Saving Mothers

Saving Mothers

“The Pro Life Movement has to be about saving mothers.  We need to focus on the women to try to understand what they are suffering.”

-Cardinal Sean O’Malley-
Homily, Vigil for Life, Washington DC, January 21, 2014

It’s an easy equation: save the mother and you’ll save the child in the womb. You might even save a whole family.

I spent a lot of time writing and speaking about motherhood last year, and how the gift of maternity — be it physical or spiritual — is found at the core of what Catholics are coming to know in the last twenty-five years as the feminine genius. And I will do it again in the weeks and months to come.

A woman’s dignity is predicated on the dignity of the human person, and exalted in the gift of maternity. But the bottom line is that respect is the basis, the foundation, of love. All love is build on respect. It is a friendly disposition — this respect — a mutual understanding of another’s right to life and the freedom to flourish. And many times the way we need to do this is woman to woman…. or as I wrote in Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, we need to be about spiritual mothering in action.

Spiritual motherhood allows us to lovingly serve others, not for what they can do for us, or because they love us back, or help make us feel good. It is doing for their sakes. It is doing it for the sake of God, as if God himself personally asked it of us. Spiritual motherhood involves a willingness to suffer, be inconvenienced, be hurt, or taken for granted—and serving anyway.

From a logical standpoint, it will never seem fair. But God’s economy operates with a different scale of values, where giving with no thought of getting makes us better. It makes us more like Jesus.

Then [Jesus] said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Lk 9:23–24; cf. Mt 10:38–39; Mk 8:35; Jn 12:25)

Spiritual mothering responds to the lover we cannot see but who is found in the face of our neighbor. It loves for the sake of someone and something –the truth — we hide in our hearts. So it seems crazy, at times, by the world’s standards.

A spiritual mother is a yes…  She makes room in her person, in her heart, in her life for other people because she welcomes them as God’s plan for her for the short term or the long term. She trusts God and opens herself to his plans and his people. He initiates it, and she receives it. She leaves the results, or what she may come to bear, to him. In doing so, she brings forth life more abundant than she could ask for or imagine.

This is about becoming a woman of holy influence, being a life-giver to others. It’s about finding creative ways to love the generation that’s coming up behind you (and maybe your own peer group), through your feminine gifts of receptivity, generosity, sensitivity, and maternity. One friend describes it as giving others a soft place to land. It also means leaving someone better off for having spent time in your company.

This is how we will save mothers… by mothering them and befriending them in a myriad of ways. This is what a new feminism looks like. We need to act with concern both personally and corporately in order to renew our culture. And we need to find new models of concrete support for all women, especially those facing pregnancy.

This is why I’m so encouraged by what I see as a new vision for pro-woman, pro-life efforts in the work of The Guiding Star Project. Last summer I interviewed founder Leah Jacobson on Among Women, and have been keeping her and her team of colleagues in my prayers.

Just this week Guiding Star announced a fabulous project in collaboration with Abby Johnson.

Abby Johnson, Founder of And Then There Were None and former Planned Parenthood Director, and the Guiding Star Project, a pro-woman organization committed to giving women Life-Affirming health care, are set to announce that the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Affiliate will begin serving the women of the Brazos Valley [Texas] in early 2014.  “I left Planned Parenthood because I realized that I wasn’t helping women there.  I wasn’t empowering them.  I became pro-life but I have never stopped being pro-woman. The Guiding Star Project, with their vision for community based Guiding Star centers, has finally given me the opportunity to do what I have wanted all along – to help and serve women, while respecting their dignity and the dignity of the unborn as well,” says  Johnson, President of the newly formed Board of Directors for the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Center. “Everyone knows the Planned Parenthood here in Bryan/College Station has closed, but this doesn’t mean that our work here is finished,” she said, speaking to the strong prolife community there, “ this means our work is just beginning. Women in the Brazos Valley were concerned that without the Planned Parenthood they wouldn’t have access to women’s health care.  We are here to meet their need – in a life affirming and truly ‘Pro-woman’ way.”

The mission of Guiding Star is not only going to save mothers, it’s going to affirm them by understanding what’s at the heart of a woman’s angst and concerns.

