How To Find God in A World Full of Chaos

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To repeat continually “for his mercy endures forever,” as the psalm does, seems to break through the dimensions of space and time, inserting everything into the eternal mystery of love. It is as if to say that not only in history, but for all eternity man will always be under the merciful gaze of the Father. Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, para. 7

“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” That reminder begins every class and every assembly at St. Paul’s School, the Catholic high school that my 16-year-old son, Benjamin, attends.

We are in the holy presence of God. Do we believe it? Do we live as though it’s true?

As the world seemingly spins out of control, we can wonder: Where is God in all of this? Caught in the vortex of the world’s chaos, we can feel our center slipping. How do we find rest?

To begin with, we must be intentional about how we spend our time, living with a lively awareness of whether what we do with our time facilitates internal peace or chaos in our lives. We can develop chaos-free habits of living, the most important of which is spending time with God daily in prayer (which, ironically, is the thing we often avoid most). Indeed, “wasting” precious time with God in prayer is the most vital thing we can “do” on any given day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Jesus spent lavish time in prayer regularly—he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). If the God-man needed to pray, how much more do we pitiful sinners need to?

Prayer awakens us to the presence of God, who is always with us. Prayer calls us to center ourselves on God, who as St. Augustine said, “is closer to us that we are to ourselves.” Prayer intentionally pushes back the unholy pandemonium in our lives by reordering our hearts and minds to God. Because the chaos in our lives is often a reflection of the chaos in our hearts and heads. In fact, when our insides become a place of mayhem, our outsides generally follow suit.

It seems that the more chaotic we feel inside, the more we experience ourselves as being “scattered.” Jesus said: “Whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23). It is interesting to note that the New Testament term for the dark power, ho diabolos, from which we derive the word “devil,” literally means “the scatterer.”* The “scatterer” specializes in chaos, disorder, division and disintegration—in keeping us dispersed in umpteen ways until we are beside ourselves.

The good news is that God’s promise is to gather us in from “every place where we (are) scattered” (Ezekiel 34:12). He continually invites us to intimacy with Him, to peace, order and integrity. He invites us to slow down, settle down and look up, praying with the psalmist: "I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence." Psalm 15:8-9

A powerful remedy for chaos is to gather with God, and in so doing, allow him to gather us back from all of the places to which we have been scattered. As problems press in from every side, let us remember Christ’s words to anxious Martha that sitting at his feet is the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42)—one concrete act that can lead to peace, both in ourselves and in the world around us.

"The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:5-7

*Thanks to Bishop Robert Barron for this insight.

This article was originally published on Aleteia.

Abortion and the Logic of Love

On this day of prayer, fasting and penance, we sadly remember the 56,000,000 babies who have died through abortion since the legalization of abortion in America in 1973.  May God have mercy on us and upon our nation. FullSizeRender

In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract ideal, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of the love for their child.                Pope Francis, Miseracordiae Vultus, par. 6.

The only desire I had when I boarded the plane was to power down, enjoy some silence, and read Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, newly downloaded to my i-Phone. It had been a very busy weekend of non-stop talking, which included giving two one-hour presentations at a Marian conference.

But when a 20ish-looking blonde woman sat next to me, something told me to put down the phone and tune into her. “Where are you coming from?” she asked.

“I spoke at a Catholic conference in St. Louis,” I replied. “I’m headed home to New Orleans.”

Introducing herself as Paige, she shared that she was getting married in May, and that she and her Jewish fiancé had recently traveled to Israel for a month-long visit to attend a friend’s bar mitzvah. She disclosed her horror over the routine violence that is part and parcel of life there, especially as Muslim extremists increasingly engage in random stabbings of Jewish people.

“A man was stabbed right by our hotel,” she lamented. “And it didn’t even make the news. It’s incredible!”

We both agreed that the world needs much less hatred and violence, and much more love.

Paige shared that her parents had raised her without faith, even though they’d sent her to Catholic schools her whole life.

