really need it? What if he did really need money for food, gas, kids? What if he is not a scammer?
I thought of the rosary beads in my pocket, the ones I was about to use at Adoration. They were a cheap plastic set I had found the day before in an old pocketbook. I had other rosary beads. Did I need them? What good were they doing in my pocket?
I opened my car door, fought down the uncomfortableness in my belly that told me I was foolish, and listened instead to the gentle, quiet voice. “Go.” I approached the man from the median without knowing what to say. He was still seated and I put my hand out and touched his shoulder, “Thank you for your service,” I said as I would to any of our nation’s veterans.
His eyes softened and a spark lit inside. He put his hand out. I took it and we shook introducing ourselves. He was not unnamed at all. He was Anthony Monroe. Big Anthony’s hand was dark, smooth, cool and massive. It enveloped mine quickly and held mine with a tenderness that belied the giant man’s great size, stumbling shuffle and stuttered speech.
We spoke for a few minutes. I told him I was a single mom of five boys on my way to prayer and that I would pray for him. I wished I had more to give him as I pressed the $4 and my plastic rosary beads into his hand. All doubt about Anthony washed away. I shook the other man, Peter’s hand. I could not read him when I looked into his eyes but hoped he was good to Big Anthony. I stepped back to talk with Anthony again. He told me he had four children. I did not stay long enough to learn more. I did not stay long. I left these two men who were so different from me in the parking lot, placing the chair and the sign in their trunk, Big Anthony leaning heavily on the car as he walked to his door.
I drove off and entered the little chapel up the road. I knelt before our Lord and began the Sorrowful Mysteries of the most holy Rosary minus the beads I had planned to use. I wiped away tears as they fell.
I am guessing there are some who would say I was stupid for approaching two men I do not know. I value myself enough as a creation of God to know I am expected to be careful, to treat myself well, avoiding unnecessary risks and respecting the dignity the Creator gives each of us. But it was daylight and the parking lot was populated.
I am guessing there are some who would say I was naive and probably just got scammed and I know it is possible. The $4 I contributed is not going to make or break any addiction while I can hope that some part of the love I tried to show might if it comes to that.
I am guessing there are some who would think I must have felt good about myself for leaving my comfort zone and making a little donation, but I felt no pride for having reached out. Instead, I found sadness, overwhelmed with disappointment.
I knelt before the Cross praying the mysteries, reflecting on the first decade and Jesus’ time in the Garden. I did not think of how beautiful a garden should be but how it was such a place of pain for our Savior. At the fourth decade, I reflected on Jesus’ carrying of the cross and of how earth should be such a place of beauty yet is often such a place of suffering. I thought of how heavy are the crosses so many bear.
I thought of Big Anthony and how, in my nervousness, I talked when I should have listened. I had pressed the $4 and my newly found rosary beads into his cool hand, but I should have stayed longer. I should have listened to his stories, taken some of his burden and invited him to join me in prayer, if nothing else.
I thought of our veterans and how so many are hurting and alone. I thought of how much a single mom has to be thankful for that would not be possible without the sacrifice of those willing to give me opportunity and freedom. I thought of the trouble in our nation and how divided we are. I thought of how much good we could do if we looked into each other’s eyes, shook hands and realized each of us is named and called by God.
I thought of how we look at one another with such suspicion, presuming others guilty without first seeking to know them. I thought of a Facebook friend who suggested we exchange news feeds so I could see her liberal view and she could see my conservative view. I had not written her back yet because I knew exchanging news feeds would not be enough. I was thinking of asking her to spend time with me and allow me the gift of spending time with her instead.
Today, I realized that spending time with others needs to go far deeper than what I had thought of proposing. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are called to live the Gospel and make a difference in this world. That is impossible when we see first with suspicion: when we see the veteran in the median as a scammer, a drug addict, a threat, when we choose the worst attributes and cast nets over the masses.
I do not know if I made any difference in the lives of Big Anthony or Peter, but they made a difference in me. I am grateful for the few minutes in that parking lot and for how my views have deepened my certainty that we are called to reach out to one another. I am most grateful for the gentle whisper that told me to “Turn around. Go.” What a gift it was for me to get to meet these men, two children of God. How I wish I had been a better representative of His love for them.
The next time I pull over to speak to a homeless veteran or another of God’s children, I will be more prepared. I may not have any money or may decide not to offer it even if I do, but I must offer to listen more, speak less and thank God for all His children. Listen for Him telling you to “Turn around. Go.” Seek out those who are different than you, those who are struggling and those who need to be shown true love. Offer God’s love both in prayer and in concrete ways.
Big Anthony and Peter, wherever you are tonight, I am praying for you now and hope to listen to your stories when we meet again in Heaven one day. Thank you for a few moments of your time today.'
A young man stood in line with his father at the Department of Motor Vehicles. About seventeen years old, he had just bought his first car and was obviously excited. His turn came and the woman behind the counter calculated his fees, around $300. The father’s temper immediately exploded. He complained about how they had already spent $2,000 on the car, then stormed out of the office. His son looked shocked and desperately tried to get his father’s attention. The boy, who had come in so excited, seemed on the verge of tears within seconds. The boy’s father had crushed his spirit and publicly humiliated him. The son followed his dad out the door, pleading, “Dad, dad, dad …”
At a park across town, another man played with his six-year-old son. The father told the boy it was time to leave, but the boy kept running. Looking unsure of himself, the father asked, “Just a few more minutes, ok?” Moments later, he tried again: “Time to go, buddy.” The son kept playing and again the father responded with a question: “Just 5 more minutes, ok?” Perhaps the man is there to this day, waiting for his son to stop playing!
Both scenarios illustrate common complaints about men. A “toxic masculinity” is aggressiveness without restraint. Some men recognize their strength and act rashly, with no sense of compassion. Others lack a sense of commitment and responsibility, never acting with God-given authority.
To strike a proper balance, men can focus on this oft-overlooked quality: meekness. When people hear “meekness” they often think “weakness” but the opposite is true. A meek person is someone who has power but knows how to control it; someone with authority who acts but is also compassionate and kind.
