Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seven People to Pray for Today

It's easy to fall into the habit of praying in too small a circle.  We pray for our personal intentions, for our families and closest friends, our parish, but we sometimes forget to open the lens a bit and commit to intercessory prayer for those who may have no one praying for them at all. Here are a handful of suggestions to get you started!

1. Your enemy. Yes, I'm opening with a tough one! It's so essential to the faith to pray for those who have wronged us.  It aids in the forgiveness and healing processes and it's commanded by God.  If you have no enemy per se, then simply pray for someone who irritates or challenges you.  Do not pray a self-serving prayer like "Lord, please help this person not be so annoying!" Instead, pray for the soul of that person, for health and joy to dwell in him or her, and for God to root out anything in YOU that may be provoking this "enemy" or preventing a better relationship between the two of you. 

2. Your priest. And all priests! Friends, who on earth has a tougher job than our priests? In this fallen world, they are hated, second guessed, and often in straight up peril.  Even a young, vital priest in a relatively good parish likely faces spiritual battles daily.  Think of what he sees.  Think of what he hears. His job takes him to hospital rooms, prisons, deathbeds, and into the confessional.  Pray for the fortitude, peace, and salvation of all priests, especially your own.

3. The falling away and fallen away. At any given time, I'm watching at least two or three people gradually drift away from The Church.  It's tragic.  I know you must see the same, and I know you likely have family members who have fallen away and seem very unlikely to return to Christ.  We cannot simply sit there and wring our hands; we are called to pray fervently for these people whose eternal lives are on the line.  It is no small thing to walk away from the graces offered by The Church! What has pulled or is pulling this person away? Pray for the grave sway of sin to release these people pronto!

4. Police, firefighters, military personnel, and corrections officers. I don't think there is a population more taken for granted, more unappreciated, than those who dedicate their lives to protecting our lives. Materially underpaid, constantly under scrutiny, and certainly in physical danger every single day, our police officers, firefighters, soldiers, corrections officers, and any and all first responders have truly died to self in a manifest way.  Pray for their life and limb.  Pray for their souls, as they do risk their lives daily, and pray that they feel the gratitude of those they serve. 

5. Your parents. If there is one thing that has come as a surprise to me as I've gotten older it's how many people do NOT have good and peaceful relations with their parents.  I'm sure you know an example or are perhaps living in this situation yourself.  We all know that we are commanded by God to honor our parents, but the dynamic between parents and their adult children can be so very complicated, and often honoring by tolerating is the sad result. So, whether you are fortunate enough to be on good terms with your parents or if your interactions are strained, please, pray for your parents.  If you still have them with you, pray for their health, their souls, and that your communications with them can be fruitful.  If you have lost your parents to death, pray for their souls.  

6. The souls in Purgatory. Much could be and has been written on this topic.  The bottom line is that it is our Christian duty to pray for the release of the souls in Purgatory, as we desire the Church on earth to pray for our souls after our death. When I think of all the souls who are completely neglected and unrepresented in Purgatory, I get the chills.  What a sobering thought this is! And so easy to remedy!  Pray for these souls today, for you may be among them tomorrow. 

7. The addicted. The bulk of the prayer requests I receive from people are for help, rescue, and comfort in a personal crisis, the catalyst of which is most often some sort of an addiction. Whether the addiction is to alcohol, pornography, or drugs, this monster completely and brutally takes over the lives of those it visits. Addiction devastates and divides families.  Addiction turns the addict into a stranger to his or her loved ones, a liar, a victimizer, and a source of stress for everyone he or she encounters. Much anger is directed at the addict, and this anger fuels feelings of hopelessness and isolation.  These feelings lead to an increased reliance on the object of addiction.  Please pray for these folks and their families. Pray that the cycle can be broken for them, that they seek and find the solid help they need, and that they return to a healthy and abundant life without reliance on what has enslaved them. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Who Wouldn't Want This?

Has Lent got you feeling grumpy? Deprived? Hungry? Has politics got you acting like a real bear? Are you snapping at people? Is the long wait for the first buds of springtime transforming you into someone from whom people walk away? Your heart, soul, body, and mind all need something. But what? If only The Church had something, something you could access daily if you really wanted to, that yielded miraculous graces! If only  . . . 

I give you today, friends, some straight up Catechism.  Section 1391 and thereabouts, called "The Fruits of Holy Communion." Take a gander at this: 


The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. 

Growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death.

