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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”:
- “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.
- “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.
- “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 key words to remember about the mass.
- “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.
- “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?
- “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.'
I have been reading Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, “Ecclesia De Eucharistia,” and it is a thing of beauty. I wanted to reflect on some of what is said as I pondered what he wrote.
Christ gave totally of Himself on Calvary. His death on the Cross took on our sins and brought Heaven and earth back together, healing the broken bond that original sin had brought. Our bodies and our souls were never meant to be separated. Adam and Eve, at the taste of original sin, “knew they were naked” and invited the corruption and disunity into the world.
At each Mass, we again have the opportunity for Heaven and earth together. We pray for the resurrection of the body in the Creed. In chapter two paragraph 22 of the encyclical, Saint John Paul II states, “We can say that each of us not only receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us.” I would like to expound on this. Christ gifted Himself on the Cross and at the Eucharistic table so that we may be invited back into union with God. This is a divine action, God becoming incarnate, taking on our sins, leaving us a way to tangibly become in union with Him. In our human nature, we were given total free will. If we gift ourselves freely back to the God ,who sacrificed Himself for us—that is, if we approach the Eucharist with a total gift of ourselves to God—our will can become one with His. He can receive us to Himself and conform our will to His. Interestingly, it is said that in Eucharistic miracles His blood has been tested and is AB—the universal receiver. This suggests to me that we are to give ourselves freely to Him so He receives us, making us one with Him.
Paragraph 23 states, “Eucharistic communion also confirms the Church in her unity as the body of Christ.” If we were each gifting ourselves back to God, uniting our DNA to the DNA of God, we become a body of Christ that permeates love. One that does not shy away from sacrifice, even unto death, for the sake of one another. This kind of self-giving love is reflective of the Trinity. We would become in union with God.
The last chapter of the Encyclical addresses the very person who the Church looks to as having union with God: Mary, our Mother. The encyclical states in chapter 6 paragraph 53, “Mary can guide us towards the most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it.” It goes on to say in paragraph 54, “Mary is a ‘woman of the Eucharist’ in her whole life.” Paragraph 55 continues, “she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s word.” Indeed, one could infer that during the Incarnation, Mary said to God, “This is my body, given up for you,” as she chose freely to be the vessel that brought our Lord to the earth to save us. Mary has a very unique relationship with the Eucharist, as she also sacrificed herself for God’s sake, so then in turn He could sacrifice Himself for all of us. She is indeed a co-redemptrix. Because of our ability to gift ourselves back to God in union with the Eucharist, we can partake in this. It extends to us.
For every mother who bears a child or cares for a child, she says, “This is my body given up for you.” For every husband and wife who freely give to one another in the marital act, “This is my body given up for you.” For every parent who works with “the work of human hands” to provide for their family, “This is my body given up for you.” For every child who cares for an elderly parent, “This is my body given up for you.” For every Priest who lives the vow of celibacy, “This is my body given up for you.” I could go on; how much better would the world be if we all lived this Eucharistic way of life. It is a life of thanksgiving that is willing to sacrifice. We should be living the Mass in all that we do everyday of our lives.
Conversely, the world twists this beautiful notion, buying into the same father of lies that deceived in the garden. As Dr. Peter Kreeft so adeptly pointed out, turning this sacrifice of oneself into a demonic parody, women now chant, “This is my body — I will not give it up for you.” We use birth control to break that which has been beautifully made. The serpent would like nothing more than for us to not even exist and we have bought into it, yet unity is what God wants for us—body and soul in harmony, and an acceptance of self sacrifice. This is true love.
This is the very idea of family. Each one sacrificing for the other. As I have stated before, Mary is all things relationship with the Trinity. She sacrificed herself to each. It is no wonder that the father of lies hates her and wants to attack the family. But she wants to be, “Our Lady Healer of Families,” she wants us to be a Eucharistic family. It is in following this human creature’s FIAT that we can find the Eucharistic example, begun at the Incarnation and completed on the Cross. It is why at the Ascension and the Assumption, God and the Mother of God had unity between body and soul. I think our incorruptible Saints give us but a small glimmer of this.
