Lots of different images come to my mind when I think of the word “home”—first, the house where I live with my parents in the northern suburbs of Brisbane: the sloped driveway, incessant plover birds, our dog Chief barking at five in the morning and the smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. I then think of our old house in western Australia. That still feels like home in an odd way. I can still close my eyes and mentally walk the streets of the entire suburb of Waikiki, where I grew up five minutes from the beach.
I also think of my new wife, Katelyn, and our long- realized dream of having our own physical space all to ourselves, together at last! That surely feels like home, a new and exciting home as husband and wife.
Finally, I think of my church. I think of my local parish on a Sunday morning, alive with the familiar face of community, coffee cups tinkling, Father’s old jokes that only half make sense, the smell of snags on the BBQ, a simple gathering raising some money for the youth group or an upcoming mission trip or the local Vinnies conference.
I think of my office in that same parish, where I work—the ladies from the front desk always offering me a cup of tea or coffee even though I have never said yes; children with big eyes tapping on the window asking for lollipops.
For me, the notion of home calls up all these images and places. What feels like home to you? Maybe it is a certain place, a familiar smell or just a feeling you get. If you had told me just a few years ago that I would find a home in the Catholic Church, I may have laughed at you! Me, finding a home in organized religion?
You Will Know They Are Christian By Their Love
How did this happen? Great question! The easiest and most honest answer is people.
In my younger, rebellious days (I am still rebellious, I promise) the people around me heavily influenced the choices I made. In some cases, this led me down some dark paths, and the wounds of those choices are still healing today. My biggest fear was that I would not have a home, not have people, a place or something identifiable to which to truly belong.
When I moved across the country from Perth to Brisbane that need intensified. This new place was definitely not home. The same pattern emerged—the people around me heavily influenced the choices I made because I wanted to feel at home, no matter the choices I made, unhealthy or not.
The deep desire underneath the unhealthy choices was not bad—all of us want a place to belong. Even if you are the type of person who cannot live in one place for more than five minutes, there surely is a place where your heart and soul come to rest, like a piano resolving the chord. My heart was stuck on a discord, trying desperately to resolve, to find peace and rest.
It was there I encountered people of faith. People who were confident in themselves but accepted me where I was in life. People who never shied away from drawing out the best in me, through their example, their encouragement and their honesty.
The Church is, after all, made up of people. As I became more involved in the young community of awesome faith leaders mixed in with people my own age who were experiencing life in similar ways to me, I slowly began to feel that odd, familiar feeling that happens when you just know this is where your heart belongs. I started to feel like I had a home in the Catholic Church.
Home Is Where God’s Heart Is
Ultimately, it was through the people I encountered, the very church itself, that I developed a personal relationship with God. This is God’s heart, to be in relationship with us. If the Church is the people, then God’s home is with His Church, in the hearts of His people.
In the home, I found in the Church, I am fed and nourished by the Eucharist. Jesus is waiting for me all the time in that special room of God’s house. In this home, my faults and failings do not define me, and they are not swept under the rug either. At any time, I can go to a priest and directly, humanly experience divine mercy and forgiveness. In this home, I am surrounded by a community of friends and family who support, encourage and challenge me, who ultimately want the best for me, and who are on their own faith journey alongside me. We grow in this home together, in God’s heart as a family. Oftentimes, I get angry at this new home of mine, at how it is run in certain areas. I might fight or argue with brothers and sisters living under the same roof. Or (and this is both a metaphor and a habit) I might leave the house entirely and come back quietly at some early hour of the morning. Whatever the case may be, I know that my heart still rests with God and that my home will always be with His people, the Church.
My encouragement for anybody new to the faith, unsure about the Church or even considering what having a relationship with God looks like is to get to know the people. Millions of people living and billions of people past have found a home in the Church. God finds His home in our hearts. Find your home in His heart—He resides in the hearts of His people, who are the Church. Knock anytime!
is a presenter for Real Talk Australia and is studying for a bachelor of secondary education. Matt and his wife Katelyn are happily awaiting the birth of their first child in April of this year.
