Learn more about my latest book – All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. Available now!

No matter how low your opinion of the Church might be right now, the opinion of Jesus Christ matters most.

No matter how low your opinion of the Church might be right now, the opinion of Jesus Christ matters most.

Until we get to the bliss of heaven, much of what we experience in the Church may look a lot like the up-and-down, back-and-forth seasons of marriage: “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad.”

– Pat Gohn, All In

I get it. In the wake of more scandals, many of us feel disgusted, angry, and maybe even depressed about the continued revelations about how messed up our Church institutions and its leadership may be. I won’t link the discouraging news items here. You can find them, oh, everywhere right now.  For the moment, I’ll just remind you of this chapter (in its entirety. below) from my book, ALL IN: Why belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. 

I’m no pollyanna, no pie-in-the-sky disbeliever regarding the filth and corruption of what the recent news accounts are saying. But let us not forget, the Church is more than this. Even though there is great and painful and purifying work that must be done within the Church both immediately and hereafter, we must not lose hope.

I wrote ALL IN in the years following the church sex abuse scandals in 2002 in the Archdiocese of Boston, where I live. It explains why I can still have confidence in the Church, the Bride of Christ, despite her many crucibles.

:::

 

CHAPTER 2, ALL IN : Why belonging to the Catholic Church Matters

Or, hear the a shorter, podcast version here. 

 

GOD’S LOVE MADE VISIBLE

Yuck! A Mud-Splashed Bride!

I love the coffee at the cozy restaurant just a short walk from our church parking lot. A woman from the Bible study I was leading asked to talk to me outside of class, and we met at that restaurant. She was my lunch companion that day. As I munched my salad, I listened to her rail about disparaging news items about the Catholic Church — the latest in a string of disappointments for her. I understand how these things can be setbacks to a person’s faith. Negative press always brings fallout. Bad news about the Church can shake even churchgoing Catholics like this good woman. For some it drives them to make a choice — to lean into or away from the Church. My lunch date’s confidence in the Church was shrinking.

I didn’t know that afternoon that my friend was seriously thinking about stepping away from the Church. I’m glad I prayed before we met because it allowed me to listen to the state of her heart and not to get caught up in taking sides in the politics of the news item. This woman, a convert to Catholicism years ago and endowed with very strong intellectual gifts, was clearly rattled. I perceived a tear behind her glasses.

One thing was very clear as she spoke: she had great faith in Jesus Christ, but her faith in the institution of the Church was eroding. She was seriously questioning the current leadership of those mentioned in the news accounts. She wanted to know how I dealt with these things without falling apart or losing my faith.

I finished my coffee and tried to smile in reassurance before I gave my answer. In the post-scandal years, I’ve had many such conversations. I’m no stranger to disappointment in the Catholic Church either.

My experience taught me that sometimes all we can see of the Church are the imperfections and sins that sully it. Many of us have experienced the flawed humanity of the institution of the Church, the sinful and stumbling members of the Church. And while I agree that some members are unprincipled and lacking in integrity, there are many more good and holy priests and members of the laity.

As a cradle Catholic in midlife, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with the flaws, shortcomings, and outright poor conduct of Catholics and Church authorities I’ve known. There’s only so much that can be excused in the name of immaturity or people not knowing any better. At times, there is some downright bad behavior going on and, in certain instances, humiliating and criminal behavior.

Sadly, some of my loved ones have been victimized by the actions of bad Catholics and even by unholy priests. Heart-piercing sins from within the Church have hurt my family and friends. Yet I’m not here to make this a lurid tell-all. No doubt, if you’re a Catholic over the age of eight and you can read a newspaper or listen to the media, you’ve been affected, too.

Shocking scandals — be it the clergy sexual-abuse cases, reports of fiscal malfeasance, bickering Church members, poor pastoring damaging the faith, or you name it — all have brought disillusionment and pure revulsion to those still occupying the pews as well as the oh-so-many who have left. There’s plenty of hurt to go around whether you consider yourself inside or outside the Catholic Church.

