As #MeToo campaigns rage and countless men are outed for the sexual harassment, abuse and assault of women, it may be time to look to a woman—THE WOMAN—for the answer on how to heal this mess...Read More
While November brings to the fore the awareness of the holy souls in purgatory, the month of All Souls also begets an important question: Is purgatory a far away “place” or is it a state of existence all of us are called to, starting now?...Read More
With the world teetering on the edge of nuclear war and anxieties running high, I humbly share with you a powerful prayer for healing and conversion given to me some months ago in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This prayer grew out of the recognition that we can “stand in the gap” in intercessory prayer like Abraham (Gen. 18:23), Moses (Exodus 32:11-14), and Ezekiel (Ez. 22:30), pleading for God’s mercy upon us and upon our broken world...Read More
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. John 15:14-15
No one knew better than Christ that the pain against which we so desperately try to numb ourselves, and all the world’s evil, seem to stem from our terrible fear that we are basically unlovable. Heather King, Holy Desperation: Praying As If your Life Depends On it, 66
Few people I know have experienced the bondage of slavery like my beloved twenty-six year old son, Christian—who has struggled with a life-wrecking addiction for over ten years; an addiction mercilessly driven by a core belief that he is not loved.
But lately, something has changed. Something akin to a miracle has occurred.
Instead of using words like shame, rejection, fear and punishment, Christian is suddenly speaking the language of love. Specifically, he’s speaking about having encountered God’s personal, gentle, merciful love for him—an encounter that has changed, well—everything.
“My life has always been about failing, about suffering, about punishment,” Christian shared with me in a conversation two days ago. “But when I finally came to God in stillness, in quiet, with an open heart and mind, I heard him whisper in my heart—I love you.” As I listened in grateful awe, he continued: “Since I’ve allowed a little bit of that love to seep into the deepest places of my heart—into the darkest things I’ve ever known and done—I’ve seen that has always God loved me, that he only wanted to embrace me, and that he has always been there with me.”
This is precisely how we transform from slaves to friends of God.
My son has a “new way of thinking,” as he referred to it, and it has everything to do with coming to believe that he is deeply loved by a merciful God, and that he’s called to live out of that reality. This new way of understanding has convinced him that many people aren’t interested in God because they have the wrong idea about who God is, thinking of him as a punitive, exacting taskmaster instead of “as a gentle Father whose love and mercy hold the world together.”
Believe me, I know words can be cheap. But when you hear those words coming from the depth of a son’s heart—a son who’s been afflicted for so many years—you know something has radically changed. And you genuinely rejoice.
“Punishment is not who God is!” Christian stated emphatically. “He is love and what he wants is our hearts. People need to know that we are loved by a Father who wants to heal us, set us free, and bless us. And we can’t know that until we personally know who God is.”
Christian went on to say that he now recognizes that recovery—freedom from slavery to drugs—is not about shaming himself out of screwing up or beating himself over the head for falling. “Recovery is about healing the broken heart,” he concluded with conviction. “It’s about opening up, trusting, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to God and to others. What matters is that we are loved, and when we live our lives based on that fact, we become free.”
Indeed, I hear the sweet freedom of a friend of Christ in my son’s voice, a young man who has discovered at last that Christ’s “friends” are “those whom he loves.” I see the liberty of a child of God who has finally heard the voice of the Father whispering: You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.
Such is the cry of freedom of the children of God, freedom won only through love.
This article was previously published at Aleteia.
Tears flowed freely during the meeting with my spiritual director, Sandy, as I shared with her the pain I was feeling. “December is here,” I said. “I get such a wave of anxiety and grief at this time of year.”
Somehow, I have a hunch I’m not alone in experiencing December this way.
December is the month that “our lives blew apart with more violence than we ever dreamed possible,” I wrote in my book Miracle Man. The month that my late husband, Bernie, suffered a massive heart attack—leaving my children fatherless and me a widow after 87 excruciating days in the ICU. Eight years and a wonderful new marriage later, December still brings it all screeching back.
“Beg the Lord to heal the trauma of all your past Decembers,” Sandy wisely advised. “And ask him to fill you with the joy of his birth.”
For December is also the month when we celebrate our Savior’s presence penetrating Earth’s agonies, defying what human eyes behold as mere babe-flesh, disguising the God-man. This is the month that Hope is born, ushering in the time of fulfillment for the long-awaited healing of our crippled souls and lame lives. December is, indeed, the month of Advent hope.