According to Leah Jacobson, Founder of the The Guiding Star Project,“The Guiding Star Project is about bringing together organizations in a community under a shared philosophy and vision to provide women with real alternatives – real health care, real support, in every stage of their child bearing years.  Whether they find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy and needing support or a home, or whether they struggle with infertility and need help, whether they need a lactation consultant or want to learn how to work with their body’s natural cycles to avoid a future pregnancy, Guiding Star is there to meet their needs in a way that affirms their feminine dignity and empowers them to live their femininity fearlessly.”

“Guiding Star Brazos Valley, which will be the first of its kind, is expected to open in 2014 and will go through three phases of development,” explains Laura Ricketts, Executive Director of the Guiding Star Project who works closely with the Guiding Star Project’s Affiliates in Development, “Phase One will see the Guiding Star Brazos Valley offering a host of Pregnancy Care and Resource services and will focus on the renovating and readying of the Guiding Star Brazos Valley Maternity Home.   Phase Two will include the opening of the Maternity Home.  Phase Three will be an expansion to coordinate services beyond pregnancy support to include lactation consultation, child care classes, fertility care and instruction, birth support and comprehensive women’s health care.  Guiding Star Brazos Valley is designed to be places where women can come and have their needs met in a concrete, pro-active, empowering atmosphere. We don’t make empty promises. We offer substance; something every woman can appreciate.”

Read the whole Guiding Star press release.

Please pray for this need, and if you are so moved, donate!  Find out how you can get involved.

Advent Journal Entry: Mt 11: 4… “what you hear and see”

Advent Journal Entry: Mt 11: 4… “what you hear and see”

Here I am with another Advent journal entry. You can read my earlier entries from week one here, and week two here.

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John the Baptist offers one of my most favorite lines in reference to Christ from the New Testament: “He must increase, and I must decrease. (Jn 3:30)”  I think it is an accurate summary of the Christian life. I’m thinking of him, as he made an appearance in last Sunday’s gospel. But I digress.

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In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, we hear some of the final words of John the Baptist from his imprisonment before his death. He is the forerunner, the one who is making ready the path for the Savior who is to come. John sends word to Jesus, and asks forthrightly, “Are you the one….?”

Jesus does not answer with a simple yes to John’s question. He describes the powerful miracles he works as an affirmative and unmistakeable reply.

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Mt 11:2-6)

I’ve mentioned here before that this Advent I’m asking the Lord for what in particular he wants to show me each week. This week, it’s a way to evangelize… how to share the truth about Jesus: “Go and tell… what you hear and see…”

Yes, I am internalizing the words of this particular gospel for myself, asking what do these words of Jesus say to me? I am already convinced: I already believe he is The One. So what must I do? Give evidence of this faith.

How should I share this truth of the saving love of Jesus with another person? For starters, by sharing what I hear and see about Jesus.

How does Jesus work in my life? What do I hear and see?

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I’m so very grateful that I heard the gospel proclaimed boldly when I was a teen. On a retreat in my parish, given by several Spirit-filled adults and teens, I gave my heart to Jesus. Decades later, my commitment to Jesus must continually be renewed, at Mass and through the sacraments, and through my daily prayer and actions. Part of that is giving witness to what I hear and see.

My adult life has been punctuated with many physical maladies, so its really no surprise that I pay attention to Jesus’ words of healing in this gospel. It’s also no surprise when I find there is more going on besides.

After a year of recurring chalazion cysts in my eyes, one day in prayer I felt Jesus nudging me to find another eye doctor, to get a second opinion. It was the right move: I’ve recently been diagnosed with ocular rosacea. (I never heard of that before! I don’t have skin rosacea either!) Yet Jesus is helping me heal slowly from it, with medication and diet. Some days this is slowing down my work and my pace of life, but I’m getting by, and grateful for a solid diagnosis. Blindness in my life need not be related to physical sight, it can be spiritual too… I can be blind to the needs of others due to my own selfishness and pride, or blind to my own laziness at times. Jesus has been trying to cure me of that too, in his direct, yet gentle ways.