It is not just scandals muddying the Church from within that drives Catholics away. People are making the choice to leave because the culture today offers a pleth- ora of alternatives outside their religion that compete for their attentions and affections. People make value judgments every day on how they are going to spend their time, their money, and their love. Too often the Church just doesn’t make the cut. So people walk away from the Church because they deem it irrelevant to their lives.

Many suffer a tremendous lack of confidence in the Church. It’s a global problem, this leave-taking, but it’s also a personal one for you and me who are left to choose.

I understand the questions that come from Catholics who remain, from Catholics who may be considering trying to return to the Church after being away, or from future would-be converts.

How does one stand with a Church that may seem, at times, very unlovable or at odds with and even disconnected from the culture?

How does one belong when members seem to be fading away because of the Church’s lack of popularity or, worse, because of her being discredited by the actions of some of her own people, including priests and bishops?

Why bother? Why belong? What good is it?

I’ve had to dig down deep to answer for myself why belonging to the Catholic Church matters. There are many benefits just as there is much goodness in the Church’s people, priests, and teachings. I know because I cling to this faith and this Church despite adverse conditions.

Let me offer one truth that has proved stabilizing for me, an anchor amid storms and scandals: the Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ.

That means that Jesus, who is God, the second person of the Trinity, is the Bridegroom. This is a fantastic idea! And yet, in light of the negativity toward Catholicism, if this Church is the Bride, many think she needs one heck of a makeover!


From my vantage point, many people view the Church as a mud-splashed bride. For some, what was once beautiful cannot be appreciated because the soil of hard times has taken its toll. Sometimes, there’s so much pain that we’ve experienced that it’s hard to see or feel differently. We fail to see the truth of the Bride’s beauty and her best potential. It may seem easier to write her off and cut our losses.

Yet.

Yet there exists, in reality, a holy marriage between the two, between the Bridegroom, Jesus, and his Bride, the Church.

And to date, there has been no divorce. And there never will be.

What?

I mean that this idea of bride and bridegroom is more than an analogy or just some nice metaphor or platitude. This coming together of God and his people is in the great big plan that God decided on long ago.

From its earliest days, the Catholic Church has taught that Jesus is the Bridegroom and we, the Church, are his Bride. St. Paul, in the first century, wrote, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31–32).

The Catholic Church, in recent years, has been the subject of scandals and difficulties across the globe. I won’t minimize that.

Yet. No matter how battered your opinion or my opinion of the global or local Church might be at times, “Christ loves the Church as His bride” [Lumen Gentium, 7]. The opinion of Jesus Christ matters most. And the Church is still his Bride.

Another Time, Another Place, Another Bride and Groom

A phrase from my wedding invitation has stayed with me for more than thirty years. I was planning a wedding about the same time that I was a struggling copywriter in radio. Being the wordsmithy bride-to-be, it fell to me to compose our wedding invitations, alongside my soon-to-be groom. Besides the announcement of the names, dates, times, and places that most invitations have, there is usually precious little space for any further sentiment. However, we man- aged to add a phrase that helped us relate the meaning that the day had for us.

The invitation was addressed from our parents, and it read, in part:

You are invited to celebrate

the gift of God’s love made visible

when

Patricia and Robert


become united in one as Christ


in the holy sacrament of Matrimony.

Since that tender time, I’ve had decades to consider what the gift of God’s love made visible really means in my life. It meant one thing for my marriage, in terms of the unity of husband and wife and our unity with God. But the gift of God’s love made visible has been manifest in so many other ways.

God’s love became visible to me — became tangibly real — not only through that retreat in my teen years but in ongoing ways: through God’s voice in the Bible, the graces I received in the sacraments, and the people in our parish faith community that surrounded me. But for me, God used my marriage to profoundly shape my understanding of his love.

A little history: as a young woman grappling with living her Catholic faith, I became friends with a young man trying to do the same. This would be my future husband, Bob. He was a devout Catholic, and we dated while we were in college. Our common Catholic vision played a strong role in our deciding on marriage in the Church. We believed back then, and still do today, that God loved us. And that it was not only our idea but also God’s idea that we should marry.

