This just in: Now it’s “Pope emeritus” for Benedict XVI!

Here’s the story from NEWS.va.  In short:

Benedict XVI will be “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus”, as Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, reported in a press conference on th final days of the current pontificate. He will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI” and will dress in a simple white cassock without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape).

Read more.

Here’s my tribute to what I will miss about Pope Benedict XVI, and what I’ve learned from him

Here’s my tribute to what I will miss about Pope Benedict XVI, and what I’ve learned from him

From my column at Patheos this week on the intersection of Benedict, the Catechism, and the hope of heaven…

I have a first edition English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in hardcover. Ever since my great awakening to my Catholic faith in my teen years, I’ve been reading about our faith, and taking theology classes when I could. So in 1992, when I heard that the Catholic Church was putting out a new catechism, the theology geek in me bought a copy when the English translation arrived in 1994.

Within the first 70 pages or so, I was hooked. I had no idea who was responsible for what I was reading, but the clarity of the teaching grabbed me.

There were several “teachable moments” where the Catechism affirmed what I already believed, or corrected or challenged my understandings. I’ll share just one instance that blessed me, and came back to bless me again years later, and is blessing me still.

The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC, par 260)

What? God wants union with his creatures? Up until that point I had I understood that Jesus loved me. I understood that Jesus died for my sins. I understood that those graces had the power to change me and be like Jesus. But my understanding fell short of such a love yielding this kind of a bond as my entering into union with God.

Everything in God’s plan of salvation — another name for the “divine economy” — is moving toward God. Myself included. The Trinity is my destiny and yours.

This woke me up as it gave me pause.

This one sentence kept coming alive in my mind over and over again. It expanded my image of God, my relationship with him and his heaven. For most of my adult life I vaguely acknowledged that, one day, I would die. Yet I never really considered the true hope of heaven, or what it might look like. I was merrily oblivious. Looking back, my rather lame vision of heaven included clouds and angels and what not. God’s heaven was a very distant “place” that didn’t demand my meditation. But I began to ask myself, how can one truly have hope without knowing where the source of hope comes from?

Good catechesis, and the power of the Holy Spirit, has a way of making us dig deeper until we own what we profess to believe.

Two years later, in 1996, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the weight of my own mortality squarely rested across my shoulders. During that time of stress and heartache, what the Catechism had taught me came alive. I remembered that line about entering into the unity of the Trinity. My life, lived well — yoked to Christ — would someday have this potential to be permanently joined to God… to be in union with the Persons of the Trinity for eternity.

Heaven would be all about this relationship!

That one little sentence of truth from the Catechism brought me such hope, and clear direction for the rest of my life! And hope is exactly what one needs, not only when facing a cancer diagnosis, but, really, every single day.

Fast forward, years later, into cancer survivorship…  the same Catechism was still challenging me, and it was a catalyst for my returning to graduate school in my forties. There were thousands of footnotes in the Catechism, and I wanted to know what they all meant! (That thirst eventually led me to seek a Masters in the theology, and I received my diploma in 2008 –- 12 years post-cancer!)

As I poured over Scripture and theology books during those study years, I came to discover the “who’s who” behind the Catechism.  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – our Pope Benedict XVI  – was the chief architect of the Catechism, at the directive of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism….

(John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, Oct. 11, 1992.)

I felt such a debt of gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger for the Catechism. It was a monumental work – the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years – plus it took six years to develop, with input from over a thousand bishops from the world over. It would influence future generations for the next century! It certainly had its effect on me.

What’s more, my studies led me to discover Ratzinger as one of the premier theologians of the last two generations — with dozens of books to his name! As I studied eschatology — the study of death and eternal life — I learned how important the actual Risen Body of Jesus is to humanity’s eternal destiny. I came to relish Fr. Ratzinger’s work on the subject. The good professor helped me unpack the beauty of a heavenly union with the Trinity, as he describes how Jesus brings about this union for us.

Heaven’s existence depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus, primarily, a personal reality…

(Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, Eschatology, The Catholic University of America, 1988, p. 234.)

Jesus makes a space for us in himself, as we truly become the body of Christ. As I read this text that had preceded the Catechism, I immediately recognized the themes I had read earlier.

Read the rest over at Patheos.

Image courtesy of Thomas McDonald

This makes me think… about the genius of Benedict, and the clarity of his teaching…and the meaning of life

Benedict XVI is a biblical scholar and an expert in Augustine’s writing and teaching. This section of his encyclical, Spe Salvi, is simple and profound, much like Augustine himself would teach.

