Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Feast of St. Agnes of Assisi

Photo courtesy of Google Images
I haven't written in this space for a while. Life takes it turns and has its season as they say -- it has neither been my turn nor my season to use this place for writing my thoughts recently.

Today, however, is the Feast of St. Agnes of Assisi, and this brings to mind a dear friend whose mom's name was Agnes. To hear her speak of her mom and the trials she endured toward the end of her life reminds me so much of her patroness; she lived her example well.

My friend's mom had a neurological degenerative disorder like Parkinson's Disease. It left her sound in mind, but limited in ability to control her body and function independently -- eventually it left her bedridden. But, as my friend describes Agnes, you get a sense that she was deeply faithful, incredibly strong, and understood that God's mercy sends the grace of resilience.

St. Agnes did not give up easily either. She followed her sister, St. Clare, into the monastery against her family's wishes. They tried to remove her forcibly without success. God provided supernatural assistance to make her too heavy to carry and temporarily paralyzed an uncle who also attempted to remove her. Agnes would do God's will alone.

And so it was with my friend's mom; debilitated or not, she would stubbornly cling to what she knew to be true -- her faith and her free will. She would do what she could for as long as she could with a tenacity that can only be derived supernaturally. She did indeed imitate this dear saint.

Today, I reflect on this as Western culture struggles with end of life issues; the value and dignity of life in it's last stages. St. Agnes -- who was responsible for establishing many convents that bore the name of her sister, St. Clare, and was saddened by being separated from her sister for so long in this world -- suffered bravely and carried out her mission. She respected the will of God and followed it courageously even denying her own happiness and independence.

In the end, St. Agnes was recalled to San Damiano where her sister Clare was dying. She witnessed the passing of her sister into eternity. St.Agnes didn't wish to hasten death, she knew that a holy death (one that, in that time, didn't come with palliative care) would only bring her sister further reward in heaven, and add to the numbers who make up the Church Triumphant. A mere three months after Clare's death, Agnes followed her into eternity to be separated no longer.

St. Agnes embraced the sufferings of a family that didn't wish her to enter the convent, the separation from her beloved sister, the trials of establishing religious orders, and eventually witnessing the death of her sister. Her resilience and fortitude are symbolic of her love of Jesus, and her deep and abiding understanding of the value of sacrifice and redemptive suffering.

These virtues are what I hear each time my friend speaks about the life and holy death of her mom, Agnes; how the struggle to remain alive until it was her time to be called home changed hearts and brought peace and comfort. Her life -- to the very end -- reminds those who knew her (and those like me, who didn't) of her spirit, and the stories resound with joy and laughter of Agnes' insistence that she had more to do here even under the worst of physical and medical circumstances.

We shouldn't give up so easily on life. We should follow the holy examples of St. Agnes -- and, hopefully, her counterpart in the Church Triumphant, the un-canonized Agnes that is my friend's mom -- and live the life God has given us to its fullest and final day. Our example may be the only hope that some people ever know, the only Jesus Crucified they have ever seen. If we suffer it well, with love of God and neighbor shining through every moment, it will bring souls to Christ. This was the example of both Agnes' -- faithful, even unto death.

Blessed Feast of St. Agnes!

(for my friend, Anne)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Shaped by Who we love

St. Clare said that who we love shapes us.

Some human beings consider themselves to be simply an organism whose shape is predetermined by genetics. When they become human is based on subjective analysis. Perhaps a human being starts when the shape is identifiable, or maybe when the first breath is taken postpartum, or when we can recognize in form and structure a viable life. Or maybe in defective shape, or inconvenient circumstances what is in the womb isn't even human -- at least to some.

This subjective take on the human person makes it easy not to love. It entombs the heart, squashes faith and submits an isolated and emotionally unprepared mind to defective reasoning. And so, when termination of a "fetus" or viability or disability in a "pregnancy" are spoken of, the emotion of love is removed -- the "who" is displaced by the "what". Thus, the heart and mind are moved to fear; and not a holy fear of an uncertain future, but an irrational/self-centered fear that is counseled about the "whatness" -- lifestyle changes that will be difficult if not impossible to manage, that will interfere with the ability to do what you want. It denies and ignores the protection of the "who" (mother, father and child) deserving of love and compassion.

It's a wonder that we have such trouble loving others around us, why we live in a world where inflicting pain has become a past-time, where we can turn a blind eye or even rationalize barbaric behaviors that exist in our midst. True, we may be horrified by events, but do we see the "who" -- do we love the "who" -- are we shaped by the "who" in those circumstances?