In one chapter my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, I wrote about a kind of lameness that I’ve experienced for many years. A congenital deformity — bi-lateral hip dyplasia — has led to one hip replacement in my 40s, and another one to come in the future. What a gift to finally be able to walk straight after my hip got repaired in 2008. Before that point, I often used a cane and limped. I thanked God for using medical science to bring me relief from that lameness and pain. Recently, there are more signs that the other hip, similarly afflicted, is deteriorating. There are days when the pain gets the best of me. Jesus is even using this somehow — especially when I remember to offer it up for the needs of others. He’s reminding me that lameness of spirit is a more deforming and detrimental condition than my hip. So he is calling me to daily disciplines that are designed to build up spiritual muscle in the meantime.Acer Image

I’ve never met a leper, though I know the disease still exists — but I know what it is to have a disease nobody wants. My breast cancer diagnosis in my 30′s left me pretty scared and beat up. Yet here I am, still chugging with double digit years of survivorship. Jesus saw me through that painful time too. I write about some of that in my book too. Cancer is the club that nobody wants to join. Just this month my husband was diagnosed with melanoma, the worst form of skin cancer. Yet despite the shock I felt that morning when he got the call, we were both already on our way to Mass that morning — the very best place we could be. Jesus gave us strength that day. We are grateful that Bob has an early stage of the disease. It was caught very early and is treatable by surgery.

Some people might look at my life and not see a single miracle in any of this stuff I’ve shared. And you’d be right… there were no miraculous restorations to my former health, just ways of keeping me alive, and dealing with illness and disability… both physical and spiritual. Yet, the depth of my gratitude, my blessings, and my joys are innumerable. Jesus has seen me through. He guides my steps. He re-aligns my faltering ones. My life is on his timetable, not mine. I belong to him. He’s the One who is the source of all my good.

If I’m looking for miracle, I can tell you where I find one.

The real miracle is Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist at every Mass, or in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. No matter what shape you’re in, no matter the highs and lows in your own life… go to Him. Spend time with Him there.

Then tell me what you hear and see.

Then tell someone else.

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another…”

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another…”

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

I’m having a different kind of Advent where I’m trying to walk, not run… think, not speak… fast, not feast…(yet)… be mindful, not forget… Love, not withhold.

So I’m asking Jesus to help me to not only see the whole big picture — the way my theological-analytical-critical-creative skills might drive me — but to see the smaller, particular, personal things he needs me to know, see, and be.

This lone verse comes to us from the longer epistle for the Second Sunday of Advent. My love of St Paul’s good counsel always makes my heart desire to lean in to what he is saying.

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Welcome one another…

Oh, to be welcomed!

…Momma and Daddy welcoming a newborn…

…Kids coming home after school and there’s hot cocoa and cookies and snow day tomorrow!

…A beloved son or daughter returning home from a semester away!

…A husband waiting to meet you for a special date he’s planned!

…A long-distance friend arriving at the airport!

…Your most fun guests arriving at your front door!

…Or like the one you’ve longed for, prayed for, to come back to your family, or to their family, or to the church!

It warms the heart to offer such welcome… to lavish one’s love on the one being welcomed. Or to be the recipient of such a welcome.

What a watchword for me. How’s my welcome? Of Christ? Of others? How can it improve? What does this call me to in terms of hospitality, and generosity?

O Mary, help me with this… help me welcome Jesus and others into my heart, my life, my home, like you.

…as Christ welcomed you…

Yes, this is the Little Child of Bethlehem welcoming his Momma and Poppa into His Sacred Heart… who smiles at angels and the warmth of their song… feels the breath of animals nearby and nods at the shepherds with their sheep in tow… and goos at the holy magi who came a distance. This, too, is Jesus who see us kneel tenderly before the creche in our homes and churches.

Yes, this welcoming Christ really is the One all our hearts long for — that took on flesh… so we would know his face, his touch, and the Father’s heart through His. The same Christ in whose name we merit Baptism — a true welcome into union with God and with the Church.

Yes, this is the same Christ who takes on a living Presence in the Eucharist and welcomes us to an intimacy with God that is beyond our wildest imagining, and our deepest hopes.

…for the glory of God.