As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life, and this living charity wipes away venial sins.

By giving Himself to us Christ enables us to break our disordered attachments and root ourselves in Him. 

The more we share the life of Christ and progress in His friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from Him by mortal sin. 

Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. 

The Eucharist commits us to the poor. 

There is no surer pledge or clearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells than the Eucharist. 

We break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ. 


Friends, if you have fallen away from The Church, if you have spotty Mass participation, if you do not believe in The Real Presence, if you are a Protestant, if you are an agnostic, if you are an atheist, if you are able to read these words, I beseech you to consider availing yourself of this Heavenly gift.  There is no better time than RIGHT NOW.  As Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade said, "The present moment is the ambassador of God." You are reading this for a reason.  Maybe it's for you; maybe it's to pass on to a lukewarm friend or a family member who is no longer a member of the pre-denominational, Jesus-origninated, blessed and daily guided Catholic Church.  Soon enough it will be Easter Sunday, and new life will be shattering the walls of death.  Taste and see what this upcoming Passion week is all about. Begin to imagine how close you can be to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Living God -- so close that He is literally right there in front of you and entering your body. It's a weighty thing, and it's a miracle, and it's here for you every single day, in every Catholic Church around the entire world. Amen? 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Beware the Devangelization

The accepted dictionary definition of "evangelize" is:

1. To preach the gospel to.
2. To convert to Christianity.
3. To promulgate or promote (a doctrine or idea, for example) enthusiastically.

Now, we know that a large part of our job as Catholics is to evangelize, that is, to bring others to Christ.  The ways and means are up for discussion, often passionate discussion over the course of our Church's history. If you have ever read this blog before, you know the big three evangelization techniques I have seen succeed: evangelize by example, evangelize by service, and evangelize by education.  Unfortunately, something I have seen succeed in recent years is a reverse evangelization -- well-meaning but perhaps not well-catechized Christians, and here I address Catholics in particular, are attempting to evangelize the fallen away of their friends or even family, and instead of preaching the Gospel and converting to Christianity, they end up as the object of a secular evangelization practiced by the person whom THEY were trying to help in the first place! 

The person who is particularly vulnerable to this "devangelization" is typically the one who has an emotional attachment to the person whom (s)he is trying to convert. Parents are possibly most likely to fall into this category when attempting to reconcile their fallen away or lukewarm children back with The Church. They may find themselves ill prepared to counter the slick and aggressive anti-Catholic arguments their child now has at at the ready, and as a sad result, they find themselves compromising, first a little, then a little more, and before they realize a wholesale defeat has taken place, they are the object of definition number three above . . . their teenage or adult child has "enthusiastically promulgated or promoted" the doctrines of secularism, or worse.  

Often, in a noble but destined to fail go at retaining the title of Catholic, the parent will perform a series of incredibly complicated mental and verbal gymnastics to retrofit the newly discovered 
SBNR (spiritual but not religious) or progressive ideas into the 2000 year old teachings of The Church.  It is, of course, unsuccessful, but a lot of damage has been done.  Instead of researching answers to the anti-Catholic challenges and talking to a family priest, the parent simply folds.  It is the easier and quicker path to a superficial family peace, and that feeling of relief is frequently mistaken for the warm fuzzies of finding common ground between two polar opposites.

The truth is this: evangelizing anyone requires that YOU know your stuff.  But evangelizing someone whom you love and whose love you are afraid of losing requires that you beg God for some graces, you have the help of a priest, and you are armed with the weapons of the Holy Spirit.  You have to steel yourself for the inevitable: that the beloved person you are evangelizing is going to present his or her "side" as being superior to Catholicism, or, worse and more insidious, as "different, new, loving" but totally compatible with Catholicism. 

Now we don't to look at this as a battle for the upper hand; this is not a contest for who can be the better fisher of men.  But we are given a divine commission to instruct the ignorant, and that applies full force to family members, especially children whose spiritual formation was entrusted to us from the day of their birth.

How NOT to fall for devangelization? It's analogous to dealing with an addict in the family.  Realize that if you are discussing religion with a loved one who is rebelling against Catholicism, this person may have enthusiasm for her new beliefs that seems TO HER to outweigh yours.  She will also try to use the argument that what is new is better -- that your ideas are antiquated, that this "new way" of following Christ is more loving, more merciful, more in tune with our souls and our changing world.  Educate yourself with knowledge of the history of The Church and the words of the Church Fathers, the great saints, and our holy Popes,so that you are immune to these arguments.  If the addict's mouth is moving, he is lying, and if the fallen away's mouth is moving, she is justifying, equivocating, and is quite likely very personally invested in covering up a secret sin. 