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27. [I]t is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30). Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”.

28. Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not! Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole…

Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others. This same connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine. After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practise a Christian version of the ideal of the contemplative life expressed in the great tradition of Greek philosophy, choosing in this way the  “better part” (cf. Lk10:42). Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city. Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15)”. Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.

29. For Augustine this meant a totally new life. He once described his daily life in the following terms: “The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved”. “The Gospel terrifies me”—producing that healthy fear which prevents us from living for ourselves alone and compels us to pass on the hope we hold in common. Amid the serious difficulties facing the Roman Empire—and also posing a serious threat to Roman Africa, which was actually destroyed at the end of Augustine’s life—this was what he set out to do: to transmit hope, the hope which came to him from faith and which, in complete contrast with his introverted temperament, enabled him to take part decisively and with all his strength in the task of building up the city. In the same chapter of the Confessions in which we have just noted the decisive reason for his commitment “for all”, he says that Christ “intercedes for us, otherwise I should despair. My weaknesses are many and grave, many and grave indeed, but more abundant still is your medicine. We might have thought that your word was far distant from union with man, and so we might have despaired of ourselves, if this Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us”. On the strength of his hope, Augustine dedicated himself completely to the ordinary people and to his city—renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people.

—Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, par 27-29. (Bold emphasis, mine.)

From my archives: Polycarp — An Unusual Name, A Remarkable Story

From my archives: Polycarp — An Unusual Name, A Remarkable Story

Today is the feast of St Polycarp, bishop and martyr. His story is one of the earliest martyr accounts from the early Church. This is reprinted from my column at Patheos. Subscribe to the column here.

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Polycarp is not a fish. He was an amazing Greek Bishop from Smyrna. (Ok, so maybe you knew that already.)

Still, Polycarp is one of the heroes of the early Church and everyone should know his name. Memorialized by the Church for his readiness to die for the faith, in doing so, Polycarp witnessed to what it means to live as a loyal disciple. The liturgical calendar honors his martyrdom on February 23rd for good reason.

Polycarp became a young first-century believer in Jesus Christ, under the tutelage of St. John the Apostle when he ministered in Ephesus. Years later, a very elderly John would ordain Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna at about age 35. He was a young bishop leading a young church south of Ephesus in Smyrna, now the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey.

For fifty years, Polycarp led his church. Along the way he was a friend to Ignatius of Antioch, another Bishop and martyr who perished in Rome. He taught a young Iranaeus, better known as the future Bishop of Lyons, and later, a Father of the Church and saint. For us, Polycarp serves as a link between the nascent church of the apostolic age, and the emerging spread of the Christianity into the second and third centuries despite the religious persecution of the day.Burghers_michael_saintpolycarp

Polycarp’s heroic death is recounted in a famous letter written by an eyewitness. Preserved and revered as one of the great martyrologies of the Church, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, is the earliest one we have, outside of Stephen’s martyrdom recorded in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7.

Written in the popular epistle style of exhortation and encouragement — think of St. Paul’s many letters — The Martyrdom of Polycarp is a 3700 word treatise on how to die with dignity, without compromising one’s faith, even when under fire, or literally, on fire! A Christian named Marcion dictated the compelling story to a scribe named Evaristus. The letter then circulated to honor Polycarp as it heartened fellow Christians undergoing persecution.

Around the year 155, Polycarp, then in his 80s, knew his persecutors were coming for him. He was prepared in prayer via a dream that envisioned his being burned at the stake. But despite his advanced age, Polycarp didn’t go quietly. No, the Bishop of Smyrna not only predicted his death, but along the way he made sure his executioners knew their own fate… his martyrdom would be a short suffering compared to the torment reserved in the afterlife for those opposed to God and his ways.

At his arrest, Polycarp generously served food and drink to the police who had come for him. He respectfully asked them for the indulgence of an hour of uninterrupted prayer before departing. They complied, and Polycarp rose and prayed in their midst — for two hours!

…and on their consenting, he stood up and prayed, being so full of the grace of God, that for two hours he could not hold his peace, and those that heard were amazed, and many repented that they had come against such a venerable old man.
But when at length he brought his prayer to an end, after remembering all who at any time had come in his way, small and great, high and low, and all the universal Church throughout the world, the hour of departure being come, they seated him on a donkey and brought him into the city, it being a high Sabbath. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7:3-8:1.)

