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I will never forget one particular high-school youth group I attended where the minister was preaching on why you should not have sex before marriage. To make his point, he took out a piece of gum and started chewing. After a few moments, he spat the chewed gum into one hand, held out the fresh piece in his other hand and asked us, “Which piece would you rather have?”
The chewed piece of gum was meant to represent someone who had slept around; the fresh piece was someone who had saved sex for marriage. There is just one problem—you are not a piece of gum. The thing I hate about this analogy is that it implies that if you have gotten sexually intimate with someone before marriage, you are somehow worth less. But that is simply not true.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of Jewish religious leaders want to kill a woman who was caught committing sexual sin. They take her to Jesus and ask Him whether He thinks she should be stoned to death.
To the religious leaders, this girl is worthless. She is the piece of chewed gum. As far as they are concerned, the only thing this girl is good for is to prove a point about divine justice.
So, what does Jesus do? He calls out the religious leaders for treating this girl like she is nothing. He reminds them that every single one of them has screwed up at some point. His reply is, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they drop their stones and leave. When Jesus and the woman are alone, He turns to her and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin again.”
If you want to start over, God is not going to be up there thinking “Ha! You sinned! Off to Hell you go!” God is going to be thinking the same thing that God was thinking thousands of years ago, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God does not love us more when we are being good and less when we are not. God just loves us—unconditionally and always.
Often, though, the biggest barrier to starting over can be forgiving ourselves. Because past mistakes can be the source of a lot of pain, we generally do one of two things. We play them over and over again, obsessing on all the things that we could have done differently, or we try to sweep the memories under a mental rug and completely forget about them. Thinking about your mistakes to a certain extent is important, but only because you need to understand why it happened so that you do not make the same mistake twice. Beyond that, do not beat yourself up about the past. The most important day to Jesus is today.
Also, know that forgiveness is not a feeling. When you start over, you might not necessarily feel forgiven. The reality is that the pain of past mistakes will probably take a while to heal. But remember that the past is gone. God does not condemn you for it and you should not condemn yourself for it. You might have to tell yourself that you are forgiven 100 times the first day and the second day, but on the third day it will be a little less and even less each day thereafter. Until one day, you will be able to accept that you have been completely forgiven.
So, I think we need a new analogy. While every analogy is going to have its limitations, one I really like is the $100 bill. If I had a $100 bill, I could crumple it up, I could stomp on it, I could pass it round an auditorium filled with people, but at the end of the day, it would not be worth any less. It is still going to be worth $100. If you have gone through your fair share of mistakes and heartbreaks, do not ever believe you are worthless—and do not ever believe you cannot begin anew.
© is an under-graduate, studying theology and law at the University of Auckland. He lives in New Zealand, loves to surf and hopes to challenge youth to be everything God created them to be. Sam works part time with Real Talk, a Catholic organization that speaks in high schools on the topics of sex, relationships and personal identity. Originally published in www.chastityproject.com. Reprinted with permission.
A pillar of Benedictine spirituality is hospitality. According to the Rule of Saint Benedict, everyone, without exception, is to be received as Christ. As a novice oblate of Saint Benedict about to make my final oblation, I was convicted of breaking this iron-clad rule by two strangers on the night of December 12, 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After praying the evening office, I had just settled down to meditate when the doorbell sounded a clarion call I felt compelled to answer. Peering through the peephole, I recognized the face of a fellow Legion of Mary member whom I was planning to see later that evening at our weekly meeting. Brother Jack lived miles from my neighborhood in the opposite direction—alarmed, I opened the door. Instead of Jack, there stood a tall 30-something man with remarkably similar features but much longer, wavy brown hair reaching to his shoulders. In spite of the frigid weather, he was wearing only a long-sleeved black crewneck shirt and a striking gold cross that caught the porch light. His arms were at his sides, as if standing at attention, and his hands were empty. He smiled expectantly, his warm brown eyes silently regarding me through the glass of the unlocked storm door that still separated us, apparently waiting for me to open it and invite him in. I was too dumbstruck to speak—all I could do was smile back and, with flailing arms, motion him apologetically away. Instead of going away, his smile widened and, mimicking my gestures, he said, “What’s this? Signing? I can do that.” Feeling foolish, I shook my head and slowly shut the door. As it closed, he said reproachfully, “Thanks for your hospitality!” Ouch. I may as well have slammed the door in his face. Where were my manners? What was I afraid of? Being taken away from something on my agenda