If we all freely give ourselves back to God, we become a Eucharistic people who permeate the world with love. The Gospel of John, chapter 6 makes clear the Eucharist is of central importance and, like John, if we take Mary into our homes we can live by her example. Once we know this then, like Peter, we can conclude that we have nowhere else to go because these are the words of eternal life. If we live what the Eucharist is, His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.'
There is something about our fallen nature that compels us to disobedience. Sometimes it is full- blown, blatant disobedience. Other times it is more subtle, like our mom encouraging us to read a book that we just cannot find the time to read. We are all guilty of it … except for one: Saint Joseph (I am not counting Mary because she was free from original sin). There is so much we can learn from what scripture says about him, his actions and, more importantly, his silence. Let us look at one story in particular from scripture that leads us to a greater appreciation for his perfect obedience to the will of the Father.
The Flight Into Egypt
Matthew 2:13 says, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Let us break this down a bit and really dig into what Joseph is facing in this moment.
A Death Threat
Someone wants to kill Jesus, the Son of God. We often overlook the subtleties because we know the whole story, but Joseph did not! All he knew was that someone wanted Jesus dead. Why did the Lord have to flee anyway? He is God. Theophylact of Ochrid makes a very strong point when he says, “Even the Lord flees, to confirm that He was truly man. For if He had fallen into the hands of Herod and had not been slain, it would have seemed that He had been made flesh only in appearance.”
What this tells us about Joseph is that it was not an act. Maybe it was part of the Divine plan, but it was not on Joseph’s agenda. Joseph is scared, but there is no time for that. He does not ask the angel any clarifying questions, which probably would have been cool considering the circumstances, like, “Sure thing, God. What am I supposed to do about work though? I do not have a work visa in Egypt and I also do not speak the language … Oh, and I doubt I’ll be able to fit all my tools on the donkey considering we need to eat …” Not a word.
A Long Journey
Egypt is far away. Really far. Four hundred thirty miles far. That is Chicago to Pittsburgh which, by car, is still seven hours. The road was not one of those paved nature trails with cool shade during the day and a lighted path at night. Also, there were not many Holiday Inn Express hotels back then. If they traveled 15 miles a day, which is pushing it considering a child under the age of two, and the strong likelihood they had only one donkey, that is a journey of almost 30 days. You still have the unbearable desert heat and the strong possibility of bandits and other miscreants.
Suffice it to say, this was a dangerous journey. Not to mention they were traveling with a young child. Unlike our culture today where you move wherever work takes you, people did not move … ever. I am not just talking husband and wife, I mean generations did not move. So there is Joseph, in the middle of the night being told by an angel to pack up and travel 430 miles to a foreign land, a land he’s never been to, and the same land where his people were persecuted for 215 years. This is not exactly the first place I would think to go if my family was in danger. Again, Joseph did not ask how he was supposed to do this, he did not ask for directions. He just went.
A One-Way Ticket
The last thing I want to point out is that Joseph did not get a timeline. It was not, “Go to Egypt for 6 months,” it was, “… remain there until I tell you.” Can you imagine the conversation with your wife, “Hey, honey, an angel just told me we need to move to Fargo … tonight. I don’t have a job lined up yet and we’re gonna stay for a while … ish. Oh, and we probably shouldn’t wait until tomorrow because the police want to murder our son.” Joseph was a carpenter, this was a pretty lowly job back then. It is unlikely he had a nest egg just waiting for retirement. They lived job to job. If you cannot work, you cannot feed your family. There was no emergency fund laying around to cover three months of living expenses. This was a total and complete act of faith and obedience to the will of the Father.
Saint Joseph was a true man. He did exactly what the Lord asked of him every time and without delay. He lived the fourth commandment to the letter. He is a model of obedience that we should all aspire to more closely follow.
Here is my challenge to you: reflect on this story of Saint Joseph. Imagine yourself in his shoes. Now think about your own life and where you are being called to obedience. Remember that obedience extends beyond just our parents. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “This commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons” (2199). Pick something you have been ignoring, delaying or flat-out rejecting and do it. Do it for Saint Joseph. I think you will be surprised by the blessings.
Saint Joseph, Patron of Workers, pray for us.'