It’s true. Jesus has already come. He is already Present. And He will come again. This thrice-Advent welcomes us in!IMG_0308

It’s true, the glory of God lives in us by baptism: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col. 1:27)

It’s true, the glory of God is the end of our story.

The welcome we give to others must imitate the welcome Christ bids to us…. and Lord-willing, to foreshadow the welcome we’ll receive in our heavenly home, as we all sit together with Christ at the head of the heavenly banquet.

“I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” Let the one who is thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the give of life-giving water.  (Rev 22:16-17)

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Bonus Chorus from “The Messiah” (G. F. Handel):

“And the Glory of the Lord will be revealed… and all flesh will shall see it together… for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

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You can read the first journal entry for the first week of Advent here.

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Have you seen these daily Advent reflections reading through Evangelii Gaudium –  “The Joy of the Gospel”?

Have you seen these daily Advent reflections reading through Evangelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel”?

I’m over at Kelly Wahlquist’s place today where many people are reading through and reflecting on Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, translated as “The Joy of the Gospel.”  The section I was assigned to cover was not exactly joyful… it was Francis’ outline of the difficult state of affairs that our world is in — EXACTLY a world that NEEDS the JOY of the GOSPEL. 

So don’t get depressed by all the bad stuff our world faces, get excited that Jesus has a plan of repair and redemption!

Here’s a snippet…

If you just begin reading “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) (EG) by diving into Chapter 2, and picking up this section from paragraphs 59-75 describing the challenges we face in our society, you might find it rather depressing.

You may ask, where is the joy of the gospel in all of this?

I predict some first-time readers of magisterial documents — folks who dared to venture into reading this large document based on their love for and interest in Francis — may be tempted to stop their reading because the challenges seem too big, too widespread, and too disparate.

But, intrepid readers, especially those tuned to the current Advent season, know why Francis must speak this way

To discover the beauty of light, we must experience profound darkness. 

To understand redemption we must first know sin.

To find joy in evangelization we must be lovers of the lost, the least, the little, and the lonely.

Francis is a realist, and he offers a reality check for the Church’s mission. Indeed, acknowledging the brokenness of our cultural landscape is not to promote despair, but to chart a reliable plan for repair. In this way Francis can “encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come (EG, 1).”

Read the rest, and the other reflections that will appear every day through Advent!

You can also follow the Facebook page for this series.

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Isaiah 1:5

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Isaiah 1:5

Isaiah 1: 5: “….come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

 

Come…

What a beautifully simple invitation. To come.

It’s a opportunity. It’s a journey. It’s a call. It’s a visit.

God wants us to come to him this season. As he comes to us.

God wants us to be with him this season. Well, in all seasons, really. But sometimes we need loving, nudging reminders. Like a personal dinner invitation over the phone, or a party invitation in the mail, or the suggestion of a prophet to his God’s people at the First Sunday of Advent Mass.

Advent means, “coming”… and the One who is coming is Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Advent of the Lord. Am I engaged in his coming? Am I aware of his presence? Will I choose to come and enter into this season, to enter into this walking?

Let us walk…

Walking is a human activity. Walking is a naturally occurring movement for most people.

Walking is a pace of activity that does not involve running or rushing. Like walking with someone and talking at the same time. Or walking and observing the world around us. Breathing and moving with purpose. Not standing still, but not zooming either. Walking.

Walking is getting from here to there and back again. Walking is healthy. It is good for me and I need to do more of it.

Am I walking or running? Or am I standing still?

Where I am walking? Who am I walking with?

I read that Isaiah is being pretty specific about that.

In the light of the Lord…

What does this mean — to be in the light of the Lord? In the preceding verses the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s mountain and how his people come to it for instruction.

In days to come,
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”

What does this mean to me? The light of the Lord comes from his instruction to me. To be in the Lord’s light means I must be close to his teaching… both in God’s Word in the Bible, and his words coming through the Church.

To walk in the light of the Lord suggests that I must be close to the lights of Advent. Like confession, prayer, Eucharist, almsgiving. Even fasting as we await the feasting of the holy days. These bring the light of the Lord to my heart, my days, my attitude.

But the light of the Lord is more…  for the light that I’ve described so far comes to us is merely a by-product of the Presence of the Lord.