or being asked to do something I did not want to do? Ashamed, I opened the door to call him back, but it was too late—the stranger had already vanished into the night, leaving no calling card or flyer in sight. I attempted to resume meditating, but my rhythm was off and my mantra, “Come, Lord Jesus,” rang hollow. Instead, I decided to visit the adoration chapel before my meeting, instead. Contrite in His Holy Presence, I read, then re-read, Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” meditation that someone had handed me earlier at Mass. Though I thirsted for Jesus, did Jesus really thirst for a sinner like me? Stretching out my arms toward the monstrance, I whispered: “Come, Lord Jesus, come back to me,” but it was already time to leave for my meeting. As I made a quick stop to my car, a middle-aged man bearing a bouquet of roses approached with a question in Spanish. Smiling apologetically, I explained that I did not speak Spanish—a convenient excuse for avoiding conversation. Then he asked in perfect English if I knew where he could get water for the flowers. Caught off guard, I shook my head and repeated my excuse—now an inexcusable brush off. As I turned away, he said reproachfully, “I speak all languages.” Nailed again! I wanted to turn around and ask for another chance, but I knew this was my other chance and I had blown it, big time. Ashamed, I fled to my meeting. Why had I not been helpful? Why had I not suggested the restrooms in the building where I was headed? Of what was I afraid? Being late for a meeting I knew could easily start without me? Being judged unfavorably for tardiness? Though I arrived on time, a goal I had been working on recently, self-congratulations, seemed cheap, won at the expense of fragile flowers, obviously meant to honor Our Lady on her feast day. As I pondered both encounters on the way home, all my petty sins became magnified in the harsh light of my selfish neglect of those flowers. Did Jesus really thirst for a sinner like me? Parked in my driveway, I wept at the hardness of my heart. Upon entering my house, my spirits were lifted by the surprise of Christmas lights my daughter had strung in the foyer. A little flower had been added to a vase which, only hours ago, had contained a few sprigs of red berries. On closer inspection, it was a rose—a spotless red rose with a stunning head of velvety petals! My daughter confessed that a mysterious woman had dropped it at the metro station; before my daughter could return it, the lady had vanished into the rush-hour crowd. I said no worries. The tiny rose, an advent symbol of the baby Jesus—sprung from the root of Jesse through the stem of Mary—welcomed her hospitality, while I welcomed another chance to offer mine. Over the next few weeks, I cared for the thirsty rose, replenishing its vase frequently, enjoying its sweetness and beauty. I also became a better servant of the moment, stepping up in an emergency to lead the next Legion of Mary meeting, offering a parishioner a ride home from Mass in an unexpected snowstorm and wishing a telemarketer a blessed evening, despite my interrupted prayer time. On Epiphany Sunday, the day of my final oblation, the rose was still lovely, remarkably preserved after 24 days. Though still unworthy of the promise to dedicate myself to the service of God and others according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, I was ready to make it, renewed through my belief in the “Rose E’re Blooming’s” infinite thirst for a sinner like me.
It seems like a pretty insensitive question. The disciples come across a person who had been blind from birth and ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus, of course, sets them straight. This guy is not blind because he sinned. He is blind so that the work of God might be made manifest in him. And then—BOOM—Jesus heals him. Blindness, disease, misfortune—when we encounter these things it is not God sending down his wrath because we have been bad. God does not work that way. Jesus comes to bring life, to breathe healing. In this fallen and imperfect world, God allows us to experience trials and misfortune so that His work might be made manifest in us. But what about when Jesus does not heal? Redemptive suffering, you say. It is the correct answer, but it is not an easy one. The whole point of this Christianity thing is that the path to heaven is the cross. We will all come to Calvary. We will all suffer. Yet, because of the Cross—because of Jesus— our suffering can have meaning. Our suffering is a part of our sanctification. It is meant to be offered up to Jesus in order to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). Knowledge of this fact may not make the chemo easier or the grief hurt less, but at least, because of Jesus, we can do something with our suffering. We can give our hurt to Jesus. Not to make it hurt less, but to allow it to be used for good. Still, it is a bit difficult grappling with the fact that the same Jesus who healed the blind man sometimes allows us to continue in our blindness, our sickness or our pain without manifesting His power through a miraculous healing. Yet I also know that Jesus does not owe me anything. I know that on this side of heaven there will always be suffering. I really do not presume God to grant me miracles to reward my good behavior, and I know my struggles are not Jesus punishing me for bad behavior. Sometimes bad things just happen. But if I am being totally honest, sometimes my “God doesn’t owe me anything” attitude has less to do with faith than it does with just not trusting God all that much. I spout off fancy, two-dollar phrases like, “Redemptive Suffering,” while on the inside, I am asking with the disciples, “Jesus, who sinned? Why did this have to happen?” After all, God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike? What, then, is even