As painful as it is, you also need to recognize that your loved one may utilize some emotional blackmail.  Suddenly their love may seem conditional on YOU accepting their new identity as something other than YOUR definition (read the Church's definition!) of a Catholic.  You shouldn't engage in emotional manipulation, nor should you fall for it.  The truths of The Church speak for themselves, today more than ever before.  Those who stray from The Church rely heavily on pointing to the evils of the modern world as evidence that there either is "no God," or "many roads," when in fact, the evils of this age are a point for the side of the one True Church.  The practical and concrete examples are replete that demonstrate this: in every way that humanity strays from the teachings of Christ as guarded by The Church, economically, familially, sexually, humanity has failed miserably.  

Work on your own faith life.  That is the answer to nine out of ten, no -- make that ten out of ten conundrums faced by the Catholic evangelizer.  Study Scripture and the Catechism and know with every fiber of your being that the truths outlined therein are immutable and unchanging, not to be contradicted nor negotiated down.  If you find yourself backed into a corner and you can't discuss your way out, remember that there is only really one teaching that you must know,  and that is the teaching about authority.  Jesus Christ is all in all.  He is the one and only true Savior of our world, and He is God Himself. And Jesus Christ gave teaching authority to Peter, our first Pope, and He continues to guide the Church today.  If we do not believe this, if we do not KNOW this, then we shouldn't accept the Bible, or any of the teachings or examples of Christ! Either He is King or He isn't.  Either He guides The Church or He doesn't.  So if you are asked a question by an argumentative son or daughter that you don't feel prepared to answer in detail, you can say with confidence: "Because The Church teaches it." No further explanation is required, at least not in the heat of argument. Your confidence (particularly if you can keep your composure and not resort to yelling or emotionalism) will make an impression with your loved one, whether he admits it or not. 

Remember, never stop praying.  Pray over your loved one, pray with your loved one, and if at all possible, try to get that loved one to  Adoration.  Sitting in the presence of Jesus makes it much more difficult to disobey Him! His love is irresistible! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Only Good Catholic

Driving my kids home from school on one of our faster moving country roads, I was stopped short by a dog wandering stupidly around the yellow lines.  I couldn't get out of the car to help because my son has a life-threatening allergy, so my frustration mounted as I realized that until someone else came along, I was now responsible for this creature's safety simply because I happened upon him at this moment in time.  I rolled down my window and attempted conversation, to no avail.  "Go away, boy! Get off the road!" I honked my horn.  I couldn't even inch my own vehicle up to try to demonstrate that this is what cars DO around here, because a good part of the time he was in my blind spot or right near my tires. "Dopey dog! I'm trying to save your life!" I felt tears threatening.  Finally a truck came in the opposite direction.  I beseeched the other driver to help and explained why my son's allergy precluded me from doing so.  The driver looked indifferent, and almost annoyed by the burden I was attempting to foist on to him.  My voice and probably my face became more pleading.  I hoped my emotion would show through.  "I have to get somewhere . . . " he started rolling ahead a bit.  "Please! Just get the dog off the road; bring him up to the man walking a ways back . . . anything.  I can't.  He'll get hit!" The driver knew it was true.  The road isn't very trafficked, nor policed, so it's a fast way to get where you need to go. 

I don't know what happened after I drove away.  My kids reassured Mom, as they are wont to do, that I had done everything possible under the circumstances.  Still, I felt the familiar pangs of conscience.  "What I have done, and what I have failed to do." Out loud, to them, I merely said, "It's the owner's fault.  A dog belongs on a leash. A beautiful animal like that." I trailed off.  I wasn't making sense anymore, even to myself.  This wasn't Queens.  This is rural Ohio, and farm people let their dogs and cats run amok.  

All my life I've encountered creatures run amok, it seems, and all hungry for something or someone.  I collect stray animals and stray people. I listen to strangers in the store. I keep a vault of secrets. I lend an ear, I lend money, I lend my heart.  I'm so often left with the question: "Did I do enough?" And the burning hot frustration that I had while evangelizing the dog on that country road is an all too familiar sensation as well.  "Why won't you listen to me? I'm trying to help you! I'm trying to save your life, dummy! Stop what you're doing and do what I tell you to do!" 