She ignored all oppositions from her family and friends. They warned her about him. But she ranted and raved, “If you do not agree to this marriage, then I will commit suicide. I cannot live without him!” At last, her family and friends relented. After twelve years and two children, she now says, “I cannot live with him for another second! I am disgusted with him.” When I heard her now ranting about all the faults and failings of her husband, I asked without hesitation, “Where is your first love?” She became silent and thoughtful.
In this season of Lent, the Church and the Lord ask us the same question, “Where is your first love?” Do we remember the joy and enthusiasm we had when we came to the renewal experience? We ardently wanted to work for God and began a journey for Him with fervor. Do we still have that enthusiasm? If not, where along the way did we lose it? When did our complaints begin? Do you still have that same overflowing and intense love for your spouse that you had in the early days of your marriage? Have you lost the love towards your parents and siblings that you once used to have? For those who have chosen an ascetic life with the Lord, have you lost that initial love? Have you grown tired of life? For those priests presiding at parishes, have you lost the interest you first had when you arrived at your new parish?
During Lent, we are all called to ponder the question, “Where is your first love?” If there is any loss of love towards the Lord, then I would venture that there will be a shortage of love in our human relationships as well. When we feel that disconnect from the Lord, then we open our hearts to be broken and battered by the problems that arise in our lives.
So what can we do? Return to our first love. Once we regain that love for the Lord that we used to have, our ascetic life will be sweet, you will not allow your marriage to collapse, and laziness and emptiness will disappear. The first love will fill us with fresh power. The Church and the Lord implore us this season to return to our first love in order to get back the joy and the peace which we have lost. The goal of fasting, prayers, and observation of other acts of penance during Lent will help us to return to the Lord. The Spirit of God says: Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first (Revelation 2:4-5).
You shall return by the help of your God, if you remain loyal and do right and always hope in your God (Hosea 12:7).
Prayer : Dear God, I am sorry for having lost my first love towards You in the anxieties of my life. The lack of love in my heart is the reason for all of my disgust, disappointments, and tiredness. Lord, I know that the lack of love in me magnifies what I believe are defects in others. God, fill me with the love with which I can overcome all obstacles. Let my first love towards You make me cheerful. Amen.'
Every day people drive their cars and there is nothing unusual about it. But if anyone meets with an accident, it turns into a matter for the news. Headlines appear in newspapers, posts in social media instigate discussions, and everyone talks about it.
It is quite ordinary when a husband and wife live together. But once they get divorced, it becomes the talk of the town. Soon enough, this news becomes a subject of gossip within the community.
Nowadays, we often find the news of murder, violence, fraud, corruption, and other vices getting more attention than anything that showcases the virtues of humanity. A disproportionate importance is given to the actions of evil in news media and even in our conversations. All this has a negative effect. The one who is constantly fed disturbing stories of evil will unknowingly slip into the thought that the world is full of evil and that most of the people in it are wicked. This thought can destroy every desire to grow in virtue and disappointment can sink deep in the mind.
This disappointment turns into hopelessness in life and with the world, and may eventually cause one to surrender to evil without ever putting up a fight. Make no mistake—this is the well thought out strategy of satan. He cunningly twists that which is virtuous and projects only evil, and thereby makes the world seem to think that he has the upper hand.
But the truth is, there are still lots of virtues in the world and we are surrounded by virtuous individuals. Even though satan has conquered many hearts, the Kingdom of God is growing fast. Many people around us shed His light of holiness, love, and truth. We are not alone. The Lord is doing everything for us to rejoice and hope in. We should open our eyes to His great works, we should speak about them and write about them. By doing this, our joy and the joy of the world will only increase. Virtues which lay hidden will be shown to the whole world.
Gossip is a sin which hinders the light of God. With fear we should remember the fact that each gossipmonger is a soldier in the empire of satan.
“Let all your conversation be about the law of the Lord” (Sirach 9:15).
“Cursed be gossips and the double tongued, for they destroy the peace of many” (Sirach 28:13).
Lord, I understand that those who see evil in others will be unable to love and rejoice fully. Teach me to realize that I fail to see virtues in the world because I fail to live a virtuous life. Help me, dear Lord, to recognize the evil of gossip as the sting of hatred from the terrible serpent in my heart. O Jesus, sanctify my heart in the fire of Your love. Let my heart be filled with Your virtues and let me become Your witness as I grow in virtue. Amen.'