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It is impossible not to be struck by the epistle from today’s Mass:

Brothers and sisters:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 4:30-5:2

St. Paul gives us quite a tall order, and he frames it in our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” We are all children of God, and naturally, how we treat each other is an integral part of how we relate to God–and vice versa. For if you love God and have a strong and true relationship with Him, you will be much more cognizant of how you treat other people, and all other things that He has created.

Probably the most difficult thing in the above scripture is to “[forgive] one another as God has forgiven you.” This is not a new idea, for it is part of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It is also in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”  And in other places in scripture, the point is made very clear: mercy comes to the merciful, and those who receive mercy are obliged to show mercy.  No Christian can claim ignorance of this teaching.

And yet, to forgive and to show mercy… I find it extremely difficult sometimes!  Even though I know how merciful God has been to me, and how merciful other people have been to me many times, and even though I know my obligation to forgive others… I often find it much easier said than done.  Fortunately, the priest spoke to this difficulty during his homily.  He said that forgiveness will almost always be willed long, perhaps very long, before it is felt–but that the will to forgive is the more important of the two, and that God will always accept and work with a willingness to forgive.  It might take a long time before the heart catches up with the mind–but that is often true.

So, we should not worry nor fear nor be anxious if we don’t immediately “feel like” forgiving somebody, or even feel like we can forgive them.  God in His wisdom has made a point of drilling it into our minds that we need to forgive others, and that forgiving others is the best thing for us.  Even if we feel a great aversion to forgiving, we should offer it up to God, saying, “Lord, you know how greatly I am suffering from what so-and-so did to me, and that I’m having a very hard time forgiving them.  But I want to forgive them.  Please help me do so, and to heal from the sufferings they’ve caused me.”  I pray this way often.  And gradually, I do find healing and find that I am able to move beyond whatever injury I’ve suffered.

It’s not easy, but it’s far better than allowing “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling … along with all malice” to dwell within us and fester.  Those things are the raptor claws of the devil that inject poison into us and seek to tear us from God’s side forever.  It’s far better to just try your best to forgive–no matter how feeble you may think your efforts are.  God will not let them go to waste.

I remember something Mark Shea said at one of the talks he was in town a little while back.  He was talking about falling in love as something that hits you like a bolt out of the blue, and then you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what the heck happened.  (I can’t recall his exact words, but that was the gist of it.)

At the time, I thought, “That’s sort of how I feel about my re-conversion to Catholicism, and falling back in love with God and the Church.”

Lately, I’ve been having these moments of near-panic when I stop and take a few harried breaths and ask myself, “Oh good heavens, what am I doing here?!  And who is this person I’ve become?  Are you kidding me?  How on earth did I come to this?”

Now let me tell you what all of this does NOT mean: it does not mean that I am having second thoughts about being Catholic, or that there is anything I would rather be.  Or at least–it means that even if there is something I would rather be, I’m not going to give in to it.

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I’d rather be comfortable.  Sometimes I’d rather be super popular and maybe famous.  Sometimes I’d rather be selfish.  Sometimes I’d rather float along with the mainstream.

But I can’t and I won’t.  Because I have met Truth, Goodness, and Beauty–I’ve met Love, Mercy, and Devotion.  I’ve met them, and I’ve been compelled, consumed, and radically transformed by them.  And that’s–for lack of a better word–bewildering.

It’s bewildering that I believe that bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  It’s bewildering that I believe that this same Jesus Christ is both God and man and suffered and died for the sin of Adam and all of us and then rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven… and yet still unites Himself intimately with us when we eat the transubstantiated bread.

I know it’s true.  I don’t doubt for an instant that it’s true.  But it takes me aback all the same!

If you’d told me about 4 years ago that I’d believe these things, I would have said you were out of your ****ing mind.  Only a lunatic could believe such hocus pocus drivel.

But the glorious mysteries of Catholic doctrine and divine Truth aren’t the only bewildering thing.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a strong isolation wrapping itself in around me.  Isolation from our world.  Isolation from our society and culture.  Isolation from people I care about.  Even isolation from parts of myself.  My faith, my beliefs, my values… these have been cutting a great swathe between me and other people and things.  A great feeling of aloneness and distance has come over me.  A kind of separation.    Not anything negative–not hatred nor anger nor any such thing.  Not loneliness, either (which is not the same thing as aloneness).

