How Dung Helps Flowers Grow: What God Does With Our "Crapola"

I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from Israel. I shall be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.      Hosea 14: 5-7

It happens every spring. Just as I’m walking around the neighborhood gleefully absorbing the exquisite sights and smells of sweet Louisiana blooms, I get a whiff of something putrid.

Then I remember.

Dung is used as fertilizer in many local gardens, and my garden always does best when I buy the soil advertised as laden with cow manure.

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel plain 'ole crappy about my life. I agonize about mistakes made, opportunities missed, and relationships mired in misunderstanding. I spew apologies, wish for do-overs and rake myself over the coals.

The mercy is, when I finally settle down enough to ground myself in God’s presence, I don’t get mud thrown in my face.  Instead, I hear the Lord’s gentle voice whispering: I will heal your defections…I will love you freely…you shall blossom like the lily.

We can be master builders of our own whipping posts, ready and willing to bind ourselves inexorably to every last lash. We can view our failures to love in endless 3-D projections, seeing only the terrible tearings that teased out death. We can rend ourselves asunder with regret, obsessing over our belief that we were supposed to get things right.

 We can even call this humility, when the sad fact is that all of this rumbled reasoning reeks of an unholy focus on self, not of holy faith in God.

Because faith in God means that we see our defects—redeemed by God’s grace—as glorified gashes in our humanity capable of spawning new life. Faith in God means we trust that when our personal capabilities crash, God’s competence rises up to save us. Faith in God means that we adjust the lens of our reality to magnify God’s magnanimous mercy instead of our many measly mistakes.

What faith basically means is just that this shortfall that we all have in our love is made up by the surplus of Jesus Christ’s love, acting on our behalf. He simply tells us that God himself has poured out among us a superabundance of his love and has thus made good in advance all of our deficiency. Ultimately, faith means nothing other than admitting that we have this kind of shortfall; it means opening our hand and accepting a gift.   Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), What It Means to Be A Christian

In other words, we can’t. God can. Will we let him?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: "The best fortune that can fall to a man is that which corrects his defects and makes up for his failings." I’d call that fortune grace.   What sweet relief that our “dung,” infused with God’s grace, becomes fertile territory where fragrant trees grow and flowers bloom.

Dear Self: How Holy Are You? How To Become Holy In One Not-So-Easy Step

IMG_3312 What does it mean to be holy? And how do we become holy?

These two questions burned in my mind for years as I moved from agnosticism, to fundamentalist Protestantism, then home to Catholicism. When I returned to the Catholic Church, I continued to ask the same questions about holiness as I specialized in apologetics, moral theology and bioethics. Finally, thanks to my life imploding, I came to the conclusion that holiness consists, quite simply, in love of and surrender to God.

Truth be told, I can now see that my trajectory within Christianity was an attempt, albeit a worthy one, to have an authority tell me the truth in black and white, give me the laws, and present me with the parameters in which to live. I used to joke that I just wanted someone to tell me the flipping rules so I could follow them!

Because deep down I knew that following the rules was a heck of a lot easier than surrendering to a wild, unpredictable God—especially a God who allows so much suffering in life. It took many years of prayer, study, soul-searching and, of course, personal suffering before I began to see that the essence of holiness is not formulas, facts or feats—good as those can be—but trusting God. And that the indispensable ingredients of holiness are hoping in God in all things, believing he is good no matter what, and surrendering to his love with abandon.

Sounds simple enough, right? Simple maybe. But easy, no.

Thanks to a suggestion by Amazon, I recently happened upon Dr. Peter Kreeft’s new book, How To Be Holy: First Steps In Becoming A Saint, which explains masterfully why holiness is simple but hard.  Amazingly, at least to me, Kreeft affirms exactly what I’ve been trying to say in both my writing and talks—that holiness it isn’t about performance, but surrender. In other words, holiness has much less to do with asserting my will as it does with assenting to God’s. And therein lies the crux of Kreeft’s message.

With the brilliance, wit and logic that is classic Kreeft, the prolific author and philosopher sums it up neatly in these words:

“Abandonment’, or “islam”, or “surrender”, to God’s providential will is also the very essence of holiness.” Kreeft, How To Be Holy, 31

He builds his thesis on the truth that God is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, and upon St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 which say: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Most of us would readily agree that God is good and working all things together for our good when things are carrying on happily in our lives; that is, when they are going according to “our will.” During these times, we are invited to cultivate the virtues of faith, hope and love by aligning our will with God’s and growing in relationship with him.