If chivalry is not already dead, then at the very least, it seems to have passed its expiration date. Gone are the days of the chivalrous knight in his shining armor—a knight who would slay any number of dragons to rescue a beautiful princess. A knight who would pull out a throne for the princess to sit upon during the following banquet, pay the full bill for said banquet and then, at the end of the evening, walk said princess back to the portcullis of her own castle. For many men, their reluctance to display chivalrous behaviour is linked to a concern that women now view such acts as embarrassing or even insulting. The notion that chivalry is sexist is a belief subscribed to in many branches of feminism. Chivalry, it is claimed, relies on a gendered premise that women are weak and need protection. Thus, while chivalry might be benevolent (at best), ultimately it just puts down women. In part, I think this problem with chivalry stems from a reluctance to actively recognize the differences that exist between the sexes. It is argued that chivalry is unnecessary—because if men and women are equal then there should be no substantial difference between the way men behave toward women and the way women behave toward men. This kind of thinking confuses equality with sameness. In reality, while men and women are certainly equal in dignity, we are not the same. One of the most obvious differences is physical strength. A quick glance at a Belarussian female power lifter would reveal that strength is not the exclusive domain of men, but even so this trait has always been associated with masculinity. Strength has been an important aspect of chivalry since the middle ages, when knights would swear an oath to defend to their uttermost the weak, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. Chivalry was fundamentally about men using their strength to serve and protect others. To be sure, this argument would be a lot easier to make if I was a sixth-century knight driving off hordes of invaders who sought to burn and pillage. These days, there are very few women out there who actually require a man’s physical strength to get a door open or pull out a chair. But there is a deeper symbolic significance to these acts. At this point, I want to share a story from the life of Samuel Proctor, a 20th-century Christian minister. One day, Proctor was in an elevator and a young woman entered, so he tipped his hat to her. She was offended and responded by asking, “What is that supposed to mean?” to which Proctor replied, “Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things: that I would not harm you in any way; that if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you; that if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that so, instead, I just tipped my hat. Ultimately, chivalry is not about performing certain courteous acts; it is about a mindset of respect. A man should not perform chivalrous acts for women because he thinks “they can’t do it themselves.” He should perform such acts out of love and service. This point is particularly important as we seek to address our culture’s huge problem with the objectification of women. Chivalry places a very special emphasis on the way men treat their female counterparts. The chivalrous man is called to uphold the value of women as human persons, not as objects for his pleasure. To all of my female readers, I think that one of the saddest aspects of the disrespectful behavior some men exhibit toward the opposite sex is that far too many women tolerate it. In a society where this tolerance exists, alongside a widespread male perception that chivalrous acts are offensive, it is not surprising that the way men relate to women has degenerated. However, a woman who sets her standards high will be far more likely to attract men who are willing to meet them. You deserve chivalrous men in your life, men who will respect you and authentically care for you. Do not give up on that. Do not settle for less. And to the male readers: Saint Josemaria Escriva once said, “There is a need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.” Live a life that demonstrates chivalry. Make your stand.
What can you do if you believe that depressive feelings keep you from living a productive life? You could look forward to a time when medicine and psychology may discover a real cure for your illness. That may be a long way off. In the meantime, you could look back several centuries to imitate the example of a 17th-century French saint who battled with feelings of depression, but nonetheless lived a remarkably successful life. Saint Jane de Chantal (1572–1641) was a marvellous person who excelled in a succession of callings—wife and mother, manager of a large estate, widow and single parent, founder of a religious community and spiritual adviser to thousands of women. To get an idea of what de Chantal was like, imagine a lovely woman who combined the organizational skills of Elizabeth Dole, the charismatic charm of Oprah Winfrey and the practical spirituality of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The remarkable thing about de Chantal is that she accomplished so much all the while suffering from depressive feelings most of her adult life. De Chantal was madly in love with her soldier husband, Christophe. She dates the onset of her life-long depression from the hunting accident that killed him in 1601, “A few months after I became a widow,” she later recalled, “it pleased God that my whole being should be beset by so many different, distressing temptations that, if He in His mercy had not taken pity on me, I am sure I should have perished in the fury of that storm, for I could get almost no relief from this anxiety, and I lost so much weight that I became quite unlike myself—you would hardly have recognized me.” The temptations that hit de Chantal while she was mourning would crop up repeatedly throughout her life. She never specified the content of these troubling thoughts, except that she once described them as “suggestions of blasphemy, infidelity and unbelief.” We know only that doubts about faith, probably indistinct and formless, and fear of displeasing God often tormented her. De Chantal suffered this affliction for four decades. De Chantal's agony seems to be like the lifelong suffering of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. The recent publication of the saint of Calcutta’s correspondence shocked the world by revealing that for half a century she felt abandoned by God. Mother Teresa’s spiritual directors believe that God allowed her to endure the cross of this perpetual darkness as a way of relating to and praying for the suffering poor she served. de Chantal does not tell us enough to allow a detailed comparison of her anguish to that