Is that reaction making helping others all about me? Is my heart so selfish? Maybe.  I have to learn to trust God to do the heavy lifting.  I have to learn to trust others in the same way I trusted the other driver that afternoon.  "He'll help the dog; he seemed like a nice man."  It's what I told my kids, but I only half believed the words as they came out of my mouth.  They were half whistling in the dark.  


The thing that's tempting as a Catholic is getting ahead of yourself.  We want to get everyone to Heaven, and we know that The Church is the way, so we want to get them in there pronto, and by any means necessary.  Time may be short.  There is an urgency, especially in these secular times, in a country so materially wealthy and educated but in such loathsome and egregious spiritual poverty.  We tend to raise our voices a little frantically, don't we? "Hey, dopey! I'm trying to save your soul! Get out of the mess you're in and do what I'm doing!" But the immediate hunger that the person we encounter may be one for food, or cash, or a punching bag.  Do we take care of the physical needs, those lowest on Maslow's hierarchy, before we address what WE know to be the "only thing that is needed?" 

"Society", for want of a less hackneyed term, may be answering that question for us.  It's telling us to shut up and hand over the material aid, just be quiet about it. In 2015 America, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.  They want our money, our hospitals, our foster homes, even our Pope.  What they DON'T want is our doctrine. Hey, even a broad swath of self-identifying Catholics don't want the doctrine -- they want the baptism, the First Holy Communion, and the big wedding. Every other day is a secular day, and you better keep your sappy, judgmental, archaic religious ya ya out of it. Sound familiar?  If you've been evangelizing anywhere in "real life" or online or even in your own neighborhood, it should.  But listen, this secularized society is just people.  They all need hope and they all need healing and they all need Heaven. 

Knowing that truth puts us ahead of the game. The dog might think that a romp on the double yellow line looks good right now, or he may just be confused and thirsty.  His immediate need was to get off the road, and I had to work with someone else, and have a little faith, and suffer a little, to help get him there. At the end of the day, I had to be satisfied with an unknown outcome.  Sometimes in evangelization we have to settle for the unknown outcome.  It's a lot like being a classroom teacher, or a parent.  We in the business of the human services may not see results for literally decades, if ever.  

What we can't afford is to let an opportunity for encounter go by without speaking the Truth, even if it seems to fall on willfully deaf ears.  No one will cross my path without knowing what I am and WHY.  Sure, I'll help you out, but you're going to remember that it was a Catholic who did the helping, not to give me credit or for me to look holy, or for me to FEEL holy, and not even for me to fulfill the Great Commission! You're going to remember I'm Catholic so someday when you are hungry for hope and healing and you're ready to get out of the road and come to safety, you will REMEMBER where the source of all real help is: the Church, WHO the source of all real help and hope is: JESUS, and why your hunger still isn't satiated, because you still haven't filled it with surrender, obedience, and the Eucharist.  

"There's a difference between being a nice person and being a doormat," someone once cautioned me.  Now I repeat that maxim to my kids, as they collect strays and give away what is dear to them, and pray for others, and shake their heads at the badness they see in the world around them.  I want them to tread carefully, to not get taken advantage of, but I have to teach them to help the hungry, no matter how obstinate or nasty or in denial the hungry are.  

I'm a bad Catholic, because I'm too comfortable.  Jesus told me to be perfect, and I'm not.  Jesus told me to be a fisher of men, but my bait doesn't always work.  Still, I'm driving down that untrafficked road, fast, so fast,  yelling at the deaf, trying to set aside my pride to trust my fellow drivers, trying to keep my kids and my husband safe, and always asking, "Did I do enough, Lord?" 

Why does the question haunt so? Because I know the only good Catholic is a saint. 







Sunday, November 1, 2015

Guest Post by Corey Grimley: A basis for Pope Francis’ “Healthy Decentralization” and embracing a “Synodal Church” is found in Cardinal Robert Sarah’s new book, GOD OR NOTHING.



Nicole, thank you for asking me to write a guest blog post regarding our recent discussions.  On October 17, 2015, at the close of the recent Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father told the Synod Fathers that "the spirit of episcopal collegiality [remember this word] has not yet been fully realized. … As I have asserted, in a synodal Church 'it is not opportune that the Pope replace the local episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that present themselves in their territories.' In this sense, I feel the necessity to proceed in a healthy 'decentralization.'"  This statement by Pope Francis received immediate criticism, which argued that the “progressive Pope Francis” is now trying to undermine the unifying authority of Rome and the Papacy. 