We trusted what Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen had famously preached years ago, that it takes three to get married: God, plus the couple. Even in those younger years, we believed that our marriage was a gift from God to us. Our gift to God in return was the hope that God might allow us to make his love visible on earth. The love we shared in our family was to be a sign of God’s love to our three children, to our neighbors, to our parish, and to whomever we met in the world.

It is a profound idea that God entrusts human persons to bring his love to others — because we can really mess it up! God takes a big risk putting us in charge of making his love visible. For the record, Bob and I often failed miserably at loving one another and our family. Everyone makes mistakes in family life, and some learning curves are steeper than others. Yet failure is rarely a permanent state. We held on to hope and forgiveness and asked in prayer for graces to aid us in doing better and in trying to heal hurts along the way.

The vows of marriage, in their own way, make the gift of God’s love visible as they remind us of loyalty and faithfulness, “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad.” They really are a vow to try to love like God loves because God’s love is constant and everlasting. Through the years we learned to love with great fidelity and to understand what St. Peter meant when he said, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8).

I’ve never forgotten those words on the wedding invitation, and as I look back, they became a foundation for our married life. Yet it was not until later that I learned that this gift of God’s love being made visible in my marriage was a microcosm of something much more vast and cosmic.

The invisible God is all about making his love visible. In the Nicene Creed that Catholics profess at Mass, we pray:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty,


maker of heaven and earth, 
of all things visible and invisible.

This prayer declares belief in an almighty God, identified as a Father who created all things, including us.

God has been slowly revealing his love through the ages — making his love visible through his gift of creation and especially through the creation of human persons. The interesting part is this: a perfect, invisible, and all-powerful God really has no need of us at all. He is perfectly perfect in his perfect and blessed life. There is no other reason for God to create us other than love.

The first sentence of the Catechism of the Catholic Church captures it perfectly: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (CCC, 1).

God has no need of human persons; he’s God. Yet God found ways to speak to human hearts. St. Bernard mused on God’s decision to reveal himself to us. It seems the almighty, invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent, and ever- lasting God wished to be known.

What concept could man have of God if he did not first fashion an image of him in his heart? By nature incomprehensible and inaccessible, he was invisible and unthinkable, but now he wished to be understood, to be seen and thought of.”

[From a homily of St. Bernard of Clairvaux]

Imagine that: God wanted to be thought of by you and me. This is another fantastic idea!

In the Bible, we find when God first created human persons, he desired conversations with them. God wanted to be in relationship with his creatures even though he was above them in all ways.

The history of God’s plan of love for us is captured in the Bible. The important history of the Old Testament set the stage for God’s revelation of himself. The invisible God was revealing himself and his love more and more using people and creation.

God’s communication often occurred with a few chosen individuals such as Abraham and Moses and others such as his prophets and some faithful kings. God readily used created things, too, to get his messages across. We think of his voice coming through the burning bush, a pillar of cloud, and a great sea parting. God also entered into covenants that built bonds of relationship between himself and the Chosen People, Israel.

For many, many centuries, God’s Chosen People believed in this invisible God and worshiped him. And they also messed up a lot. I can so relate! They sinned and broke the relationship with God. They would reject God, then God would help bring restoration, things would get better, and then the sin cycle would happen again.

God’s plan of sheer goodness seems a pretty bumpy ride if you ask me. But the trouble usually comes from the human side of the relationship, not the divine side. God never stopped loving us from his side!

St. Gregory of Nyssa describes the love that moved God to action:

”Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?“

[From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC), 457]

God’s plan of sheer goodness held a secret remedy. The most powerful gift of God’s love made visible was in the coming of his very self to redeem us.

The Antidote to the Mud-Splashed Bride Syndrome

The gift of God’s love made visible is another way of describing the Incarnation. That’s a big churchy word, but it’s important to ask: What is the Incarnation? It is the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God — yes, God himself! — took on a human nature and became a man “in order to accomplish our salvation in the same human nature.” [CCC, glossary.] The Catholic Church confidently professes that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity is “both true God and true man, not part God and part man.” [Ibid.]