The hope of Advent lies in experiencing the reality of human frailty—and in believing that Someone, though fragile in appearance, is coming to heal us soon. The hope of Advent consists in a hearty cry for deliverance from the weight of sin and death—and in trusting that God’s glory-weight will pierce right through all of this world’s darkness. For we have all known the sorrow of “Decembers” during life’s winter months, times of shadows and suffering where we cry out for the Light to come.
Every year I’m reminded that December is a fitting backdrop for Advent, as it is the month that throws off the least amount of light in the calendar year. The days grow short and winter begins. The darkness brings with it a certain sense of vulnerability and disorientation, along with the knowledge that we need more Light, so we can see.
Advent hope has everything to do with vision. Advent hope is inexorably connected with eternal perspective. That’s because hope—Christian hope—is so much more than plain old wishful thinking. It is the theological virtue by which we order our lives toward heaven; the virtue that establishes trust in us that there is a heaven, and gives us the conviction that we’ll live there with God some day. Hope reminds us that this earth is not paradise, strengthening and sustaining us as we travel toward the longed-for Promised Land. Hope gives us a new vision for our lives, enabling us to see that what may look like “disaster” to human senses is but a moment of time that God holds in his hands, shaping it for our good, while simultaneously, mysteriously, molding us into good.
“Can you see your Decembers as a time when God reaches into your life to work miracles, instead of as a time of sorrow?” Sandy gently asked. “You saw that once,” she continued. “You wrote a book about it.”
Yes, I saw it clearly then. But somehow I go blind every December.
And maybe that’s as it should be. Since it is December’s darkness that beckons me to encounter my desperate need for a Savior. Along with my need for a divine infusion of hope.
Thankfully, it is Advent. The season of so much blindness healed. The Church’s daily readings ring out promises of what the Messiah will bring, along with rich Gospel accounts of those promises being fulfilled:
On that day the deaf shall hear…and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:18-19
And then we hear:
Two blind men followed him crying, “Son of David, have pity on us!” …Then he touched their eyes...And their eyes were opened. Matthew 9:29-31
Touch our eyes, Lord, and enable us to glimpse reality from heaven’s angle, through the lens of Advent hope. Heal all of our Decembers, and fill us anew with the joy of your birth.
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Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.” Matthew 5:31-32
If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
In God we trust. The Currency of the United States of America
One of my favorite spiritual insights is that healing—real healing—looks more like the lancing of an infected boil than the shooting of a magic bullet. A missionary friend of mine likes to joke that most of us prefer to think of God as a magic unicorn who fires rainbow colored darts from his enchanted wand—when in reality God is more like a skilled surgeon coming at us with the sharpest of knives. Of course, I fully realize that we are speaking in limping analogies here, but how else can we talk about God other than symbols and stories?
When I was a kid, my cousin Melanie and I made the genius decision to sneak off together to ride the family’s red Honda 90 motorbike to the beach near our summer camp. We planned to jump the sand dunes, just like our skilled, cycle-riding brothers regularly did. Being amateurs in motor sports, we opened up the gas full throttle at the sand dune, causing the bike to flip in the air and land right on top of us. The scalding hot exhaust pipe left a third-degree burn on poor Mel’s leg—which she proceeded to hide under her jeans for the next two weeks so we wouldn’t get into trouble. Needless to say, by the time her mother discovered the burn it was badly infected—with Mel limping severely and practically in shock from the wound. It would take a deep cleaning plus weeks of hard medicine to heal the injury, which could have been dealt with much more effectively had we only been forthcoming about our misdeed instead of hiding it.
How often do we find ourselves hiding our sins and infections from God, instead of just coming clean about our inner maladies? We posture and pretend, using all of our energy to cover our abscesses, instead of bringing them into the glaring light of day. We hide our misery to the point of madness, instead of admitting that we are sick patients in need of significant soul-curing remedies. Somehow, we keep believing in magic instead of mercy, wanting the wand treatment instead of God’s penetrating love, which cuts through and exposes our deepest disorders.
Part of the problem today, as I see it, is that we’ve grown collectively dishonest, all corroborating in creating the current climate of corruption. We point our fingers at “them” and “their” faults, without admitting that “they” represent “us.” You spot it, you got it, is another way of naming this reality, and what we’ve spotted surreptitiously via scrubbed servers and secretly hidden cameras has indicted every single one of us. When rampant corruption, greed, powermongering, pomposity, and disrespect for the human person become the hallmarks of our leaders, then “Mea culpa!” must be our communal contrition cry.