Some Catholic groups quickly pointed out that Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the very respected, conservative, African prelates, expressed concern if such a “decentralization” would mean that a “national bishops’ conference in one country [] would approve something, which, in another conference, would be seen as sin. … National bishops’ conferences are important and should have a clear role, but I don’t think it should include these areas.  It looks dangerously like nationalizing right and wrong.”

We are left with the question, “is the very idea of ‘healthy decentralization’ something in direct conflict with the authority of Rome?”  It appears that an answer may be found in a new book that George Weigel reported was very popular among the Synod Fathers:  “Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing is the talk of the town — Rome — at the moment,” Weigel said.  Robert Royal, the editor of the Catholic Thing, told the National Catholic Register on October 7, 2015, during the Synod, that “Virtually everyone I know has been very impressed with [God or Nothing], so much so that many are already thinking [Cardinal Sarah’s] a prominent papabile at the next conclave,”.  

See http://m.ncregister.com/daily-news/ignatius-press-and-its-high-profile-authors-still-inform-synod-debate/#.VjT5xrerS71. It is important to note that Pope Francis obviously thinks quite a lot about the conservative Cardinal Sarah, as the Pope appointed him Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (one of the nine Roman Curia Prefects) in 2014.
So what does this very popular book among the Synod Fathers (maybe Pope Francis too?), written by a very respected, conservative Cardinal, have to say about “healthy decentralization” and a “Synodal Church”.  Quite a bit actually. 

In God or Nothing (“GN”), the interviewer, Nicolas Diat, on page 109 asks Cardinal Sarah, “Some commentators speak up often, calling for a new and authentic application of collegiality [there’s that word again] in the Church.  How do you see this problem?
In response, Cardinal Sarah begins by explaining that “[i]n the Church there has always been a willingness to consult with one another at the hierarchical level to examine important questions with a view to arriving at a common position of the bishops.”  Sarah goes on to explain that “[n]ecessary collegial consultation therefore does not abolish the autonomy and responsibility of the bishop in his own diocese [read:  healthy decentralization].  No one should feel obliged or forced by the collegial decision of the episcopate … .  Each bishop is responsible before God for the way in which he fulfills his episcopal responsibilities toward the flock that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to his protection.”  GN, p. 110.

“Synods, which are a highly successful form of implementing collegiality, are great moments in the life of the Church [read:  synodal church].  But the various forums must not demobilize the bishops or give them the sense that their powers of evaluation are diminished. … Pope Francis would like to increase collegiality, and I think that he is right.  Roman centrality has made important achievements possible, but it can also lead to a form of sclerosis.  For if the bishop’s responsibility is weakened, there is a problem of trust. [again, read:  healthy decentralization]”  GN, pp. 110-111.  Emphasis added.
After emphasizing the responsibility and autonomy of the bishops in their own dioceses, Cardinal Sarah, in differentiating between healthy versus unhealthy decentralization, goes on to explain that “Rome absolutely must keep the management of the apostolate as a whole. … [W]e would commit a grave sin against the unity of the Body of Christ and of the doctrine of the Church by giving episcopal conferences any authority or decision-making ability concerning doctrinal, disciplinary, or moral questions.” [See Cardinal Arinze comments, above]  Cardinal Sarah then quoted Pope Pius XII’s statements of November 2, 1954 regarding maintaining governmental uniformity among the bishops via “frequent communion with this Apostolic See [Rome].  … “Pius XII concluded: ‘This union and harmonious communication with the Holy See arises, not from a kind of desire to centralize and unify everything, but by divine right and by reason of an essential element of the constitution of the Church of Christ. …”  GN, p. 111.  Emphasis added.  What is implied is that the “centralization of everything” could “lead to a form of sclerosis,” as discussed above.

“[Pope Francis’] desire to foster synodal reflection is a fortunate initiative.  Indeed, the synod should become a new Emmaus experience during which the heart of the Church is burning with the fire of the Scriptures.”  GN, p. 112.  Amen.


As I was reading pages 110 – 112 of GN it struck me that maybe Pope Francis wasn’t left out when copies of GN were distributed to the Synod Fathers…?  If GN was (is) as popular among the Fathers as Weigel reported, when they heard the Pope’s statements of “healthy decentralization”, they may have thought quickly to these passages from GN and how both Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah appear to share certain opinions regarding what valid reform can look like in the life of the Church.  

