The Friendship of the Saints

By: Fr. Aloysius Roche


This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Roche’s book,  The Bedside Book of Saints.

Solomon says, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immor ­tality”;and he adds the significant words: “They that fear the Lord shall find him.”  The Old Testament delights us with the story of the friendship of David and Jonathan. “Jonathan loved David as his own soul”; and David’s love for Jonathan “passed the love of woman.”

Our Lord Himself called the Apostles His friends, and He meant His particular friends because “all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to  you.” This encouraged the saints – even the most detached of them – to seek out kindred souls to give them their confidence and their friendship. They were well aware that although the Gospel bases perfection upon detachment of heart, it does not therefore follow that we are forbidden to love anyone with an affection stronger and more sensible than that which we are obliged to entertain for all in general.

Indeed, a whole volume might be written on the friendships of the saints – friendships that were, in the best sense of the word, particular friendships. “There is not a man who has a heart more tender and more open to friendship than mine or who feels more keenly than I do the pain of separation from those I love.” This is St. Francis de Sales’s description of himself; and we may be sure that it could be applied to the majority of God’s great servants.

How delightful to find this in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus: “When I entered Carmel, I found in the novitiate a companion about eight years older than I was. In spite of the difference of age, we became the closest friends; and to encourage an affection that gave promise of fostering virtue, we were allowed to converse together.”

The  Mirror of Perfection  tells us that when St. Francis was dying, St. Clare also was very ill. “The Lady Clare, fearing she would die before him, wept most bitterly and would not be comforted, for she thought that she would not see before her departure her Comforter and Master.” Now, this is a very human situation and very human language, and we can appreciate both. This is exactly how great friends feel about one another.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote in this very strain to her friend, Don Francisco de Salcedo: “Please God you will live until I die; then I shall ask God to summon you promptly, lest I should be without you in Heaven.”

Like so many of the saints, St. Augustine had the power of winning and attracting devoted followers. Perhaps no Father of the Church had so many or such enthusiastic friends. And in the letters that passed between them, we see how generously he re ­sponded to these affections. For example, he addresses Nebridius as “My sweet friend,” and he writes to St. Jerome, “O that it were possible to enjoy sweet and frequent converse with you; if not by living with you at least by living near you.”

St. Bernard thus laments the death of his friend Humbert of Clairvaux: “Flow, flow, my tears, so eager to flow. He who prevented your flowing is here no more. It is not he who is dead but I – I who now live only to die. Why, oh why, have we loved and why have we lost one another?”

We are told of St. Philip Neri that friendship was one of the few innocent joys of life that he permitted himself; and certainly Providence lavished friends upon him in spite of the fact that no man ever tried the patience and virtue of his friends as did he.

Indeed, it seems to have been only necessary for people to come in contact with these saints to love them. “It is a favor bestowed on me by God,” wrote St. Teresa, “that my presence always gives pleasure to others.” One of her earliest biographers, Ribera, said of her, “She was and she looked so amiable that everybody loved her.”

Bl. Angela of Foligno had such a hold upon the affections of all who knew her, that out of pity for their feelings, she concealed the knowledge she had of her approaching death. Gallonio said of St. Philip Neri, “He hid the secret of his approaching death, lest our hearts should be crushed with sorrow.”

This is how St. Basil writes to the wife of his friend Nectarius to console her on the death of her son: “I know what the heart of a mother is, and when I think how very kind and gentle you in par ­ticular are, I can estimate how great must be your grief at the present moment. O plague of an evil demon, how great a calamity it has had the power to inflict! O earth, that has been compelled to submit to an affliction such as this! But let us not condemn the just decision of God. Above all, spare the partner of your life: be a consolation to one another; do not make the misfortune harder for him to bear.”

We must bear in mind, of course, that in those days, simplicity was a practical virtue. Christians expressed their feelings and sentiments with a naiveté to which we are strangers. We neither speak nor write the sincere idiom of the past. But our forefathers in the faith were not our sort of people at all. All their literature is marked by a charming spontaneity and exuberance of expression. Into the letters that they wrote to their friends they put the same straightforward frankness they put into their poetry and their Christmas carols. St. Boniface, for example, writes in exactly the same strain to all his friends; that is to say, he writes as few would be willing to write nowadays. Thus, to the Archbishop of York: “To a friend worthy of being embraced in the arms of love.” St. Anselm writes, “Go into the secret place of thy heart, look there at thy love for me, and thou shalt see mine for thee.” And again: “The soul of my Osbern, ah! I beseech thee, give it no other place than in my bosom.”