In Scripture, Saint Joseph is an example of meekness. When Mary is with child, he seeks to divorce her quietly until he is told the child is of the Holy Spirit. Later, in dreams, an angel comes to Saint Joseph and tells him to act. Saint Joseph does, with authority. There are no recorded words of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is silent, yet in the litany of Saint Joseph we call him the “Terror of Demons.” Saint Joseph is the right combination of power and restraint. Saint Joseph is meek. When people ask Saint Joseph to pray for them, they will grow in meekness as well.
POINTERS ON GROWING IN MEEKNESS:
◗ When things do not go the way we envision, do we strike out against the world? We are not the center of the universe and there is no guarantee things will go according to our plan. Memorize Psalm 37:8: “Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! Do not fret; it tends only to evil.”
◗ Are we embarrassed to act on promptings of Holy Spirit? Vanity can prevent God from working through us to reach others. Choose to be patient and meek in the face of humiliation. The embarrassment is temporary and there is grace through obedience. Memorize Sirach 2:5: “For gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.”
◗ Forget anger and also shyness. Seek to do the will of the Lord. Memorize Psalm 119:9: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”
◗ Study the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. Notice how Jesus does not say that sin is ok but commands her not to sin again. He also said that one without sin could cast the first stone. Who was without any sin in the scene? Jesus. But He shows mercy in a perfect act of meekness.
◗ Pray the litany of Saint Joseph. He is a great model of meekness, especially for men.
PRAYER TO SAINT JOSEPH
Oh Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh Saint Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving Father. Oh Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. Saint Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.'
Suppose you had a choice: your dream car with all the options and a summer home on the shore, or a life of daily toil spent with persons you truly love and who truly love you.
Which would you choose? Think twice. The answer lies in what really makes you happy. If there is more to happiness and fulfillment than material comfort, where can we turn to find the truth about these things?
While there is always a limit to the number of things you can accumulate, or cars you can fit on your driveway, there is no limit to the amount of happiness a human heart can receive—or give. The same is true for love.
Ultimately, the human heart reaches out to the infinite and eternal love of God.
The Second Vatican Council tells us that we should look to Jesus Christ to find the meaning of human fulfillment. “Christ…in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his very high calling” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
The Christian father must look to the God-man, Jesus Christ, for the meaning of human life and happiness. Turning to Christ we see a very different conception of happiness than that offered by our consumer culture.
Christ’s role on earth can be depicted in terms of a mission. God the Father sends His only-begotten Son into the world to reconcile it to Himself. In other words, the mission of Jesus is nothing less than to save the souls of all people from all time.
Christ achieves this mission through His roles as priest, prophet, and king. As the perfect priest, Christ offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the salvation of all humanity. As a prophet, He bears God’s message of reconciliation to the world, teaching about God’s love and mercy. As king, He rules the universe, exercising His authority through service and humility.
The mission of the modern-day father, like that of Christ, is the salvation of souls. The difference between them is the fact that Christ’s mission is universal, concerned with the salvation of all mankind. The father’s mission is concerned primarily with the salvation of his own family. Despite the difference in scope, the father has the same methods at his disposal to achieve this mission of salvation.
Through his share in Christ’s grace in the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, a father shares the grace of Christ’s death and resurrection with his children. He is also a priest in the sense that he brings his children to the sacraments, giving them a direct share in the grace of Christ.
The father is a prophet—the bearer of God’s message—to his children by fulfilling his obligation to teach them the Catholic faith.
Lastly, he performs Christ’s kingly function as the spiritual head of his family. This headship is always exercised in a Christian manner, rather than a worldly manner. A father’s obligation to lead his family in holiness is not a call to domination, but to service.
A FATHER’S FULFILMENT
Each week at Mass when reciting the Gloria we learn that Christ alone is the holy one. In living out the vocation of fatherhood, a man is called to imitate the holiness that led Christ to give His entire self for the love of His brothers and sisters. At its root, then, fatherhood is a call to holiness. The example of Christ shows that holiness consists in the radical gift of oneself for the sake of others.
Fatherhood is the mission that allows a man to give of himself unreservedly. Thus, it is through fatherhood that most men will find their greatest happiness. To avoid fatherhood for the sake of that dream car, or that special summer home, is to cheat yourself out of one of life’s most rewarding experiences. By calling men to make a gift of themselves to others, God calls fathers to a life of remarkable holiness, indescribable happiness, and true fulfillment.'
An Interview with Dr. Paul Thigpen I recently had the delight of hearing from world-renowned Catholic theologian Dr. Paul Thigpen. In what follows, you will be inspired by his life journey which includes forays from the desolation of atheism into his home in Catholicism.
1) What role does faith play in your life?
I was raised Presbyterian, and in my grade-school years, my faith was so important to me that I wanted to become an ordained minister. But when I was twelve, through a series of intellectual influences, I became an atheist. I remained without faith for six years, but after my reconversion to Jesus Christ, my faith became all-important to me again. I earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in religion, and I was ordained as an associate pastor in a nondenominational congregation. All forty-nine of the books I have published have been focused on matters of faith. After I became Catholic nearly twenty-five years ago, even though I can no longer serve as a pastor, I have been deeply engaged in ministry of various sorts in Catholic parishes, colleges, and other settings. In short, the Lord is my life. I remember what it was like to be without faith, and I cannot imagine ever going back to a life without Christian faith, hope, and love.
2) How did you come to the Catholic faith
My first conversion (at the age of eighteen) was from atheism back to the Christian faith, and a number of factors played a role: intellectual growth that allowed me to understand more fully the relationship of human reason and divine revelation; close friends who modeled for me lives of deep devotion, charity, and joy; experiments in prayer through which God showed Himself to be real; and encounters with demonic powers that shattered my tidy materialistic worldview, which had excluded even the possibility of such realities.
My second conversion, to the Catholic faith, was largely spurred by three intellectually challenging academic degrees that plunged me deeply into Church history. As with so many other converts I know, our lives demonstrated Cardinal John Henry Newman’s dictum: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” At the same time, I found an intellectual depth and richness in Catholic thought and experience for which I had hungered, and I became acquainted with Catholics whose faith and example transformed my notions of what it means to be Christian. In the end, I came to realize that as I had been seeking the Truth, Truth Himself had been seeking me, and He invited me to embrace His Church. Anyone interested in in more details of my conversion testimony can find it in “His Open Arms Welcomed Me,” the first chapter of “Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic,” edited by Patrick Madrid.
3) What have been your most fulfilling ministries over the years?