But it is when God allows us to be sanctified, or made holy, “against our will, through suffering” (Kreeft, 32), that we are frontally challenged to exercise the theological virtues in a more radical way. It is then that we must decide whether we really believe that God is good and whether we truly trust that what he is permitting in our lives is for our good. In these moments of permitted purification, we are beckoned to abandon ourselves with confidence to God’s providential will, allowing the fire of God’s love to burn away the dross of our own self-love and self-will—in a word, selfishness—which, Kreeft says is the main obstacle to holiness. When we assent to God in the midst of suffering, we begin to experience what the sage author calls “joyful, trusting self-surrender,” which requires saying: Not my will, but thy will be done.

And that, my friends, that hard prayer of willing, intentional surrender in abandonment to a God we believe is good and loving—in the teeth of what is often a hard-fought battle through suffering—is what makes us holy.

Simple perhaps. Easy no. But entirely possible with grace.

This article previously appeared at Aleteia.

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Is God Good All The Time? Or Only When We Feel Blessed?

  Our home flooding in Hurricane Isaac

Forty thousand Louisiana families lost their homes this week to what is being called the “Great Flood,” and more homes are about to go under as I write. Meanwhile, I’m reading posts on Facebook that are saying things like: “God is so good! He spared our home. We are so blessed.” And I’m asking very seriously: Really?

So if your home had flooded, would God be less good? And where does that leave the forty thousand now-homeless families in our state? Are they cursed instead of blessed? Or maybe just less blessed than those whose homes were spared?

One of my pet peeves in life is how often we Christians equate “the blessing” with our own physical and material prosperity, and God’s goodness with how well our lives are going on any given day. Without being cognizant of it, we have somehow bought lock, stock and barrel into the “prosperity gospel,” which purports to guarantee blessing in the lives of those who are favored by God—those who pray hard enough, have potent enough “prayer warriors” in their camps, and do this thing called Christianity just right.

This convoluted approach to the Christian faith has seeped deep into our collective Christian psyches, and it seems to reverberate everywhere we turn. It’s also a message that I personally experienced as a despair-provoking battering ram in the midst of multiple life calamities; during the long, painful years I spent with clenched fists asking God: “What does it take to get the flippin’ blessing?”

After many years and much suffering, I finally came to the conclusion that I was asking the wrong question completely. It was then that I began to ask instead: Lord, what IS the blessing?

So what does Jesus actually have to say about “the blessing”? There’s only one place in the Gospels that Jesus repeatedly invokes the word “blessed,” and that is in the Beatitudes. In Luke 6, Jesus uses the word “blessed” four times in a row (nine times in a row in Matthew’s account in Chapter 5). In every case in Luke’s Gospel, the word is followed by an adjective that describes people that most of us would consider anything but blessed: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the excluded, and the insulted—those we would probably quickly deem “cursed” today.

I’ve pondered much about Mary—the most blessed woman that ever lived—and how her life would be judged were she alive right now. She was apparently widowed; and then lost her only son to a brutal, violent death upon a cross between two notorious criminals. And that was only after her beloved son was publicly accused of being a blasphemer, a lunatic, and possessed. In spite of this, we find the word “blessed” used repeatedly in regard to Mary; starting when Elizabeth proclaims to her in a loud voice: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:42-45). We hear those words again in reference to Mary when “a woman from the crowd” cries out to Jesus saying, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Luke 11:27-28). Jesus’ response—“Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it”—is an implicit reference to his mother’s unwavering faith in God that echoes the words spoken by Elizabeth.

Mary’s life gives us a glimpse of what the blessing looks like, and it is not based on the fact that her life went “well”—at least as the world defines “well.” Instead, her beatitude was found in her steadfast trust in God no matter what trials life brought, in her continuous “yes” to him in the face of great adversity, and in her constant cooperation with his salvific plan, no matter how much it suffering it involved.

This is the blessed state of being to which we are all invited to participate as Christians—a way that defies this world’s way of thinking. It is a way of living in peace and hope that comes only through faith, trust and surrendered abandonment to a God we believe is always good, no matter what happens.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.