Thank you for asking me to provide this observation.  The observation was just one of the myriad of little things that make me love how hard our Church leaders work to make us a stronger Body of Christ.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Please Mind My Own Business

Fraternal correction is defined as the admonishing of one's neighbor with the purpose of reforming him, or, if possible, preventing his sinful indulgence in the first place.  The very idea of this makes America 2015 ™ cringe, because even to most Christians, those who are responsible for fraternally correcting each other, the concept of evaluating the behavior of another person is absolutely taboo if not wholly laughable.  How did we get here? Tons of hypocritical fraternal correction? Maybe, but I doubt it.  Because even if you are a moral zero, the truth is still the truth.  It doesn't care whose mouth it comes from. I should still recognize it as the truth.  The ten commandments recited by any mouth are the same words, and I need to heed them regardless of the identity of the messenger at the moment. 

Warnings of the wages of sin in today's first world are seen as disrespectful, antiquated, invasive, rude, uncool, judgmental, self-righteous and self-congratulatory.  They are almost never viewed, by the majority, as what they are intended to be: borne of love, or what they are commanded by God to be: a spiritual work of mercy. 

I'm fairly certain that fraternal correction gets a bad rap because no one wants to stop sinning, not because of a long history of fraternal correction gone awry.  The West praises and extols the open minded, open mouthed, enlightened, and progressive.  Consent is the singular litmus test for the inherent good of a human act. The only sin is to call something a sin. In this climate, the ultimate deference you can tribute to someone is to respect their choice, regardless of how destructive the consequences, respect their lifestyle, no matter how counter to the Gospel it screams.

The thing is, we do have to honor the conscience of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we do have an obligation to stop tinkering in the lives of the unchurched if they tell us to bugger off.  But atheist Penn Jillette once observed that he had no patience for non-preaching Christians, because they were essentially watching him stand in the way of a speeding train, that is, if they really believed what they claimed to. So faced with these two poles, what does a well-intentioned Catholic do?

Maybe the answer is for each of us to make a statement about how we would receive fraternal correction, rather than writing and discussing how we would GIVE it.  So here's mine: I don't want to trade in Jesus for earthly popularity.  I don't want to trade in the Saints for street cred.  I don't want the mind of the Church replaced with the mind of the prevailing social trends.  I don't want to look to Eckhart Tolle or Oprah Winfrey or the Dalai Lama or Joel Osteen.  I don't want to evolve -- I'm fine with the 2000 year old unchanged and unchanging teachings of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.  I don't want to keep pace with the world.  Have you SEEN the world? 

So if you ever see my boat veering off the Tiber, or if I ever indicate to you whether by word or by action that I am any less committed to Christ, His one holy and apostolic Church, the Pope and the Bishops, Mary the Blessed Mother, the angels and Saints, and the deposit of faith protected by The Church, DON'T MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  Mind MY business. Fraternally correct me.  Take me out to the woodshed. Warn me of the oncoming train. Push me out of the way, even if you break my arm or my pride in the process.  Even if you break our friendship in the process.  I beseech you and I demand it of you as it is your duty as a fellow Christian to protect me. 

Admonish me.  Rebuke me. Come to me with the Bible in one hand and the Catechism in the other.  Save me.  I may not say these words in the moment, so I am saying them now.  Correct me, my brother or sister, because the stakes are no less than my eternal soul.

If you feel similarly to me, please share this statement with me and with others.  


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marriage Mirrors

My daughter is eleven, and she is putting together a wedding scrapbook.  This is something I never would have done at her age or any age.  Tom and I dated for SEVEN YEARS before getting married, and I was frightened of marriage, or, to put a finer point on it, frightened of divorce.  My parents were divorced, and several of my friends were going through the separations or divorces of THEIR parents.  The friends I had who were marrying didn't seem terribly happy, and a few of them were downright miserable or divorcing after only a few years of being married.  

Now my husband and I are in our mid to late forties, and we have been married for fourteen years.  The landscape around us has not improved.  We still know a minority of happy, fair, functioning marriages, and we are hearing news every week, it seems, of a new divorce, or a narrative from a friend about an extremely imperiled marriage.  We know a few long married folk who are basically putting their heads down and plowing through until death because they promised to, despite feeling completely regretful of their choice of spouse. 