As much as I enjoy writing, teaching, and public speaking about all things Catholic, I find most satisfying the one-on-one ministry that allows me to fight in the spiritual trenches: to go deep with people who are seeking, struggling, or hurting. I am not a counselor; I have never been trained for that role. And I am certainly not a spiritual director. But people come to me almost daily in my work on the staff of a large and lively parish to talk about their lives, their struggles, their pain, their questions, and sometimes their joys and triumphs as well. They allow me the high privilege of listening to them, sharing their burdens, and praying with them. And if it seems right for their situation, I point them toward a priest or counselor for the kind of help that only priests and trained counselors can give. What could be more deeply satisfying than that?
4) Why is the Spiritual Warfare Bible, for which you provided extensive commentary, particularly needed in an era such as this?
As I wrote in the opening words of my “Manual for Spiritual Warfare” (TAN Books, 2014): “Like it or not, you are at war. … It’s a spiritual war with crucial consequences in your everyday life. And the outcome of that war will determine your eternal destiny.” This battle has been raging since the beginning of human history. But we need only read the daily news headlines, or see up close the spiritual, psychological, moral, and social wreckage of our day, to realize that books such as the “Spiritual Warfare Bible” are desperately needed in our time.
5) What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
So many favorites, but here is one of them: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Despite my failures, which are many, I cling to that promise.
6) In the midst of challenging times faced by humanity around the globe, how can disciples of Jesus Christ find joy in following him?
My first book for adults was actually about this subject, called “A Reason for Joy” (NavPress, 1988). So much could be said. But the main point of that book is this: If we pursue joy, we will never find it. Joy is the consequence of living close to the One who loves us beyond all telling. So if we want to find joy, we must go looking for the Lord, in whose “presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). 7) Do you have any parting words for readers? Those who read and think deeply about spiritual warfare are often tempted to anxiety and fear. I would simply remind them that we must place all our trust in God. As Saint John told us so long ago: “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).'
How strong is our relationship with our Father in Heaven? God considers every trouble that we face as His own troubles—do we consider our relationship with God in the same manner? Every first Friday of the month, Saint Francis of Assisi used to spend time alone in the woods, praying from six o’clock in the evening to six o’clock in the morning. Observing this routine, one of his fellow brothers asked him, “How is it that you keep yourself awake and pray through the night?” Saint Francis replied “Why don’t you go to the woods with an empty bag and another bag filled with stones. There, repeat the “Our Father” prayer, and as you repeat the prayer each time, transfer a stone into the empty bag. Do this throughout the night and as dawn approaches, all the stones would have been transferred over to the empty bag. You will not feel sleepy!”
His fellow brother was very happy to hear this, and followed what Saint Francis of Assisi said. As dawn approached he had transferred about three hundred stones into the empty bag. Morning came and he was extremely excited that he did not feel sleepy or weary during his prayers through the night. He went over to Saint Francis to share his experience, to excitedly share the number of times he was able to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. However, when he saw Saint Francis, what he observed touched his heart: there kneeling, was a teary-eyed Saint Francis, gazing towards heaven, praying, with the first stone in his hand and still on the first part of the “Our Father” prayer! At once, the brother realized that the relationship that Saint Francis had with God was a very deep one, nothing like what he had. It was not because Saint Francis was not transferring the stones that he was not tired, instead, it was the deep love that he shared with God that caused him to stay awake!
As the bell for Holy Mass goes off, Saint Francis sets off for Mass without even completing the “Our Father.” This brought his fellow brother to tears. Saint Francis hugged his fellow brother and said, “What we need in our prayer and in our Christian lives are not rituals, but an ardent love for our Heavenly Father. If you have a loving relationship with your father, everything else will fall in place.”
After many years, Saint Francis invited all the Franciscan priests and brothers for a gathering in Assisi. Franciscans all over the world travelled long distances to get to Assisi. He addressed them saying, “Dear fellow brothers, our Father in Heaven is perfectly taking care of every living winged bird and every living sea creature.” Filled with love of the Lord, he kept crying and laughing during his talk. After about three hours of listening to this, one of the brothers shouted, “Stop your speech right now! Don’t you have any concerns for the many Franciscans who have travelled long distances to get here? Have you even thought about whether there is any food for them?” Saint Francis replied, “Sorry! I forgot about planning for food for them.” The fellow brother asked him a second time, “Will their hunger be quenched by just listening to your speech?” Saint Francis lifted up both his hands towards Heaven and cried out, “Lord, I have not planned anything for my fellow brethren. But your Word says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).” Impatient and angry, the fellow brother lashed out, “What do you think, are we going to be delivered a parcel from Heaven or what?” But Saint Francis continued with his prayer.
As soon as his prayer was over, there was a huge rumbling sound everywhere. From all sides came many horses and donkeys carrying tons of food! What a surprise! When the people there had heard about this Franciscan gathering, it was a decision that they had secretly taken, to provide food for all the attendees! Food was abundant. Everyone ate until their stomachs were full and there were leftovers. The fellow brother was in complete awe seeing this. He excitedly hugged Saint Francis and said, “This for sure is the sign of your deep relationship with God. The same miracle as the miracle of the multiplication of loaves!”
Whenever you say the Lord’s Prayer, you must ask yourself this question: “Is God my own father to me?” If the answer is “No,” then you must grow towards that relationship. You must have the freedom of addressing God as “My Papa!” With this freedom of being His child, we must seek God’s will for us in our lives. When we seek only the will of God in everything, then God will intervene in our lives. We see in the Bible that Peter is very troubled from not having money to pay his taxes. He carries this heaviness in his heart, and does not even share it with Jesus. The One who knows everything then checks with Peter: “Do you have enough money for taxes with you?” Peter replies “No.” Then Jesus says, “Go and fish. Take the coin from the mouth of the first fish you catch, and pay taxes for you and for me.” When Jesus says, “for you and for me,” He means, “Peter, your pain is also my pain, your needs and pains are also my needs and pains.”
When we are engaged in God’s works, God promises to be with us in all our earthly needs. But we always think about the things we want. In Psalm 23, we read, “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.” We are not to pursue goodness and mercy, instead, when we follow the Good Shepherd, goodness and mercy will pursue us. When I live for God, He will be very attentive to my needs. “I will honor those who honor me” (1 Samuel 2:30).
