“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” — Gal. 6:2

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“Love is patient,
love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way,
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8).

Years ago when my family and I were living in Brandon, Florida, I met a man who had undergone a faith conversion experience and had become passionately zealous about his faith. He had not practiced any faith most of his adult life, and before coming to faith his marriage was strained by his workaholic lifestyle. His wife and children did not share his conversion experience and he became increasingly angry and frustrated over their resistance to his desire to talk about his faith, to give her material to read or to bring them to church activities. It caused lots of tension at home. His wife was especially disgusted by it all, especially after he told her one day he was “praying for your salvation.” She said, “If you’re going pray for me be sure to tell God, ‘If you’re gonna turn my husband against me, I don’t want your salvation.'”

Eventually, he went to his parish priest to seek support, but the priest (who was just superb) was less than sympathetic to his frustration. The priest said something like, “The best way you can witness to your newfound faith is to become a better husband and father, not to club them over the head with it. Let them see how it makes you a better husband and father, more patient and loving, home more often and less angry, not more angry; and not see that it makes you insufferable to live with. They see you now as worse, not better, and you can’t heap blame on them for that. Look, only one year ago that was you, but now you’ve already lost your patience with them. Back off on the religion talk and ramp up the love.”

The man tole me the priest’s words were a bitter pill to swallow, “but by the grace of God, I swallowed it.”

When I first met this man, it was three or so years after this all had happened, and he said that priest’s advice likely saved his marriage since he had even been contemplating divorce so he could be free to live his faith out “radically.” He was still very passionate about his faith when I met him. His wife never became Catholic, nor did his children, but he said his marriage was stronger than it had ever been and his presence in his children’s lives was far greater than it had been before his conversion. He said, “Hopefully my faith’s made me easier to live with and given me some humility. But most of all I’ve learned to stop demanding our life be on my own terms.”

I thought of this story when I recently read the advice of a Eastern Orthodox spiritual author Hieromonk Gregorios to married couples who find themselves in different places in their life of faith. He says that a great mistake often made by a spouse who is “more fervent in the spiritual life” is to think of him/herself as superior to the less fervent or unbelieving spouse, and are driven by anger, frustration, impatience, judgment or a well-disguised spiritual narcissism to bring about change in their spouse.

Gregorios, thinking out of the tradition of the Desert Fathers, says that what these spiritually immature people really miss is that genuine virtue views others as greater than oneself (Phil. 2:3). The virtuous “place  little importance on their deeds and think everyone else is far better than they are.” Any progress in authentic holiness only strengthens one’s resolve to serve, forgive and spread joy and peace. Genuine virtue intensifies one’s commitment to bear another’s weakness as one’s own (1 Cor. 9:22; Eph. 4:2). He continues,

In the same spirit, St. Isaiah writes, ‘If you are going along your way and there is a sick person with you, allow him to go ahead of you so that if he should want to take rest he is able to do so.’ This attitude of journeying together must be applied to those who wish to run with great speed in the spiritual life but who have a spouse who is unable to keep up with them.

To approach such situations spiritually, we should view ourselves as responsible for the spiritual weakness of the other person, perhaps because we have not shown ourselves to be the image of a true Christian and a real struggler; not only should the weaker one determine the speed of the couple’s common journey, but additionally the one who thinks they are stronger must believe that they are the cause of the spiritual slowness of the other.

When we move to the beat of love, we may appear to be lagging behind spiritually while in fact we are leading the way. When we live in this way within the bonds of marriage, all problems will be faced quietly, peacefully and with discernment — because we face them with love.

O come, O come!

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I gave an Advent parish mission last week. Among the topics I covered, I explored the depth of meaning in a verse we sing so often that we forget what it’s really saying:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This is the plaintive cry of a slave living in exile, begging God to come and liberate. We have a planet filled with such cries, yet without the faith to turn them into prayer. The confident “Rejoice!” of the refrain, filled with certain hope, is only possible when the depth of the plight is fully acknowledged and then brought to God in prayer. Packed into the seemingly placid “O come” is a world of pain, sorrow, hardship, fear, anger, desperation, turned by faith into hope in love that gives wings to prayer.

During the mission, I shared stories of people I have known who have taught me how to pray like this. I shared with them a conversation I had with an Orthodox Rabbi who told me Jews pray not just from the heart, but from the guts; from the depths (Psalm 130). The last prayer of Jesus on the cross was a phōnēn megalēn, a “loud scream” (Mark 15:37), and the next verse says the veil in the Temple was torn. Such prayer rips open heaven.