For instance, the genocide of Christians in Iraq is a martyrdom that has caused many a good soul outside the region to suffer as they witness the atrocities via the Internet. A collective Western gasp of horror over the events is audibly heard. Yet, very little is being done by any nation, to include our own anemic air strikes (perhaps for fear of another terrorist attack on our own soil). Did we simply need to look as if we've made some effort; to do something to alleviate some deep, nagging, yet inexplicable guilt in our conscience that has lost its meaning through years of neglect? Does it help us to suggest that we took care of the "what" in the situation? -- we calmed the fighting; we slowed the progression; we protected the region...

Did we love the people? Are we willing to make sacrifices to save the lives? Were our actions shaped by the "who"?

We can witness these crimes against humanity, be sickened by them in the moment and yet, because they are not happening here in our midst, we somehow feel immune to their effects because it is a "what" and not a "who" with which we are dealing. We insulate our emotions and move forward as if it doesn't have any impact on our lives. But it does, and it will have lasting effects if we continuously desensitize our hearts and our minds to evil while systematically rejecting love as a motivating force.

But, how can this be? How can we watch and turn away. Surely, we are not so desensitized as to not realize that these are people being tortured, raped and murdered.

To most, these are isolated images; they are no more a part of their reality than a zombie slaying cable show. There is no "who" -- only "what".

And so we are shaped; our culture is shaped by a philosophy devoid of a person being a person regardless of where or why they end up in a circumstance, be it the womb or at the hands of terrorists in Iraq. We are shaped by a culture that forgets that Love is a person, and without Him, we cannot possibly hope to rectify any atrocity; neither abortion nor genocide will see a decline as long as we continue to ignore the "who" -- formed in image and likeness -- involved and allow ourselves to be shaped by rationalizations and fear of losing our material situations.

Who we love shapes us. Not what we love, but Who we love.

We have a choice, a clear one: allow our lives to be shaped in the absence or Love, or let Love shape us so as to see Love in everything and everyone around us.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Modesty is relative -- a dialogue about swimwear

"Modesty is relative."

That's what my daughter said to me tonight trying to see if she could get a rise out of me. She likes to do that now and again.

Well, this would be the perfect time for such a discussion as we try to pack for a trip to visit a different culture, one that has turned from God-fearing to rather hedonistic.

"They all wear bikinis, and I am going to stick out wearing a tankini. Bikinis are culturally modest," she said with a little impish grin.

"Take the bait," I thought to myself, "this could be fun."

Without missing a beat, I said, "Why bother with the bikini at all? If you want to discuss cultural modesty and its relative nature, we could talk about how they think it's perfectly acceptable to go topless on 'family beaches' or completely bare in more restricted locations." 

Oh, the disgust! You would have thought I had made her eat worms.

And, that's the reaction I was hoping for because modesty isn't relative, it's a virtue! Modesty is relational; it hinges on your relationship with the Creator and from there reflects the dignity of the human person as you move into relationships with others.

"When you become an object of temptation for others through a lack of modesty, you show disrespect for your relationship with God as his daughter, and for the person whose soul you put at risk through your immodest behaviors." I told her. "Modesty isn't only about you -- yes, it starts with self respect which is developed by understanding how much God loves you -- but, it is also about how you love your neighbor."

This is reflective of the Two Great Commandments -- Love God and love your neighbor. These two Commandments should be predominant in our thoughts and deeds. Will it honor God; will it honor my neighbor? -- these should be the first questions we ask before we act.

We finally decided to agree that modesty is often the victim of cultural norms; to develop a true sense of modesty, those norms must be subject to the moral judgement of a properly informed conscience. I couldn't be more proud of my daughter for truly understanding this notion, I think even before we entered into this conversation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking. (CCC 1777)
When the norms of a culture veer from the path of truth and goodness, -- when they flow into an extreme -- in this case, the objectification of women, then our conscience should clearly tell us to avoid the behavior.

A bikini, in and of itself, is not evil, but the temptations that arise as a result of wearing this garment should be considered and, in the interest of wanting what is best for ourselves and our neighbor, avoided for the sake of souls.

And that is how the lesson on modest swimwear played out at our house tonight.

Comments are welcomed and appreciated -- especially on this subject.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tired of the Platitudes -- the perils of Scriptural sound bites

St. Jerome offered a valuable bit of advice to the faithful centuries ago -- he said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."

It's profound.


It's very simple -- Scripture is truly a living document (unlike the Constitution of the United States which many like to think enjoys this supernatural dignity, but that's a different blog post); it is the eternal Word of God, revelation made manifest in Christ Jesus, and guarded and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. That carries with it an enormous responsibility for its user; never should the use of Scripture be taken lightly or regarded with cavalier pride.