Damian Stayne is a reputed Evangelist from England. When he prays, miracles have occurred. He was a satan worshipper when he was in college. When he repented, he made a promise with God: “All these years, I worshipped satan. From today onwards, I will live without hurting You.” He then turned into a “miracle-man” in college. While his friends spent time with girlfriends, Damian spent his time praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The girls could not stand this. They started knocking on his door at night. In spite of tough temptation, Damian was obedient to God and preserved his holiness. Now when he prays, we see miracles.
The miracles that were revealed by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, can also be revealed through us. If we live for God, He will stand for us. Let us pray that we may live for Christ, that we may never cause pain for Jesus, and that we may be transformed to forever respect God in our lives. Amen.'
Although we do not like to admit it, even to ourselves, we still believe that prayer happens suddenly or never happens at all. We kid ourselves that saints are born or created by an arbitrary decision of God who every now and then suddenly decides to top up humanity’s quota. This is a comforting idea that we harbor at the back of our minds because it absolves us from any serious effort to live in union with God.
The predicament of the alcoholic is but a dramatic blown-up picture of all of us. The fact that our perilous plight is not so obviously dramatic is a mixed blessing. If it were, it would at least force us without undue delay to see ourselves stripped naked of all falsity and pretension, to face stark reality. Then we might come to a moment of decision that we might otherwise cowardly evade, drifting into a life of superficiality, merely existing on the surface of human experience. Often when an alcoholic hits rock bottom he or she becomes serious about changing his or her life by surrendering and dedicating his or her life to God through hard work, by practicing new habits.
Alice made no secret of the fact that she was an alcoholic, although she had been “dry” for five months. She was only 26 when I met her but she had concertinaed the sufferings of a lifetime into a period of about five years. She had been through two marriages and was mixed up with a seedy set of degenerates who led her astray. In the end, she broke down under the strain of her lifestyle and took to the bottle. She used to drink between two and three bottles of whiskey a day. In desperation, she went to a local parish priest but he could do nothing for her. On one occasion, he took her to Alcoholics Anonymous, but she refused to go again so even they could not help. Things came to a head when she threatened to denounce the priest to the police for sexually assaulting her if he refused to buy her more drink. This seemed to be the last straw. She was brought up in a strict Irish home so the way she behaved toward the priest shook her into the realization of how low she had sunk. She smashed every bottle she could lay her hands on and rushed off screaming for help to Alcoholics Anonymous.
The leader of the center told her there was nothing they could do for her until she reached “rock bottom” and admitted to herself that she was an alcoholic and absolutely helpless. Then they could step in and begin to help her to help herself. Until she faced reality and made this admission, they could do nothing. He admitted that one of the hardest parts of his job was to wait helplessly looking on until she reached the depths.
He gave her a pamphlet containing the 12 steps of recovering alcoholics. The first was to admit they were powerless to help themselves and their lives had become unmanageable. The second was to come to believe in a power greater than their own which could restore them to sanity. The third was to turn their lives over to God as they understood Him. The other steps amplified these and emphasized the need to face up honestly to past faults and to try to make amends to those whom they had caused so much suffering.
There can be no fresh start, no renewal in the life of any individual, group or community unless we are able to see and admit our own inadequacy and past failures. Once we begin to see, to experience and to admit our weakness, then we can begin to appreciate the fundamental principle of the spiritual life, namely that we cannot go a single step forward without God, not a single step. The Gospel does not say, “Without me, you will not be able to get very far.” It says, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without me, nothing!
The trouble is we just do not believe this, except as a purely academic principle of theology that we scandalously disregard in our day-to-day lives. We beat our breasts with a sponge, reach for a drink and nibbles and slump down in front of the television. If we did believe it, then we would scream out for God’s help; we would go to Him, find time to open ourselves to His healing power and urgently create space in our lives for prayer. The space and the time we find in our daily life is the practical sign of our sincere acceptance of our own weakness and of our total belief in God’s power, which alone can help us.
You might say, “I would like to be a concert pianist or speak fluent French or become a scratch golfer” but I will only believe you mean it when I see you practice it for several hours a day. I will take you seriously when I see you hard at it, day after day on the piano or studying French grammar or tramping around the golf course. You would hardly meet a Christian, let alone a religious, who would not say he or she desired to come closer to God, to become possessed by Him, to build up a deeper prayer life. How can this be believed until a person relentlessly practices prayer, day after day? The desire is not enough, any more than are good intentions. Every alcoholic who desires to be better is full of good intentions, even high ideals, but something more is required.
Learning to pray, learning to open ourselves to God, is like anything else: it needs practice and it takes time. There is no accomplishment of any worth that I know of that you can attain merely by desiring to have it. We think nothing of spending hours a day and working for years to get a degree, pass an examination or attain certain qualifications, and we quite rightly accept as a matter of course that the time we give and the energy we expend is necessary. Somehow we seem to think that prayer is an exception but believe me it is not. Those who wish to succeed in a particular accomplishment have to give hours of time, even if they have flair or genius.
I heard an interview on the radio given by Arthur Rubinstein, the concert pianist, some years ago. Here is a man who was arguably the greatest pianist of the last century and yet at the age of 84 he admitted that he needed to practice for six hours a day. In his prime, he practiced for nine! Although he had a musical genius at the age of three, it took a lifetime to master the technique necessary to facilitate and maintain the growth of that genius and to enable him to share it with others on the concert platform.
The same could be said of hundreds of great artists, performers, athletes and people from all walks of life who reach the top of their particular branch of human achievement. What right do we have to imagine that prayer is an exception to the rule because it certainly is not? We are supposed to be dedicated to the mastery of the art of arts and, at best, we drift aimlessly along like half-baked amateurs dabbling in something that demands the full potential of the professional.
If we are only prepared to give the same daily time to prayer that would be required to reach a fairly reputable standard on the piano, then, in time, our lives will be dramatically and irrevocably changed. We might start with 10 minutes a day and gradually extend that period as we master the preliminaries, but as the months go by, the period will gradually extend so that in the end the problem will be to restrain rather than prescribe a minimum time.