of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, except that she, also, suffered for many years. It seems, given her symptoms of sadness, doubt, weight loss, excessive guilt and indecisiveness that de Chantal experienced a form of depression. Through the years de Chantal learned some ways to deal with her depressive feelings. Her wise choices brought her some relief and made her emotional pain endurable. Although her prescription for depression did not cure her illness, it enabled her to live a very productive life. Consider with me the key elements of her effective approach to her problem: trusting God, relying on the support of friends, disciplining her negative thoughts and serving others. Trusting God From the onset of de Chantal’s depression, a light shone in her darkness. Amid the crush of doubt and fear, she recognized the Lord’s invitation to rely on Him to get her through the pain. She came to believe that He was allowing her troubles so she made a heartfelt decision to embrace His will. “O Lord Jesus,” she prayed, “I surrender to you all my will. Let me be your lute. Touch any string You please. Always and forever let me make music in perfect harmony with your own. Yes, Lord, with no ifs, ands or buts let Your will be done in me.” De Chantal’s relationship with Christ brought her moments of joy, but the reprieve was always temporary. Her depressive feelings would often return with a vengeance. Yet, Shel never abandoned her trust in God. Toward the end of her life she said, “I’ve had these temptations for 41 years now—do you think I’m going to give up after all this time? Absolutely not. I’ll never stop hoping in God. If I can keep from offending God in spite of all this, then I am content with whatever it may please Him to allow me to suffer, even if I must suffer for the rest of my life. I want only to do it knowing that He wants me to and that in suffering I am being faithful to Him.” Relying on the Support of Friends De Chantal developed healthy relationships with friends who supported her. Chief among these was Saint Francis de Sales (1567–1622). In 1604, de Chantal first encountered de Sales during lent at Dijon, France, where he was preaching daily sermons. When she heard him on Ash Wednesday, she sensed that God had sent him to help her with her trials. For the next six weeks de Chantal checked her eagerness to pour out her heart to de Sales and engaged him only in light conversations. By Wednesday in Holy Week she felt compelled to seek de Sales’ counsel. She unburdened herself to him with great relief. Over the next several months, de Sales gently encouraged de Chantal to abandon herself to God and pay no attention to her doubts. Finally, late in the summer he became her spiritual director. “O Lord, how happy that day was for me!” she said. “I could feel my soul turn completely around and step right out of its inner imprisonment.” The two saints became fast friends. Until his death in 1622, de Sales’ care enabled de Chantal to experience a degree of spiritual freedom and inner peace. But even with the encouragement of her great friend, she still had to battle her troubling thoughts. Disciplining Negative Thoughts Early in their relationship de Sales told de Chantal that her temptations distressed her because she dreaded them. And that if she thought less of them, they could not harm her. He summed up his counsel with this memorable example: Recently I was near the beehives, and some bees flew onto my face. I wanted to raise my hand to brush them off. “No,” a peasant said to me. “Don’t be afraid and don’t touch them. They won’t sting you unless you touch them.” I trusted him and not one stung me. Trust me, do not fear these temptations, do not touch them and they will not hurt you. De Chantal embraced this wisdom and applied it as best she could. But sometimes her doubts swarmed her like bees and while she tried not to touch them, their noisy buzzing still tormented her. Paradoxically, de Chantal used this advice to help many women to stop being hard on themselves. She just seems to have been unable to extend the same kindness to herself. Serving Others Throughout her life, de Chantal devoted herself to serving others. This selfless, outward focus brought her some measure of healing for her depression. After Christophe’s untimely death she spent herself in care for her children. For seven years she unselfishly managed the household of her mean and inconsiderate father-in-law. In 1610, de Chantal collaborated with de Sales in founding a religious community for women. That year she and two other women opened the first convent of the Sisters of the Visitation of Mary in Annecy, the town that served de Sales as his base. Propelled by de Chantal’s charism and inspired by de Sales’ guidance, within a few years the new order attracted many members. The community spread quickly throughout all France. Building this new religious order consumed de Chantal’s energy for the next three decades. The road was not easy, as de Chantal had to deal constantly with poverty, inadequate housing, sickness, internal conflicts, slander and opposition. Before her death in 1641 she had established 87 Visitation convents. She criss crossed France in arduous journeys to encourage the nuns in person. Appropriately, de Chantal became known as Mother de Chantal as she tenderly mothered her sisters as her own daughters. The community surrounded de Chantal with women whom she loved. Caring for them took attention away from her problems. Not a Cure-All Anyone who wants to find some relief from depression could imitate these elements in de Chantal’s example: ◗ Trust the Lord; ◗ Maintain wholesome relationships with friends; ◗ Refuse to fear or engage troubling thoughts; and ◗ Divert attention away from your problems by reaching out to others. This prescription is not a cure-all and it is not a substitute for professional help. Anyone who has signs of depression, should seek a medical assessment. If a doctor has prescribed medications, de Chantal, who had a real concern for people, would want him to continue taking them. Following de Chantal’s example, however, will reduce the impact of depressive feelings. Depressed persons may find it difficult to trust God, but they should keep on praying, even if it sometimes seems that no one is listening. That is what Mother Teresa and de Chantal did. People may sometimes fail to shun destructive thoughts but, like de Chantal, they should work at ignoring those buzzing tempters. Sufferers of depressed feelings may find a measure of relief by spending time with people who love them and by reaching out to people in need. Wise application of these principles and medical advice, will help a person struggling with depressive feelings live more successfully, as it did for de Chantal.