The call to come, to walk, to be in the light… this is a personal invitation to be with Someone. It suggests the Lord is already with us. Here. Now.

The bottom line is that Advent lights point to the Light of the world — Jesus who is Joy to the world.

What if every single light we saw this season, from the candlelight of advent wreaths, to the stars on Christmas trees, to the twinkling house lights and storefront windows, had the power to increase our joy of Him?

1375017_89926289Well, what if we actually let that happen?  What if, as a kind of crazy advent experiment, we choose to pause and to breathe in joy with every light we see and to breathe out, deeply, the presence of the Lord? We would indeed be walking in the light of the Lord! But really, what I’m talking about is much more than the power of positive thinking… that is exactly the kind of grace we can get from the sacraments — the very presence of Jesus lives in us -- during this Advent season!

This is the start of a new year… the chance to begin again with God… to come… to walk… to dwell… in the light of the Lord.

Let us welcome the invitation The more we know of Him, the more we want of Him, the more we can anticipate the joy of the coming Christmas and the Coming Again.

 

God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

1 John 1: 5

 

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Immortal Gladness Rings Through Sadness

Immortal Gladness Rings Through Sadness

On Friday I kept my regular appointment to pick up my weekly mail. It’s a rambling backwoods drive through beautiful woodlands and fields to a small village, where the local luncheonette and the post office and a bank all share the same friendly space. For me it was a brief mental escape affording me a few minutes of quiet and normal on a cold, gray, rainy day. Actually the weather fit my mood…  since there was nothing really normal about the day at all.

It began with the earth-quaking news that a friend of ours, Steve, a longtime singer alongside us at church, was killed when his motorcycle collided with an oncoming truck.

Lord, have mercy.

There is no making sense of such things. And yet the reality that someone you know is no longer with us has a way of coloring everything you see and hear. And you understand just how connected we are.

I parked in the first empty space, and dashed through the rain to the lobby to the P.O. box. I grabbed the letters and returned to sit silently in my car for a few minutes. I opened the mail in a distracted funk. Meanwhile I perceived muffled sounds beyond the white noise of the falling rain on the windshield.

Oh gosh. Music!

I rolled down the window to listen. Across the street is a little white church, its bells pealing at noon. I had no idea of the time of day until I heard the familiar hymn, one note at a time. The godly lyrics tumbled in my brain as the bells washed over me and the raindrops blew in.

 Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love…

This unexpected hymn pierced my darkness in that brooding moment. Of course, it was time to pray the Angelus and to praise! Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the weather, the noontime bells beckon us to come, to be with God, for He is, truly, with us

Hearts unfold like flowers before You,
Opening to the sun above.


Steve would have loved this musical moment with God. He understood the power of music to lift hearts. He was a cheerful song leader; a baritone who smiled whenever he sang.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away,


God knew what I needed right when I needed it. It’s a small consolation for which I’m grateful.

I am holding fast to the idea that our omnipresent and loving God knew exactly what Steve needed – exactly when he needed it. (Prov 15: 3, 1 John 3:20)

In a few days the church bells will toll at Steve’s funeral. And all present will be confronted with the truth we profess to believe.

Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!


One of the singers I know quipped that maybe there’s a new baritone in Heaven’s choir.

I’d like to think he’s right.

 

 

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Please lift a prayer for Steve, his wife, his three adult children, and their loved ones. He brought much good to his family and our community. May he see immortal gladness, and sing to God with all his heart.

 

My Top Three Take-Aways from the Year of Faith… where did you find meaning this year?

My Top Three Take-Aways from the Year of Faith… where did you find meaning this year?

1. Never Forget: The Holy Spirit guides the Church, and the Papacy

Wow! Who could have predicted this? The Catholic news story of the year was not only the Year of Faith but the resignation of the reigning pontiff, and the conclave to elect a new pope!

We also had the first encyclical that was the work of two popes! Lumen Fidei was first drafted by Benedict, but completed by Francis. (You can find my 5 part series on the encyclical here. Here’s the introduction.)

God bless the mission of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the monastic retirement of Benedict XVI.

Two Popes, praying together. Benedict XVI & Francis.

Two Popes, praying together. Benedict XVI & Francis. In my mind, this is the Catholic photo of the year! 