If all goes well, the prayer that starts and develops at set times ought to spread out gradually and filter through into the rest of the day. In the end, it will become co-extensive with all and everything we do. To begin with, the prayer period will be like a desert: dry, arid and barren. It will eventually become an oasis in our lives that we cannot do without. However, that is not the end, it is only the beginning. In the end, the oasis will become a fountain that will well up and brim over to irrigate the whole of our lives, as what Saint Paul calls “the prayer without ceasing” transforms our daily spiritual lives enabling us to say with him, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”'
On a recent Saturday morning, my sixteen-year-old son said, “Dad, I’m bored. What are we going to do for fun today?”
Knowing my youngest son well, I translated this to mean that he was looking for something new and exciting and I was supposed to provide it. This all-too frequent discussion with my children has been the cause of considerable reflection of late. As adults do we also seek frequent engagement and entertainment? Does this desire for fun and excitement ever spill over into how we view our Catholic faith?
I often hear complaints that the “mass is boring,” “the priest is difficult to understand” or “the priest didn’t wow us with an exciting homily.” Still more complaints (whining?) center on the lack of exciting music during mass or the “inconvenience” of having to attend mass weekly as well as all the Holy Days of obligation. I also frequently hear this comment: “I wish our parish was more like (insert name of any Protestant megachurch). They have a lot of fun in their services and the music is awesome. They even have a coffee bar!” The list of complaints is likely much longer, but I think you get the picture.
Are we suffering from Spiritual A.D.D.?
Much has been written about the explosion of Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) in the past few decades. Many studies link kids’ over-stimulation from video games as a big contributor to the problem. Adults have the same challenges as we struggle with our own addictions to smart phones and information overload from computers, TV, etc. Is this problem spilling over into our spiritual lives? Do we go from parish to parish looking for some sort of “Catholic buzz” to keep us entertained? Do we flirt with hearsay by attending non-Catholic churches? Are our brains, craving more and more stimulation, incapable of finding peace? We need to tune out the “noise” to achieve the quiet and focus required in the mass.
Spiritual Shepherd or Entertainer-in-Chief?
Do we ever take a moment to consider the challenging life of a Catholic priest? In addition to being our spiritual shepherds, parish priests are the administrators of complex organizations often beset with unique problems ranging from people issues on the staff to budget shortfalls. Their days are filled with saying mass, presiding at weddings, funerals and baptisms, hearing Confessions, visiting the sick, prayer, study, meetings with parishioners and dozens of other duties we may not fully appreciate. They are not our entertainment directors. Before we complain about something these men of God did or did not do, we should reflect a little and say a prayer of thanksgiving for their life-long commitment to help us attain Heaven. These good men need our prayers and our support every single day. They do not need nor deserve much of the criticism that is sent their way.
Do you ever notice that entering the church for mass these days often resembles people finding their seats in a theater before a movie begins? There is lots of noise and chit-chat all the way up to the beginning of mass. Where is the reverence? The respect? The humility? Time spent preparing to enter into the mysteries? We are about to receive Holy Communion, the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we sometimes treat this sacred time like a secular family reunion instead of a holy celebration. Maybe one of the reasons people feel bored with the mass is they have forgotten that the center of the mass is Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice. “The Christian faithful are to hold the Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration; pastors, clarifying the doctrine on this sacrament, are to instruct the faithful thoroughly about this obligation” (Code of Canon Law #898).
A little Self-Awareness and a desire to change
If anything that you have read so far sounds familiar and hits too close to home, there may be a problem and change needed. Too often we do not know how we are behaving and coming across to others unless we hear it from a friend. More importantly, if we are in the “complainer camp” can we change course? A thorough and honest examination of conscience provides an excellent way to identify our sinful behavior before having those sins forgiven by a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With more self-awareness and a contrite heart, it is only logical that we can now focus on what is really important about the mass and better understand the critical role the Church plays in our lives.
We cannot Be Bored if We Are Sincerely Seeking Him
Boredom is a side effect of our fast-paced, materialistic culture. We feel bored because we are constantly being over-stimulated and sold on the idea that we can have it all now and that something better is always around the corner. As rational human beings, we must realize that this is neither true nor sustainable. If we are sincerely seeking Christ, we will find Him through the Church He founded.
The world offers celebrities to idolize … the Church offers saints to follow.
The world offers noise … the Church offers peace.
The world offers false dreams … the Church offers the truth.
The world offers and celebrates vice … the Church offers a life of virtue.
The world offers earthly pleasures … the Church offers eternal heaven.
Fixing catholic Boredom in Six easy Steps
Every issue I posed has been an ongoing challenge for me and countless other people I know. We must realize this is not healthy behavior. How do we change? To sum up, here are the key points you have read, summarized into “Six Steps to Cure Catholic Boredom”:
1. “We have to turn off at least some of the noise.” Our spiritual A.D.D. is fed by our addiction to too much input from various sources. Do not listen to the radio in the car. Eliminate most, if not all, TV time. Read more books. Get outside more often. Find time for quiet reflection and prayer every day.
2. “Show more respect for our priests and quit looking to them for entertainment.” They are not here to make mass “exciting.” We are at mass to offer worship and receive the Eucharist, not to hear an emotional homily or loud music.
3. “Remember the mass is about the Eucharist.” Have we prayed to be worthy to receive Jesus? Have we thanked God for this gift? Have we prayed to let others see Christ in us? Reverence, gratitude, humility, worship … these are the keywords to remember about the mass.
4. “Go to Reconciliation as often as possible.” Do a thorough and honest examination of conscience. Where have we fallen short? Confess these sins to a priest and be forgiven. We will be less critical and eliminate boredom if we are acutely aware of our thinking and behaviors that lead to these avoidable sins.
5. “Get involved and make a difference.” Sitting on the outside and complaining is boring. Why not join a parish ministry and contribute our time and talent in a more productive way?
6. “Quit trying to please both the world and God.” “you cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires and their actions” (Saint John Vianney).
Feeling bored about our Catholic faith is subtle and dangerous—it sort of creeps up on you. When we are bored we tend to be critical and seek more excitement. This is the wrong path. The world offers us false gods and tries to paint a negative picture of Catholicism that is an illusion. We have to fight through these lies. Perceived boredom may lead some to leave the Church for other faiths. They are often drawn to the excitement and buzz of Protestant megachurches but will learn in time that they had everything they needed in the Church Jesus founded. Let us reflect on how we feel right now about the mass, priests, Church, etc. If we feel bored or critical, let us follow a sound road map to bring us back from this dangerous territory. We have so much to be thankful for as Catholics if we will only take the time to appreciate.