I'm not exactly a marital advice-giver.  It's dangerous territory.  I also always feel like I'm cheating a bit because I think the quality of my marriage is largely due to my husband being a wonderful person.  I can give advice, but I can't give you him.  So there's that.  What I can do is observe and describe what I see around me, and hopefully learn from it by holding my marriage up to these mirrors and making sure the images don't match.  Maybe you can, too.

In at least two marriages I want to look at here, the wives seem to dislike their husbands intensely.  I'm talking eye rolls and groans at every word the guy says, every joke he tells, every parenting move he makes, any plans he suggests.  It's the total opposite of what you want your marriage to be--your spouse should be your best friend, a person who makes you laugh, whom you find interesting, whose company you enjoy.  I think what happened in these two cases was that the people dated for a while, then looked around and said, "Well, what's next? I guess we get married." There appears to be almost no common ground for married couples like this.  It's amazing that they even got together in the first place.  It's almost as if they were thrown together by someone who didn't know either one of them.  The wives don't "get" the husbands, what makes them tick, and the husbands seem intimidated by their wives.  The husbands' strategy becomes conflict avoidance. One man we know medicates with alcohol, another simply lives a life inside his own head, another trips over himself to appease the domineering woman.  This lack of respect paired with an apparent mismatch is a dreadful example for children, who look to their parents' marriage for an exemplar of what the entire Sacrament and institution should operate like.  A boy who sees his father bullied may grow up to be a bully himself, or become emotionally unavailable in order to avoid a commitment.  A girl whose mother egregiously disrespects Dad may grow up thinking men are useless buffoons, or she may look for a partner "tougher" than Dad is, and end up overshooting and getting hitched to a controlling man herself.  

Another phenomenon we have seen in the marital relationships around us is the old fashioned midlife crisis.  Today it's a 50/50 proposition--the woman is just as likely as her hubby to be struck by midlife lightning.  Suddenly married life is dull and unfulfilling and the grass just HAS to be greener on the other side. Often there is an urgent need to remake oneself and start over, leaving the starter spouse behind.  This is especially sad because it's probably so easily remedied.  If you reach a point in your marriage where you're feeling unattractive, afraid to die, like you missed out, or just plain bored, remember this little adage: the grass is greener where you water it. Cultivate the relationship you have before you start fantasizing about a new one.  Your spouse is your history, your other half, your very flesh.  If you're feeling a deficit of ANYTHING, he or she wants to know about it.  Together, you find a way to get past it, and the couples we know who have done this are better on the other end. 

The last and maybe most essential element that unhappily marrieds miss is the spiritual one.  We are creatures of a living God, and He provides us with a whole host of graces to help us stay contentedly wed until death do us part.  But if you start living two separate spiritual lives, and there is no union there, a real rift can and will develop.  For Catholic families, this translates to weekly Mass attendance, together, going to confession TOGETHER, prayer TOGETHER, and talking about the things of Heaven together! What is your marital conversation about? Make a quick pie chart.  Is it about fifty percent kids, thirty percent money, and twenty percent food and television? Make some time to talk about the biggies: Who is God to us? What do we think Heaven will be like? How are we going to help each other get there? How do you pray? Will you pray for me? 

Looking back, I wish I were the kind of little girl who had a wedding binder like my daughter does.  It shows me that she sees marriage as a beautiful and exciting thing.  She's not just into the wedding day -- she wants to BE married, be a wife and hopefully a mom.  She doesn't carry any of that toxic and paralyzing fear of commitment that I did.  And when I talk to her about weddings and marriage and what it's like to be a married woman, it gives me a chance to appreciate anew what I have.  I can tell her with certainty that I would marry her Daddy all over again, not because we are better than anyone else, or more virtuous, but because we truly have become one.  To love is to will the good of the other, and if we are both living out that definition of love to the best of our ability, then we can never stray too far off of God's path for us.  

If you are in an unhappy marriage right now, turn to your spouse and really look at him or her.  What did you fall in love with those years ago when you just KNEW this was "the one?" This is the same person.  Ladies, talk to your groom.  Men, talk to your bride.  Remember our definition of love: willing the good of the other. Before you jump to all the ways your spouse isn't loving you, answer the question -- are you loving your spouse? Hold your marriage up to these three "mirrors" and if you see any speck of similarity, rub it out.  Christ makes all things new, and He can give you a renewed marriage if you let Him into your home and into your hearts.