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.

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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.

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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

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A short Mother’s Day reflection from St John Paul II on Mary and the glory of womanhood

A short Mother’s Day reflection from St John Paul II on Mary and the glory of womanhood

For every Christian, for every human being, Mary is the one who first “believed,” and precisely with her faith as Spouse and Mother she wishes to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as her children. And it is well known that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the “unsearchable riches of Christ”(Eph. 3:8). And to the same degree they recognize more and more clearly the dignity of man in all its fullness and the definitive meaning of his vocation, for “Christ…fully reveals man to man himself. [Gaudium et Spes, 22]”

This Marian dimension of Christian life takes on special importance in relation to women and their status. In fact, femininity has a unique relationship with the Mother of the Redeemer, a subject which can be studied in greater depth elsewhere.* Here I simply wish to note that the figure of Mary of Nazareth sheds light on womanhood as such by the very fact that God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his Son, entrusted himself to the ministry, the free and active ministry of a woman. It can thus be said that women, by looking to Mary, find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement. In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.

John Paul II
Redemptoris Mater, par. 46

*My book also looks at these fundamentals. Find it on sale here til June 19.

Among Women Podcast 203: An online Catholic Conference 4 Moms #FacesOfMercy

Among Women Podcast 203: An online Catholic Conference 4 Moms #FacesOfMercy

Calling all Moms! Sometimes mothers have trouble taking time out for themselves — so how about participating in an online conference this Lent?

This episode of Among Women is a timely message with a call for all “the Marthas” in our midst — women who know how to get things done! Or, women who know how to give the gift of hospitality and encouragement — Mom-to-Mom! This podcast is about getting on board this Lent with the Catholic Conference 4 Moms. This online conference launches Feb 20, 2016, and its super easy to plan it for your parish or home-based gathering.

Join me, and conference founder and organizer Tami Kiser, AKA Smart Martha as we discuss the good stuff that Moms will experience in this unique online conference — The Catholic Conference 4 Moms! You can offer day of encouragement for you and the Moms in your parish or neighborhood… for a very low price of $59 for “conference-in-a-box”.

This is also a chance to watch this conference in your home with friends! This is available for $14.99 — In fact, you can get a discount off the price if you use my affiliate promo code: AMONG WOMEN! Use my coupon code AMONG WOMEN and get that for $10.99.

Also, in our “Blessed are They” segment, we learn about St Waltrude from Mons, Belgium. She is a saint who was inspired by the saints in her family and lived in such a way as to inspire saints in her children.

Listen to the podcast here!

Register for the conference here.

Watch the trailer for the online Catholic Conference 4 Moms…

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This Makes Me Think… how good it is to be a child of God AND a child of the Church!

Jesus loves us so much that He wills to remain with us until the end of time. Therefore, He abides with us in the Blessed Sacrament as the Companion of our earthly pilgrimage, as the Food of our souls, but He also remains with us in the Church as our Guide, our Shepherd, and our Teacher. Jesus formed the first nucleus of the Church by His preaching, by choosing and instructing the Apostles; He gave life to her by dying on the Cross. “The Church,” as the Holy Father notes, “came forth from the side of our Savior on the Cross like a new Eve, Mother of all the living” (Mystici Corporis). Jesus sanctified her by shedding His blood for her. He gave her His power; He made her His spouse and collaborator, continuing through her His work of sanctifying and directing souls. Today Jesus no longer dwells among us as He did nineteen hundred years ago; His Physical Body is gloriously enthroned in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. But He does abide with us in His Mystical Body, the Church, His Spouse and our Mother. Jesus is the living Head of the Church; it is always He who rules her invisibly by His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He sustains and vivifies her unceasingly, gives her life, and distributes graces to each of her members “according to the measure of His giving” (cf. Eph 4:7). The Church lives by Christ alone; she is holy with His holiness; she is the Mother of souls through her union with Him. This union of Christ with the Church is so intimate and vital that the Church can be regarded as a prolongation of Christ. Indeed, Pope Pius XII teaches that “Christ sustains the Church in a divine manner; He lives in her to such a degree that she is, as it were, another Christ” (Mystici Corporis). Even as it is through the Eucharist that we unite ourselves to Jesus and are nourished with His immaculate Flesh, so it is through His Church that guided and ruled by Him, we are vivified by His grace and nourished by His doctrine. And as we cannot become more one with Christ in this life than by uniting ourselves to Him in the Eucharist, so we can have no greater assurance of living according to His Spirit, of being directed and taught by Him, than by uniting ourselves to the Church and following her directives.