The choice is ours and I humbly pray that we will make the right one.'
Whenever evil is committed in the name of some religion, we are told to conclude that all religions are essentially the same. Religion serves only to divide us and to spread messages of fear and hatred.
But the Gospel is GOOD NEWS. It is life giving. We see this in Acts 4:8-12: “Leaders of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Jesus was murdered. He was killed in the name of pride masquerading as religious piety. The religious leaders were afraid to arrest Him in broad daylight because they were afraid they would have an angry mob on their hands, so they did it under the cover of night. They were threatened by Jesus’ following, so they sought to stamp out this “Jesus thing” by killing Jesus and thereby silencing His followers once and for all. They put guards at the tomb because they were afraid His followers would try to pull one over on them.
But Jesus rose anyway. He came back to life—can you imagine the civil war that could have sprung from this event?
Yet the Apostles do not retaliate evil for evil. The Gospel is not spread through fear and intimidation. Jesus’ followers do not go around killing in His name.
They go about healing in the name of Jesus. They go about preaching a Gospel of Life.
This was not just some clever “PR-strategy.” The apostles were not going around preaching a gospel of “can’t we all just get along?” They were healing and preaching eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. For that last bit, they were threatened, tortured and killed. It is a pretty hard sell actually: “Join our religion! Heal the blind! Make the lame walk! And be killed for it!”
Yet they went about healing and spreading Life anyway, because that is who our God is. That is who Jesus is. The apostles were compelled to tell the world that the God who created us calls us to newness of life.
It is Jesus who heals. It is Jesus who gives life. There is no salvation through anyone else—that is not a threat, it is simply the truth and it is GOOD NEWS!'
Know that the Lord is God! It is He that made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3). In many ways, this short verse sums up my—and every—vocation story. Whenever I consider how it is that I wound up entering the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful mother, the answer is always the same: God made me for Himself and He has spent my whole life drawing me back to Him. Looking back at my life, I see His design traced through the whole of it. When I first began to see this, I asked the Lord what I could possibly do to show my gratitude and He asked me if I would be set apart just for Him.
That is the abridged edition anyway—God’s call on my life has not always seemed so straightforward. Raised Lutheran, my parents taught me about Jesus when I was young. I inherited from them a great love for the faith and for Christ, as well as a desire to do His will in my life. When I was fourteen, I followed my mom and brother into the Catholic Church, but shortly after that point I plunged into academic work and my relationship with God cooled as I stopped making time for prayer.
In my sophomore year of college, a friend’s chance remark sparked a turnaround in my life. I had been running regularly with a classmate who would sometimes say she did not have time to run because she had to pray. I thought that was a terrible excuse. She said to me, “Emily, when you start making a daily holy hour, then you can tell me that there is always time for prayer and running.”
That suggestion shocked me. Nobody I had ever known prayed for an hour a day, so I decided to take her up on the offer. I spent an hour a day with Christ. I would read Scripture, tell Him about my life, sit in the silence and whisper to Him my deepest needs. In that time, God graciously restored me to the first love of my childhood.
By the end of that year, I stopped focusing so much on what I wanted to do with my life and started seriously asking God what He might want me to do. I began to desire what He desired as He began to reveal His great love for me—a love far greater, stronger and wiser than the love I had for myself. In this way, God primed my heart for His first prompting toward religious life, which came through a study group about Saint Catherine of Siena, run by the inimitable Sister Mary Michael, O.P. Through Sister’s witness and our study of Saint Catherine, Christ began to heal some of my wounds of cynicism and distrust. At the same time, I found myself drawn to Sister’s life—she was so free to be Christ’s at every moment. I worked up the courage to ask her what one might do if one was interested in visiting her community (The Nashville Dominicans), to which she responded (to my shock) by giving me the cell phone number of her vocations director!
My week in Nashville was filled with beauty. I was totally swept off my feet by the whole experience, but something held me back from giving any solid commitment to that place. I returned home intoxicated by the beauty of their life and the Church that facilitated it and wondering what the heck I was supposed to do!
The summer following that week was one of the most painful times in my life. It was my first experience of the desert —of isolation and aloneness. I was struggling on a personal level, prayer was dry and I was not totally sure that Christ really desired me to be His. I felt inadequate and unworthy—I am vain, proud, harsh and blunt; certainly there are better candidates out there!
I struggled. At the halfway point of the summer, I got to go see some friends for the weekend. As I drove home, all of my frustration with the way things were going came to a head. I was just so tired—tired of feeling alone in my struggle, tired of being unsure about what Christ wanted for me—so I told Jesus all my hurts. When I was through, I said, “Look, Lord, I cannot do this anymore. I am done with discerning, done with this whole lifestyle … unless you make it clear that you want me to continue. I need some sort of encouragement.”
The encouragement came. The next day at mass the reading was from Hosea: “So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart …” The priest spoke in his homily about how God brings us into the desert to show us that He was the source of all the earthly joys we had experienced, to draw us into His heart. He ended by saying, “all you have to do is say, ‘Lord, I know how much you love me. Here, take my life.’” I feel that homily was Christ’s proposal to me. Since then, I have tried to be “espoused to Him forever: espoused in justice, in love and in mercy and in fidelity,” as Hosea says.
There was still the question of what that meant, when that meant and where that meant. While at Nashville, I remember the vocations director asking me if I was planning on visiting other orders, and I mentioned the T.O.R.’s reflexively, though I had not actually thought about visiting them before. I decided to try their vocations retreat. I first met with Sister Thérèse Marie, the vocations director. I had the weirdest feeling going to the monastery—like I was going somewhere I knew. I was very excited for the retreat.
When the day finally came, I knew that things would be different in my heart from then on. everything about the sisters’ life resonated with me. It was strange because I never expected that. I expected that the sisters would be somewhat alien to me. After all, I was an intellectual, a cynic, a scholar. Yet, being with the sisters was like surfacing after being under water for too long. It was like coming home after an exhausting trip. It was like breaking fast with a warm meal. I drank in the whole ethos of the place. Then I had to leave.