Roman officials commonly taunted their Christian captives by calling them atheists, for they did not worship the Roman gods. Within that context, there is an ironic moment prior to his execution whereby Polycarp deadpans the taunt, and with a wave of his hand inverts it and implicates the atheists gathered in the stadium to watch the Christians die…


But as Polycarp entered into the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven; “Be strong, Polycarp, and [be a] man.” And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice…


When then [Polycarp] was brought before him, the proconsul asked whether he were the man. And on his confessing that he was, he tried to persuade him to a denial saying, “Have respect to your age… Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, ‘Away with the atheists.’” Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, “Away with the atheists.”

But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile the Christ,” Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years have I been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (Martyrdom, 9:1-3.)

Polycarp does not recant; his witness never wavers. (Polycarp does not let “teachable moments” go to waste.)

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Find out what happens next, read the rest.

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UPDATED* — “Pope emeritus”! After his abdication, what do we call Pope Benedict? His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome.

He’ll need a new Twitter handle too. I’m suggesting @BXVIBER. Don’t stop writing, Holy Father. We’ll need your tweets so we can read your new blog. I can’t wait til he posts his first Lisa-Hendey-esque style tweet with the “View from my Office”…

*UPDATE 2.26.2013.  News from the Vatican is that they are going with “Pope emeritus”… read all about it!

Splinters from the Cross… on worry

Splinters from the Cross… on worry

I’m a worrier by nature. But I don’t have to live that way. There’s more on this below.

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What’s with the splinters from the cross? Read this post from last Friday to catch up. This is my little attempt at keeping Fridays a bit more solemn in Lent. Last week’s post dealt with anger. This week, it’s worry.

Splinter from the Cross

Little headaches, little heartaches
Little griefs of every day.
Little trials and vexations,
How they throng around our way!
One great cross, immense and heavy,
so it seems to our weak will,
Might be borne with resignation,
But these many small ones kill.
Yet all life is formed of small things,
Little leaves, make up the trees,
Many tiny drops of water
Blending, make the mighty seas.
Let us not then by impatience
Mar the beauty of the whole,
But for love of Jesus bear all
In the silence of our soul.
Asking Him for grace sufficient
To sustain us through each loss,
And to treasure each small offering
As a splinter from His Cross.

- Author Unknown -

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Everyone worries sometimes, but some of us get caught up in it more than others.

For lack of a better way to describe myself, I have a outward side and an inward one, thanks to a choleric-melancholic temperament. That probably sounds a bit fake. It’s not being two-faced, or false in front of others, as much as its about having a strong persona that is capable of carrying on in the face of challenges and adversity. That take charge thing has a tendency to take charge, and protect the meeker spirit within. It’s like the British myth of keeping a still upper lip. But when stuff on the inside is churning, I am capable of waiting until I’m alone, or with someone I hold very dear, to come apart. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, as the cliché goes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an intensely passionate and sensitive side. I’m am all of those things all at once. Sensitive and spiritual, while dealing with a strategic pragmatism that wants to figure things out, charge ahead, and be not afraid. In social situations my choleric Pat tends to dominate my sensitive melancholic Patty. My choleric tends to have the voice. But the melancholic is the one with the words, and the strongest love. If you really get to know me, I’m a quirky combination of seriousness and silliness, but the serious side often wins out. If you read that link about this kind of temperament, you’ll see St Paul was thought to have this temperament. That’s a strange comfort to me. It’s good to know that to be a saint, God can work with the raw materials I’ve already got, just as He has before.

Looking back over decades of living with this temperamental mix, I can see the best and the worst of me. The best of my choleric qualities have worked as a fine combination in business, when things are task oriented and goal driven, but in its extremes, its not always the best when it comes to the ways of the heart and the needs of marriage and family life. That’s a been a cause of worry and grief, when my gusto far outweighed my gentleness. The melancholic tendencies I possess make my thoughts run really deep and ponderable, while at the same time they make me a deeply loyal and noble friend. The self-donation needed for marriage and family is easily offered, while in its extremes, a melancholic’s weaknesses lead to being easily hurt and resentful — always a source of worry, too, or too much self-focus.

It took me a long time to figure out how my “lion” ought to lay down with my “lamb”, to poorly paraphrase the Scripture. And that there is real beauty in both aspects to this temperament. It also took me until my forties, and many graces from the sacraments, to really understand just how my strengths and weaknesses could intersect with ministry, and the kind of work that I do now…

All of this is a long way to say I have a very vivid imagination — I’m full of ideas and zeal — yet I’m prone to worry and left to my own devices I can brood over things. It’s like my default becomes stuck and set to pessimism, to seeing the glass half full. It worries me. I don’t want to be this way. It seems antithetical to a Christian’s faith, or so my rational choleric take-charge mind tells me. But I can’t escape the still waters of melancholic worry.