It is true that this phraseology was more or less stereotyped. Formulas were drawn up by those who were good at it, and they were circulated especially among the monasteries and convents. They served as models and were copied to form the beginnings and endings of the letter. This may explain why we find in St. Jerome’s letters (for example, to Rufina) almost the identical sen ­tences found in those of St. Boniface. Many of these formulas have survived: “To So-and-so, his humble countryman, who would embrace him with the wings of a sincere and indissoluble charity, sends salutations in the sweetness of true love.” Again: “Remem ­ber me; I always remember you. I give you all the love that is in my heart.”

We may find a little comfort in knowing that some of the saints were rather disappointed in their friends. St. Basil and St. Gregory, as we have seen, had serious misunderstandings in the end. Dona Isabel Roser was for years the staunch friend of St. Ignatius. She could not do too much for him; and, indeed, she had once actually saved his life, by dissuading him from sailing in an unseaworthy vessel that foundered on its voyage, with the loss of all hands. At one period, the saint writes to her, “I am persuaded that if I were to forget all the good that God has done me through you, His Divine Majesty would forget me also.” Yet, this same good Dona Isabel’s love turned to spite. She subjected St. Ignatius to a great deal of annoyance in Rome, whither she had followed him, and she ended by taking proceedings against him for embezzlement in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Needless to say, she lost her case, and she also lost her friend.

“A friend is long sought, scarcely found, and hard to keep”: with this reflection, Abbess Eangyth ends one of her letters to St. Boniface; so that it appears that even the saints shared the disappointments common to plain people like ourselves. Indeed, they sometimes lavished their affections on rather an ungrateful world.

The prophets of old were stoned for their pains; and the task of the reformer is proverbially a thankless task. Scant recognition came to Fr. Damien during his lifetime: his motives were suspected, and even his character was assailed. St. John Bosco was looked upon by some as a madman. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena were accused of being bad women, and their very friendships were misunderstood. Some of our English martyrs were be ­trayed by those whom they regarded as friends.

But if affection is unrequited, it is never thereby wasted. There is no such thing as wasted affection. “The real reward of love is found in loving.” Love is its own reward. We are happier often in the affection we feel than in that which we excite; and when, by an unhappy chance, love goes out from our hearts only to be rejected, it returns again, so that to some extent, we are the gainers.

Credit to  Fr. Aloysius Roche &  CatholicExchange.

Catholics & Depression

By: Catholic World Report Staff


Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD, is the author, with Msgr. John Cihak, STD, of the book,  The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again  (Sophia Institute Press, 2012). Dr. Kheriaty is the Director of Residency Training and Medical Education in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of  California, Irvine. He co-directs the Program in Medical Ethics in the School of Medicine, and serves as chairman of the clinical ethics committee at UCI Medical Center. Dr. Kheriaty graduated from the University of Notre Dame in philosophy and pre-medical sciences, and earned his MD degree from Georgetown University. Msgr. Cihak is a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon who currently works in the Vatican. He helped to start  Quo Vadis Days  camps promoting discernment and the priesthood at the high school level that now operate in several U.S. dioceses. He has been a pastor and served in seminary formation.

Dr. Kheriaty & Msgr. Cihak

Their book “reviews the effective ways that have recently been devised to deal with this grave and  sometimes deadly affliction– ways that are not only consistent with the teachings of the Church, but even rooted in many of those teachings.” The authors were recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson, editor of  Catholic World Report, about the serious challenges posed by depression and how those challenges can be best addressed through faith, clinical science, and other means.

CWR:  The topic of depression is fairly commonplace, but you note that there is no simple definition of “depression”. What are some of the major features of depression? Is it just an emotional state, or more?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression is more than just an emotional state, though of course it typically involves profound changes in a person’s emotions.   Sadness and anxiety are the most common emotional states associated with depression, though anger and irritability are also commonly found in depressed individuals.   Depression affects other areas of our mental and physical life beyond our emotions. Depressed individuals typically experience changes in their thinking, with difficulty concentrating or focusing, and a lack of cognitive flexibility.   Depressed individuals develop a kind of “tunnel vision” where their thoughts are rigidly and pervasively negative.   In many cases, suicidal thinking is present, driven by thoughts or feelings of hopelessness and despair.   A person with depression often feels physically drained, with low levels of energy, little or no motivation, and slowed movements.