I spent that semester getting to know the sisters. I went to another Lord’s day and another, to a “mailing party” and to a dinner and recreation—and I could not get enough. I was deeply happy in the rest of my life, but I would have spent every weekend at the convent if I could have. After my plans to go on a “come and see” over Christmas break fell through, Sister Thérèse Marie lent me a copy of the Constitutions of the community. I read it nearly short of breath with excitement; it was like reading my own heart. Many things were written into the Constitutions that had become a part of my life in the past year or two that I had never guessed were also part of the T.O.R. way of life!
My first come and see fell on a snow day. This would have been fine, except the roads were closed and my visit was postponed six hours or so. I thought those six hours were going to kill me, I was so antsy! Finally, I took to the roads and went out to Toronto.
Driving out to Our Lady of Sorrows was, against all odds, like going home, and I still have that feeling every time I drive up our road. Working, praying, playing and just being with the sisters was freeing and enlivening. I felt like the time I spent in the convent made me more myself. I remember realizing that I did not feel like a guest and experiencing a profound peace that has not left me.
By the end of that visit, I was certain I wanted to apply to the community, that Our Lady of Sorrows was made for me, to be my home. Actually, I did not want to leave and now I do not have to! I entered candidacy on August 21, 2010. Please pray for me as I continue my walk with Christ and Our Lady. Peace and all good! Remember, the Lord will never be outdone in generosity!'
Satan is the father of lies, clever yet deceitful, hating God and all God loves. He leads the charge in the spiritual battle that exists for our souls, opposing God at every turn and trying to turn us against Him. yet, God has given us a glimpse of Satan’s playbook in the first three chapters of Genesis so we can better know our enemy and recognize some of the ways he has continued attacking humanity since the beginning.
The Sacredness of Creation and dignity of man
In the beginning, God created all things good. God blessed the living creatures (Genesis 1:22) as well as man (1:28), revealing the sacredness of all life. To man, God gave dominion over the living things (1:26f), demonstrating the hierarchy of life. man was also a unique creation in the material world as he was made in the image and likeness of God (1:26), being given the gifts of reason and free will. God breathed His own life into man (2:7), further elevating the dignity of the human person and bestowing into man His own divine life.
Man and Woman—For marriage and Family
In the creation narrative, the only time God says something “is not good” was when man was alone. God revealed man was created to be a social creature but the relationship with animals was not adequate. The relief for man’s solitude was another human and particularly a woman (Genesis 2:18f). To be in a relationship with this woman, man had to be willing to give up everything for her, even giving his own life in loving protection. With His consent, God formed woman from the side of man—not from his head to be superior to him, nor from his feet to be subjugated to him (2:21-24). They then formed an indissoluble covenant with each other (becoming one flesh). This relationship was not one of pride, selfishness, egotism, possession or subjection. It was to revolve around love, not lust (2:25).
Made for Communion with God
In the Garden, God walked with Adam and Eve (3:8), revealing a harmonious friendship. This relationship with God was what man was ultimately made for, but God wanted this communion to continue for all eternity. For man to fulfill his purpose, he only needed to respond to God’s love with love. Wanting to illuminate the path for man to achieve this, God gave man a few laws, not acting as a dictator but as a loving Father (2:18). These commands were:
◗ Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it (1:28).
◗ Man was to guard and labor in the Garden of Eden (2:15).
◗ They were given access to everything in the Garden of eden with one exception; they were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil or else they would die (2:16-17; 3:2-3).
Losing Trust and the Slippery Slope of Sin
Genesis then shows how Satan cleverly and deceptively entered into the life of this first man and woman (3:1), hoping to lead them to doubt God and His loving plan (3:5). In their interaction, the devil immediately distorts God’s truths (3:1), implying God is a liar (3:4-5). Satan insinuated God was restricting their access to goodness, pleasure, power, wisdom and the fullness of life (3:4-6). Satan distorts the nature of God and the truth of who God created man to be. Satan wants them to revolt so he tries to convince Adam and eve that God is a despot. Satan prods the pride, selfishness, greed and envy within man, telling them there is something they deserve to have (to be like God) that God is withholding from them (3:5).
Satan also demonstrates that part of his plan of attack is to destroy their relationship with each other. First, he humiliates Adam by the sheer fact of his presence in the garden because this indicates a failure in Adam to lay down his life in loving protection of eve. Then, even though both Adam and eve are present in the garden, the serpent isolates them by speaking only to eve (3:1).
Satan also tries to manipulate Adam and eve by convincing them there are no negative consequences to their actions. The sly serpent tells them, despite God’s warning, if they eat of the forbidden tree, “you will not die.” No, rather “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4). Satan, having rejected God, personally knows with certitude what happens when you turn away from God, yet this truth must remain hidden in order achieve his goal. Instead, he veils his lies with the appearance of compassion and concern giving the illusions: God lies. There is no truth. Satan, not God, has the means to our happiness.
Adam and Eve freely succumb to the temptations of the devil. But the impact of Satan’s war does not stop with this act. Immediately after they sin, their guilt causes them to hide from God or, as in the Hebrew chaba, to withdraw from God (3:10). Rather than repent, they refuse to accept responsibility for their disobedience, merely blaming one another (3:12-13). Finally, prior to the fall, Adam and eve did not bear children as God had commanded so this encounter with Satan impacts all their descendants—though not inheriting the guilt of the first sin, all humanity will experience the consequences.
Deceptive Snares Then and Now
Our first parents fell into Satan’s traps but we continue to hear echoes of these same deceptions in our lives today. Just as Satan distorted truth about God from the beginning, lies and deception continue:
◗ “There is no God. We are here by chance.”
◗ “Religion consoles and comforts people but it is not based on truth.”
◗ “Even if there is a God, He cannot be good and loving since there is so much suffering and evil.”
◗ “I believe in God but He has done nothing for me so why should I listen to Him?” Just as in the Garden Satan attacked who it was God created man to be and the dignity of human life, this is still under attack everywhere:
◗ “Humanity is depraved, wretched, unredeemable.”
◗ “Dog, cow, man, we are all the same. A creature’s level of consciousness or his usefulness to society determines its value; therefore, pigs and chickens are more valuable than a human fetus or newborn.”
◗ “Pregnancy is an inconvenience, a burden, a mistake.”
◗ The fetus is simply a clump of cells.”
◗ “A woman has a right to do what she wants with her body since the child in the womb has no rights of its own.”