When Death Births Life: St. Bryce Missions Grows Out of a Family's Grief

The Mitchell Family “I went to the jungle thinking I was going to grieve, but God brought me there to heal,” author and full-time missionary Colleen C. Mitchell said as she sat on a stool in my kitchen, watching me prepare a pot of Crayfish Étouffée. Mitchell and I had met only a week earlier at a Catholic Trade Show in Chicago, but when I learned she was a native New Orleanian who would be coming through our hometown in a week, I insisted we get together. During our visit, Mitchell openly shared her story of heartbreak and grief, and how it led her family to a cloud forest in Costa Rica to serve as missionaries caring for the spiritual and physical needs of the indigenous Cabecar peoples.

Their journey to the jungle began in 2009 while Mitchell, her husband, Greg, and their six sons were living a normal, happy life as a Catholic homeschooling family. On what she called “a perfect homeschooling day,” tragedy suddenly struck when Mitchell found her three-month-old son, Bryce, unresponsive in his crib due to SIDS. Within a short time, the couple lost four more babies to miscarriage, leaving Mitchell completely shattered and irrevocably changed by the multiple heartbreaks and ensuing grief that had visited their lives.

Shortly after Bryce’s death, Greg became inspired to establish a non-profit organization in Bryce’s name for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. “I can’t say I opposed the idea,” wrote Mitchell in the exquisite new book that grew out of her grief entitled Who Does He Say You Are: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels.  “But I could not make logical sense of how you give your heart away when you are holding its shards in bleeding hands.”

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Still tentative about how they could help others while in so much pain themselves, Mitchell offered God and Greg a “weak-kneed” yes, and St. Bryce Missions was born. Not long after that, Greg visited Costa Rica on a business trip, coming home with a vision for their future that his wife had not imagined: moving their family to the Chirripo Mountains of south Central Costa Rica to minister to the unevangelized indigenous peoples who live on a government-provided reserve therein.

Making a radical leap of faith, Mitchell packed her family’s belongings and necessities into 12 suitcases, embarking “sight unseen on a journey of redemption” to the poorest area of Costa Rica, unsure of what lay before them. Three weeks into their new life in the remote jungle, tragedy struck again via the death of Greg’s mother, necessitating his departure from Costa Rica for three weeks. “It was then—as I sat broken-hearted, isolated and alone in the jungle with my boys, with no car, unable to speak Spanish, apart from everything and everyone I had known—that I realized I needed to get to know God in a new way.”

Mitchell spent long days sitting beside a running river with her Bible and journal in hand, meditating upon Gospel stories of Christ’s healing, transforming power as her boys played in the river’s clear waters. There the grieving mother began to hear Christ speaking life into her heart again, and it was there that she began to reclaim God’s vision of her by journaling the “tender mercies” the Lord gave her in prayer—the very journal entries that would eventually become the chapters of her beautiful new book.

“I began to own that even with all the cracks and broken places the last few years had wrought in me, I was beautiful and beloved to him, and I had a purpose. He wanted to use me,” she wrote. It would not take long for that purpose to be realized.

Mitchell began to notice that basic healthcare was inaccessible to the Cabecar women, forcing pregnant women to walk as many as ten miles while in labor trying to find a hospital in which to safely deliver their babies. Wondering how she could help, she hatched a plan in her mind to find and engage an existing organizational institution to solve the problem of making healthcare more accessible to these poor women. Again, God surprised her with an unimagined solution.

“One day in prayer, I heard God say, ‘Use what you have to meet this need,’” Mitchell told me as I sat listening in amazement. “You have a car, a house, and a way to get these people to the hospital. Share with them what I’ve given you.”

Mitchell said yes.

The very next day Mitchell and her husband encountered a Cabecar woman with an extremely sick baby who had already walked eight hours in the pouring rain to find medical help. They picked her up, drove her to the hospital, and stayed with her to make sure she received the care she needed, leaving their phone number with her in the event she had no way to get home upon the baby’s release from the hospital. The woman called the couple the next day, and ended up staying in their home for a week until the baby was stable enough to go home.

After this first encounter, the Mitchells put the word out that they were willing to help others, and more women began to show up. This influx eventually prompted the family to move to a larger home close to the hospital which sleeps 25 women in addition to their family of 7—bringing to life the St. Francis Emmaus Center, a home-based ministry that is only one of several initiatives St. Bryce Missions is currently undertaking to reach out to those on the peripheries of society with the Gospel.  To date, over 700 Cabecar women have come through their doors to receive food, shelter, health education and health-care advocacy in the state-run medical system, receiving love and care from the Mitchells and their five still-homeschooling sons, all of whom are engaged in the work of St. Bryce Missions.