the point in praying? Is it all just essentially “points” and chugging along so that you can end up in the right place when you die? When my knee-jerk reaction to suffering or trials is, “Well, God doesn’t owe me anything,” I think there is something sort of “off” in my relationship with God. The statement itself is true. God does not owe me anything. He has already given me everything and then some. Yet, God loves me with the love of the Father. When I am crushed in spirit, His response is never simply, “Well, remember, I don’t owe you anything, Mary.” It might not be in His perfect will to take my suffering away in the way that I am praying for, but it is not out of contempt or forgetfulness on God’s part that miracles appear to not come. It is out of love. God understands my pain. He wants me to draw near to Him in times of trial, not as some kind of test of my love for Him, but because He has a plan and purpose for every moment of my life. God causes all things to work together for my good—my ultimate good, yes, but the seldom spoken truth is that my ultimate good and my immediate good are actually not in opposition to one another. I once heard a priest (I think it was Father John Riccardo) say that the only thing that is going to happen at the end of our lives/at the end of time is that the veil separating us from seeing things as they truly are will be pulled away. It will not be that we suddenly will not remember the events in our lives that caused us great pain, we will just finally see them in their fullness. We will see where God was and what He was doing in our lives’ greatest trials. We will see that God never abandoned us, not even in our weakest moments, He was drawing us closer to Himself. We will finally see all the ways in which God has made His work manifest in us, even in those times in which it seemed He left us in our blindness. We should never tire of praying for miracles; we can be assured that God is always, always at work within us.
Do you ever feel numb or helpless because of all the problems the world faces each day? One only has to watch the news or follow the events of the day online to feel completely overwhelmed. Some of the challenges facing the world include ever-increasing threats to our Catholic faith. The Church is being accosted on all sides and the culture wars are raging. Christians are being persecuted and even murdered around the world. We are locked in an ongoing series of ongoing battles over abortion, euthanasia, marriage and immigration. The Church battled the evil of satanic “black masses” in Boston and Oklahoma City over the last few years and we have just emerged from the most divisive political season in recent memory. There is a crisis in vocations to the priesthood and in some areas of our country, parishes are nearly empty. These are real issues which demand a response. What Can We Do? How Do We Engage? Unfortunately, many of us succumb to feelings of indifference and apathy rather than get involved. We may think to ourselves that somebody else will take care of these problems as we have enough to handle already or believe the issues do not really affect us. At times, it feels to me like we are living in an isolated little town of our own making called Apathy-ville. How Did We Get Here? If we take a candid look around us, it is obvious that we live in a consumer-driven, materialistic society. Advertisers bombard us with messages about how our lives can be so much better if we only had the latest gadget or toy. Additionally, over the last few years, we have seen unparalleled growth in the federal government and its subtle, but ever-growing influence over the economy, healthcare and education, as well as moral issues such as abortion and marriage. It seems that so many of us have wrongly placed our faith in material things, the government and ourselves, instead of in Christ and His Church. Political correctness has seeped into our collective consciousness like a disease and made us fearful of saying and doing what is necessary to defend our faith and stand up for what is right and true. If we tolerate everything, it leads one to think that we likely stand for nothing. “I don’t want to offend” often translates into “I am not willing to defend.” As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” They Said It Best To stimulate more self-awareness and reflection on how we may have arrived in Apathy-ville, I have listed below some quotes which I hope will challenge all of us, make us question our actions and serve as a catalyst for different behaviors. Let us be honest as we ask ourselves if any of these quotes apply to us. ◗ “Everyone who acknowledges Me before others I will acknowledge before My heavenly Father. But whoever denies Me before others, I will deny before My heavenly Father” (Matthew 10:32-33). ◗ “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelations 3:16). ◗ “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). ◗ “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought” (Pope Saint John Paul II). ◗ “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). ◗ “Faced with today’s problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility. Escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape” (Pope Saint John Paul II). ◗ “Really, most of us live below the level of our energy. And in order to be happy, we have to do more. Now, we can do more, spiritually and every other way ... so you see how important it is to have in the mind to do all that you can. To work to the limit of your ability. Our world is really suffering from indifference. Indifference is apathy, not caring. I wonder maybe if our Lord does not suffer more from our indifference, than He did from the Crucifixion” (Venerable Fulton Sheen). How Do We Respond? What Can We Do? First of all, we cannot stand on the sidelines and watch. We also must believe that one person can make a difference! At times it seems we have lost our way and forgotten or ignored the teachings of the Church. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia offers this insight which cuts to the heart of the matter in his excellent book, “Render Unto Caesar” (page 197): “What needs to be done by Catholics today for their country? The answer is: do not lie. If we say we are Catholic, we need to prove it. America’s public life needs people willing to stand alone, without apologies, for the truth of the Catholic faith and the common human values it defends. One person can make a difference—if that individual has a faith he or she is willing to suffer for.” Are we willing to suffer for our faith? What sacrifices are we willing to make to follow the teachings of the Church? Are There Good Examples For Us to Follow? The good news is we have many examples to emulate, ranging from the numerous pro-life groups who pray outside abortion clinics to the Bishops who are challenging government leaders over religious freedom, same-sex marriage and reforming our immigration laws. Some of the greatest examples may be our friends and neighbors who pray constantly for the Church in the quiet of their homes, who write letters to their government representatives and devote time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer for the blessing of the Church and Pope Francis. There are also those who offer financial and personal support to those in critical need. Also, remember our priests and the incredible job they do in serving their parishes. We clearly have examples to follow, but far too many of us have only been watching, tolerating and … turning away. Two Important Things to Remember Is simply being Catholic enough to motivate everyone to authentically embrace the responsibilities of our faith? One would hope so, but perhaps we need these additional reminders: We all received the call to holiness at our baptism. “The call to holiness is rooted in baptism and proposed anew in the other sacraments, principally in the Eucharist. Since Christians are re-clothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by His Spirit, they are ‘holy.’ They therefore have the ability to manifest this holiness and the responsibility to bear witness to it in all that they do. The apostle Paul never tires of admonishing all Christians to live ‘as is fitting among saints’” (Ephesians 5:3) (Pope Saint John Paul II, Christifideles Laici 16). We are made for Heaven, not this place. ”The big, blazing truth about man is that he has a heaven-sized hole in his heart and nothing else can fill it. We pass our lives trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. As Saint Augustine said, ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Peter Kreeft). “We must always remind ourselves that we are pilgrims until we arrive at our heavenly homeland, and we must not let our affections delay us in the roadside inns and lands through which we pass, otherwise we will forget our destination and lose interest in our final goal.” (Saint Ignatius of Loyola). “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis). Please reflect carefully on these two points as we can clearly see how to conduct ourselves on our faith journeys (the call to holiness) and our final destination (heaven). As Catholics, we are set apart and therefore are not to allow ourselves to be assimilated into the surrounding culture. It requires courage, trials and often loneliness to walk this path, but we know what our final reward will be if we embrace our calling. 5 Ways to Escape from Apathy-ville How do we escape Apathy-ville? First, we need to acknowledge that perhaps our personal response (and indifference) to the challenges the Church faces is woefully inadequate. Second, we must truly desire to do something about it. I have quoted the teaching of Our Lord and the wisdom of the saints and others in an effort to illuminate the right path. I have reminded us of the call to holiness which we received at our baptism and that we are all made for heaven and not this place. What else do we require to leave Apathy-ville? Here are five tips: Stop practicing cafeteria Catholicism. We cannot pick and choose what we believe and still be authentically Catholic. Follow the Magisterium and authentically practice our faith, trusting that two millennia of Church history and teaching are far superior to what we may come up with on our own. “Be Catholic, really, faithfully, unapologetically Catholic and the future will have the kind of articulate and morally mature leaders it needs.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput) We cannot explain or defend what we do not know. We may be indifferent to challenges the Church faces because we do not understand them. We may believe the lies and half-truths being said about Catholicism because we have forgotten or never bothered to learn the truth of what the Church teaches. Poor faith formation for a generation of Catholics is one of the biggest problems the Church faces today. We have to study our faith—the Bible, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, parish adult education and a number of online resources are readily available. Prayer is the key. We cannot remain apathetic about Christ and His Church if we are conversing with Him in prayer each day. Most indifferent Catholics I have encountered are struggling in their prayer lives and yet, turning our thoughts to Him in prayer, thanking Him and asking for His help can be so easy if we will only surrender and acknowledge that we cannot do it alone. Put our pride aside. Peter Kreeft wrote: “The national anthem of Hell is ‘I did it my way.” It must take a pretty big ego to show indifference to Christ and His Church! What we need is more humility and a sincere commitment to put Christ’s will before our own. I