I can’t help but wonder if this wide-open wound exposure of the shocking level of disingenuity in the political sphere is the direct result of the Year of Mercy, which will end this month on November 20, the Feast of Christ the King. One of the things Pope Francis explicitly, and quite prophetically, addressed in the Papal Bull that opened the Jubilee Year was corruption, and its damning effect on society:
May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience mercy. I direct this invitation to conversion even more fervently to those whose behavior distances them from the grace of God…For their own good, I beg them to change their lives.
The same invitation is extended to those who either perpetrate or participate in corruption. This festering wound is a grave sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance, because it threatens the very foundations of personal and social life. Corruption prevents us from looking to the future with hope, because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor. It is an evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal. Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power. It is a work of darkness, fed by suspicion and intrigue. “Corruptio optimi pessima,” said Gregory the Great with good reason, affirming that no one can think himself immune from this temptation. If we want to drive it out from personal and social life, we need prudence, vigilance, loyalty, transparency, together with the courage to denounce any wrongdoing. If it is not combated openly, sooner or later everyone will become an accomplice to it, and it will end up destroying our very existence. (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 19)
The wound has been exposed, the boil lanced, and the medicine of mercy has been offered. Maybe the Year of Mercy has served its healing purpose after all.
This article was previously published at Aleteia.
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every thing under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1
It was an epiphany of sorts, coming forth as a season of change presents itself. In the midst of a series of painful life adjustments, I admitted for the first time that I don’t like change. During a moment of insight, I suddenly understood that I associate change with chaos, uncertainty and pain, and with having the rug pulled right out from under my feet.
How many of us experience change this way?
As it often happens when God opens up a theme for metanoia (which means to change one’s mind and heart about something), all of life’s conversations and events suddenly seemed to segue into one single exclamation point. This week’s lesson in change was no exception.
First, there was the butterfly that lay on the ground in front of the chapel: a gorgeous creature decorated with brilliant fall colors that appeared to be trying to flutter its wings. Spontaneously, I leaned over and picked it up, only to realize that its wing was broken and that ants were already eating its corpse. Putting the butterfly back in its place, I went into the chapel to pray. There, I opened my spiritual reading to a page that, of all unexpected things, was discussing the butterfly as a metaphor for the spiritual life.
That got my attention.
A butterfly is probably the quintessential image of change: a being whose existence comes about by a metamorphosis that literally transforms a creature into something new, and quite often, into something stunningly beautiful. As I prayed with the image, it became quickly obvious that the broken-winged butterfly represented how I’ve tended to view change—not as something transformative and life giving, but as something traumatic, and even potentially deadly.
I could almost hear God whispering: Could it be time to embrace a new understanding of change?
My next stop was an Al-Anon meeting, where the topic of the day was…you guessed it: Change! It seems that a common theme among those adversely affected by the insanity of addiction is a strong resistance to change. Like me, many people healing from addiction’s fallout equate change with chaos and uncertainty—and with holding one’s breath to brace for what’s coming next. But the real insight of the meeting was that a person must be proactive about change in order to find healing. In fact, choosing to change is often absolutely necessary for new life to emerge.
This brought me back to the butterfly. Wanting to understand how metamorphosis occurs, I began to search the internet when I returned home. I was fascinated to learn that scientists often equate a caterpillar’s morphing into a butterfly with death and resurrection, a point that brought the whole lesson full circle. The greatest change that has ever happened in history—the greatest metamorphosis that’s ever taken place in the universe—was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which happened only after Jesus willingly chose to embrace death, and all of its accompanying terrors, to change the corruptible into what is incorruptible, and death itself into victorious new life.
Personal change usually involves our willful acceptance of many deaths—the death of our ways, our wills, our wishes—for the promise of new life. And little by little, through a process of transfiguration that takes time and patience, we begin to find our interior hardware radically rearranged unto glory, that we might alight with new wings that bear his brilliance—wings that can only burst forth by the shedding of the old and the awakening to the new. In a word, through change.
This article was previously published at Aleteia.
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They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display his glory.
They were at it again when I woke up this morning: amputating dead limbs from the majestic oak trees that line the brilliant white beaches of Pass Christian, Mississippi, which is perched like a pearl on edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Lying in bed at my sister Jojo’s tranquil beach house, I could hear the saws humming since practically the crack of dawn.
I’ve reflected a lot on the oaks in recent years, especially since they’re the only things that stayed standing when a massive tidal surge slammed these shores during Hurricane Katrina. That, thanks to deep roots grown over many long years, roots that held the trees in place when the “hundred year storm” swamped the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast. And though the oaks survived the hellacious storm, it’s been an ongoing project ever since to trim their dead branches, branches that require constant stripping in order for the trees to grow and prosper.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit (John 15:2). I thought of Jesus’ words as I took a long walk beside the beach later in the morning, observing how many dead oak branches still need to be cut off. Like the oaks, we must all encounter the necessary pain of pruning, as the Divine Grower mercifully strips away everything in us that hampers our growth in him. Paradoxically, when God wields the pruning shears it is not for our destruction, but that we might have life. I experienced this first hand the year my late husband Bernie died, a year when many of my diseased beliefs about God were cropped off as a Category 5 storm blasted our lives.