The word Advent comes from the same Latin root that is found in the Our Father, adveniat regnum tuum, “thy kingdom come.” Advent means, “come!” and so as a season is meant to carve out in us a hunger, thirst, longing, yearning, pining for God to come and save us, rescue us, redeem us, raise us, ransom us. So, I argued, the harder and darker life gets, Christians should more and more become an Advent people “who cry to Him day and night” (Luke 18:7).

And as this season can be hard for many people, Advent is meant to bring to their hardship the brilliance of costly hope gained in deep, sustained and honest prayer to God.

A person followed up the retreat with an email to me saying simply, “Thank you for giving me permission to bring my pain and doubt to God. That’s a new faith for me.” I sent them this lovely version of my second favorite psalm, the brutally honest Psalm 77.

I cry aloud to God
aloud to God and He will hear me
In the day of my troubled soul
I reach out and seek You, Lord
but I can’t feel You

In the night of my pain
darkness falls, questions rage
Have You forsaken?
O God, have You left me all alone?

You keep my eyes from sleep
so troubled I cannot speak a word
I consider the days of old
when I felt Your love and held Your hope
Where have they gone?

In the night of my pain
faith has fled, doubts remain
Have you forsaken?
O God, have You left me all alone?

Your ways, O God
Your ways, O God, are holy
Holy

Your ways, O God
Your ways, O God, are holy
You are holy

A kingdom not built on arms and violence

Mother Teresa. americamagazine.org

Jesus’ lordship is inextricably connected to his debasement. So when Herod’s soldiers mockingly dress Jesus in royal apparel (Lk. 23.11) and when on-lookers scoff at Jesus on the cross for purporting to be King of the Jews (23.35-38), they are in a sense truly crowning him King of the Jews … The path to the Davidic throne came, not by a reversal of fortunes, but by submitting as [the Servant]. Thus, the lowly are lifted up, not by joining a conquering king, but as a conquering king joins them. — Nathan Eubank

Jesus clearly had no political ambitions … Jesus knows that God’s kingdom is of a completely different kind; it is not built on arms and violence … henceforth the path to the Cross becomes ever clearer; there, in the supreme act of love, the promised kingdom, the kingdom of God, will shine forth … [Jesus] does not wish to be defended by arms, but to accomplish the Father’s will to the end, and to establish his kingdom not by armed conflict, but by the apparent weakness of life-giving love. Jesus came to reveal and bring a new kingship, that of God; he came to bear witness to the truth of a God who is love, who wants to establish a kingdom of justice, love and peace. — Pope Benedict XVI

It would mean very little, however, if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King. — Pope Francis

Jane Elizabeth, Orphan: Update

Dr. Jennifer Elizabeth Miller

[As I am traveling for Thanksgiving holiday, I will cease posting until next week. Happy Thanksgiving, a blessed Feast of Christ the King on Sunday and God be with you and your families!]

I wrote about Jane Elizabeth long ago — see here. Now, here’s the latest update from Dr. Jennifer Miller, Jane’s loving advocate. What thanks we have to offer to God and all those who have helped make this possible! We pray all of this comes to pass….

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Good news and prayers for Jane Elizabeth! About a month and a half ago, I spoke with Clare, the founder of Imprint Hope — imprinthope.com — which helps children in Uganda with disabilities by educating them and their families. I told her about Jane Elizabeth, and she went to visit Sr. Mary and Jane to see if she could help. As it is very difficult for the sisters to care for Jane as she needs, Clare offered to host Jane for a couple of months and then find a group of sisters who deal specifically with disabled children. As she was hiring a woman to take care of Jane Elizabeth full-time, she mentioned this to a friend who works at The Gem Foundation, another NGO in Uganda, this one with a community of disabled children who live together with nurses, staff members, teachers, and interns. thegemfoundation.com

This friend mentioned it to Emma, the founder of The Gem Foundation, who had heard of Jane Elizabeth some years ago and desired to have her come live with them; they had been trying to make this happen for years! Unfortunately, they had lost touch with the sisters. However, when Emma heard that we were looking for a new home for Jane Elizabeth, she said that she wanted her home to be with them! There, Jane Elizabeth would have nurses, teachers, and other children who are learning to work with their disabilities, all being raised as children made in the image of God! Unfortunately, it seems that there have been some difficulties with the paperwork, and in the meantime, the doctors in Uganda have gone on strike. Please pray that Jane, who has been getting much weaker without specialized care, can be moved very soon to her new home! God Bless you and your families!!