2. Pray! And Pray More! Stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist!

This Year of Faith offered us many opportunities to pray both with the Church and privately. I loved watching on TV and praying my way through World Youth Day, and I loved this moment at Adoration:

Praying with others, outside of the Sunday Mass is also more of a priority for me now. I was privileged to start and lead The Bible Timeline bible study at my parish, as well as hold rosary meetings in my home. Not to mention I was honored to travel the country giving retreats and talks to women related to my book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious.

All those activities are really the fruit of prayer. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, plus staying close to Jesus in the Eucharist and confession are indispensable and continue to be a very strong call in my life. I made an Ignatian-style retreat in April and most recently have been talking to Jesus and my priest about taking steps change my personal schedule to include more breaks for prayer.

By the way – are you a techno geek? This year I noticed that I was praying more “on the go” using apps on my phone like Magnificat, The Divine Mercy, The Rosary Miracle App, and Verse-Wise’s Holy Bible RSV-CE, and more. This is a new side to my prayer, not so much in the way I pray, but in the resources I use.

 3. Spiritual Reading must remain a weekly, if not daily, exercise.

The nature of my writing work requires me to be in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a regular way. So, where as many people undertook reading the Catechism this past year, I was already largely doing that. For me this year, I’m renewed my commitment to pray with scripture, as I work my way through much bible reading for the bible study.

I’m also reading Undset’s biography of St Catherine of Siena, and several other saints biographies. As devotee of St Francis, and a graduate of Franciscan University, I’m very interested in getting to Chesterton’s Francis of Assisi next (and find it hard to believe that I’ve missed it all these years!)

Finally, as mentioned above, I really dove into Lumen Fidei.

Now, I’m looking forward to the release of Francis’ new text, Evangelii Gaudium sometime later today.

What was your experience with the Year of Faith?

A peek into monasticism… videos from a Cistercian monastery in Iowa

Ok, so my post yesterday had me sharing a drawing from Sr Grace Remington OCSO that I love to share when I’m giving a retreat that mentions Mary’s role in the work of redemption alongside our Lord. Since I’d like to share this drawing more in the future, I am inquiring at the monastery where Sr Grace lives as to whether or not this drawing can be made into a prayer card, or similar. I did not hear back from the monastery as yet, but in the meanwhile I enjoyed discovering their monastery in Iowa by way of their videos.  Here’s one here…

More videos here.

Faith, Fiat, and Fidelity to a Catholic Way of Thinking and Living

So I’ve been reading Francis’ encyclical and writing about it over at Patheos. My latest piece on Lumen Fidei’s chapter three is up over at my column, A Word in Season.

I’d like to zero in on one section of chapter three that I write about in the longer piecethe unity of faith is the unity of the Church. The unity of our faith — that we Catholic Christians assert to believing in the deposit of faith that has been handed on since the time of Christ and the Apostles — is the source of our communion, our belonging to God and to one another. We are made for communion with one another by virtue of our human dignity, and by virtue of our baptism we are especially made for communion with God and the Church. The unity of the Church depends on its members believing in the same profession of faith, and its tenets that flow from that.

Allow me to quote a portion of it here.

True believers understand that Church presents a unity of faith and an integrity of faith. St Paul taught “There is one body, and one Spirit… one faith (Eph. 4:4-5).” This faith unites all believers to a common vision; “we receive a common gaze (LF, 47)”.

This is a further development of the idea that we do not live the faith alone, and cannot live it in a vacuum. This common faith brings us into communion — a unity of faith — with one another.

By professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality. (LF, 47)

This unity in faith is derived from the integrity of what we believe. This faith is consistent and does not change. It is we who are changed by it. This is one of the primary roles of the institutional Church, to be the guardian of the deposit of faith, and to be on mission to share it with the world.

The faith is based on the whole truth handed down with integrity from the Apostles, with the continuity and assurance of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus himself guaranteed.

Since faith is one, it must be professed in all it purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that part of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. (LF, 48)

When I read these lines from Lumen Fidei, I am challenged and reminded that we must not fall into a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” that rejects the integrity of faith that the Church has maintained. Tempting as it might be, we cannot select what doctrines of Catholic belief we wish to believe and live by, as if we were selecting items from an a la carte menu.