I’d been dreaming about Bernie when I woke to the sound of saws, probably because yesterday was his birthday. Hit by a massive heart attack seven years ago, Bernie was given the great grace of undergoing a near-death experience, of clearly seeing the condition of his soul, and of being sent back by God to undergo, as he put it, “necessary purification.” Over the course of three long months in the ICU, Bernie suffered profusely as his life was stripped away, all the while discovering inexplicable peace, joy and love as the pruning hand of God reordered the very depths of his soul. Previously a very driven man, Bernie found himself devoid of all power, possessions and productivity, laid bare before a merciful Father who wished to communicate only one thing his broken son, a mantra Bernie would repeat many times during his short time left on earth: You have no idea how much God loves you.
When Bernie got sick I, too, was in need of radical healing; healing of my trust in God’s unbounded goodness. A deep wound of mistrust in God had festered in me since childhood, keeping me in a defensive posture against a distorted image of an angry, exacting God I believed was out to get me. It wasn’t until an unexpected cyclone hit our lives that those distorted beliefs were cut away, when I personally experienced the miraculous love and goodness of a Father who demonstrated in no uncertain terms that he would not only hold me steady in the teeth of death and devastation, but would do so with unspeakable tenderness and love.
So much of our walk with God is about encountering the inevitable storms of life, and about what the tsunamis that hit us expose in our hearts. Do we trust the Lord with all of our hearts, believing that he’s not out to get us, but that he’s got us? Do we believe that God loves us, that he is good and that he works all things together for our good, even the things we may consider disastrous?
One thing I noticed about the oaks is that they each bear a telling mark of their stripping; a mark that often takes the shape of a cross. The cross that takes shape in their flesh is a sign not only of their struggle for survival but of their pruning, the very pruning that leads to transformation and new life.
This article previously appeared at Aleteia.
Our Thanksgiving visit was going to be perfect. We had the whole thing planned. My daughters, Kara and Gaby, were coming to town. We’d spend four days on the Gulf Coast, three in New Orleans, and three at home in Mandeville. Beach, Zoo, Aquarium, streetcar rides, turkey, babies, fun. Topped off by a romantic dinner and well-deserved night away for Gaby and her husband, Grayson, in celebration of their sixth wedding anniversary. Yes, indeed. Perfect.
Then the bug bit. Ten people, including two babies in diapers, spent the week shuffling between vomit bowls, toilets, and endless mess. “My tummy hurts!” two-year-old Joseph cried as he sat at the kitchen counter. That was after he threw up all over my silk duvet cover.
We skipped Thanksgiving completely; then scrapped anniversary plans. Those of us feeling well enough by Saturday night enjoyed a celebratory meal of take-out Thai food with Gaby, while her spouse lay sick in bed.
“Man proposes, God disposes,” my husband, Mark, said as I lamented the train wreck of a week. “The best laid plans of mice and men,” I responded rolling my eyes.
As we sat at the dinner table with Gaby minus her groom, we discussed just how much she and Grayson had been through since their relationship began. “Four children, six moves, the death of your dad, the separation of Grayson’s parents, cancer, major surgery and MRSA,” I offered, recalling the last seven years, noting that the bulk of those events had happened during the past twelve months. But it was the MRSA—an antibiotic resistant surgery-related staff infection—that brought things to a screeching halt. When it became clear that the cancer wasn’t going to take Grayson’s life, and that MRSA might, all bets were off.
Grayson took the bold step of quitting his job to allow his body much needed time to heal. Then he and Gaby sold their house, bought a camper, and hit the road for a three-month pilgrimage across the country. Their family, which included children ages six, three, two and twelve weeks when they set out, drove six thousand miles through nineteen states, ending their odyssey in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit. After seeing the Pope for the second time on Sunday, they returned to their hotel tired, happy, high, feeling blessed. It was then that they realized it had been exactly one year to the day since Grayson had his cancer surgery, the very event that set the pilgrimage in motion in the first place.
“Seeing the Pope and receiving his blessing was the perfect way to end an incredibly difficult year,” Gaby texted me that night to share her amazement at God’s timing. All I could do was cry, because I could see just how much they’d grown in faith and love as they confronted such serious challenges together through the year; and just how much God had entered into their suffering to transform them and draw them to Himself.