The Mitchell’s “yes” to God has birthed healing in hopelessness and grace in grief—for themselves and numerous others. Their efforts have not only spurred a 50% drop in the infant mortality rate among the people they serve, but has given whole families in an oft-overlooked part of the world the opportunity to encounter Christ.

This article appeared previously at Aleteia.

The Painful Pruning of Our Diseased Hearts and the Glorious Mark of the Cross

FullSizeRender-1 They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display his glory.

Isaiah 61:3

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.

Hope For Troubled Parents: Become A Child Yourself

FullSizeRender-2 Twice recently I've heard parents say: “I did everything right, and my child is still doing (name your favorite sin).” “Good luck with that!” I responded to one of them in a voice that was louder and more vigorous than I intended. Because the lie that if you do it all right, then you’ll be guaranteed a good result is a form of an ancient heresy known as Pelagianism. The old heresy now has a new moniker: the Prosperity Gospel, which purports that if I do X and Y then I will earn Z from God. Oh, how it misses the point of God’s grace!

What a relief to heartily admit what two of the greatest saints of our era, namely St. Faustina and St. Therese of Lisieux, freely admitted: they couldn’t get it right. While simultaneously reading St. Faustina’s Diary and Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Merciful Love, I was almost giddy when I happened upon Faustina and Therese’s own words:

O my God, I understand well that you demand this spiritual childhood of me…I am an abyss of misery, and hence I understand that whatever good there is in my soul consists solely of His holy grace. The knowledge of my misery allows me, at the same time, to know the immensity of Your mercy. (St. Faustina, Diary, par. 56.)

And if the good God wants you weak and helpless like a child…do you believe you will have less merit?...Agree to stumble at every step, therefore, even to fall, to carry your cross weakly, to love your helplessness. (Gaitley, quoting Therese, 56)

Before I read those words, I’d been feeling particularly low about the mistakes, failures and foibles I’ve made as a parent. But surprisingly, every time I turned to the Lord for guidance he said the same thing to me: Become a child yourself.

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Why?

Children are spontaneously, intuitively in touch with their own neediness, and they are quick to ask for help. Children have open hands and open hearts, and they stand ready to receive love with gratitude and joy. Children live in expectant faith that if they fall, fail or flail their Papa is going to take care of it—and he’s going to take care of them, too. Children trust completely.

This is the way of spiritual childhood that Faustina and Therese found so liberating; it is the way of the child through which we, too, must pass in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The way of spiritual childhood is the path of humility and trust: I freely and humbly admit that I’m a hot mess, while furiously trusting that I am loved and redeemed by a merciful God who is bigger than all of my sins and weaknesses.

Of course, I try my best to live and love according to the ways of Christ. And when I fail to do so I turn to God, trusting that he will fill in the gap of all I am lacking in love and holiness with his love and holiness, and that his offering is superabundantly sufficient. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) said it this way:

What faith basically means is just that this shortfall that we have in our love is made up by the surplus of Jesus Christ’s love, acting on our behalf. He simply tells us that God himself has poured out among us a superabundance of love and has thus made good in advance all our deficiency. Ultimately, faith means nothing other than admitting that we have this kind of shortfall; it means opening our hand and accepting a gift. (Ratzinger, What It Means to Be A Christian, 74).

Are you fretting about all you lack as a parent? Then become a little child. Abandon yourself and your children completely to God, trusting that his love will make up for whatever is lacking in yours. This is grace. For as the Little Flower herself insisted, all is grace.

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This article was previously published at Aleteia.

Is A Personal Relationship With Christ A Catholic Concept?

FullSizeRender-1 To peruse the comments in response last week's blog at Aleteia, The Elephant in the Communion Line, one might conclude that I eagerly observe those coming forward for Holy Communion and readily judge their worthiness or unworthiness to receive. Truth be told, I rarely notice who is receiving communion, as I am generally focused on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist before and after communion, often with my eyes closed. Furthermore, far be it from me to judge whether any soul is in a state of grace, for God alone is capable of such knowledge. But that is completely beside the point.