It’s really hard to describe, and while I greatly dislike being vague, a lot of it is too personal to air publicly.

I mentioned some of the issues to a friend, who replied with Matthew 10:34-40:

Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it. He that receiveth you, receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.

I have read and heard this verse.  I’ve thought on it and assented to it.  But now I feel like, for the first time, I am being called to live it.  Intellectually, I was pretty sure that this time would come.  And now it has.  And that is something altogether different.

What am I doing here?!

I could harrumph and turn the other way.  I could just pick and choose what I’m going to believe and how I am going to live my life.  I could choose the smoother, wider path.  I could define Catholicism however I wish.  I could do all that and more.  So many other people have.

But I keep seeing the face of Christ, His eyes gazing directly into mine, and I hear his His voice:  “Will you also go away?”

I see Him, my Lord and King… my God who humbled Himself to be a man and to pour forth His own blood til death… my Lord who strangely, wonderfully remains close not only in spirit but in flesh…  He who created and maintains the universe, He who governs and provides, He who alone is supreme and sovereign… and He asks me whether I will go or stay!

And I realize there is only one right answer.  What can I really do or say, except to echo St. Peter:  “Lord, to whom shall I go?  You have the words of eternal life; and I have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

Who is this person I’ve become?

A Catholic, a Christian, a disciple, a subject, a devotee…  Bewildering.

Oh.  All of these seemingly self-evident and non-surprising realizations.  All coming about at once.  I feel like I am at a threshold, a turning point, a break-through, a spot where the rubber hits the road.  I don’t feel trepidation about it.  I assume it’s just “one of those Catholic things” that comes along in all our lives.  Just part of growing and becoming a more mature Catholic.  Gosh, I feel a little like an adolescent again!

I’m sure that in another four years, I’ll probably look back at this and snicker at how dumbstruck I was and how it was really nothing compared to what would come about afterward.  Who knows what I have to look forward to?

The important thing to take along with me is this:  As long as I am at my Lord’s side, I am where I want to be and who I want to be.  Without Him, I am nothing, and nothing matters.  I would rather be in a desert with Him than in luxury without Him.  I’d rather walk in His footsteps than sit pretty on a worldly throne.

I hear that some people are upset at Pope Benedict for allegedly welcoming with open arms one Bishop Williamson who denies that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.  I hear that some smart alecks have even called for the Holy Father to resign.

And I hear that some of our own allegedly-Catholic congresspeople have issued a letter telling him that he needs to clarify his position on the Holocaust.  If they’d taken a minute to look up what the pope has said about the Holocaust, they would know his position; he spoke of it last week at a General Audience.  He always communicates with great clarity.  But I wonder, does it even really matter how clear he is?   I mean, he and the rest of the Church have been explicitly clear on the teachings against abortion… and yet most of the congresspeople who signed the letter are “pro-choice”!  Talk about people who need to remove the planks from their own eyes…

I was pretty upset about all of this for a while.  But not so much any more.  By his own example, Pope Benedict is constantly teaching us to remain calm, remain charitable, and remain confident and secure in our faith.  I’ve never seen him with ruffled feathers.  I’ve never seen him angry.  He is a deeply thoughtful, deeply prayerful person–and all of us should strive to be the same.

At the same time, he is not a push-over.  He stands firm, no matter how unpopular it may make him.  He’s not going to let Bishop Williamson be fully reconciled with the Church until he recants what he said about the Holocaust–of course, Williamson and the other three SSPX bishops have much more serious doctrinal issues to work through if they’re going to fully reconcile with the Church.

Pope Benedict, like the good father he is, has merely made a gesture toward them showing that he is willing to accept them back into full communion and good standing.  That doesn’t mean he’s just going to overlook all their errors or let them off the hook easily.  It definitely doesn’t mean he agrees with or approves of their errors!  It only means he loves them and wants them to come home.  They are his prodigal sons, and even though they are still a long way off, he has apparently seen them taking steps to return.  And that’s what he wants.  That is why he lifted the excommunications.