Further, we reject the unity of faith when we choose to ignore or live without certain beliefs; we are breaking our communion with God and with each other. If we forsake the unifying and universally Catholic way in order to go our own way, we make our preferences into a god of our choosing. We oppose rather than trust the God who first chose us. We bring discord, disunion, and disintegration of the one faith and one Church.

Francis goes so far as to suggest that our unity of faith indicates our unity with the Church, and without it, we are breaking the bonds that Christ died to create.

Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion… harming the faith means harming communion with the Lord. (LF, 48.)

This is a stirring measure with which to examine our own hearts and minds to discover the real depth of our faith and true communion with Christ and the Church.

Read the whole thing if you have time.

This is the great invitation of our faith, and the very essence of being Catholic Christians: To belong to God and to one another — universally connected to the God who made us, and to all of creation.

Lumen Fidei affirms that there have always been periods of history where some tenets of the faith have been harder for some people to accept than others. When we think of our world today, we probably both can name certain beliefs that the Church holds that folks have trouble with today, or just clearly want to reject for any number of reasons. A wise priest once preached that the Gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Us having to wrestle with certain dogmas or doctrines is not a new thing. But wrestle we must.

This communion idea — a common vision and a common life — is a countercultural message in a world that glorifies individualism to a fault.

Our society celebrates our self-made separateness, our freedom to do as we please, and to believe in whatever suits our fancy, and live according to our own rules. Many people, including many Catholics, reject the idea of our being subject to another’s authority, much less the Church’s. Yes, I know church members themselves have made a poor showing of the Gospel message. Yet even with all the times that I can acknowledge that both church leadership and church members have made grievous mistakes that must break God’s heart, we Catholics continue to assert that the Holy Spirit guides and leads and upholds the fundamental framework that is the Church, in message and in mission. That means, even though the human side of the Church can mess things up pretty badly, the divine side is worthy of all our trust and belief. We see this in the Church’s prolonged 2000 year history. Something bigger than herself keeps her afloat.

Here’s what I’m getting at: When we debunk the authority of the Church, we debunk the Holy Spirit’s hidden yet profound guidance contained therein. We need the power of God (through graces) to live out the Christian life. When we separate ourselves from the source of grace (the Church and her sacraments), God doesn’t lose, we lose. And the Holy Spirit grieves this. We need the Church and we need to be church.

I see this as one of the great needs of the new evangelization – to find ways to repair the breach between our faith and our daily lives, and between our personal faith lives and our unity with the church. There is an ache in my heart for every one who something along the lines of “I’m a Catholic but I just don’t buy it all. I love the Mass, but I don’t believe in ________.”

All of us must ask ourselves the penetrating questions: if the faith has been passed on to us, has it indeed taken hold in our own lives?

Are we changed and transformed by it in such a way as to desire to conform our minds, hearts, and wills to the Lord and his Church in gratitude for all he has done for us?

Do we hold tight to some tenets of the faith while discarding others? Are there doctrines we choose not believe, seemingly carving an idol of our opinion as superior to what is held by the universal Church? Do we profess the faith only marginally or just part of the time? As opposed to the full gospel all the time?

Do we live from that deep place of gratitude, and knowing our faith is inseparable from the faith of the Church?

The Church holds that there is an indissoluble union between Christ and his Church, if we reject something that the Church teaches, it is almost like asking which part of Christ would we prefer to live without? How could we reject any part of HIM?

We need to grow in fidelity to Christ and the Church. That means we need to find ways to mend the disunity and the disconnection we may have with the Church, to be Christians full time, even as we wrestle, and struggle, and wonder if we can really submit to all that is required? The Holy Spirit will help us. Just like the Holy Spirit flowed through Mary’s yes, her fiat, to say yes to God’s ways and not our own.

Don’t be discouraged: I’m so encouraged the Church calls us to on-going conversion… that it takes time to grow in faith and love with all God calls us to be and do.

Here’s something else that is encouraging:  Francis’ recent homily of consecrating the world to Our Lady… the woman of the radical yes to God, the fiat…. 

Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.

And I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.