When Mercy Makes Us Bleed: A Commentary on Healing Our Collective Corruption

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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.

Where a Wiccan Meets Mercy: Yes, Virginia, There is a New Evangelization

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“In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those  living on the outermost fringes of society.”   Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 15.

When I spotted them standing on the downtown Denver street corner handing out pamphlets, I kept my eyes down so as not to be accosted by what I thought were Jehovah’s Witnesses. But as soon as I heard the young man say to a passerby: “If you’d like to learn more about the Catholic faith…” I stopped dead in my tracks.

“It’s not very often that you see Catholics on the street handing out flyers about the faith,” I offered with a smile, extending my hand to introduce myself to the brave evangelist. “What group are you with?”

John shared that he was a seminarian at the nearby St. John Vianney Seminary and that he’d recently been ordained a deacon. In evangelization training with St. Paul Street Evangelization, he was there with a group of soon-to-be ordained priests trying to engage passers-by in a non-confrontational conversation about Jesus Christ and the Church, hopefully planting seeds for them to learn more about both.

A disheveled, confused looking young man with a devil’s face on his t-shirt and the word “DEMON” tattooed in large letters on his bicep approached. “Dude, can I have one of those?”

John happily offered him a rosary, which the young man proceeded to place around his neck while explaining that he is a Wiccan who uses magic on people. “I only use good magic, but there are others in my coven who are infernal. The magic makes me very disoriented, because it takes so much out of me,” he continued.

The rosary-adorned Wiccan quickly moved to another group of seminarians to seek more goods, and John, my daughter, Kara, and I joined our voices in prayer for his soul. Before long, he reappeared wanting to hear more about Mary, the Mother of God. “Wicca has a great mother in its religion, too,” he informed us. “We call on her for help,” he explained.

Suddenly, I remembered a story I’d read on the Internet about a former satanic high priest who was awakened to the truth of Jesus Christ via a Miraculous Medal given to him in a shopping mall . I quickly dug into my backpack and found a small white envelope with the words “Blessed Miraculous Medal” on the front and gave it to him.

“Here you go,” I said placing the envelope in his hands. “Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ. Remember to call on her if you ever need help.”

He smiled and took the medal out, then placed it on a beaded chain that fit snugly around his forehead. Off he meandered down the street sporting the rosary around his neck and the Miraculous Medal on his forehead—with us praying a “Hail Mary” for his conversion.

“What led you to the priesthood?” I asked Deacon John after the Wiccan visitor left.

“It was attending Denver’s World Youth Day in 1993 with Pope John Paul II.   Following his visit, it was like a wave of the Holy Spirit came through the whole city and nothing has been the same since. There’s a lot of strange stuff in this city, but there’s a profound Catholic presence also. God is really moving here.”

Deacon John and I said our goodbyes and I walked into the corner department store I originally intended to enter to resume shopping with my daughters.

“Is there anything left in this world that will satisfy me?” a song screamed from the store’s speakers, seeming to speak right to the confused young Wiccan we’d just met on the street corner, seeming to speak to all of the searching people in the world. I thought of John Paul II’s words to the Church on World Mission Sunday in 1985, “Jesus alone can satisfy humanity's hunger for love.” Jesus alone, I prayed.

This article previously appeared on 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.

Abortion and the Logic of Love

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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.

The Death of Zeus and the Healing of Fatherhood

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How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!   Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 5.

 

Drop by drop; the water fell through the sugar cube into the glass of absinthe perched on the Royal Street bar. Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” blaring from the stage had summoned us in for a dance, just after we’d finished caroling with thousands of others in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral. My husband, Mark, decided to try the famous New Orleans libation, and as we watched the sugared water slowly sweeten the bitterest of drinks, Leonard approached the bar.

“What are you guys doing in New Orleans?” he opened.

“We’re locals,” we offered. “We were caroling in Jackson Square. The archbishop led the singing.”

“I used to be a good Catholic,” he countered immediately. “But I haven’t been to Church or prayed in years.” (People confess the darndest things in bars!)