To sex-trafficked girls: “YOU ARE L.O.V.E.D.”

Let us pray for all those who have suffered offences
against their human dignity and whose rights have been trampled;
let us pray for women, who are all too often humiliated and marginalized,
and let us acknowledge the forms of acquiescence in these sins
of which Christians too have been guilty. — St. John Paul II

Yvette Fouchi, this last summer, shared with me stories from the extraordinary work she does with the Free Indeed Home. I asked her to write up a brief synopsis of this work of justice for my blog, and to share a video she had shown me. The video, in particular, blew me away — a magnificent witness to the redeemed masculinity, fraternity and paternity Christ came to forge in the world. Amid a male culture saturated in the sexual narcissism of pornography and promiscuity, such men are inciters of the Gentlemen’s Revolution. Thank you, Fr. Brad, and all men out there who resolve a life of courageous chastity to revere and honor, and not ravage and dishonor, the dignity of all women.

The Immortal King, who cherishes each woman as His beloved daughter, would expect nothing else.

Here’s Yvette:

Based on JP II ‘s TOB, I get to bring a day-long retreat to the 12 to 17-year-old girls who live at the Free Indeed Home. They have all been sex trafficked for years. Sex trafficking is much more insidious than the typical scenario portrayed in movies in which a person is kidnapped and put in a cage. They are oftentimes sold by someone they considered to be a boyfriend or trusted friend; sometimes by their own parents. Psychological manipulation and fear hold them captive long after they are separated from their abusers.

We call the day “YOU ARE L.O.V.E.D.” and we use games, activities, and short talks as we take each letter of the word, “LOVED,” to introduce the truth about WHO they really are and WHOSE they are.

We focus on their identity as being – Loved as a One-of-a-Kind, Vibrant, Extraordinary, Daughter of the King of Kings.

Most of them have never had a birthday party, so we tell them that we are there to celebrate the day they were born. We bring out cupcakes with lit candles and we sing Happy birthday. They get homemade treats and a list of names of people who are praying for them. We tell them all these people love them without ever wanting anything from them.

Fr. Brad Doyle offers his time, energy, and prayer for them in a special “prayer ruck.” He prays for the girls while he carries 30 pounds on his back and runs and does calisthenics. He makes a short video of himself in which he tells the girls that they are loved and that there are men out there who are willing to sacrifice for them and not take from them. Without exception, the video strikes each girl in the center of her equilibrium, bringing a deep focus, smiles, and oftentimes, tears. They have told me they didn’t know men like that existed. Fr. Brad’s loving sacrifice for them gives us an easy segue into how much more God loves them and has sacrificed for them and offers a hope that is sure.

Their understanding of the word “love” begins to take on new meaning.

As the day goes on, you should see their smiles, the way their faces soften, and many times the tears that flow when they begin to touch the reality that their lives have purpose beyond anything they had imagined.
We end the day with a short ceremony where they each receive a certificate and a long-stemmed rose. Again, smiles and tears abound.

These girls have been isolated and repeatedly raped, beaten, deprived of standard medical care, nutrition, and education. What I do is Just ONE TINY DROP of water in the Sahara Desert of what these girls need, but I feel strongly that this is something God has called me to do.

If anyone feels that tug at their heart for these girls, there are many things that can be done to help them. Just connect with Debbie Schinskie, Director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Respect Life Office at http://respectlife.arch-no.org/

Thank you!!!

I dream of a day

I wrote this on a piece of paper the other day after someone shared with me their view of the challenges they face in their Catholic High School of maintaining a Catholic identity. It’s whimsical and free-flowing, but it catches a spark of the vision that boils in me always, mostly in inchoate form.

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What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular genius … the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations … in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life … called there by God that … they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. – Vatican II, Lumen Gentium

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I dream of a day when the USCCB will place at the center of its agenda the “secular genius” of the lay vocation, and mandate the creation in every diocese of an Office of Secular Sanctity, dedicated to forming the the 99% of lay faithful called to engage in the Art of inhabiting the secular world with the mind of Christ. Lay Ministry will remain a core concern, but will be seen as the handmaiden of the secular apostolate of the laity.