Is there anything more frustrating within Christianity than good people who throw Scriptural references around like they [the references] on their own have some magical power; or heaven forbid, that they might prove some intellectual ability on the part of the thrower!

No, when Scripture is used in sound bites it shows a total disregard for the Word of God. It becomes no more than lofty platitudes, and sends believers and non-believers running for the hills.

But, Scripture is much more than sound bites.  It is not a "what" that is referenced, but a "Who"; Jesus Himself is present in the Word. And, this is precisely what St. Jerome is plainly stating.

For instance, it is not sufficient to say/teach that Jesus is the Bread of Life, quote John 6:48 and call it a day -- for Catholic and Protestant, alike. One must understand the context, not just be able to recite the verse; and so many get it wrong or misinterpret the meaning of Scripture (any verse) based on what they have been taught or what they have decided is their own interpretation of the verse. In this, Catholics do have an advantage -- we are not alone to self-interpre. The teaching authority of the Church provides us with exhaustive information on what is the accepted Church interpretation of Scripture. No guess work involved.

Scripture reduced to platitudes is a sacrilege.

Trying to carry Christ to others in this manner is ineffective, at best. And worse still, it is detrimental to conversion of heart for those who might have a spark of faith left within them.

"[B]ut sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

Standing alone, the verse above would seem to support every last thing I have written here. However, while it does suggest that we need to be able to support what we believe, or "be ready to give and explanation", this particular quote deals specifically with suffering for Christ. Without the proper context, one could easily misunderstand the nature of the teaching and not realize that suffering for the Word is essential to, even expected, when carrying Christ to others.

Sound bites and platitudes don't work. They are even potentially harmful and can potentially lead to a misplaced scorn and rejection of the power of the Word.

Don't just quote random Scripture verses to make a point. Rather, bring the fullness of the Scripture to others in both word and deed -- understand and live the meaning of the verse chosen, pray over it and let the Holy Spirit inspire, read it in its context to both Old Testament and New Testament, see what the Church teaches about it, etc.

Know what surrounds the quote!

This will bring credibility to what is said, and in this way will you bring honor to God and souls to Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Meditation on Self-Knowledge

St. Catherine of Siena speaks these seemingly simple words to help us on our way to salvation:

You see this gentle loving Word born in a stable while Mary was on a journey, to show you pilgrims how you should be constantly born anew in the stable of self-knowledge, where by grace you will find me born in your soul. ( Dialogue 157)

It's not easy to practice self-knowledge.

I've had to face many facts in my life; sometimes those facts are not the most pleasant to contend with, but they are, however, true regardless of how painful they may be to address.

Self-knowledge doesn't only bring us to what is distressing -- that's important and necessary to realize. The good we find in ourselves we must continue to bring to perfection; the flaws, we must work to eradicate and turn into virtue.

Unless we clearly know who we are in relation to our Creator, respecting how we are made in His image and likeness, and continuing to improve ourselves to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt 5:48), we risk losing our own heavenly reward.

Simple Method:

Practice the presence of God -- place yourself there often

Make a daily resolution to work on an area of needed perfection

Examine your conscience, once or twice daily

Make a firm commitment via the Act of Contrition to work on self-knowledge and improvement

Frequent the Sacraments

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nashville Dominicans Apologize...for Truth?

(photo credit:
Why did the Nashville Dominicans apologize for Sister Laurel's comments about homosexuality? (read full article here)

"Sister Laurel holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of the Angelicum in Rome, one of the oldest schools in the world and the one that produced one of the world’s greatest theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas – also a Dominican like Sister Laurel.

Sister Laurel has reportedly given similar talks a few dozen times all over the country all without incident. It is reported that some of the data she used came from the highly respected Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Great Britain. Most of the the nun's talks are up at her webpage."

The article continued to say that much of what she taught came directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And, still the reaction from the Catholic HS parents was "swift and overwhelming", even bringing the Nashville Dominicans to claim that Sister Laurel lacked the proper credentials to speak with authority on certain issues. Is this just another example of the hermeneutic of rupture, as Pope BXVI called the dissent/misinterpretation after Vatican II? What could the Nashville Dominicans have been thinking?

It is to misunderstand love to allow your brother to remain blind and in sin. While the biological causation may yet be in question, the fact that self-control is still a possibility should be fully considered. Continence is a virtue -- one that is infrequently taught with any relevance or credibility in the current culture.