As we talked about the year’s events, I concluded that this Thanksgiving was a great metaphor for the last year of their lives, and that we’d spent it just the right way to remember their anniversary. It was hard, and nothing went according to plan. But God was in the midst of it all.
So what if we hadn’t done everything we’d scheduled on the calendar, or celebrated according to our expectations? The stomach bug had given us the opportunity to spend the week playing tag-team taking care of each other, working together to keep some semblance of tranquility and love flowing through the house. It gave us more time to rest, more time to talk, and more time to rock babies. Indeed, it gave us time to be present to the immediate needs of the present, and time to just sit still. Just like the MRSA had done.
We ended the week by watching a twenty-minute video that Grayson compiled of their amazing cross-country adventure. I was struck not only by the sheer magnitude of magnificent things their family was able to see and experience during what will surely be remembered as the trip of a lifetime, but by the palpable joy on the faces of six people who, for an intentional three months, threw off the demands of the world to find healing and peace.
“Even with getting sick, it’s been really a great visit,” Gaby said as we shared a last cup of cappuccino before their drive back to South Carolina. I had to agree. It was a wonderful visit, with unexpected gifts popping up all over the place.
With two new books hot off the press about serious financial corruption in the Vatican, and a new movie opening today about the massive cover up of child sexual abuse by Church officials in Boston, I’ve been prayerfully reflecting on the issue of corruption in the Church. Okay, to be honest, I’ve been severely lamenting the reality of such widespread depravity, even as I’ve repeated the standard line to myself that all but one of Jesus’ handpicked band of apostles betrayed, denied or abandoned him during His Passion.
I remember the shock waves that went through the Church when the sexual abuse crisis exploded right after the turn of the millennium—while the world was freshly reeling from 911. Somehow—maybe because I was still riding the wave of excitement ushered in by the Jubilee Year 2000, the birth of our fifth child, and a brand new Masters Degree in Theology—I barely winced. “The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification," I would tell outraged friends, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. “The Church is a mess because sinners like you and me are in it,” I would offer with a sardonic smile. “Besides, have you met my family?” That would usually lighten things up considerably.
But these days, as scandal after scandal breaks, I’m doing a lot more than wincing. I’m weeping. I’ve cried hard tears not only over the new revelations of misconduct in the Vatican, but about the divisive and vitriolic attacks that seem to be coming from every direction in the Church: “conservatives” attacking “progressives,” “left” accusing “right," "traditionalists" suspecting the Pope—with one well respected Catholic blogger’s excommunication even being demanded because she insinuated we might rethink letting Catholics in irregular marriages receive Communion. Really? “Why so much iniquity and rancor, Lord?” I’ve asked repeatedly. “What is going on here?”
The Lord reminded me of a passage from my own book, Miracle Man, wherein I described my profuse discouragement over the tsunami that hit our lives after I began praying seriously for our family’s healing:
Though I thought it meant that God would wave a magic wand over my family and me, and with Mary’s motherly intercession make everything better instantaneously, I’m beginning to understand that real cleansing is more like a boil erupting than a magic bullet, and that it takes time both to extract the infection from the wound and to repair the damage that’s been done. Furthermore, it ain’t very pretty when it happens. But neither was the Crucifixion. Salvation has always been a messy business, and the scandal is that God’s right there in the midst of all of it.
The scandal of Christianity is not that there are sinners (even serious ones) in the Church. No. The scandal of Christianity is that an all-holy God dwells in the midst of such sinners, and that—as Christ’s Cross and Resurrection so eloquently communicate—He mysteriously calls forth good from even the most outrageous evil. The scandal of Christianity is that Christ makes Himself present in the world in and through a broken Body of believers—a Body whose bones snap loudly in our ears as they are reset that we may walk, and not limp, forward. The scandal of Christianity is that Christ’s once-for-all Crucifixion is made present constantly in history—through our individual and collective sins, through the sins of the whole world, for which we daily beg for mercy.
I, for one, would prefer the magic bullet. But that’s not the way God chose, or chooses, to redeem the world.
What is happening in the Catholic Church? God is allowing the infected areas within the Church to be exposed and lanced, in order that she might be healed. He is applying the medicine of the Cross to human sin, starting with His own household. He is resetting the broken bones of a battered Body—the same Body that He uses to effect redemption in the world.
This is grace. This is Christ’s healing, bloody grace at work in the Church, bringing her steadily to salvation.
“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, he 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. Pope Benedict XVI*
*From Light of the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, page 173.