To Those Who Feel Angry With the Catholic Church

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It’s impossible to find a silver lining in this week’s news that a Pennsylvania grand jury accused over 300 priests of abusing about 1,000 people over the course of 70 years. But for better or worse, I’m an idealist, so I always look for a silver lining. And without discounting the evil that was uncovered this week, here is my “silver lining”: I have spoken with many friends and read posts by many bloggers and social media influencers, all of whom are Catholic and are condemning this behavior (and its coverup) in the harshest language – while standing by the true Church created by Christ. To paraphrase Catholic Answers chaplain Fr. Hugh Barbour, our sadness and anger are, in fact, a sign of our love for Jesus and the Church.

If, however, you are feeling your faith in the Church shaken by this news, you are not alone. And there is hope that your faith can be restored. That’s because our faith is in the Church, in what God created and what God sustains – and not in the broken human beings who manage it here on earth.

“For every predator who has used the Church for sinful purposes,” writes author Tom Hoopes, “there are thousands of spiritual healers who Christ uses to reach us through the Church to forgive us, restore us and refresh us.” For every one of the 300 Pennsylvania priests accused of abuse, there are thousands and thousands of people like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Pope John Paul II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa Benedicta, St. Joseph, our own Blessed Mother … and countless others, living and dead, whom God has spoken through to guide His church.

For every person who has been hurt by a priest, there are millions who have been changed by one. For every person who has felt let down by a Church official, there are millions who have received Christ’s body and blood from one. For every person who has been made to feel that there is no place for them in the Church, there are millions who have found their home there.

The walls of that home are not perfect. There are cracks in the panelling and there are holes in the roof. But inside is the heart of Jesus, and no matter what happens, we will always find Him there.

 

In 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI) shared this prayer:

Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

Marian Consecration: Not a One-Stop Shop

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You consecrate yourself to Mary, and then you’re done, right? You can coast through life and then be welcomed with open arms to those pearly white gates.

Not exactly. And that’s not what I expected when I consecrated myself to Mary earlier this year. But I think I did expect my journey to be a little easier, my faith to be a little stronger, without any real effort. That’s definitely not the case. And in addition to formally reconsecrating myself annually, I am re-committing to renewing my consecration every morning.

In the heat of the moment, on fire with love for God and excitement about what consecration means, it’s easy to think it will be … well … easy. I was going to pray the Rosary or the Little Office every day. The brown scapular was going to be a daily reminder of my commitment.

But all too often, I prioritize other activities over prayer. The brown scapular has become a habit rather than a reminder. And I can feel my commitment waning.

So, what do I do?

Reprioritize Prayer.

I recently moved from my own apartment into an apartment I share with a friend. While I am excited to have a friend in the bedroom next door (not to mention all the money I’m saving by sharing the rent), my social anxiety flared up in a big way when I moved. My family and my boyfriend were there for me, but you know what would have been even better? If I’d prayed more, too. If my parents and Zach were supportive beyond expectations, imagine how much more supportive Jesus would have been if I’d leaned on Him for strength.

Every relationship goes two ways. Do I receive gifts from God without asking for them? Absolutely, every day. But how can I expect Him to give me the strength I need if I don’t talk to Him? How can I expect Mary to fulfill her consecration promises if I don’t fulfill mine?

The truth is, I can’t. And so, as I live daily with the struggles that come from having social anxiety – and also from just being human – I must pray daily – all day – to manage them.

“The Passion of the Christ” and Samwise Gamgee

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I was 14 when “The Passion of the Christ” came out, so while I couldn’t have seen it in theaters without my parents, I was probably old enough to watch it. Certainly, it seems strange that as a Catholic who enjoys watching movies, it took me this long to watch it. But I’ve always been afraid; the press around the movie’s release was so focused on how graphically violent it was.

But Christ’s Passion was, indeed, violent, and I think that finally watching the movie gave me a fuller appreciation of what – and more importantly why – He did.

(Disclaimer here: I am no theologian. Not even close. These are, like the contents of every blog post, my own thoughts, and in this case they are not supported by research, so I may be completely off, and if so, please comment below and let me know.)