One thing led to another and before we knew it, my husband and I were sharing openly about our faith in God, and about the reality of a tender, merciful Father who loves us personally and wants to be in relationship with us. We disclosed that we begin every morning with Eucharistic adoration and Mass, encouraging Leonard to start to set aside time to seek God in prayer.   It was then that he turned to me and asked: “What do you hear in prayer?”

“I hear God say, ‘You are my beloved daughter,'” I replied, grateful that the voice of Love has finally supplanted the voice of condemnation in my head. Leonard’s eyes widened like saucers and welled with visible tears. “Well, I’ve never heard anything remotely like that in prayer!” he exclaimed.

Leonard stayed close by us for the rest of the night, anxious to hear more about the Father who loves him. It was clear from our conversation that his relationship with his own father had been difficult, and that he, like so many other people Mark and I encounter, was suffering from what we’ve come to call “a father wound.”

More than forty years ago, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) said in a sermon on God:

It is well known that the Greeks called their Zeus ‘Father’. But this word was not an expression of their trust in him!...When they said ‘Father’, they meant that Zeus was like human fathers—sometimes really nice, when he was in a good mood, but ultimately an egoist, a tyrant, unpredictable, unfathomable, and dangerous. (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 32)

How many people have experienced their human fathers this way? And how many people believe this is who God is?

Being in ministries where we hear the personal stories of wounded souls on a daily basis, Mark and I know this number is not negligible. Sadly, there seems to be a consistent theme in too many narratives: physically or emotionally absent fathers, raging fathers, alcoholic fathers, abusive fathers—fathers more like Zeus that the Father whom Jesus Christ came to reveal.

Ratzinger said in the same sermon on God:

The crisis of fatherhood we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole. Where…the father is seen as a tyrant whose yoke must be thrown off, something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged. (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 29)

Perhaps the “tenderness revolution” Pope Francis is launching will not only unleash mercy on the world, but will prompt a healing in fatherhood itself, one that “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:24, Luke 1:17). Such a turn might convince us that God is not Zeus, but “Abba,” who is mercy, kindness, compassion and love. This is the truth that is revealed in Jesus Christ, and meant to be revealed by Christ in us, as a desperate world cries: “Show us the face of the Father!”

Note: This article was first published on Aleteia as "The Mercy Journal."

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Grace Upon Grace

Dear Friends, Many blessings to you and your families as we end 2015 and begin the new year.  Please know that I am praying for you and your intentions today at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C..  May the Lord bless you abundantly in 2016 and grant you a fresh outpouring of His mercy and love.       Blessings and grace!    Judy  

Statue in the Crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the (Second Vatican) Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity.” Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 4

Carried tenderly through the Jubilee Door of Mercy at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception by her parents, 10-day-old Grace Philomena would be baptized in just a few hours on this same special day—the Feast of the Holy Family in the Octave of Christmas during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Grace. God’s favor and unmerited gift. A perfect name for a baby conceived in an imperfect situation by unmarried young adults; yet a child welcomed, wanted, loved by God and by us. Moreover, a child soon to be infused with the grace of God, giving her the one identity that truly counts: child of God.

Standing in the crypt of the National Basilica, it was hard to miss the sense of being in the womb of the Church, the womb of the Bride of Christ, the womb of Mercy. I pondered the paradox of the God-man choosing to enter this world in an irregular and apparently scandalous situation, conceived before Joseph and Mary were living together as husband and wife, making Mary subject to stoning according to the demands of the law. Why that way, Lord? I have asked the question many times. I thought of Mary’s dilemma, about how difficult it must have been as she wondered how her situation would play out. I thought of all the months I worried about and prayed for Grace, asking God for his help that this situation, too, might play out well.

Then came Grace, on the birthday of Pope Francis—the pope who baptized the baby of unwed parents on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. And here we now stood on the Feast of the Holy Family holding Grace hours before her baptism, with grace holding us.