The conversation somehow turned to abortion. “I know you’re Catholic,” she said unapologetically, “but I’m totally pro-choice. One of my best friends is an ob-gyn who wants to learn how to do late-term abortions. She feels so badly for people who really want to be parents, really want a baby, then find out that their child has some unsurvivable abnormality. They’re totally stuck, you know, because Louisiana law prevents them from having a late-term abortion.”

“Well,” I offered gingerly, making every effort to use my kindest voice. “It would indeed be a horrible suffering to learn that your baby was going to die within hours of its birth. But what would be even worse is being stuck for the rest of your life with the knowledge that you had caused their death.”

Paige’s eyes grew bigger.

“I know of people who have lived through this,” I continued, sharing the story of presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen.   “They were able to welcome their son, Gabriel, into the world, baptize him, hold him in their arms, and shower him with love for at least a few hours. That was a very merciful way of dealing with both themselves and the child.”

By this time, Paige’s big, beautiful blue eyes were locked into mine.

“Here’s the thing,” I went on while I had her attention. “We both agree that we need more love in the world. And that’s precisely why I’m against capital punishment, war, and violence against Jews, women, and babies in the womb. Abortion is a very violent act against both the woman and the baby. We could use so much more love across the board in the world.”

Paige continued to fix her eyes on mine, and I finally laughed a bit nervously and said, “You must think I’m crazy telling you all of this on a plane.”

“No,” she said slowly. “I’m listening…I’m listening to what you’re saying.”

The plane touched down. “It was really nice talking to you,” Paige offered with a smile. “I like Judys. I’m going to buy your book.”

“It was really nice talking to you, too, Paige,” I smiled back. “God bless you.”

With that, an hour plane ride from Dallas to New Orleans had offered the unexpected gift of a mile-high defense of human life. Because while Paige was raised without faith, she was raised with love. And anyone can understand the logic of love, including someone who is “totally pro-choice.”

This article was first published at Aleteia.

Preparing for the End

IMG_2309I don’t know about you, but everywhere I turn lately, there seems to be some prophetic warning about an impending economic and social collapse coming to America. Secular financial experts are saying it. Evangelical Protestant pastors are saying it. Catholic evangelists are saying it. There appears to be a common consensus emerging from various sources that we are on the precipice of something big—a major shift in life, as we know it. More than one friend has asked me lately if I believe these warnings are true. And if so, what am I doing about it?

While I will admit that my spirit has been heavy lately about the intense moral confusion that seems to have gripped our culture, I have no idea whether or not the proverbial “doo-doo” is getting ready to hit the fan. What I do hear the Lord saying is this: Be prepared, not scared.

So what exactly does it mean to be prepared? Does it mean that we should store food, take money out of the bank, and bulk up on supplies? I believe it means that that we are to prepare spiritually for whatever comes along. And we do that by loving God with all of our hearts, by giving ourselves entirely to Him and by earnestly seeking to do His will.

While we don’t know what the future holds, we do know that life on earth has an expiration date. We should thus live each day with a lively awareness that this day may be our last; knowing that this might just be the day we meet God face to face. Such a perspective would have us ask ourselves every day whether we’re prepared for the end.

I was reminded of this truth three years ago this week, when our family went to the mountains to celebrate the birthday of my then-one-year-old grandson, John-Henry. My new husband, Mark, went with a group to hike a trail known as “The Dismal,” which is infamous for its difficult, uphill climb. As they hiked up the steep mountain, one of the men in the group, Gary, mentioned how grateful we should be to God for every day, because we don’t know if we will have tomorrow. Our hostess, Bunny, who was also hiking, chimed in that we don’t even know if we will have this afternoon. Two hours later, Gary suffered a cardiac embolism and died on the mountain in Mark’s arms. What a sobering wake up call of how quickly life can end.

I had learned that lesson four years earlier when my late husband, Bernie, suffered a massive heart attack. The morning before Christmas Eve, we were busily preparing to celebrate Christmas and welcome our first grandson into our lives. By that afternoon, Bernie lay in critical condition, and he never came home from the hospital. During the three months he spent in the I.C.U., Bernie found the secret to being prepared, which he shared with me when he woke up from a six-week coma. “I surrendered to God,” he whispered, “and I have so much peace.” He lived six more weeks before dying with no fear, because he had found love, peace and hope, the fruit of sweet surrender.