The point of my article was to pose a different question entirely, which I ask again here: What is at the root of the problem when, statistically, a majority of Catholics don’t practice the moral teachings of the Church or live in a way that demonstrates any appreciable difference than those in the surrounding secular culture? Moreover, why has so much focus been placed on divorce and remarriage instead of on the overarching problem of the spiritual and moral confusion that reigns in the Church?

I suggested that the crisis in the Church is due, in large part, to a system that often “sacramentalizes” Catholics without leading them to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. The solution? Bold, clear evangelization that leads people to a personal relationship with Christ. Or as St. John Paul II put it:

It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ. Only from a personal relationship with Jesus can an effective evangelization develop. Pope John Paul II, speech to bishops of Southern Germany, Dec. 4, 1992. L’Osservatore Romano (English ed.). Dec. 23/30, 1992, pp. 5-6.

The crux of the Christian faith is a living, personal relationship with the Triune God, fully revealed in and through the person of Christ. This is the fundamental truth of the Catholic faith, and it is a truth we must proclaim with heartfelt zeal if we are to see the realization of the new evangelization of the Church and the world for which St. John Paul II ardently and repeatedly asked.

Christian faith is not meant to simply give us something pleasant to do on Sundays. It is meant to radically change us and our lives—to turn us around from death to life, to reorient our souls to life-giving truth, to enable us to participate in God’s very own love life—equipping us to know God intimately, to love as he loves, and to live and act as his very own children. Faith in Christ is more than merely an intellectual assent to propositions or the practice of a set of rituals, however good and necessary those are in themselves. Faith is “first of all a personal adherence of man to God,” the act through which one “freely commits himself to God,” and the mystery through which we live out “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 150, 1814, 2558).

In other words, faith is the total self surrender of the human person to the living God, whom we come to believe in, love and trust as Lord, Father, savior, bridegroom, healer, lover of our souls, fulfiller of the deepest longings of our hearts and so much more.

Faith, trust and love are synonymous words in Christianity, and they indicate familial intimacy and deep friendship with a God who “has a name and calls us by name…he is a Person, and he seeks the person, he has a face and he seeks our face. He has a heart and he seeks our heart” (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 24). This is the God of the Christian faith; this is the God to whom we must introduce others at a moment in history when vast numbers of people, including many baptized Catholics, have lost their way in an aimless search for meaning and satisfaction.

Finally, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) so eloquently articulated in Introduction to Christianity:

Christian faith is more than the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not “I believe in something”, but “I believe in Thee”…Thus faith is the finding of a “You” that bears me up and amid all the unfulfilled—and in the last resort unfulfillable—hope of human encounters gives me the promise of an indestructible love which not only longs for eternity but guarantees it. Christian faith lives on the discovery that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning, but this meaning knows me and loves me, and I can entrust myself to it like the child that knows all its questions answered in the “You” of its mother. Thus in the last analysis believing, trusting and loving are one, and all the theses round which belief revolves are only concrete expressions of the all-embracing about-turn, of the assertion “I believe in You”—of the discovery of God in the countenance of the man Jesus of Nazareth.  

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 47, 48

Thus, the essence of the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God. May we individually and corporately discover anew the “all-embracing about-turn of the assertion I believe in You.”

This article originally appeared at Aleteia.

Why Mercy Makes Us Uncomfortable

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In his second Encyclical, Dives in Misericordia…Saint John Paul II highlighted the fact that we had forgotten the theme of mercy in today’s cultural milieu: “The present day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it.”

Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, para. 11

Something very strange happened on Tuesday. Thousands of people in Louisiana, including my sixteen-year-old son, Benjamin, and myself, were sequestered to closets and bathrooms under the immediate threat of a tornado in our area. Hurricanes we’re used to. Tornadoes no.

I sat on the ground in our small powder room with Benjamin’s lacrosse helmet on my head, clutching my rosary and praying for God’s mercy for all in the storm’s path. Our phone alarms had sounded moments earlier alerting us to an imminent threat in our vicinity, and multiple texts had arrived from family members telling us to take cover as they watched minute-by-minute news coverage of a twister aiming right at us.