I really did not want another cesarean (“C”)-section. I asked everyone I knew (and even those I did not know) to pray, that I would be able to avoid the procedure that had lengthened my recovery period so dramatically after having my twins (only 15 months ago). I enlisted all my favorite saints and assured new saint recruits that they would be listed among my favorites in gratitude for their intercession. Saint Therese sent me a rose to let me know she had my back and my little ones added their powerful intercessory prayer to every family rosary. But in the end, God said no. Every factor that needed to fall into place to allow for an attempted vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) fell through. I had been given little glimpses of hope, contractions starting the morning I needed them to but stopping instead of intensifying. Every spark of hope became a source of torture, like someone holding an iced cappuccino (my severe prego craving) in front of my face and whisking it away just as I reached out for it. I stared at the rose from Saint Therese and almost wished I could send it back. I was hurt and felt so abandoned by a Heavenly Father who had so often given me more than I deserved. How could He say no to something that would clearly be better for my family and me? Why would He want to increase my suffering? I knew He loved me, so it pained me knowing that the Lord of my heart, the One who could easily move mountains and make paths in the desert, was choosing not to move this baby out in a way that would be less traumatic for my body and would end up laying a heavier burden on my family. "I can't believe He's not answering my prayer," I told my husband. My husband's response was, "He always answers our prayers." My eyes were burning with tears at that point. "But His answer is no, so it doesn't really feel like an 'answered prayer.'" Then God brought me to the garden of Gethsemane, at least mentally. Every time I prayed my mind was filled with the image of Christ begging His Father to save Him from the suffering that lay ahead—praying and weeping with such intensity that His sweat and tears became drops of blood. "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42). And so I wanted to joyfully pick up my cross and follow Him, but I could not—because I am weak, because I hate pain, because I liked my plan for how things should go MUCH more than the plan God had for me. I was comforted to see that even Christ could cry out with the voice of humanity and be struggling with the sacrifice He was being called to make, but I realized fully being His follower would mean that I also would have to say, "Thy will be done," and find a way to offer the trial at hand for the good of others. Do not laugh at me, but first I needed to grieve. I had to grieve the loss of MY will. As pathetic as it may seem, I went through the five stages of grief within two days. I experienced denial, fantasizing about secretly giving birth at home or devising some sort of plan to avoid the inevitable. I hit up the anger stage. I was so mad and frustrated that I took it out on ... well, puzzle pieces. Usually, when I would find the kids' stray puzzle pieces I would locate the proper box and put them away but not this time! I took those babies and whipped them into the recycling bin, "HA! Say bye, bye!" (I know pretty lame, but we do have too many incomplete puzzles). I bargained with God (along with all my enlisted saints) and assured Him I would write a very flattering blog about how He always comes through in the end, if He would just make a way for me. Next, I just gave up and entered the depression stage where I cried hard, distanced myself from everyone and generally felt sorry for myself. Finally, I reached the coveted stage of acceptance and here is where I began to ask those around me if there was something that was weighing on their hearts for which I could offer my disappointment and impending recovery period. I offered my pain in hearing no from God and asked if He would in turn say yes to the other women I knew who were hoping for a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), as well as all those women who were praying for safe and healthy deliveries. Because in the end, God's ‘no’ to one thing is often a huge ‘yes’ to something else. A friend of mine who prayed for years that God would fill her womb with a child was met with a firm ‘no’, but elsewhere another woman was bringing several children into the world (in spite of not being able to care for them) and those children are now in my friend's arms. Had God said ‘yes’ to her, in her desire to mother her own biological children, she would never have considered adopting the little ones God had intended for her. I do not fully understand why God said ‘no’ to me. I know there is a ‘yes’ somewhere. Perhaps I would have ruptured if I had attempted the VBAC, which could have caused serious harm to our newest little member, Callista Therese (I obviously got over my disappointment regarding the rose), or me. I may never know the reason, but I do think that in surrendering my will, perhaps I was able to offer more than I otherwise could have. Thanks be to God, Callista arrived safely in May twentieth. Being the month of Mary, I am grateful to have been able to follow the example of Our Lady in her submission to God's will, that I could come to echo her fiat: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to Thy word" (Luke 1:38).
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.
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