◗ “A person should have the right to end his or her life if he or she feels his or her situation is too burdensome.”
◗ “Once a person is merely a burden on society, we have the right to end that person’s life.”
As with Adam and eve, the reality that it is God who is the source of our goodness and happiness has been rejected in favor of a counterfeit idea that we are to take what we desire and find happiness apart from God:
◗ “Seize the day. Do what makes you happy.”
◗ “What is true for me may not be true for you but let’s live and let live.”
◗ “If you hold to universal moral truths, declaring what is right and wrong for all, you are an intolerant bigot.”
◗ “Don’t impose your views on me.”
◗ “God’s moral laws are examples of imposed tyranny, you do not need to succumb to this.”
◗ “You do not need God or any church to do be happy.”
We hear a constant attack on marriage with propaganda denying the complementarity of the sexes:
◗ “If you marry, divorce is always an option if it does not work out.”
◗ “Why get married at all when I can enjoy the benefits without the commitment?”
◗ “It is about me and my body. Why not explore the different options? There should be no limits on satisfying my needs.”
◗ “There is no such thing as complementarity of the sexes—it is just whatever feels right in my marital relationships.”
◗ “There is no such thing as being born male and female, you get to decide for yourself.”
Since the beginning, Satan has been promoting a denial of the reality of sin. As we see in the Garden, this often leads to a refusal to repent:
◗ “Sin is when I go against my own personal values. You cannot decide for me what is and is not sin.”
◗ “You are an intolerant bigot for even suggesting what I did was wrong since it is only wrong in your eyes.”
◗ “A loving God would want me to be happy. He would not condemn me for living however I see fit to achieve this.”
◗ “God is a loving Father. I cannot imagine He created a place like hell but, if He did, my merciful Father would not send me there.”
◗ “That wasn’t my fault.”
Knowing our Enemy
We see the fingerprint of Satan throughout history and all around us today. He is powerful and cunning, always trying to convince us to doubt and lose trust in God like with our first parents. Father Vincent miceli, in his book “The Antichrist,” writes, “The intention of Satan is to make a physical and spiritual wreckage of all God’s creation.” We must be aware that Satan always mocks God, breathes contempt on anything sacred and ridicules all God has revealed. The father of lies wants us to believe he will lead us to true happiness more than any teachings of Christ. Father Miceli describes how Satan, with the help of men and his demons, has “succeeded in contradicting scripture, denying dogma, popularizing immorality.” He will try to deceive us in subtle ways, hoping to lead us further and further away from God, so we can never become presumptuous or let down our guard. Wanting to help us take care to not fall into Satan’s snares, God has given us many warnings and insights into Satan’s playbook, with one example being in these first three chapters of Genesis.
As we become more aware of our enemy, we then must heed the words of Saint Pope Leo the Great, in his Sermon 39 on Lent (III):
… let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents. But ‘stronger is He that is in us than he that is against us’ (1 John 4:4), and through Him are we powerful in whose strength we rely: because it was for this that the Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the tempter, that we might be taught by His example as well as fortified by His aid … He fought then, therefore, that we too might fight thereafter: He conquered that we too might likewise conquer. For there are no works of power, dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch: if we want to overcome, we must fight.'
“Pray for a miracle and it will happen.” Throughout my life I have heard that phrase many times. To be honest, I have been skeptical. In the past when the mention of a miracle pops up, I normally smile back at the other person in neither belief nor disbelief, but usually with a bit of indifference. My problem is that I am too practical. This practical gene that flows throughout my body has definitely benefited me many times during my life, but when it comes to my faith, it has not exactly been helpful. I have issues with the word “miracle.” At times the mere mention of the word has even made me wince a bit. Sorry, but it is true. The word just seems, well, too easy.
Recently, when my mom had a severe stroke the word “miracle” was uttered to me a lot. When I informed those closest to me of my mother’s stroke, I felt that many people brushed over the seriousness of her condition with what seemed like an easy request for a miracle.
“Alan, pray for a miracle and she will be healed.” Do not get me wrong, I also wanted a miracle to happen. I prayed, I begged and I pleaded for a miracle.
Many of the people I spoke with seemed convinced that I would witness a wonderful miracle take place before my very eyes. A miracle that would not only heal my mother, but help me to be stronger, perhaps even help me to trust and love God more.
So, I prayed for that miracle. For months. Every day. And that miracle, well, it never came. Not only was my mother not healed, but also in the subsequent months since her stroke, her condition became worse. Somewhere along the way my belief in miracles felt shattered.
I started to feel unworthy of a miracle. Perhaps I did not pray hard enough. Perhaps I did not have enough faith. Perhaps I did not believe enough.
And after a while, realizing that this miracle was never going to come, my prayers for my mother’s healing changed. My prayers became less about her recovery. My prayers acknowledged the inevitable and became more focused on her soul and less about her health. Prayers that focused on her eternity.
I also prayed that my mother’s past cynicism toward religion and her anger for a past that did not turn out the way she had hoped would shift and turn to a focus and love for God. That was the hope for my mother that I began to cling to.
Since the stroke, it was very hard to understand my mother’s speech. In fact, I normally comprehended about twenty percent or less of all that she said. But, some time after, my mother began to talk about some specific things and, to my surprise, I was able to understand her. She began to speak of her past regrets.
She began to speak about forgiveness. She began asking me questions about God. She began asking me questions about my Catholic faith. These were never topics of discussion with my mother in the past. It turns out that the miracle I was looking for was not her recovery.
On May 2, 2017, my mother, Margaret Rose Himmelright, was received into the Catholic Church. Even though she could barely speak, was unable to read or write, and was often very confused, for this she was lucid, clear, and very accepting. My mother’s faith and her soul are the miracle.
I have prayed for many years for my mother to grow closer to God. I was often left feeling like it would never happen. For her to want to know and love God more— even in the midst of pain and suffering—is nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps not the miracle everyone had in mind though, including myself.
I now know there are different kinds of miracles. Miracles that present themselves in unforeseen ways. We just have to be able to recognize them through the disappointment of not receiving the miracle for which we had originally hoped and prayed.
I had to free myself of the false notion that miracles only come in magnificent gestures of divine intervention. In reality, sometimes miracles dwell even where there resides grief and sadness.
Do I believe in miracles? Yes, I do. Just not the way I did before.'