In any case, I am truly surprised that there was an apology of any sort. Did the school not realize, or properly vet this speaker before she was engaged to offer her topic to the students? And, just exactly what are they teaching in their HS Moral Theology classes in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Blog your way to holiness

Blogs are places to share opinions -- one's own little Op/Ed space to expound on things important to the writer; to elucidate regarding issues the writer thinks might be of some interest to others.

It opens a gateway for others to share their opinions. And on occasion, they aren't kind, or sometimes, even rational. But, if you offer a comments section, be prepared.

Blogging require is a thick skin, personal integrity and the virtue of humility.

St. Bridget offered, "It is a virtue and a prize to listen patiently to and put up with insults for the sake of God."

It doesn't matter what you choose to write about: cars, religion, children's activities, crafts, politics, etc., someone, anyone, can find fault with it. And that person who passes judgment on the work, who criticizes the efforts, knows nothing of the toil or trial, the joy and jubilation that might have inspired the piece.

Those who critique simply do what the writer has done -- express their opinion. This is blogging -- and it can be sanctifying!

It is a virtue to accept with kindness even the harshest comments. Consider the comments, consider the person who wrote them (even if they don't have the courage to post their names along with their comment). Most importantly, pray for them, and for yourself as a writer.

Ask yourself, "What was it in the piece that could have caused a negative opinion?"

If nothing, then thank God for the ability to suffer for His sake! Take it on the chin for Christ Jesus, and grow in the virtue of humility.

St. Augustine wrote: "Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance."

That means, it is impossible to love without first being humble. The writer must be able to accept that others will not always agree or have an agreeable attitude in the comment box, yet love them anyway for the sake of the Kingdom.

So, in my humble opinion, when writing a blog:

1. Set down securely the foundation of humility. Let it be God's blog -- let His will govern what is written and what is shared.

2. NEVER READ THE COMMENTS! (only kidding)

You can BLOG your way to holiness -- start with humility.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Atheism, Islam & violence against women in Sweden

I almost never read the comments on news pieces -- I learned my lesson long ago. They can be the undoing of me. This particular piece of news, however, was intriguing from the start. The 16% increase in rapes of women (approximately 1000 total rapes in the first 7 months of 2013 -- 300 of them under the age of 15) in Sweden by Muslim immigrants is a stunning statistic for a neutral, peace loving country. (as reported by Swedish Public Radio)

I decided to see what people thought of this shocking revelation. The first comment was one calling for white European supremacy, and those that followed were increasingly angry. They strongly opposed the cowardly "stand down" tactics that Europe has taken over the years.

Violence begets more violence, I thought to myself.  I can only imagine that no one wants to see another rise in holocaust-like tactics as a response to this indignity and harm  being perpetrated on women in Sweden.

 One comment in particular amidst all the venom struck me -- the don't lump all Muslims in among this scum who just do this in the name of Islam. I could go along with that if all the Imams and heads of Islamic groups stood up and called for an end to this atrocity in Sweden & beyond.

It doesn't happen.

My heart-felt and sincere question to that is: Why?

Until such a time as it does, the deafening silence from the Muslim community will ring out as tacit approval of this vile behavior.

Sweden, on the other hand, is noted to be one of the most atheistic countries in Europe. Perhaps working to bring God back into the culture is the only answer to this problem. When one turns a blind eye to God, the void is often filled with evil. What is happening to women -- and sadly, very young women -- in Sweden is nothing less than evil.

Pope Francis is ringing the bell of the New Evangelization loud and clear for Europe and the world to hear. Today in his Angelus address, he emphasized:
“Those who have encountered Jesus along the road experience in their hearts a serenity and joy that nothing and no one can deprive them of.” (courtesy of CNA)
Acting in violence, denying and disparaging the two great Commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor, is the response of those who have not encountered Jesus along the road. They need to be introduced.

Sweden first needs to encounter Christ for themselves, protect its society and resist the violence that they have allowed to enter into their sovereign nation. It's time to start believing again, and rising up with the standard of Truth to confront not only the current assaults against women, but also the infiltration of an radical ideal that will undo personal freedom.

H/T -- Dr. Gerard Nadal for posting the link to this information on Facebook.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A medicinal remedy with no known adverse side effects: The Rosary

At his Angelus audience yesterday (11/17/13), Pope Francis had boxes resembling medicine handed out to the thousands of people in the square by volunteers. Inside the box was a Rosary. He joked about being a spiritual pharmacist and offered the recitation of the Rosary as spiritual medicine for the heart.