This all makes perfect sense to me, as I was once a prodigal daughter to a very good father (and mother).  But then, I think it’s true that our society has largely lost its understanding of, and respect for, fatherhood.  And Holy Father is not just a title.  Not for Pope Benedict.

I love him so much!  We absolutely have to pray for him every day, and do our best to follow his teachings and his example.  That is so important for living an authentic Catholic life.  We have to love and pray for our Holy Father.  His responsibilities and difficulties are beyond our imagining, and he bears them all for us, as a true disciple of our Lord.

As true disciples ourselves, we also need to pray for the Holy Father’s, and our, enemies.

From ZENIT:  Cardinal Urges End to Christian Complexes; Denounces Western Attitudes

Here is an excerpt, with my emphases:

… the Vatican official said the problem for Christians is not with being a minority, but rather that of “we ourselves putting ourselves at the margin, making ourselves irrelevant — due to a lack of courage, so that people leave us in peace, because of mediocrity.

“For Christians,” Cardinal Rylko added, “the moment has arrived to free themselves from a false inferiority complex […] to be valiant witnesses of Christ.”

This should be the “hour of the laity,” he continued, and their “responsibility in the diverse fields of public life, from politics to the promotion of life and family, from work to the economy, from education to the formation of youth.”

He urged Christian collaboration in the world of politics: “Laypeople are called to go after, little by little, a just social order. It is an intense task that awaits them, both in personal and community life, a task that implies taking up with valor and creativity their evangelizing duty.”

Amen and amen!  I have to say that when people ask why I’m a Lay Dominican, I couldn’t do much better than to borrow Cardinal Rylko’s expression and say, “Because I want to be a valiant witness of Christ”!  I think lots of lay Catholics these days are feeling that urge and looking for ways to fulfill it.  People never fail to be pleasantly surprised when I tell them that religious orders and societies include places for secular lay people.  Today’s lay Catholics are hungry to deepen their religious lives and strengthen their bonds with the Church!

That first paragraph is really interesting.  I grew up hearing mostly about how the Church needs to make itself relevant.  All kinds of horrid things have been done in the name of making the Church relevant: hideous, soul-sapping worship spaces… bland, dated “contemporary hymns”… liturgical abuses… jettisoning of religious habits and distinctive dress for clergy… the abandonment of absolute truth and the unchangeable teachings on faith and morality… the complete destruction of everything remotely sacred… one could go on and on.  So many things that are unique, noble, majestic, and completely recognizable about the Church have been despoiled, wrecked, pillaged.  It has left us a legacy of poverty, shame, weakness… and also a great yearning, which sooner or later will see us through.

I think Cardinal Rylko nails it: what has really been going on this whole time is that some people in the Church have been cowering from the pressures of the secular world to conform or die.  In reality, there is no “or” between conforming and dying, and never has been; the Church conforms to the secular AND dies, rotting from the inside to a shameful extent.  So many Christians have allowed themselves to become slaves in order to spare themselves from the almighty indignance of the supposedly tolerant and freedom-loving secular world.  Many Christians have veered into the psychotic self-mutilation in which they try to carve out trenches between their faith and the rest of their lives, the rest of who they are.

To see examples and the horrid effects of such self-mutilation, we needn’t look very far.  Most of us can see it in family and friends, the people closest to us.  And then, there are public figures like politicians.  Here’s a sad recent story from LifeSite News with my emphases and comments:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Wife: I’m “a Catholic in Good Standing” But Also Pro-abortion and Pro-Homosexual

By Kathleen Gilbert

LONG BEACH, California, November 19, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, recently told Sally Quinn of the Washington Post that she considers herself “a Catholic in good standing” despite the fact that she openly advocates abortion.

“I find I don’t spend a lot of time trying to square my own daily life with the institutional Church,” said Shriver. “I pick and choose.”  [Then why would she even care about being “a Catholic in good standing”?  What defines “good standing” other than the institutional aspect of the Church?  If the institution doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, then being in good standing doesn’t matter, or even mean anything!  If everyone just gets to pick and choose and make things up, and everything and everybody are equal, then who on earth cares about standing?  Shriver is betraying herself, one way or the other… either she really cares to be in good standing OR she really cares to just do things her way.  Which is it, Maria?]

