There is a crisis of discernment in the Church.
You might think that I'm going to write that there is not enough discernment. Maybe I'll write that a failure to discern is causing people to miss their vocations.
But that’s not what I’m about to write.
To my dear friend Mr. D.,
Yesterday I witnessed your union in holy matrimony to a woman who is now Mrs. D. In honor of your wedding, I have composed this letter-prayer for you and your bride:
If you haven’t seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I highly recommend it. It’s an Amazon-only show, and it follows Midge Maisel - a Jewish woman whose husband leaves her, so naturally she goes into stand-up comedy.
This Advent, especially as we approach Christmas, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s better to give than to receive.” This is an important idea, one that emphasizes a spirit of giving rather than selfishness. But any Christian has heard it before, so I’m going to offer a different thought for reflection: the best thing that you can do this Christmas is receive.
So, let’s say you are a Christian. Christmas is a pretty big deal, right? The birth of the savior of the world warrants some major celebration. One problem, lots of your friends, family, and even society at large love Christmas but don’t seem to care much about Jesus. Most of the focus is on parties, presents, and Santa Claus.
What’s a Christian to do?
Have you noticed that after every scandal, both mass and social media become a flood with exhortations about the importance of sexual consent? Someone has even developed a sexual consent app.
Learn to think... we all have room for improvement. This is the path... that St. Thomas and his cohorts used to address the theological confusion of their day.
“Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2356).
Recently someone dear to me lost her fiancé to suicide.
My heartbreak is deep and jagged and ugly. It is not even my tragedy. My feelings of sorrow and remorse and anger must be pale shadows beside the darkness washing over those the young man left behind: his bride, his parents, his family and friends.
Grinding salt into the wounds is the vague notion plaguing my subconscious that suicide is a sin---images of unmarked graves at a crossroads and Dante’s forest of suicides haunt me. Surely this is not really what the Church teaches?
At the start of this school year, a Youtube video by “One Funny Mother” circulated social media. The video features a mom frantically piling a Target cart high with supplies for her children’s teachers as she rants about her kids. “I will give you anything to take my kids,” “That means I don’t have to talk to my kids anymore,” “I don’t have to pretend to entertain my kids anymore,” are among the many statements she makes. I saw it shared by tons of people, gleefully acclaiming that “this mom hits the nail on the head”, or “this is so me!” or “ so true!”
“Forgive me, Father, for I have trolled. My last confession was right before I saw that stupid post on Facebook. You know the one: the one where that idiot said something really dumb. Well anyway, since that time, I have spent way too much time on social media telling people that they were wrong. I stayed up too late, neglected my other responsibilities, burned with the rage of 1000 white hot fiery suns for mine enemies, let total or near strangers disrupt my inner peace, and used arguments so terrible that they wouldn’t convince a hungry German shepherd to eat bacon. For these and all my sins, I am heartily sorry.”
“A good confession, my child. For your penance, say two Hail Mary’s and read this dank blog post.”
What is harder to believe? That you’re going to suffer? Or that you’re loved, utterly and unconditionally? Perhaps one of the most reliable teachers of humanity is suffering. From the wailing infant to the senior groaning with pain, an entrance, an exit and the passage between. More than any companion we choose in life, suffering accompanies us, through anxiety, loss, disappointment, and heartbreak. In fact, our inability to find, connect with, and receive love is one of the great sources of suffering. Some have even painted Hell as simply eternal separation from God who is love.
Despite the good times, the memories, the wonderful things about this person that you’ve come to love, you’ve decided that it’s time to end it. You weren’t sure before but you’ve prayed and thought and discerned and consulted and now you know what you have to do. You just have to actually do it.
As the rain falls and the news rolls on the TV I am humbled by the power of Hurricane Harvey. This is being labeled as one of the worst hurricanes for Texas in US history. The “500-year flood.” My family and a sliver of people in my neighborhood are dry, no flooding in our homes, and still have power. We are a minority and very lucky. Most Houstonians have lost it all and it’s heartbreaking. If you have been following the news, you can see many people are still in need of help, rescue and supplies.
If I had a dollar for every Catholic I’ve seen or heard who has condemned Game of Thrones, I wouldn’t have any student loan debt left. I’m friends with plenty of people who love the show and love the story; one friend even gave me a small Arya figurine that still sits on my dashboard in my car. But I’ve noticed a strong reaction against the show and story among my Catholic friends - and I get it. It’s a horrific story, with way too many gratuitous sex (or rape) scenes, a whole lot of incest, and it always seems to leave you in a place of despair. For those who haven’t seen the show, here is your spoiler warning.
If you’ve ever been through a breakup, you know it can be one of the more painful experiences in life. Modern psychology tells us that the end of a significant relationship can even trigger emotional distress similar to that caused by the death of a loved one. It’s not fun to say the least and unless you are one of the small minority that marry their first boyfriend/girlfriend or never date at all, you will go through a break up or two at some point.
The world of Dunkirk is cold and damp, one where men can go from scurrying like rats to survive to displaying heroic companionship and then back again. The instinct to survive, on full display here, proves tragically ineffective without some glimmer of hope but maybe more so the virtue of fortitude. Of course Christ calls us to more than ‘survival’ but to ‘salvation!’ So what does this retreat from war teach us of the spiritual fight to win life with God in heaven?
Ironically, it is often those who are hurting the most who are able to help others feeling the same way. Chester Bennington was struggling more than anyone knew, and yet the music he created brought hope and healing to so many people because of his authentic recognition of the struggle. Our wounds are given so that we might heal - but we cannot allow our own wounds to fester in the process.
There is a story of a seminarian who lost his doxology. A seminarian is someone studying and preparing to become a priest. In the same way that a man gives his life to his bride, a priest in a greater and more profound way, models Jesus Christ by laying down his life for his bride, the Church. This seminarian was very zealous and passionate about giving his life for God. He loved what he was studying and was inspired by the idea of serving the Church. So how do you knock someone like a seminarian off his game? You take away what gives him life. Eventually his passion wore off, his zeal cooled. The seminarian lost his doxology and his faith because he substituted talking about God instead of being with God. I think our biggest problem as Catholics today is we would rather be inspired than participate in the Sacramental life, the very thing that gives us life.
As you read this you should know, this week is the 27th week of the year 2017. Half a year has passed, can you believe it? While freedom rings in our ears this 4th of July, it has me looking back and pondering if I've been living totally free in the first half of the year and how can I free myself more with this last half of the year.