Another feature of depression is what psychiatrists called “anhedonia”, which is the inability to experience pleasure or joy in activities that the person would typically enjoy.   Sleep is often disturbed, and the normal sleep-wake cycle is disrupted.    Changes in appetite are common, often with consequent weight loss or occasionally weight gain (in so-called “atypical depression”).   So we see that depression involves many mental and physical changes, and affects not just a person’s emotions, but also their physical health and their ability to think clearly and act in the world.

CWR:  Christians sometime think, or are tempted to think, that depression is a sign of spiritual failure or evidence of a lack of faith. What are the problems with, and dangers of, such perspectives?

Dr. Kheriaty:  The problem with this perspective is that it does not recognize that depression is a complex illness with many contributing factors.   While we acknowledge in  The Catholic Guide to Depression  that spiritual or moral factors can be among the causes, we also argue that there are many other factors that play a role in the development of depression, many of which are outside of the patient’s direct control — biological factors, genetic predispositions, familial and early attachment problems, interpersonal loss, traumatic experiences, early abuse, neglect, and so on.   If we attend only to the spiritual or moral factors, then we do the person a disservice by ignoring other important contributing elements that often play a significant role in depression.   With that said, the spiritual factors, and other behavioral factors within a patient’s control, should not be ignored either.   We wrote this book, in part, as a way to bring the medical, social, and biological sciences into dialogue with philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality, in order to gain a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of this complex affliction.   We hope that this multifaceted approach will help people more adequately address depression from all of these complementary perspectives.

Msgr. Cihak:  I would completely agree. I think perhaps sometimes in our desire to get to the bottom of things, we can tend to oversimplify the situation. As Dr. Kheriaty said, there can be many contributing factors. The book reflects an intentionally Catholic approach by integrating the truths of medicine, philosophy and faith. We should keep the whole in mind as well as the deep connection between the body and the soul. In our respective vocations, we have both encountered people suffering from depression who actually manifest a strong faith, which they themselves might not be able to see, but which has been helping them to keep going in the tough times. That being said, we attempt to demonstrate in the book that our Faith has profound things to say about depression, its deepest theological origins, its redemption by Jesus Christ and its transformation in His Church.

CWR:  Are psychiatry and Christian faith in opposition to one another? If not, how can Christians discern between the benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories, for example, Freudian or Jungian accounts of religious belief and human relationships?

Msgr. Cihak:  Put simply, no. Since all truth has its ultimate origin in God, the Church has always taught that the truths of faith and the truths of reason can never contradict each other. On this point, we can appeal to giants such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure as well as the various pronouncements of the Magisterium such as Bl. John Paul II’s  Fides et Ratio. Because of this common divine origin, we can say that all truths have an intrinsic unity; truth is symphonic. Put one truth next to another and they resonate with each other. Sound medical or psychological science, and Christian faith rightly understood and interpreted, are not and never have been in opposition. We see our task as Catholic thinkers to build bridges between these sciences, always maintaining their proper competencies and autonomy, and to search out these harmonies, confident that they are already there to be discovered.

Dr. Kheriaty:  We should add, however, that at various points in the history of psychiatry, some psychiatrists have ventured beyond what medical science can legitimately claim, and have made anti-religious claims in the name of psychiatry, or masquerading under the banner of “science”.   For example, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, famously claimed that religious belief was psychologically unhealthy — indeed, he called religion the “universal obsessive neurosis of mankind”.   But this claim had nothing to do with actual empirical research; it instead reflected Freud’s own personal bias against religion.   The elements of his theory upon which this claim supposedly relied were never scientific; that is, they could not be subjected to scientific measurement or empirical proof.   The fact is that more recent evidence from a large body of medical and scientific research has shown that for most people, religious and spiritual practices (like meditative prayer, attending church regularly, and participating in communal worship) actually have positive benefits on a person’s mental and physical health, including reducing the risk of depression and helping patients to recover more quickly from depressive episodes.