I dream of a day when Catholic schools stop thinking of Catholic identity as somehow jamming seemingly ill-fit religious language and practices — treated like an ideology — into every classroom, athletic field and music room, and start thinking of it as a way to cultivate a vibrant secular school culture in which students learn first-hand how to “do the world” Catholicly by loving this world with an intensity and passion that even modestly approximates the intensity and passion of God Himself. Our God, who so loves the world, created and redeemed the world for us to co-inhabit, con-celebrate, co-explore, co-steward, co-redeem with Him. God became man not to rescue us from the world as a Condemner, but to rescue the world for us as a Liberator, showing us how to love it into the fullness of life as He does.

Out of such an intelligent, impassioned, mission-driven and Christ-enlightened love will undoubtedly emerge droves of world-lovers who will discover in their school a call from God to become spouses, parents, doctors, nurses, lawyers, mechanics, artists, soldiers, educators, politicians, police officers, scientists, businesspersons, prison guards, technologists, writers, economists, historians, philosophers, therapists, social workers — secular geniuses of limitless variety! They will desire nothing more than to courageously and creatively infuse all of culture with the electric vision of humanity entrusted to the world by Christ. Reason and faith, joy and fun, compassion and culture, virtue and victory, truth and love, prayer and normality, career days and vocation days will finally meet.

And among these young secular geniuses, some will discover a raging fire within calling them to become priests and religious who give their lives to the Sacred in service to these wildly adventurous, bold and courageous Secular Saints who will desperately need visionary leadership and spiritual nourishment to support their mission of healing a land so deeply riven by the split of faith and life. These 99% of the Flock will need you Sacred Saints desperately.

This vision will bring such increase to the number of world-harvesters that the Offertory at Mass will become dangerously heavy, with bread, wine and alms being over-laden with seriously massive amounts of sacrificial material gathered from six days of labor a week. I imagine we will need far more muscular priests, strong enough to bear up such mountainous materials to the Altar of God for their final transformation into the Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.

Please don’t wake me up from this dream about a beauty that will, indeed, save the world.

A Small Step

Mustard seed

By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. — Pope Francis

My sagely grandfather once wrote me in a letter, “Never be discouraged by your shortcomings, Tommy. Use them to stretch your soul. Remember, your greatest virtues are not those that come naturally but ones nearly impossible to perform. Holding a sharp tongue once far surpasses in worth a surplus of easily spoken kind words. Cracking a feeble smile from a dim soul to lift an ignoble lout vastly outshines the outpouring of exuberant joy from a bright heart lavished on a cheery friend. Value the difficult good things in life most. Every day, your next best step.”

That’s writing.

So often people who strive to live a life of faith share with me a deep exasperation over their inability to do all the good they wish, pray as they would hope, forgive as they must, be patient as they desire, and so on. They are hemmed in by a thousand limits, internal and external, and become discouraged, frustrated, angry, guilt-ridden. I understand this so well. Yet the beauty of our God! Revealed for who-He-is in a cradle and on a cross, He is irresistibly drawn to small spaces, inconvenient circumstances, tiny mustard seeds. He, lover of the Widow’s Mite, dances over fitful acts of faith, hope and love. He is absurdly pleased with our pathetic nothings, born of heartfelt sincerity, steeped in reckless trust, all the while surrendered to His boundless mercy.

I know a Catholic woman with lots of children who felt for years like she was a failure in her spiritual life because of her inability to make any significant time for focused prayer or to muster any meaningful feelings of devotion when she finally found time. She said guilt and anger became her primary spiritual disposition toward God. Then she met a contemplative Carmelite nun in Rhode Island to whom she confided her struggle. She said the nun floored her when she said, “What God gives to me in 6 hours of prayer a day, He gives to you in the few minutes you consecrate to Him. The joy He takes in my silent contemplation is exceeded by the joy He takes in your harried frustration, given over to Him. Your desire to please Him renders all of the walls around you into an iconostasis.”

What.

The woman said to me, “Those words are what I call my ‘Get out of jail free’ card. I was let out of my prison of guilt that day.”

This made me think of 4th century Church Father, St. Gregory Nazianzen’s tender words, “God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love Him. He accepts our petitions as benefits as though we were doing Him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving.”

So when you feel most useless, helpless, feckless, aimless, wrap it up in faith, light it up with hope and send it up with love into the Heart of God. But be ready. Out of that pierced Heart floods a raging fountain of mercy, and mercy takes no prisoners.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.