I’ve always wondered, “I get that Jesus died for our sins, but why did He have to do that? Why couldn’t God have just been like, ‘You know what? Your sins are forgiven. The end.'” And I plan on reading more about this to learn what popes and saints have said, but while I was watching the movie, actually watching the reenactment of the crucifixion, it occurred to me that the intensity of being prosecuted, tortured and killed in so violent a way really makes a statement. It’s one thing to be told, “God loves you.” It’s another thing to realize, “Jesus loves me so much that he left paradise to come to a difficult and painful life on Earth and then was tortured and nailed to a cross so that I can join Him in that paradise.”

In Gethsemane at the beginning of the movie, Satan tells Jesus, “Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin?” The wording of that phrase – “the full burden of sin” – struck me as a storyteller before it struck me as a Catholic. Christ took on such a physically and emotionally painful experience in order to shift the burden of sin from His children’s shoulders to His own. That is an amazing story – and what’s more, it’s true.

We know that Jesus told stories throughout His life as a way to teach, so why wouldn’t He use His death to tell us the greatest story ever – the story of His love for us?

Which brings me to another story: the story of Simon, the man who helped Jesus carry the cross. As a writer, book lover and Catholic, I am a huge fan of “The Lord of the Rings” – the books and the movie. As an overly sentimental teenager, my favorite part of the movies was the scene where Sam says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” (OK, who am I kidding? As a sentimental adult, that’s still my favorite part.) While watching the scene where Simon helps Jesus carry the cross, I immediately texted my boyfriend to tell him about the parallel I saw between Jesus’ struggle to Mount Calvary and Frodo’s climb to Mount Doom.

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought Jesus was, even more than Simon, kind of like Sam. Jesus doesn’t literally carry our burdens for us. He doesn’t come back to Earth to help us manage our careers, hold our hands through illness, or take the weight of anxiety or depression off our shoulders. He doesn’t carry that for us. But He does carry us. And that’s pretty exciting.

“A Shelter in Which Other Souls May Unfold”

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“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

In February, my friend Bernadette and I started a Catholic young women’s book club. Actually, I have my boyfriend to thank for it, because he gave me “The Other Side of Beauty” (Leah Darrow, published last year by Thomas Nelson) for Christmas. I loved the book and thought it would be a great book to discuss with a small group of young women. So Bernadette and I got a group together, and we’ve been meeting roughly weekly to discuss a chapter at a time.

We’re wrapping up the book this week, and we’ve all agreed that the group has been so good that we’re going to keep it going with other Catholic books. Bernadette had the idea to invite some girls that she knew who were new to the Raleigh area, and I am so glad that she did, because it’s been great to know that they are making some girlfriends in their new town.

Have you ever been part of a group that just meshes? We clicked almost immediately. We laugh, and we talk, and we pray together, and it’s beautiful. One of the girls had a birthday a few weeks ago, and we had dinner with her. We have a group message on Facebook that’s become more than just logistics for our meetings. We are genuinely interested in each other’s lives and supportive of each other’s journeys as Christians.

Growing up, I attended CCD every year until I was confirmed. But I never got to know the other kids in my class. I avoided retreats like the plague, and I never joined the youth group. I was just too afraid to talk to anyone. So now, being a part of a community (the broader Raleigh Catholic young adult community and this small, close-knit book club) that has a shared faith, that talks about that faith on a regular basis, and that is supportive and generous and also a lot of fun … This is a huge deal.

So here’s a shout out to all my Catholic sisters, sharing Christ’s love with each other and living out your calling as a daughter of God. Thank you.

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

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In Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke, Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s steward), and Mary (the mother of James) visit Jesus’ tomb and find his body missing. Imagine their state of mind: They were heartbroken, having seen their God, whom they loved, crucified. Then, they went to visit his body, and they find it gone.

Fortunately, of course, God sends two of His angels to explain, and they ask the women, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”

It’s an important question that I believe we can all benefit from considering. We often look among the “dead” to find what only the living – Christ – can give us. Whether it’s good things that we rely on too much – a job, even friends and family – or things that are more obviously dangerous – substance abuse, porn, violence – when we look to anything that isn’t God for the fulfillment that only God can give, we’re seeking the living among the dead.

Sometimes, we, like the women at the tomb, need a reminder: “Remember what he said to you.” And when we do remember, as they did, we can “announce all these things,” to share the hope and the love that we can all find in God. To some, our story will “seem like nonsense.” But others will see the truth, and they, like Peter, will be “amazed at what had happened.”