The virtue of hope, quite simply, has everything to do with placing our lives in God’s hands. Hope is about realizing that this life will be over in the blink of an eye, but that eternity with God lasts forever. Hope is about trusting God, and entrusting ourselves to Him. It’s about resting assured that even if the bottom falls out, God’s got us in His hands—hands that we can count on to carry us to safety.

One thing I’m learning is that catastrophic thinking steals hope, and that it is a major killjoy. Conversely, being present to the present moment, surrendering all to God, and trusting in His providence and love fuels hope; hope that is a meant to be a distinguishing mark of the Christian faith.

Let's get ready for the end by seeking the Lord, and by centering our lives on Him.  Anything less is a recipe for fear, which thwarts the way of hope.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.                       Matthew 6:33-34

Beauty Will Save the World

Photo Credit: Word on Fire

God showed up our home last night. He came through beauty, and I’m so grateful we didn’t miss Him.

God came in the form of four incredibly talented young musicians and singers, friends of my Nashville-based daughter Kara Klein, who want to transform our culture. They’re part of a new outreach called “Love Good Music,” founded by inspirational speaker and composer Jimmy Mitchell for the explicit purpose of evangelizing our culture through beauty. (See their website at lovegoodmusic.com for more information.)

I’m not sure what I expected, but what a breath of fresh, inspirational air Jacqui and Cathryn Treco, Chris Cole and Shawn Williams proved to be. Their simplicity, faith and joy blew me away, not to mention their jaw-dropping talent. While all who attended the impromptu concert were amazed by the young troupe’s musical ability, their mission is bigger and deeper than to impress others with their gifts. Their quest is to draw the hearts and minds of those present to God through beauty, standing in direct opposition to a secular culture where art forms have become increasingly vulgar, obscene and violent.

Love Good Music troupe and Kara Klein

These young people understand that the human heart is hungry for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Drawing upon a foundational theme in the Catholic faith—that is, the power of beautiful art to draw men’s hearts to the transcendent—the musicians hope to inspire others through heart-piercing entertainment. Both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, a classically trained pianist and a gifted actor respectively, wrote about beauty’s power to pierce hearts and point men to God. Both quoted in their own work the famous line from Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” which says, “Beauty will save the world.”  This is possible by reawakening man to the infinite, the transcendent, to that which calls us beyond ourselves. It happens by pointing man to the true artist and creative force behind all that is beautiful, namely God.  This is precisely what Fr. Robert Barron communicates in his immensely popular "Catholicism" series.

Thanks to the young artists who convincingly conveyed the power of beauty last night through their wholesome, delightful art. May we resurrect in our culture a prominent place for such beauty, for beauty can change the world.

Please enjoy the below video clip of Shawn Williams on violin.  Forgive me for the homemade quality of the video, as it doesn't do him justice, but you'll get an idea of his immense talent, which left us all breathless.  And enjoy the gorgeous painting by my dear friend and neighbor, Marcia Holmes, that graces our mantle, entitled "Reflective Oak." God bless!

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Finding The Ultimate Pleasure Park

Sign up for my Virtual Book Tour on my Home page and watch my exclusive new interview with broadcast journalist Mary Lou McCall, which will be available on my website next week!

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We live in a world where pleasure-seeking has become a highly prized ritual. And we keep upping the ante on what constitutes “pleasure.” Sado-masochism is being normalized, evidenced by the immense popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Addiction is rampant, and kids are smoking more than “plain old pot.” They are, instead, indulging themselves in cheap, synthetic marijuana, guaranteed to give both an outrageous high and a psychotic break.

The stakes are going up, and so are the consequences. I’ve gotten five phone calls in the last few weeks from desperate mothers trying to figure out what to do about their drug-abusing children. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our societal disorder is escalating. So, what in the world is the answer?