To be a “Child of the Church” is the most glorious title for a Christian and second only to that of “child of God.” These two titles can never be separated — one depends upon the other; for as St. Cyprian has said, “He who does not have the Church for a Mother, cannot have God for a Father.” Jesus wishes to save and sanctify us, but He wishes to do it by means of the Church. He gave His life and shed His Blood for us; He put His most precious merits at our disposal; He gave us the Holy Eucharist and left us the heritage of His doctrine, but He wished the Church to be the sole depository and dispenser of the inestimable benefits, so that all who wish to enjoy them must have recourse to her. Let us go, then, to the Church with the complete confidence of children, certain to find Jesus in her, Jesus who sanctifies, nourishes, teaches, rules, and directs us by means of His representatives. If the thought of being a Child of the Church does not make our hearts vibrate, if our love for the Church is weak, if our recourse to her is not confident, this indicates a lack of the spirit of faith: we have not sufficiently understood that the Church is Christ, continuing to live in our midst to sanctify and sustain us and to lead us to eternal beatitude. “We can think of nothing more glorious, more noble, and more honorable than membership in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, by which we become members of such a holy Body [the Mystical Body of Christ], are guided by one and so sublime a Head [Jesus Christ], are filled with one divine Spirit [the Holy Spirit], and finally, are nourished in this earthly exile with one doctrine and one same heavenly Bread until we are permitted to share the one eternal beatitude in heaven” (Mystici Corporis). Let us love the Church, “the most perfect Image of Christ” (ibid.); let us love the Church, the most pure Spouse of Christ and our Mother; and as He loved her whom “He hath purchased with His own Blood” (Acts 20:28), so let us love her with a true spirit of obedience and filial devotion, offering ourselves completely to serve, glorify, and defend her.

Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy

 

This makes me think… about what animates the Church

The holy Scriptures declare the body of Christ, animated by the Son of God, to be the whole Church of God, and the members of this body—considered as a whole—to consist of those who are believers; since, as a soul vivifies and moves the body, which of itself has not the natural power of motion like a living being, so the Word, arousing and moving the whole body, the Church, to befitting action, awakens, moreover, each individual member belonging to the Church, so that they do nothing apart from the Word.
–Origen*

*Origen against Celsus. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), F. Crombie (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (Vol. 4, p. 595). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

This makes me think… entering into the place where Jesus is…

Not to know Scripture is not to know Jesus, Saint Jerome tells us. And we know Christ only if we are conversant with the words that are the words of God. Scripture tells us how such a oneness with Christ, such a penetration to the center, is to be achieved in practice. It tells us that faith is not something remote from us, something that would require us to engage in great research, or, perhaps, to cross an ocean or make an expedition into the depths of the earth. It speaks to us of what is near. The word is in your heart. You have only to enter into your own heart and you will find it there. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is risen. In these words Paul identifies the two confessional formulas of the Church, which form the heart of our confession of faith. He says: When you enter into your heart, you enter into the place where Jesus is, and vice versa you enter into your heart only when you do not simply hide yourself in yourself but co-believe with the faith of the living Church. In co-believing with the faith of the living Church, in letting yourself be carried along by it, even though many individual teachings continue to be obscure, you are hidden in the communality of the faith and so remain faithful to it, communicate with it. We read Holy Scripture as we should, from its center, from its inner unity, only when we read it in harmony with the faith of the Church.

From: L’Osservatore Romano 13, no. 8 (1983), p. 12

 Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 269). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

This makes me think… about Mercy as a bridge that connects us to God and others…

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church “has an endless desire to show mercy.” [Evangelii Gaudium, 24.] Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. It some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.

Pope Francis
Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy 

#Fast Fridays in #Lent… not that we might do, that we might be… not the sins, but the faith.

#Fast Fridays in #Lent… not that we might do, that we might be… not the sins, but the faith.

Lent is not a punch card. It is not a ticket to heaven. It is not dues paying or making deposits in some holy account.

Lent, in the briefest way, means 40 Days. In the longer way it means this.

40 Days.

Productivity experts tell us that it takes more than 30 days to make something a habit. Some say 66. 

Anyway, I think that’s the point of Lent for me in terms of my spiritual life. It’s making me look at my habits and asking me to add a few that will aid my faith and help me break the sinful habits. It’s like me staring at Jesus in the desert who is staring down temptation. It’s making me stronger. But only if Jesus is with me to give me courage. And the only way he is going to do that is if I’m faithful to the church which gives me the graces I need, since I’m not very courageous on my own.

Honestly, there are many days that I want my Lent to be a ticket that I punch. That way I don’t have to enter into it fully. It can become something that I check off my to-do list.

Sorry, Pat. It ain’t a to-do list.

It’s more like a to be list.

*sigh*

Honestly, I’m so much better at the doing thing.

This is much more than a Martha vs Mary struggle. I understand that message. And trust me, what I’m thinking about is way more than putting Christ above housework and people about things. I understand those priorities. It must now be Christ always. First always. Not first mostly…  This is about how fast do I want to conform to Christ? How quick am I to obey for love of Him? How long will it take for his cruciform to appear in me?

This little meditation from the Magnificat stopped me cold yesterday morning. It is anti-ticket punch. It is antithesis of the gold star mentality of earning our way to heaven, or at least earning our way through Lent. It’s about full on entering into being the one Jesus is recreating us to be. To let Jesus be in me that I might become more like him, to imitate him with greater proficiency and more in line with his thinking, his ways.