Jesus Christ is both God and man. God stooped to be joined with his creation. He stepped out of the realm of heaven — his perfect and blessed life — and entered our world of brokenness, messiness, and sin. Not only that but God would use the very human nature of Jesus to save us. And it was no small thing.

So back to lunch with my friend who was wondering what I would say to the latest Church woes found in the news.

My first reaction: Prayer. And then, more prayer. We all need to pray for the Church on earth. My friend was praying regularly, indeed. Her faith in Jesus was unshakable. But all these church people were really mucking things up.

So we started with talking about Jesus and who he really is as God and man. The Incarnation of Christ is fun- damental to Christianity. “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the esh is of God‘ [1 Jn 4:2]. Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings ‘the mystery of our reli- gion’: ‘He was manifested in the flesh’ [1 Tm 3:16]” (CCC, 463).

The Incarnation is the antidote for what I call the “mud-splashed-bride syndrome.”

Recall what Jesus taught about the bride and bridegroom in marriage: “‘The two shall become one flesh.’ . . . They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk 10:8–9).

Remember this idea: what God has joined together, we must not divide. 

Not only is Jesus both divine and human, for what God has joined will never be separated, but Christ will never be separated from his Bride for the same reason. “It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: ‘to unite all things in him’ [Eph 1:10]. St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church ‘a great mystery’ [Eph 5:32]. Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn. Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ [Col 1:27] ”(CCC, 772).

Jesus and the Church are one. Therefore, we can also say that because the Church is wedded to Jesus, the Church is both human and divine.

I explained this that day at the lunch table. Just as Jesus is human and divine, so is the Church. The Church can be both — is both — just as Jesus is both. My distressed friend was greatly consoled. No one had ever explained to her the nature of the Church as being human and divine.

The Incarnation of Christ changes everything.
 Jesus is the gift of God’s love made visible.
 And guess what? So is the Church. Everything that Jesus is he pours into the Church. The Church, thanks to Jesus, is a radiant Bride, resplendent with graces. She offers access to the treasures — the glory — that heaven can bring to earth through her.

Yes, I’m talking about that same blessedly human institution whose followers do not always live up to their true radiance as Bride. Nonetheless, that is what they are.

The Church is the beloved of Jesus.

The unity of Jesus and the Church is a merciful truth that far outweighs the sins of the Bride, who is forgiven when she repents. (That’s not to say the members of churches are not liable for crimes and misdemeanors within a civil system; her guilty members most certainly are liable.) But in Christ, who is always present, there is always the hope of glory for the Bride. Hers is an ever-present forgiveness and mercy both to dispense and to receive. The Church knows that Jesus, who is God, is her divine strength, even as her human members are often weak, sinful, or foolish.

The Church acknowledges that just as Jesus’ mission on earth was fraught with dif culties, persecution, and peril, so is hers. Jesus came to embrace sinners, though holy and innocent himself. The Church, too, embraces sinners, while at the same time the Church knows she lives in a both/and situation. The Church lives in both “the now” and “the not yet,” what is and what is to come.

“It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped . . . present in this world and yet not at home in it.” [Paul VI, Sancrosantum Concilium]

The Church, being wedded to Christ, is both human and divine. The Second Vatican Council described this as the Church being both “holy and always in need of being purified, always follow[ing] the way of penance and renewal.” [Lumen Gentium, 8]

The Church’s divinity looks a lot like Christ in his divinity. In the Church we find and worship God Incarnate, who redeems us and offers the promise of heaven.

In the Church dwells all manner of truth, goodness, and beauty.

The Church’s humanity looks a lot like us. We might hope and aspire to be holy and good, yet we are always, always, in need of renewal and forgiveness. And that’s stating it mildly, right? Yet the Church that we see visibly is also invisibly equipped — her source of power is in the Beloved who came from heaven in search of her, and who longs for her to make her home with him there.