The last Gospel reading of the year proclaims: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17, RSV). While the law was a teacher, grace is a healer. The law was a guide; but grace is a mother. The law foreshadowed Christ; grace gives us Christ. Grace welcomes Grace, making her a child of God “born not by natural generation or by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (John 1:13).

“Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures,” Pope Francis said in his opening homily for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. “But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.” That enfolding comes in many forms—all destined to beckon us to God.

I’ve watched an unborn baby call two confused young people to adulthood: to purpose, to promise, to love. I watch them now as they hold an infant daughter in their arms, presenting her to the Father of Mercies that she may be enfolded in his love. The law would have repudiated Mary. But grace embraces Grace, and her parents, with the medicine of mercy. The arms of severity have no place here, only the arms of love.

This post was previously published at Aleteia as The Mercy Journal.

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How The Gaze Of A Blind Man Healed My Sight

Happy birthday to our beautiful daughter, Kara, who has taught us all so much about love, and to our first grandson, James, who is such a gift of joy! Merry Christmas to you and your families!  May the Lord grant you a fresh outpouring of mercy and love!

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At times, we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy.  Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 3.

Our Christmas girl, who turns thirty today, wanted only one gift that year. “For my birthday and Christmas present, I’d like a plane ticket to bring Richard to visit our family for the holidays,” Kara requested with all of the innocent fervor of her kind eighteen-year-old heart.

Richard was a middle-aged, legally blind man none of us had ever met. Living alone in Florida he’d heard Kara, a singer/songwriter, perform on EWTN’s “Life On the Rock.” He promptly found her website, and they formed a friendship centered upon letter writing and praying for each other’s needs. From what Richard shared, he loved the Lord deeply, and having no family, spent his days praying and watching Catholic television.

“That sounds like a great thing to do for Christmas,” my late husband, Bernie, and I agreed, proud of our daughter’s magnanimity. Besides, having just buried Bernie’s thirty-six-year-old son unexpectedly in early September, we figured it would be a welcome distraction from our own intense pain.

The next think I knew, we were picking Richard up at the airport. And while it seemed like a great idea in concept, I never thought about the possible repercussions of bringing a total stranger into our home until the man was upstairs, planted in a bedroom next to the ones where our five children lay sleeping. Downstairs in the master bedroom, I was suddenly seized with fear. “Bernie, we have no idea who this person is!” I elbowed my half-asleep husband. “He could be Jack the Ripper for all we know!” Thus began a sleepless night of listening to every drop of noise in the house, anxiously awaiting a sign that Richard had left his room.

Daylight brought new perspective. As I sat down to coffee with the poor man, I realized he was probably much more frightened than I over the endeavor he just undertook—flying on a plane for the first time in his life to spend a week in an unfamiliar place with complete strangers. I soon learned that Richard had been blinded by the physical abuse of his parents, then sent to live in foster care while still a young child—only to land in the hands of another abusive mother. His life had been one of deprivation and suffering, and with no family whatsoever, he lived in poverty with two parakeets as his only companions. Though he'd worked for years as a gardener near his home, his physical infirmities eventually took over, sequestering him at home.

Days passed, and what began to strike me about Richard was less the depth of his sad story than the immensity of his gratitude. He raved about how this was the best Christmas he’d ever had, and about how much love, warmth, and welcome he felt in our home. As I entered into Richard’s story, our own deep suffering began to feel much more bearable. It was then that I started to realize that to show "compassion" to another—which in Latin means “to suffer with”—strengthens and consoles us.

“The crucified Christ has not removed suffering from the world. But through his Cross, he has changed men, opening their heart to their suffering sisters and brothers and thereby strengthening and purifying them all.” Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 53.

The grateful gaze of a blind man gave me sight that suffering Christmas, an unexpected gift of grace. What began as a token gesture of Christmas generosity ended in a purifying glance of mercy from heaven’s throne; fortifying us all.

Author’s Note: This piece first appeared at Aleteia as "The Mercy Journal."

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