And guess what? It positively will not happen without the Church and what the Church prescribes for me, not only this Lent, but always.

Sometimes we take up the attitude vis-à-vis the Church of someone who is looking for a certificate of good behavior. But the Church doesn’t supervise: she exists and we exist within her. She is the Body of Christ and we are members of the Body. Our dependence on her and our commitment to her, if they entail external acts or signs, are above all an internal and vital dependence and commitment. Our dependence on the body that she is, is considerable.

But our initiative, our responsibility, and our function are also considerable. We are designed as irreplaceable parts of the Church. Both our submissions and our initiatives are matters of obedience, as they would be for a body’s cells…

We don’t make good on obedience with a prayer said at Mass, with a devotion to a priest or to a movement. We don’t even make good on it with a faithful life of the sacraments, or with a fervent life of prayer, but rather by carrying our sacramental life and our prayer life wherever they must go, all the way to the end for which they were made.

– Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl (from We, the Ordinary People of the Streets)

Wherever they must go, all the way to the end for which they were made. That is purpose of Lent. Because that is the purpose of faith… that we might be in a relationship with the One who called us to be.

But let me tell you, I repeat: I cannot be all that I am to be without the Body of Christ, the Church. I cannot make it without grace.

It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes and sustains my faith. Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord: “Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you”, as we sing in the hymn “Te Deum”; with her and in her, we are won over and brought to confess: “I believe”, “We believe”. It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 168)

There is one tiny little prayer that priest offers at Mass before the Sign of Peace. Maybe you know it. It is a great consolation to me:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever. (Emphasis mine.)

I am always praying that in some way. Every day. Look not on the sins, but on the faith. My sins and the faith of the Church.

Thank you, Church.

 Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1Peter 4:8

 

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More on I-am-faithless-but-God-is-faithful.

The Feminine Genius and reading ’round the Web… Don’t miss these posts!

The Feminine Genius and reading ’round the Web… Don’t miss these posts!

There has been, in the last two weeks, much important reading on subjects close to my heart, and many women’s hearts, relating to the feminine genius and the beauty of womanhood — and our loss of that sensibility and truth. Much of my writing and speaking in the three years has been to point out the basics of woman’s dignity, gifts, and mission as presented to our through the teachings of the Catholic Church, which is more pro-woman and pro-life than any other institution or organization you could name. (To learn more on this perspective, see my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious. Or come to one of my events.)

Sadly, I have been unable to comment on these posts, save for the briefest ideas,  due to my current writing work load and travel schedule

I am, however, linking to a few of those posts here. It’s Lent, after all, so I invite you to read and reflect on these in light of the Gospel, and our call to live it.

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1. Mary Eberstadt’s piece on Jailhouse Feminism over at National Review online is jarring as it is astutely on to something… the rage of women in the media and elsewhere is pointing to their abuse and abasement by themselves and others all in the name of freedom. This is must reading. Warning: course language here.

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2. Read Our Emotions, Our Bodies, Ourselves by Carolyn Moynihan as she comments on a female psychiatrist, writing in the NY Times about a boom in the number of women (1 in 4) talking medications… it was most emailed article on the New York Times website over the weekend, “Medicating Women’s Feelings”. I admit I have not had time to read the NY Times article but this reply references offers much quoted source material.  It is worth reading this piece by the ever-wise Carolyn Moynihan.

A few of my thoughts: One of the powerful gifts of women is their sensitivity, or empathy. It is more than emotions, for sure. But if we don’t understand the body-soul connection of a woman’s great ability of “seeing” with her heart, she might not understand that what breaks her heart also points her in the direction of holy actions: To be deeply rooted in prayer and clinging to Christ, and to be ready to acknowledge the the persons in their midst in need of care and nurture.

Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty—not merely physical, but above all spiritual—which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.

(St John Paul II, Letter to Women, 12)

How many women may have been medicated, or told they were crazy or unbalanced, when, really they are not — just normal? I can’t take that in now, but it grieves my heart.

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3. Yet another post on one of the gifts of women, this time, maternity: Motherhood is the Strongest Bond written by a blogger who describes the heart of women… and how we need to stand alongside one another, mother to mother, when we encounter the toughest of all crosses, the death of a child. I’m reminded here how mothers are well disposed, as St John Paul would say, not only their own children, but to all children. The author of the piece has this central message: “You’re a mother, you know.”

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings—not only towards her own child, but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. (St John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 18)

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4. The Christophers’ Tony Rossi has a piece up includes some compelling lyrics from singer Kelly Clarkson, and others who are trying to combat the madness of sexual imagery that is everywhere.

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5. Some hope here from Lisa Hendey in her piece on The Blogosphere as a Mission Field, with lots of commentary from women leaders, including myself.

While I really appreciate this well written piece, it’s important to remember Lisa’s end point: we are all called to the new evangelization. For many of us, it’s the call to be saints whose mission is to rescue the culture from its confusion and chaos regarding the gifts of masculinity and femininity.