So what do I do? I’ve learned there are three things that help. They all address fear in some way, which is the root of all worry.

(That’s why some of my favorite passages in the Bible are “Do not be afraid” and “Do not fear”. There are multiple references to them, so its a message God really wants us to hear and know: Fear is useless. We must trust.)

Trust for me has three elements: prayer + a big God + my knowing my dignity as a Child of God.

#1 I pray. 

Worry drives me to my knees. Precisely because I am a Christian I’ve learned that I am no end in myself. I can’t change the way I’ve been made, but thanks to grace, I can change the way I react to things. In other words, I think God made me with this temperament, precisely, to bring me to him. The things I don’t like in me, like the melancholic worry-gene, and the strong striver-take-charger, I can bring both extremes, my roughest edges, to God. Over and over again. And He doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s prefer it that way because he’d rather work through me than have me do things without him. Whenever St. Paul complains about his thorn in the flesh, I often think he had a melancholic streak that drove his choleric up a tree. A self-critical nature can bring can ruin in a soul without God. So can worry. I do both. So I need a lot of God.

Fortunately, we have a great many saints whose counsel against worry have lit a path for turning fears into faith…

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

– Padre (St.) Pio –

That part about God being merciful? That really addresses the heart of my self-struggles with worry. It demands that I trust Him. And that’s a good, healthy way for my lion and lamb to coexist… they both find peace in the trust of a merciful God.

#2 I trust in a Big God.

I’ve racked up a pretty big pile of annoying self-inflicted splinters over worry that did me no good — before I learned that trials and concerns must be borne in trust of God. Jesus wants me to seek him first of all in all things. Worriers would do well to memorize his words.

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”

John 14: 1

Now what I’ve learned is that Jesus can take a worry-wart like me, and by his grace, turn me into a powerful intercessor. There’s always a reason to pray, and now I don’t hesitate. Now I even ask other people what I can pray for on their behalf. You would think if I’m already given to worry by nature, why would I want to take on anyone elses worries? But in prayer a curious paradox takes place. By my sharing their load, and by having a few fellow intercessors take my concerns too, it, ultimately reduces my worries! It increases my faith and trust in Christ, and in his Body, the Church!

Jesus said, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”

Matthew 6: 24-34.

The Father that is mentioned by Jesus in that passage is my father, too. I often forget that. That Big God is not some impersonal omnipotent deity. He is my father.

#3 I remember whose I am.

When I can remember that God is a father, and I belong to him, it has the power to calm my racing heart. My worries find the exit. Someone else is the true grown up in the room, the  weight-carrier, the one with the world on their shoulder. I can curl up in his lap, and, as the 12-steppers say: “Let go, and let God.” This is why, when I faced the deepest worries of my life — related to my breast cancer diagnosis in  1996 — I found my deepest consolation in the wisdom of Scripture, and in the example of the saints, like St. Francis de Sales. They both teach me how to live the radical trust that is the birthright of a Child of God, given to me at baptism.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;

rather look to them with full hope as they arise.

 God, whose very own you are,

will lead you safely through all things;

and when you cannot stand it,

God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;

the same everlasting Father who cared for you today

will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering,

Or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace

And put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

– St Francis de Sales–

Taming worry into trust has been a lifelong process for me. But I offer it up to God, again, this Lent, “asking him for grace sufficient.”


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Props for the re-tooled Catholic Digest magazine

Props for the re-tooled Catholic Digest magazine

One of my favorite writing assignments during this Year of Faith, besides my columns online, has been the opportunity to write a 12-month series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Catholic Digest magazine. These are short 500-word digestible pieces designed to introduce readers to the benefits of becoming more familiar with Catechism, as well as imparting its timeless wisdom.

But more than the shameless promotion of my own writing, I’ve really enjoyed my subscription. Yes, I’m subscribed even though I’m a sometime-contributer — so that says a lot! I was a longtime fan of Faith and Family magazine while it was under the leadership of Danielle Bean, and when I heard she was on her way to become the Editor-in-Chief at CD after Faith and Family left the marketplace

photoI just knew that the Catholic Digest was going to get a deserving make-over both in content and aesthetics. I haven’t been disappointed. Each issue looks better and better.