World Down Syndrome Day 2018

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In 2012, the United Nations declared March 21 to be World Down Syndrome Day, “to help raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.”

It’s ironic, because the UN is also a fan of abortion, which kills an alarming number of people with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is the most common human chromosomal disorder. It occurs when a baby has a partial or complete third copy of the 21st chromosome (hence, 3/21 as the date for World Down Syndrome Day). Down syndrome causes mild to profound (usually mild to moderate) intellectual disability and can also cause heart defects, visual or hearing impairment, and other symptoms. The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has gone from 25 to 60 just since 1983.

60, that is, if they make it to birth. While medical advances have done great things in treating the medical complications that can come with Down syndrome, they have also led to increased prenatal testing. I say “unfortunately” not because I believe prenatal testing is necessarily a bad thing. When it doesn’t put the baby at risk, and the parents use the results to educate and prepare themselves, it’s great.

But when it’s used to screen out children with disabilities from entering the world, it’s a horror on par with eugenics or genocide. That sounds extreme, but with reports last year that has just about “eradicated” Down syndrome due to abortion, I really don’t think it is.

I hate that word, “eradicated.” We eradicated polio. We eradicate bug infestations. We don’t eradicate people. Or we shouldn’t, anyway.

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

There are many people we can consider the “least” of us – not the least important or the least valuable, but the least powerful. The most vulnerable. It includes the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the sick, the suffering – and it includes the unborn baby with Down syndrome whose parents are so afraid of the diagnosis that they’re considering abortion.

I am not minimizing the difficulties of raising a child with special needs. I coach baseball with the Miracle League, where I work with children with a variety of disabilities, from Down syndrome to autism and cerebral palsy to other developmental disabilities. I see how difficult it can be.

But I also see how the children I coach are children like any other – unique, learning (at whatever speed), sometimes happy and sometimes not so much, and…

Oh, yeah. Human. Children of God. And therefore possessing a valuable life that should never, ever be destroyed.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this video from #WouldntChangeAThing: https://youtu.be/Biex1XR_mpo.)

The Brown Scapular: A Carmelite Tradition

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When I consecrated myself to Mary earlier this year, I received a brown scapular that had been blessed by a priest. I’d seen scapulars before and heard of the brown one in particular but didn’t really know what it meant to wear one until my consecration. Now, I wear it every day.

(And on a side note: Women’s clothes are not made for people who wear scapulars. Every day, I’m finding tops or dresses I can’t wear anymore because the cut makes the scapular look like bra straps, which isn’t exactly the modest look I want to have. Any fashion designers out there want to start a line just for women who wear scapulars?)

Anyway.

What Is the Brown Scapular?

The brown scapular is a devotion worn under clothing as a way of telling Mary, “I am yours.” According to the Sisters of Carmel, it was given to Carmelite St. Simon Stock by Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1251 in Aylesford, England. She told him, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire,” and the Church has since declared that lay Catholics can also wear the scapular.

The blessings given to people wearing the scapular have three conditions, because the scapular isn’t some magical talisman but a sign of real devotion: first, that they always wear it; second, that they are chaste (according to the Church’s definition of chastity based on whether they are single or married); and third, that they recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary everyday, observe the fasts of the Church and abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or (with the permission of a priest) say five decades of the rosary each day or substitute another good work.

Who Is Our Lady of Mount Carmel?

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is one of Mary’s many titles. Mount Carmel is a mountain range in Israel where Elijah, according to the Catholic News Agency, “successfully challenged the priests of Baal and won the people to the true God.” The Carmelite Order, which has always had a special devotion to Mary, was founded there in the 1200s.

Wearing the scapular is making a promise to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to imitate her humility, chastity, and devotion to Jesus.

What Is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

The Little Office consists of morning and evening prayers made up of psalms, hymns, and scripture and other readings. I use the Laudate app to say it every day. It helps to guide my prayer, particularly my devotion to Mary, and to understand her role in the Church and in our salvation. Also, especially since I gave up Facebook scrolling for Lent, it’s a much better way to spend the first and last moments of my day than using social media.

Do you wear the brown scapular? How has it helped shape your relationship with God?

Totus Tuus: All Yours, Mary!