At her best, the humanity of the Church can resemble the humanity of Jesus, the one who showed us the best way to live and love. “The Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’ [cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:1516, 26], announcing the cross and death of the Lord ‘until he comes.’ By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.” [Ibid.] The full light we seek is heaven; our hope in Christ tells us it is there, waiting for us in the distance.

The Church is a bride on a journey who cannot wait to get to the great wedding banquet that will happen in heaven. Yet along the way she keeps inviting new guests to the party. Not all of them are ready for such festivities or fully appreciate her invitation, but they are walking along with her. A bride walking along a long road in all seasons is likely to get mud on her dress. It’s inevitable.

Until we reach heaven, our experience with the Church may test our fidelity to Christ and, through him, our fidelity to one another. Until we get to the bliss of heaven, much of what we experience in the Church may look a lot like the up-and-down, back-and-forth seasons of marriage: “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad.”

Even popes have to deal with scandals and how they affect our belief and trust in the Church! In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI expressed amazement at Christ’s fidelity to us in the face of the infidelity of many Church members.

Right now, in the midst of the scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ. That is the one side, which we are forced to experience for our humiliation, for our real humility. The other side is that, in spite of everything, [Jesus] does not release his grip on the Church. In spite of the weakness of the people to whom he shows himself, he keeps the Church in his grasp, he raises up saints in her, and makes himself present through them. I believe that these two feelings belong together: the deep shock over the wretchedness, the sinfulness of the Church — and the deep shock over the fact that he doesn’t drop this instrument, but that he works with it; that he never ceases to show himself through and in the Church.

[Interview with Peter Seewald, “The Pope in His Own Words”, Telegraph, Nov. 20, 2010.]

This much is certain: our hope is always in Jesus, the Beloved. And we will need grace to help our love stay secure. Fortunately, that is something that is in great supply.

Jesus is permanently wedded to the Church, his Bride. Jesus is the founder of the Church, the keeper of the Church, and the Bridegroom of the Church. The future of the Church belongs to Jesus alone. That’s the big picture.

The life and love of Jesus is wedded with the Church no matter what. His words were, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). Jesus is the faithful Bridegroom. His Incarnation — his becoming one of us to become one with us — makes all the difference. It’s a prime reason I’m a confident Catholic.

With Jesus as the Bridegroom, I’m all in.

:::

 

All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters is published by Ave Maria Press, 2017. Used with permission.

 

Image credits:

church: Pat Gohn

book: Ave Maria Press

:::

Comments are closed for this post.

SaveSave

This makes me think… about how the Resurrection of Jesus changes human existence

The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.

… Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.

To this extent, in our quest for the figure of Jesus, the Resurrection is the crucial point…

What actually happened? Clearly, for the witnesses who encountered the risen Lord, it was not easy to say. They were confronted with what for them was an entirely new reality, far beyond the limits of their experience.

… Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern for us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed…

The New Testament testimonies leave us in no doubt that what happened in the “Resurrection of the Son of Man” was utterly different. Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out in an entirely new life form, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it — a life that opens to a new dimension of human existence… it constitutes an “evolutionary leap” (to draw an analogy, albeit one that is easily misunderstood). In Jesus’ Resurrection a new possibility of human existence is attained that affects everyone and that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind.

So Paul was absolutely right to link the resurrections of Christians and the Resurrection of Jesus inseparably together: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15: 16, 20). Christ’s resurrection is either universal event, or it is nothing. And only if we understand it as a universal event, as the opening up of a new dimension of human experience, are we on the way toward any kind of correct understanding of the New Testament Resurrection testimony.

On this basis we can understand the unique character of the New Testament testimony. Jesus has not returned to a normal human life in this world like Lazarus and the others whom Jesus raised from the dead. He has entered upon a different life, a new life — he has entered the vast breath of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers.

-Benedict XVI-
Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection 

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.

:::

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.)

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!

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.

Amazing news from an amazing pope… smack dab in the Year of Faith, let us continue be faithful!

Amazing news from an amazing pope… smack dab in the Year of Faith, let us continue be faithful!