The latest issue for Feb/Mar 2013 has several good articles on the liturgical season of Lent, plus content on infertility, 20 ways to teach children to pray, how to deal with difficult people, book and movie suggestions, tips for meatless Lenten meals, and ideas for a memorable Easter with your family. There’s even a dedicated section for the men in the family. This month issue’s cover story describes a new made-for-TV Bible series created by Roma Downey and her TV-exec husband.

Let this be one of your family investments for the Year of Faith. Get subscription details here. You can sample some articles that are online under the tabs on the landing page. This might also be a neat gift idea for Easter, birthdays, or Mother’s Day.

Finally, a special stand-alone tribute edition for Pope Benedict is also planned, so you might want to place your order for that as we pass through this history-making abdication of our pope.

 

Among Women 157: Going through the Change… Benedict XVI’s announcement & the Midlife Madres II

Among Women 157: Going through the Change… Benedict XVI’s announcement & the Midlife Madres II

Change happens… it happens in life, and last week, a soon-to-come change was announced for the papacy. Midlife women know all about changes… from the body to the soul! Join me for Among Women this week as I share my first thoughts on Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement to leave the Chair of Peter, as well talk about the changes both joyful and stressful changes that midlife women face, with my guest, Barb Szyszkiewicz, blogger at SFO Mom. Also in this episode, a look at the life of St Agnes of Prague (aka St Agnes of Bohemia).

Download Among Women or find Episode 157 on iTunes.

This Makes Me Think… about God’s role in my marriage

It takes three to make Love in Heaven – 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It takes three for Heaven to make love to earth –

God, Man, and Mary, through whom God became Man.

It takes three to make love in the Holy Family –

Mary, and Joseph, and the consummation of their love, Jesus.

It takes three to make love in hearts –

The Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

– Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married

Friday in Lent… Picking up splinters from the Cross

Friday in Lent… Picking up splinters from the Cross

For regular readers of this blog, the weekly “F.U.N. Quotient” is taking a little break for Lent. It will return in the Easter season. Fridays, being the day Christ died on the Cross, begs for my attempt at solemnity for Lent. So for the next several Fridays in Lent, I’d like to deal with the splinters of trouble, heartache, and fear, and how our sufferings really do offer a way toward redemption.

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When I was a young girl, I heard a poem about how each of our own trials were like splinters from the Cross of Christ. In the years hence, that image about the splinters stayed with me.

Here’s the poem… It’s a little schmaltzy, its not Tennyson or Byron or Keats, but it gets the job done.

Splinter from the Cross

Little headaches, little heartaches
Little griefs of every day.
Little trials and vexations,
How they throng around our way!
One great cross, immense and heavy,
so it seems to our weak will,
Might be borne with resignation,
But these many small ones kill.
Yet all life is formed of small things,
Little leaves, make up the trees,
Many tiny drops of water
Blending, make the mighty seas.
Let us not then by impatience
Mar the beauty of the whole,
But for love of Jesus bear all
In the silence of our soul.
Asking Him for grace sufficient
To sustain us through each loss,
And to treasure each small offering
As a splinter from His Cross.

- Author Unknown -

While I love the spiritual life, the truth is, the more I know, the more I don’t know. Another way to say it is, the closer I come to Christ, the more I’m stripped down to the basics more and more. The call to holiness for me often comes down to dealing with these little trials each day… little headaches, heartaches, and vexations.

Isn’t that just a lovely way of describing the things that really piss me off?

I’ve had a quick temper my whole life. And learning to not fly off the handle, forgive the archaic cliché, has been one of my biggest life lessons. If there has been one consistent area of sin for me, it has been that. Trying to tame the tongue that goes with it has also been a challenge.

What I’ve learned over the years is that I need to lower the set point for my anger. Just as we work to slowly lower the set point of weight gain, we can slowly lower the trigger points for anger. Like weight loss that comes from finding a good balance between less caloric intake and adding more exercise, reducing the anger in my life came from finding the balance between taking in less anger, or avoiding the near occasion to sin with anger, and adding more joy and laughter… such as raising the fun quotient, looking to the blessings and good things in life, and having people in my life who help me “lighten up” when my somber moods and seriousness get in high gear. I can’t change my temperament that tends toward the serious side of life, but I can change how I cope with it. That’s where the grace comes in, to help make those adjustments and course corrections. I may still be bent toward anger, but I don’t have to sin toward anger. Being tempted to anger is not the sin, only the harmful actions of anger are.

So I’ve collected quite a pile of splinters that I’ve pulled from the anger years in my life. Prayer and the sacraments are still the antidote for me.

 

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