As the Year of Faith comes to an end, Pope Francis is reaching out to those who can bring the message of the Good News and devotion to Our Lady to those who need to hear it most. While some may call this move gimmicky, possibly even in poor taste, what the Sovereign Pontiff realizes is this: in this material age, the younger generations tend to respond to fads, gimmicks, etc. Ask any toddler what a golden, double arch symbol means, and they can tell you: McDonald's. The same can be said for adolescents and young adults when it comes to symbol recognition. They know and appreciate consumer brands, and are even being encouraged through the mass media to recognize over-the-counter and prescription medicines by brand and purpose.

Score one for Francis -- the boots on the ground, meet them where they're at pope -- who understands how to make the New Evangelization ring true in every heart by sharing the Gospel message with a generation in their language and in the present moment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Abiding Anchor -- Marian works never before translated into English

A friend and I stopped to have a conversation one night after I finished teaching the RCIA class at my parish. We talked about how wonderfully made children with special needs are; how important they are to remind an ever calloused society what it means to sacrifice and love with a tenderness that can only come from caring for the most basic needs of another. She mentioned a young man and his family with whom she had become very close.

"People are afraid to engage him," she noted sadly, "they just don't know what to say."

Having a child with special needs, I understood her statement as fact. People are indeed afraid to engage because they fear the unknown, they fear offending, they are simply afraid of being uncomfortable and exposed.

"How did you overcome this obstacle?" I inquired.

"I got to know the son, by getting to know his mother," she beamed.

I looked her square in the eye and smiled knowingly.

She appeared momentarily perplexed, and then realized what she had said. In one sentence, she was given the grace, through a seemingly unrelated conversation, to understand Marian devotion!

St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary brings the believer to new heights of love and devotion of Jesus by fostering a deep and abiding intimacy with His mother, Theotokos.

He writes:
We fasten our souls to Your hope, as to an abiding anchor. It is to Her that the saints who have saved themselves have been the most attached and have done their best to attach others, in order to persevere in virtue. Happy, then, a thousand times happy, are the Christians who are  now fastened faithfully and entirely to Her, as to a firm anchor! (Treatise on True Devotion, n. 175).
Tethering our souls to the most perfected human creation -- Mary -- the woman so blessed as to be chosen, and then respected by God in her free choice to carry the the Son of God, will offer us graces beyond measure. She was the first to know God intimately, to contemplate the living God from within. Hers is an experience unlike any other, an experience from which we can gain both grace and wisdom.

Confidently, we should pursue a relationship with Jesus by getting to know His Mother. She will bring to light things about her Son that could be found no where else. And, with the establishment of that abiding relationship with the Mother of God, devotion to Jesus, The Holy Trinity, Mother Church, and all things holy will increase exponentially.

Created by Casimir Valla, a devotee who made his Consecration to Jesus through Mary more than two decades ago, his site had a title that should ring familiar: unique in its purpose, it was designed to promote and help foster Marian devotion by making available works never before translated into English.

The books are not only valuable on a personal level to deepen ones own spiritual devotion, but are magnificent resources through which to share the devotion with others. Perhaps as the season of Advent draws nearer, these books might be a source of inspiration to you or to someone you love, deepening the understanding of who Mary is as the Mother of God, and our Mother, while also increasing appreciation for the Incarnation and birth of Our Savior.

 For more information and to order your own copies, please visit:

 "We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor Him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son."--Saint Louis de Montfort

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The family, the Church & preparing for III Extradorinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

This is a must read as the episcopate throughout the world prepares to discuss and discern.

Here's an excerpt:
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church's attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment. 
 Any questions, based on this, the second paragraph, where the pope stands on the issues? Yet, he goes on to teach and prepare with love and acceptance of all. Holding out his arms and exhorting them to come home; bringing his bishops together to address just how to find those lost sheep.

It starts with the family -- protecting and preserving and empowering the family, the soul of society.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Royal Babies: baby steps

Seriously, yesterday I saw more Catholic statuses, tweets, blog posts, etc. regarding the disproportionate attention given to the birth of a royal in England while Our Lord is summarily forgotten or rejected.

Stop. Think.

In a world where pregnancy is viewed as a disease, the child is considered a parasite, and abortion is available on demand almost anywhere to include floating clinics off the shores of countries where the procedure is illegal, isn't it ironic that we are rejoicing over the birth of a baby?

Shouldn't we be using this moment as an opportunity to teach Christ, not ridicule people's enthusiasm over a royal baby?

Wouldn't the pro-life cause be better served if we joined in the enthusiasm
and reminded everyone by our actions and our prayers that babies are indeed special. In other words, would all of us be wise to approach the issue of faith in this matter with baby steps toward understanding and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to each individual soul through us?

I did see one quote that I loved and shared from Catholic Vote yesterday: "All babies are royal in the eyes of God. -- D. Bolling"

That is all.