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Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, creator of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” Marian consecration retreat and book, says that “the act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one’s spiritual journey. It’s a fresh start, and it changes everything.”

I consecrated myself last Sunday, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and while I can’t truthfully say that I feel like “everything” has changed yet, I do feel like I have started “a brand new morning” in my spiritual journey. Every morning, I renew my consecration, saying, at the very least, “totus tuus” – “totally yours.” This phrase was St. Pope John Paul II’s motto, which he used to describe his consecration to Mary.

“Totus tuus” sounds scary at first – giving your life, your will, to Mary to do with as God wills. And it was a little scary at first. But as a person with anxiety, it’s now strangely comforting. All those things about my life that I can’t control, that used to scare me because I couldn’t control them? Totus tuus, Mary. I trust that what God has planned for me is what will happen. I trust that Mary’s spouse, the Holy Spirit (yep, her spouse! how cool is that?), will guide me when I don’t know which path to take. I just pray that as time passes, I remain as committed to my consecration and as trusting in that relationship as I am now.

Of course, consecration goes beyond myself, and that’s why I was particularly inspired by Fr. Gaitley’s discussion of St. Mother Teresa and her consecration. (Mother Teresa was all one of my childhood heroes and now one of my favorite saints.) As one of the people at the foot of the cross who heard Jesus say, “I thirst,” Mother Teresa said that our Mother “knows how real, how deep is His longing for you and for the poor,” and her role, then, “is to bring you face to face … with the love in the Heart of Jesus crucified.”

They say there’s no earthly love greater than the love of a mother for her child, so imagine how much greater Mary’s love must be for her child, who is the Son of God! And, as Mother Teresa said, Mary knows how much it hurts Christ to see His children suffering, to see them sinning, to not have them always close to Him. And so by consecrating myself to Mary, I am reminded of my childhood admiration of Mother Teresa’s total dedication to the poor, and I am committing myself to evangelization and to loving everyone on God’s earth who needs it. Through prayer and service, I must be one of Mary’s servants who helps to quench the thirst of her Son.

On Consecration Day, our group met for dinner and fellowship. My boyfriend, ever supportive and also happy to share our friend’s excellent cooking, came with me. We talked, we prayed, we laughed, and we consecrated ourselves to God through Mary. We received blessed brown scapulars and miraculous medals, and we ate great food (hey, you have to nourish your body as well as your soul, right?).

During the car ride afterward, my boyfriend told me how happy he was that he came with me that evening and that our group went through this process (he pointed out that it was worth it just to have brought me back to Reconciliation, and I agree). When he dropped me off at home, I walked into my apartment with a huge smile on my face, grateful for the group of friends I had celebrated with that evening, the boyfriend who was so supportive of my spiritual journey, and the Mother who is always working to bring her children closer to God.

Returning to Reconciliation

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“Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God” (Pope John Paul II).

I was terrified at my first Reconciliation. As a socially anxious seven-year-old, the idea of having to tell my sins to a priest I didn’t really know was panic-inducing. But I did it, because I was seven, and that’s what you do in second-grade CCD.

I hadn’t gone since, because at 28, Confession was still frightening. And, after all, I hadn’t killed anyone. I hadn’t committed adultery. Did I really need to go?

Over the past year, as I’ve been getting more involved in church and the local young adult group, I’ve been thinking about Confession a lot. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit has been hinting to me about it a lot. But seeing a therapist felt exhausting enough – going to Confession still seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Yesterday, though, I did it. I’d already been thinking that Lent was a good time to go again, and then I found out that it’s strongly recommended to go to Confession before consecrating yourself in Marian Consecration. Today is Consecration Day, so yesterday, I went to my parish, St. Raphael, during the weekly Reconciliation time. I sat, trying to read St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle” while I waited. (I had a C.S. Lewis book in my purse, but in my heightened level of anxiety, I felt like it would be bad to read a Protestant book while waiting for Confession. I know. Silly.

Another side note: Trying to read “The Interior Castle” while you’re anxious is not an easy task.)

Finally, it was my turn. I prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking for guidance and a good Confession. I had my journal with me, where I had done something of an Examination of Conscience, listing the sins that I wanted to confess. Up until yesterday, I’d thought I’d sit face-to-face with the priest, but I ended up kneeling behind the screen. My journal stayed in my purse, and I just spoke to the priest, telling him it had been 21 years since my first – and last – Confession, and then confessing to him.