Shriver called herself a “cafeteria Catholic,” a term that is most often used in a derogatory manner, referring to individuals who only selectively submit to Church teaching and authority while still calling themselves Catholic.  [It’s quite well-known as a derogatory term.  Only a rebel would openly apply it to herself.  And yet, again, rebels don’t give a fig about being in good standing…]

On the disparity between Church teaching and her belief on abortion, Shriver told Quinn, “I often talk to my daughters at the dinner table about the difference between being pro-abortion and being pro-choice.” She explained that she believes supporting the right to choose an abortion is different from supporting abortion.  [For the kabillionth time, Catholics believe that people have free will and choices as part of our human nature, created and endowed by God Himself.  It is a fact, not a political movement.  The “pro-choice” crowd claims that outlawing or even restricting abortion violates that free will.  Uh-huh, just like outlawing murder, rape, incest, arson, larceny, etc. violates the free will to commit any of those acts.  Open your eyes!  People choose and commit those acts all the time!  Those acts are pure evil–and so is abortion!  But “pro-choicers” extol abortion as a right in and of itself.  So I really don’t see that there is a difference between pro-abortion and pro-choice.  It’s deceptive rhetoric, nothing more.]

Shriver also pointed out her disagreement with the Church on the issue of homosexuality. She said she does not believe that “people who are gay shouldn’t be accepted into the church.” However, [however] while the Catholic Church teaches that all sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual activity, is sinful, there is no prohibition against people with homosexual inclinations being welcomed into the Church. The Church strongly recommends loving acceptance of such persons and spiritual direction and other assistance to help them live celebate, faithful Catholic lives.  [Gosh, the Church is so cruel, isn’t she!]

The office of Cardinal Mahoney, Shriver’s bishop, did not respond to repeated calls from LifeSiteNews.com yestereday and today up to press time.

Both Shriver and her husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, claim a Catholic identity despite public disavowal of Church teaching on the sanctity of life.  [They are lying to and betraying either themselves or their Catholic brethren.  Again I ask: which is it?  Exercise your true right to choose, people!]

“I always said that you should not have your religion interfere with government policies or with the policies of the people,” Schwarzenegger said at a Toronto press conference last year, as he advocated research on human embryos.  [Self-mutilation.  You’re gutting yourself, Arnold!  If you believe your religion is right and true, then for your own integrity’s sake, stand by it!  Be a whole man, not half a man.  If people don’t want to vote for you, then so be it.  But don’t throw your faith under the train.]

“I am a Catholic and a very dedicated Catholic, but that does not interfere with my decision-making [When you’re dedicated to something, you don’t regard it as an interference.] because I know that stem-cell research, the way we are doing it in California … is the right way to go,” he said as quoted by the Toronto Star.  [Oh really, you know that?  How do you know?  What authority has given you that knowledge?  Not the Catholic Church, that’s for sure.]

More recently, Gov. Schwarzenegger put aside [carved out] his professed faith when he publicly joined homosexualists in the fight against Proposition 8, California’s amendment protecting legal marriage as between a man and a woman.

Dear Lord, open these people’s eyes!  Open their eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to Cardinal Rylko’s words and to their Church and faithful Catholics as a whole!  Please do so for all the half-hearted, self-mutilated, blinded, cowardly, and enslaved among us!  Put them back together, make them whole, restore their integrity, restore to them the glory of being Your own children!  Give them courage and true dedication!

By “them,” I really mean “all of us,” of course.  But there are undeniably people who need these prayers more than others.  Those who are already active in the secular world and under intense pressures.  Those who, knowingly or not, have been so eager to be seen as relevant that they completely marginalize and submit themselves and lose their distinctiveness, their identities, their values and virtues, their liberties… things that make them who they are… things they deserve to hold on to and build upon.

It breaks my heart that somebody would deny their own dignity, their own character, their own principles.  That’s exactly what happens when they deny or try to separate out their faith!  And they do it all for the sake of popularity or votes or social standing or security or whatever.  That’s even more than an inferiority complex… as I said, it’s slavery.