know from personal experience that doing it my way has never really worked out well. Know the enemy. We rarely hear this in homilies these days and little is written about it in contemporary books or articles, but who stands to gain the most by our apathy toward defending the Church? The devil is the clear winner. Read the Book of Revelation to see the similarities between modern times and the prophetic visions of Saint John, or heed the words of Saint (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina: “Temptations, discouragement and unrest are the wares offered by the enemy. Remember this: if the devil makes noise, it is a sign that he is still outside and not yet within. That which must terrify us is his peace and concord with the human soul. That which comes from Satan begins with calmness and ends in storm, indifference and apathy.” What could be said about resisting an indifferent attitude toward our Catholic faith would fill several volumes and much more needs to be written and discussed on this subject. My goal is simply to grab your attention, if only for a few minutes, and tell you we are in trouble if we do not step up in defense of mother Church. You may ask yourself what gives me the right to challenge you and everyone else about being apathetic. To put it simply, I am just like many of you. I am human and I have my struggles with this problem as well. But, I also know full well we cannot continue looking to others to fight issues counter to the teachings of the Church. What is going on matters to us, our children, our friends, neighbors, the entire world. The last train is ready to leave Apathy-ville, will we be on board? Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Do you know what really bugs me about Advent? Or rather, the way people approach advent? Everyone skips to the end. We are happy about the fact that Jesus was born but even then we are honoring His birth mostly in terms of how His life ended. It makes sense that we do. Freeing us from sin is the reason He came to earth in the first place, so it is understandable to want to skip to the part where He fulfills this purpose. We have all of lent for that. What is there to take out of advent? Something that really hit me recently is that Christ’s first miracle was becoming a baby. His First Sacrifice He performed a lot of miracles, but the first was to become a child. He gave many sacrifices, but the first thing He sacrificed was self-sufficiency. When I was a little kid, my two goals in life were to be an adult and to be perfect. Easy, right? I went out of my way to show my teachers and my parents that I was more than capable of taking care of everything myself. My proudest moment in kindergarten was being left in charge of a classroom of my peers at five years old. I had decided that grownups were self-sufficient, as they should be, and as such, if I wanted to be mature, I could never ask for help. From anyone. Ever. Something I was missing was that there was a lot more to Jesus’s life prior to public ministry and death. Just like what many do with advent, I glanced over the beginning and wanted only the end. Heaven was the goal, but I forgot that the journey still happens on earth. Jumping to the End I wanted to be like the saints who so often seem strong and tough, ready to die a martyr for God. I wanted to make the biggest sacrifices and fight the roughest battles. Though I had good intentions, this quickly turned into an intense fear of needing people. I told myself that things like friendship and love were luxuries, so I hardly needed them; I could accomplish more and be stronger with independence. Slowly but surely, I began pushing things down, believing this was a necessary sacrifice to make in order to be who God wanted me to be. But I could not sustain it. Eventually, this strategy of mine began to crumble as the secrets and unexpressed emotions piled up and up until they burst. When they finally did, I found myself on my knees, sobbing to God, begging Him to help me. I needed my Father. Since that prayer, God has been slowly teaching me that it is okay to be vulnerable sometimes and it is okay to need help. Even so, I still fall into the old trap. I look at the cross and I want so badly to emulate Him right now that I put the weight of the world on my shoulders. Four years after that desperate prayer, I found myself on my knees again, this time filled with anxiety and crying to God that I cannot do it—I cannot be holy, I cannot be like Him. In my mind, I replay all the times I failed. All the times I had been selfish. All the times I had snapped at my friends. All the times I had sinned. I wanted to spread joy, but sometimes I needed help with my own problems. I wanted to be kind, but I still snapped at people. One day I could not imagine putting anything before heaven and the next I spent hours preoccupied with temptations. One day I thought I would never waver and the next it took an hour to convince myself to pray. I believed that God had a plan for me, but the plan was too unattainable; I was never going to get it right. Inevitably, I would let Him down. Awaiting Baby Jesus Then I thought of Baby Jesus—long before His miracle working, long before His preaching, long before His passion, He chose what His first act would be and He chose to become a child, a child that would need to slowly grow up, nurtured by the love of His family. Christ did not jump straight to the Passion, so why do I? I might not be holy enough to die for Him but, fortunately, He gave me a much more attainable first step. I remember to go back to the beginning and always start with the first step. Who I am can be pretty messy and, yes, vulnerable, but that is who God made me to be. If vulnerable is where Jesus started, then it is a pretty great starting place for me.
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