Today our beloved Holy Father, Benedict XVI, announced the stunning news that he is going to resign the papacy on Feb 28. Smack dab in the Year of Faith, we will now have  a conclave to elect a successor, taking place in the heart of Lent. We as a Universal Church have another excellent reason for keeping a good and holy Lent.  It’s very likely we’ll have a new pope by Easter. Let us be sure to pray for these men who will elect him from their number.  And let us remember, that the Holy Spirit is with the Church and even though we, the average Catholics, might feel a little wobbly and saddened with this news– given we’ve not had a papal resignation in centuries — this is what the Year of Faith and the new evangelization is all about. This is yet another opportunity to know our faith, live our faith, and share our faith.

Benedict XVI is one of the most deliberate thinkers of the last two generations. He is an excellent reader of the signs of the times. An eminent theologian, to the end, Pope Benedict is the consummate teacher. He not only leads with his eloquent words, but he does so by his witness of love and service to the Church, as he has for so long. He is leading us into this time of transition. I trust his gut on this. We may feel we were not ready for it, but he is leading ever still. As popes live longer and longer lives, thanks to the miracles of better health care and nutrition, we had to face this idea of a resignation from the Chair of Peter as a kind of inevitability. Let us be not afraid of it.

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is also the World Day of the Sick. I still have work to do and prayers to pray related to both. And now I will add the Pope’s intentions to my own in a more dedicated way as we march ahead in the new liturgical season.

After overcoming my own shock to Pope Benedict’s news, as I lay in bed listening to the morning news on the radio, I was grateful that they were announcing his resignation and not his death. I’m not ready to part with the great teacher who shaped so much of my theological training and prayer over the last 20 years. I pray that he has the strength to release his encyclical on faith that he was penning for the Year of Faith before Feb 28, but he might leave that to a successor. But more than that, I hope Papa Benny has a few years of quiet and peace, to maybe write a little more, and to play his piano, and to pray for us for a while longer. I wonder what you or I might be doing when we are 86 years old. Would we still working with the kind of schedule of events that our current pontiff has had? Not a chance. So let us look kindly to our brother, our good Shepherd.

Let us pray for Benedict XVI and pray for the Church. The Year of Faith is calling us to be faithful.

What are your thoughts?

 

Photo above: here is the Holy Father in a photo our family took during a General Audience in Rome, April 2011. Yes, we were that close to him, sitting near the railing as he rolled by. What a gift that day was!

 

UPDATE: Don’t forget that the media swirl around this event will be zany for the next several weeks. You might want to bookmark some of the Catholic new agencies for following reports about the coming conclave and transition to welcoming a new pope.

Here’s a few of my go-to recommendations:

News.VA

Vatican Radio/ News 

 

Catholic News Service

National Catholic Register

Zenit

and enjoy the blogs from my colleagues at the Catholic channel at Patheos.

 

 

This makes me think… how futile it is to rely on my own power, when God’s power is so abundant…

[Describing the parable of the mustard seed, Benedict XVI preaches… ] it breaks open to give life to a sprout that can break through the ground, coming out into the sunlight and growing until it becomes ‘the greatest of all shrubs’: the seed’s weakness is its strength, its break open is its power. Thus the Kingdom of God is… made up of those.. who do not rely on their own power but on the love of God…; and yet it is through them that Christ’s power bursts in and transforms what is seemingly insignificant…. If our own small strength, apparently powerless in the face of the world’s problems, is inserted in that of God… victory is guaranteed.

–Benedict XVI, Angelus message, June 17, 2012.

This makes me think… about Mary

The angel says to Mary: “The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.” It ‘a reminder of the holy cloud that during the Exodus journey, stopped over the Tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant, which the people of Israel brought with them, and that indicated the presence of God (cf. Ex 40 ,40,34-38). Mary is the new holy tabernacle, the new Ark of the Covenant: with her “yes” to the words of the Archangel, God receives a home in this world, He whom the universe can not contain comes to dwell in the womb of a virgin.

–Pope Benedict XVI, from his Audience this past week on the origins of Jesus.