Y’all, Reconciliation is my new favorite thing. The grace, the compassion, the mercy that I experienced was beautiful. I never understood before why Catholics do the whole Confession thing. After all, why can’t we just ask God directly for forgiveness? But I think that’s missing the point. First of all, how many of us truly take the time to consider our sins and then ask for forgiveness? I told myself I did that, but I didn’t. Confession gives us the chance to truly examine our consciences and apologize to God. The priest offers guidance that we can’t find on our own, and then God actually speaks through him, telling us that He forgives us, that He has infinite mercy for us. That’s pretty incredible.

Why wouldn’t Catholics do the whole Confession thing?

Celebrating Our Spiritual Mentors

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January is National Mentoring Month. Since I’m an editor for a company in the training industry, I’ve been writing and editing a lot about the topic this month. It started me thinking about mentors outside of work and, specifically, in the Church. Who are my spiritual mentors?

I can group them into three categories: the people I have personal relationships with, the saints I have (long-distance) personal relationships with, and the people I look up to but don’t know. (I’m stretching the definition of the word “mentor” here, but bear with me.)

So, who are the people in my life I can consider spiritual mentors? My friends in the Raleigh Catholic Young Adults Group, for sure. They inspire me and have helped enrich my prayer life ever since I got involved in the group last year. I also have to include a shout-out to my Confirmation sponsor, a friend of my mom’s whom I don’t see often enough anymore but who made a big impact on my spiritual development in high school, meeting with me once a week to help me prepare.

Then there are the saints that I pray (way not often enough) to, including:

St. Therese of Lisieux, my Confirmation saint, who inspired this blog. It may seem strange to those who know me well that St. Therese was my Confirmation saint and someone I consider a spiritual mentor. After all, I would be a terrible cloistered nun. I am chatty (actually, now that I think about, it, occasional times of forced silence would probably be good for me), impatient, and don’t spend enough time listening to God (or other people, for that matter). But that’s part of the reason why it’s important for me to pray for St. Therese’s intervention – because she knows the struggle and knows the rewards that come from working through it. Too often, I want my will to be done, not God’s. St. Therese reminds me that trusting in God’s will instead will actually be more rewarding.

St. Mother Teresa, one of my childhood heroes. A saint I can remember seeing on TV! I read about Mother Teresa when I was growing up and wanted that same drive to help others. Again, it’s a virtue I have to pray for, because I’m as selfish as any other human. But, I do tend to be driven by purpose, and if I pray that my purpose is aligned with God’s, maybe, with His help, I can make some difference in other people’s lives. (Coincidentally – actually, probably not – Mother Teresa chose her name after St. Therese!)

St. Joseph, the foster father of our God. I feel like St. Joseph gets downplayed a lot in popular culture. Mary, people tend to get – or at least talk about. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, because, duh. Mother of God. But St. Joseph also said “yes.” He also made huge sacrifices to do the will of God. And he loved Mary and Jesus with everything he had – just like we should. I started praying to St. Joseph for certain special intercessions a few years ago, and he’s always been there for me.

Finally, there are spiritual leaders still with us, whom I do not know personally but whom I look up to a great deal. Pope Francis, of course. His humility has inspired me since I saw him bow to the crowds in his first appearance as pope. I pray that he continues to bring people back to the Church as long as God lets us have him here on Earth.

Then there’s Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of “Left to Tell.” She survived the Rwandan genocide hidden for about three months in a bathroom with seven other women, praying the rosary constantly. The grace she showed in the midst of terrible suffering – and the incredible forgiveness and compassion she’s demonstrated since then – are virtues to aspire to, for sure.

Finally, there’s the Catholic bloggers and podcasters I’ve started following very recently, who share their stories with others with great honesty and vulnerability. My current favorite is Leah Darrow, whom I’ve been gushing about to everyone I know since I read her book (“The Other Side of Beauty”) over Christmas. (Seriously, read her book. It’s great.)

I definitely have great mentors in my professional life, whom I look to for guidance and whom I’ve developed wonderful relationships with. But, ultimately, it’s the spiritual guidance I receive from the people I’ve described here who (I hope!) will help me, one day, get to Heaven.

Now, that’s a mentor.

Who are your spiritual mentors? Share in the comments!