From the bathroom floor, I pulled up the news on my laptop so I could see how close the tornado was to us. Suddenly, it occurred to me how unnervingly strange it is that the technology exists to give us a blow-by-blow report on a tornado that might be headed directly for our neighborhood—but that nothing could actually be done to protect us from its wrath. It reminded me that a direct confrontation with the power of nature serves up a sobering wake up call of just how vulnerable we human beings really are, as many of us have learned in recent years in the face of natural disasters.

Interestingly, I had been chewing on Pope Francis’ abovementioned quote by Saint John Paul II all day, trying to figure out why and how mercy makes us uneasy. But the answer didn’t hit me until I was huddled in the bathroom praying for mercy!

Mercy makes us uncomfortable because it necessitates the admission of our powerlessness, and the acknowledgement that we are not, in fact, God. Mercy crashes our illusions that we are masters of the earth because of our technological prowess, calling us to confront the reality that we are not in control. Mercy demands that we have the humility to concede that we are creatures who are utterly dependent on God—creatures that would cease to exist if he turned his omnipotent glance away from us for one millisecond.

To seek the mercy of God is to experience what Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) referred to as a personal “Copernican revolution,” wherein we come to see that we are not the center of the universe, and that God is. As such, we must begin “to accept quite seriously that we are one of many among God’s creatures, all of which turn around God as their center.” (Joseph Ratzinger, What It Means to Be a Christian, 70-71)

Looking at the world around us, it is apparent that we don’t like to admit our own poverty and frailty, nor do we tolerate well the poverty and frailty of others. Asking for and extending mercy requires that we do both: recognize our human fragility and our profound need for help, while “return(ing) to the basics…to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, para. 10)

 Frankly, we’d rather not. And it shows in the way we live, the values we embrace and the leaders we elect. Which is precisely why Pope Francis, following the lead of St. John Paul II, unceasingly pushes for what he insists is an “urgent” need for the proclamation and witness of mercy in the world.

Note: This article was previously published on Aleteia.

A Catholic Girl's Litany of Humility

This was too good not to share!  Enjoy this guest blog by my daughter, Kara Klein.  Happy Easter! Photo Credit: Judy Klein

Oh, to be female, single and Catholic! A state of great ambivalence (or may we say, distress!) for all too many in today’s world. With the feminine desire to make a gift of herself through marriage in a society where people flee commitment, and with deep longings to bring forth life amidst a culture of death, the future for the devout Catholic female can sometimes look a little grim. While the problem of prolonged singlehood is deep, multi-faceted, and cannot be blamed on (nor solved with) one sex, race, or generation, what do we single Catholic women do while we wait for the desire of our hearts?

Like Mary, we say “yes” with a whole heart to Jesus Christ, who is Love itself, hope with joyful expectation, and learn to love right where we are.

We long for love, but sometimes we’re more focused on being the recipients. We want to be pursued, romanced, courted and carried off into the sunset—which is only natural, as it’s how God made us. But as women, we are called not only to receive love, but also to give it freely. Even now as we wait.

Perhaps this time of waiting for so many is a time of purification, as God refashions our hearts to seek to love rather than seeking to be loved by those around us. We need women today in our world who are willing to love sacrificially without counting the cost—for the sake of the other, and not for what that person gives them.

Can we young singles lay down the desire to be on pedestal for the desire to serve? Can we dare to put others before us? Dare to put Christ first? Dare to be content right where we are, to embrace our lives with gratitude as they are today, trusting that we are in God’s will? Can we dare to be humble?

My roommates and I recently wondered what a Catholic single girl’s Litany of Humility would look like. We came up with this:

From the desire of being stared at…

From the desire of being called, messaged, emailed, tweeted, Facebook stalked or Instagramed…

From the desire of being told I’m gorgeous…

From the desire of hearing there isn’t, never was, and never will be anyone else quite like me…

From the desire of a four-carat diamond ring…

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being alone…

From the fear forever being a bridesmaid…

From the fear of gaining 5 more pounds…

From the fear of my ticking biological clock…

From the fear of the single life being my permanent vocation…

Deliver me, Jesus.

That others be pursued more than I…

That others get asked out more than I…

That others get married before I do…

That others have children even when I don’t…

That others be happier than I, provided that I become as happy I should…

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, unafraid to be single till the day you died, hear us.

It hurts to stop looking for the love we long to have, to stop demanding love, and instead, search every day for ways we can offer it to the world around us. But as a priest once told me, “In becoming a woman, you must be the one to love, to serve, to give, and you will find the joy you are looking for.”