So very, very sad.  May God help them, and us all!

This is an amazing story of some truly courageous young people in Argentina who stood against a mob of angry barbarians (with my emphases):

Young person tells experience of defending Cathedral from feminist horde

.- Pablo is one of the one hundred Argentinean young people who stood outside the Cathedral of Neuquen on August 17 to shield the church from protests by feminists who want abortion to be legalized.

Thousands of people have been moved by a video of the young people posted on CNA’s YouTube channel, which shows the ferocity of the confrontation by the feminists who were gathered for the National Encounter of Women in Neuquen.  They shouted insults and threw objects at the young people who were shielding the Cathedral.

One of the young people at the Cathedral was 21 year-old Pablo, who was interviewed by Javier Tebas of the website ReligionEnLibertad.com and revealed details about what happened that afternoon.

“Everything lasted more or less an hour and forty minutes. It was terrible. They wouldn’t go away. They screamed at us, they spat on us, they threw cans and rocks, they tore up an Argentinean flag and burned it. We were only praying one Hail Mary after another, without stopping, praying for each one of them, praying for each aborted child, praying for our Church and her pastors, and also in reparation for the blasphemies,” Pablo said.

Despite the tension, “we felt an extraordinary peace, and all of us who were there agreed [it was] a peace that cannot come from anyone else besides our Lord and God. We felt his consolation in our souls.”

Asked if they felt tempted to respond to the aggressions with violence, Pablo responded that all the young people came with the intention of “resisting to the last drop of our blood. Some guys up in front became very upset, because they insulted the Virgin Mary, calling her a lesbian. You feel like doing everything, but we know that our testimony needs to be different, and the virtue of fortitude is more perfect when we resist than when we attack.”

According to Pablo, after that experience in Neuquen, the young people were more committed to “living life as it truly is: a battle, a war.” “I think it is time to wake up, we must be aware that if we don’t do it, nobody will. Nobody will bear witness to hope if we Catholics do not do it. The world is waiting, the world expects that we go out to find it and conquer it.”

The video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp0oMKGFTyk

Here it is: 

If that’s not a powerful wake-up call, I don’t know what is.  What an excellent example Pablo and those other young people are!  I have no doubt that they would have given their lives to defend the cathedral.  Thank God they didn’t have to, but they certainly accepted white martyrdom gracefully, and that in itself is a great achievement.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to stand there peacefully amid all that hostility, but God and His grace were clearly with them.

God and His grace are with each of us, especially in difficult times.  For this reason, we must never be afraid, even in frightening and seemingly hopeless circumstances.  We may never have to face an angry mob, but it doesn’t take an angry mob to make us fearful of witnessing to our faith.  I know that I often fail to serve as a witness, even in the most ordinary, harmless circumstances.  Every day provides us the opportunity to carry our crosses, and if we don’t have to be humiliated and spat upon and struck, then we are more fortunate than our Lord Himself was.

Mary at the foot of the Cross
When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.”  And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.  (Jn. 19:26-27)

Today’s memorial of Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows follows naturally from yesterday’s Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.  It brings us with Mary to the foot of the cross where she remains despite her unimaginable sorrow.  Her faith and perseverence is an example to all Christians.

The “Beloved Disciple” does not only refer to St. John the Apostle, but represents all Christians.  We too are called to stand by the cross, not to flee it as all the other apostles did in their weakness.  Christ says to each one of us, “Behold, your mother.”  Each of us is free and responsible to choose our response: will we imitate St. John and take her into our homes and into our hearts as our mother, or will we turn our backs and leave her to suffer alone?

All Christians are to strive to do Christ’s will.  As the brief scripture above makes clear, He spent some of His final excruciating breaths to entrust His beloved and devoted mother to His beloved and devoted disciple.  So surely there is only one right response for us to make.  And yet there are Christians, and even Catholics, who regard her with indifference or perhaps even coldness.

Her pure heart, however, pierced by a sword and tried and tested like gold in fire, knows no resentment.  She prays tenderly for all her children, expecting nothing in return.  Let us pray with her that all Christians may return her love and make a home for her in their hearts.

(photo by Flickr user bcostin)

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