I was praying about our collective cultural quandary the other day, and quite frankly, my heart was heavy. I decided to meditate on where it all began—the place where sin, chaos and disorder first entered the world. I began reading Genesis and glanced down at the footnote for Genesis 2:8, where the Garden of Eden, paradise, is first mentioned. I was stunned to learn that “Eden,” translated literally from the Greek, means “pleasure park.” Well, I thought, that explains everything!

Human beings first resided in a pleasure park, and it was positively delightful. Teeming with love, life and light, God’s blessing rested everywhere. Banished from paradise due to original sin, we’ve been trying to recreate Eden ever since. We seek endless pseudo-pleasures to fill the void, yet we avoid the one thing that can bring us real fulfillment.

Because here’s the thing: the bliss of paradise consisted in being in God’s presence, and in enjoying an intimate love relationship with Him. Paradise cannot be found outside of the Divine Presence—no matter how wildly we seek it elsewhere. St. Augustine, who discovered this personally, said it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

It’s not surprising that the less time we make for the pleasure of God’s presence, the more frantic and chaotic we become in trying to fill the God-void. Busyness is epidemic today, as we chase after endless activities, trying to do it all. On occasion, when we’re “still,” we plug ourselves into any number of gadgets that consume our attention.  The endless noise makes it impossible to find interior silence, the place where Presence dwells and the sacred space into which God speaks.

How do we get back to Eden? Where do we find again God’s life, love and light? We must cultivate the garden of our soul, and we must be intentional about doing it.

There is no substitute for spending time alone with the Lord daily, where we speak to Him, become still and listen for His voice.   God asks each of us, every day: “Where are you?” and He wants us to honestly tell Him. He yearns to uncover, possess and penetrate our hearts, and He wants us, in turn, to unveil ourselves, remove our fig leaves and let Him come in.

The secret to finding paradise is simple, yet it comes with a cost. If we “waste” time in God’s presence, and seek Him for His own sake, the place of delight will unfold from within like a beautiful garden. And the pleasure park it contains will surprise and satisfy us with its sweet, healing fruit.

The Woman Of My Dreams

by Kara Klein

What a joy and delight to hear the amazing testimony of my daughter, Kara Klein,  at the Magnificat Breakfast this week.  Truly, the Lord has done great things for her, and holy is His name. Enjoy her guest blog!  

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Recently at the national Focus conference I heard gifted speaker Sara Swafford tell a group of single young women: “Become the woman of your dreams and you’ll attract the man of your dreams.” This struck a deep chord in me.

As we enter into a new year, and resolutions fill conversations and various forms of media, I’ve been asking myself:

“What do I want for this new year? Not merely, what do I want to do, but who do I want to become? Who is the woman of my dreams?”

Initially, what comes to my mind is: perfection. I want to be perfect, of course. Virtuous and valiant, strong yet sweet, to always do the right thing, say the right thing, know the right thing, to be successful in all I attempt, to love without faltering.

Yet I once heard the very wise Fr. Jacques Philippe say: “More than God wants our perfection, more than he wants our success, He just wants our trust.”

What kind of woman would I be if I didn’t so much grasp after being perfect as much as I trusted in God with my whole heart? If my whole presence exuded the reality: “All is well. We have a Father. He is real, and He is good. We can trust Him with our entire being, abandon ourselves to Him without reserve. And no matter what happens—though the mountains crumble around us and the earth melt like wax before us—we are in His loving hands, and He is working all things for our good.”

Probably I would be less like Eve, and more like Mary. Less like the one who took matters into her own hands out of fear that her Maker was holding out on her, and more like the one who said, “the Lord has done great things for me and holy is His name!”

I think we Christians complicate our lives more than we realize. We think we have to do so much, be so much, achieve so much, discover so much; when all we really have to do is say “yes.” A simple “Let it be done unto me according to your will. Today.

Yes to loving the person that is right in front of us; yes to accepting with peace life as it unfolds before us; yes to trusting radically like a little child. Simple, but not easy.

To be a woman whose trust and joy are not based upon the ever-changing circumstances around her, but solely in a God who loves her. That is a woman of faith. And that is the woman of my dreams.