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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.'
I cannot help but to have my heart go out to all those who have suffered from the trauma of abortion. I can only hope that they know how much they are loved and how precious they are in their Father’s eyes. Sadly, statistics show that as soon as a mother finds out her baby will have a birth defect, it is far more likely that she will decide to end her baby’s life than to guard and keep it.
I was eleven weeks pregnant with my fourth child when I found out that Cora had Down Syndrome. It pains me to say that I was heartbroken. At the news of her prognosis, it was as if that most intimate mystery of motherhood—that bond between the mother and the child in her womb—felt instantaneously severed. I was grieving. In a way, there was a death of my IDeA of what every mother dreams of: that first glimpse of your perfect little baby. The awe-inspiring beauty stops your breath and wipes away all the pain you endured during labor. I could no longer envision that joy for myself and my husband—that amazing moment that we had come to expect after having three other children. I felt like a failure. I convinced myself that I had failed to produce a “normal” child.
When I look back on those times, I almost feel ashamed to admit that I had such feelings of sadness. However, because I experienced that pain I can now empathize and I can suffer with those who are struggling with an unwelcome prenatal diagnosis. God has entered that shame and healed it, transformed it into a source of compassion for those who struggle with feelings like this. I urge moms and dads who are struggling to be patient and trusting enough to let their preconceived notions of normal, beautiful or perfect to be renewed, humbled and redeemed. For anyone experiencing these feelings right now, I assure you that you are never alone. God has chosen you! your present pain will become a cause for rejoicing. Any life is worth any struggle. I cannot imagine our family without this smile. I am so proud and honored that God chose me to give life to this beautiful child.'
I have tried prayer, but what do I pray about? Great question. One of the primary battles many people face when it comes to prayer is the assumption that they are not “doing it right.” Our Catholic tradition is filled with many “formula” prayers that Christians have used to help them pray over the centuries.
I have run into people who seem to look down on formula prayers. They will claim that they do not need them. I do not think that this is a very good idea. For starters, some formula prayers are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Psalms, Canticles, the Our Father and portions of the Hail Mary are all from the Bible. What is more, Jesus prayed formula prayers. As a Jew, Jesus would have regularly prayed the Psalms throughout His entire life. In addition, holier men and women than you or I have prayed with formula prayers on a regular basis. Both Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Saint John Paul II prayed the rosary multiple times every day of their lives. Lastly, the greatest prayer in the universe (the Mass) is a formula prayer.
I am not sure we really know what we are talking about if we claim not to need formula prayers. Are we saying that we are greater prayers than Jesus?
At the same time, there is a danger in thinking that “saying your prayers” is the same thing as “praying.” If we thought that prayer was simply running through a formula, we would be no better than the pagans. The formula exists to help us, but the formula is not the goal. God is the goal. The formula provides us with some helps to reach the goal. For example, the formula gives us a structure and it gives us the words when we cannot find the words. Think of the Psalms. There is something in the Psalms for virtually every trial or joy that a person could go through. We may experience some sorrow and wonder how we could ever express it. The Psalms can provide the words for the pain without words.
Yet, even when praying with the Bible or in the Mass, we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are actually talking to someone else. We are not daydreaming. We are talking to ourselves. There is another with whom we are being drawn into relationship. I know that that might sound huge, but that is only because it is.
Here are a few suggestions for going beyond “saying our prayers.” First, look up. We do this more interiorly than with our literal eyes. Sometimes we can feel like our nose is stuck in our prayer book. Look up at the One with whom you are speaking. Realize (and you can do this at Mass as well!) that we have a Father in Heaven who is not only listening to our prayers, but drawing us more closely to Him. Try this as an exercise the next time you are at Mass: pray the same words you always do, but pray them as if you really believed that God is real. Of course, God is real, but how often do we lapse into “lordhearourprayer” during the intercessions without really becoming aware that we are asking someone to hear and answer our prayers? How about trying to pray certain portions of the Eucharistic Prayer? While the priest is praying out loud, we can be praying those same words in the quiet interior of our hearts. Again, when praying, look up and talk to Him.
But what do I say? If we wander away from formula prayers, we may find ourselves saying things that do not seem very “prayerful.” Too often, we make a judgment on our thoughts during prayer. We were tempted to nurse a grudge, tempted toward an impure thought or maybe tempted to think about work or family issues. Sometimes, people will become angry with themselves for thinking these thoughts. They might put themselves down and “firmly resolve” to not think about such things. Granted, there may be times when we are called to flee from temptation, but automatically condemning our thoughts might only help us hide from what is going on inside of us.
Why do we think that our prayer needs to be filled with noble, holy thoughts? Why not talk with God about what is really going on in our lives? I would guess that your thoughts in prayer will turn most often to the things that are most important to you. If we put a judgment on those things before we address why they are there, we potentially cripple the growth to which God is calling us.
Here is an invitation for your next prayer time: instead of seeing your tiredness, anger or wandering mind as an obstacle to talking with God, why not use it as a stepping stone? Talk to God about what is most important to you. If your work keeps creeping in, talk with God about it. If anger keeps popping up, talk to God about why. Pray about what is most important to you, and you will soon realize that God is even there.'