Our book is one attempt to help readers thoughtfully discern between the legitimate benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories that have sometimes been put forward in the name of psychiatry or psychology.   There are other Catholic writers, Paul Vitz for example, who have addressed these issues in some of their writings as well.   Certainly there is more work that needs to be done in this area by people that have expertise in both the medical and psychological sciences and in philosophical anthropology and spiritual theology.   We need ongoing academic research and dialogue here, as well as people who can “translate” this intellectual work into writing that is accessible to a lay audience.   We hope that our book can make a contribution to this dialogue.   We also hope that it will serve as a user-friendly and practical guide for people suffering from depression, as well as for therapists, clergy, spiritual directors, and family members or friends who are trying to help a loved one with depression.

CWR:  Bl. John Paul II said (as you quote), “Depression is always a spiritual trial.” What should Christians know about the relationship between depression and the spiritual life? How is the “dark night of soul” different from various forms of depression?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression certainly affects our spiritual life, and our spiritual life is central to helping us prevent or recover from depression. Depression is indeed a spiritual trial because it wounds us so deeply — you could say that it is an affliction not just of the body but also of the soul.   Depression can make prayer feel impossibly hard (though prayer is always possible, even when affective consolations are absent, even when we are assailed by dryness or distraction). We can know, with certainty and confidence, that God is our loving Father, that he is close to us and that he sustains us, even through painful trials and periods of suffering in this life.   We know also, in faith, that our suffering is not pointless, but can be redemptive when united to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

Msgr. Cihak:  Although depression can sometimes resemble on the surface other spiritual or moral states, like spiritual lukewarmness or acedia on one hand, or the dark nights of the senses and of the spirit described by St. John of the Cross on the other, we argue in the book that it is very important to distinguish carefully between depression and these states because these states mean different things. In the case of lukewarmness or acedia, it is a negative, bad trend in the spiritual life involving moral fault which results in weakening one’s movement toward the Lord. The dark nights are actually positive, good, grace-filled movements in the spiritual life bringing one into deeper intimacy with the Lord.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Yes, exactly.   With careful and prudent discernment, these states of mind and soul can be distinguished.   For example, the dark night is typically not accompanied by the physical or bodily symptoms of depression, like sleep disturbances, appetite changes, or changes in one’s level of physical energy.   These distinctions can be made by consultation with a prudent spiritual director, ideally in conjunction with and communication with a sensitive psychiatric or medical assessment when symptoms of depression are present.   We describe these various states and distinguish them in some detail in  The Catholic Guide to Depression; however, it’s also important to recognize that sometimes these states can appear together, so clean distinctions are often difficult in practice.   Depression can go hand-in-hand with acedia or spiritual lukewarmness; it may be sustained by behaviors that, wittingly or unwittingly, the afflicted person is engaging in, and which call for repentance and reform.

CWR:  What are some reasons for people committing suicide? What are some of the challenges faced in dealing with those struggling with suicidal tendencies and impulses?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think the first thing we must say is that suicide is awful. I think one of the more powerful parts of the book is Dr. Kheriaty’s discussion of one such tragedy. God is the sovereign Master of life. We are the stewards, not owners, of the life entrusted to us by Him. Suicide contradicts the natural human inclination to live, which is placed in us by the good God. So suicide is gravely contrary to the just love of self, love of neighbor and love of God. However, though it is always wrong, the Church teaches that conditions such as grave psychological disturbances, anguish, grave fear of hardship, or suffering can diminish one’s responsibility in committing suicide (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2280-2283).

Dr. Kheriaty:  The reasons for a person’s suicide often remain a mystery, to a large extent.   Research on suicide suggests that it is typically an ambivalent and impulsive act.   The person’s rationality may be impaired by a serious mental illness, like depression or psychosis.   Often drug or alcohol abuse catalyze a suicide attempt, by making a vulnerable individual more impulsive and impairing his judgment.   Depression plays a central role in a majority of suicides, which is one of the chief reasons why we should recognize and treat depression early on in the course of the episode.   A central psychological theme of most suicidal individuals is a profound sense of hopelessness.   This is one of the reasons, as research has demonstrated, that Christian faith can significantly lower the risk of suicide: our faith raises our sites to a glorious future, beyond the vicissitudes of this life; in faith, we have hope for eternal life with God.   Faith, hope, and love can therefore help us endure situations in this life that might otherwise feel intolerable.

Suicide is, tragically, all too common.   It is now the second leading cause of death among college students, and the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 — 24.   Many family members and friends struggle for the rest of their lives with a sense of guilt and self-blame after the death of a loved one by suicide, wondering what they might have done to prevent it.   In my professional experience, some suicides can be prevented, and we should always do whatever we can to lower a person’s risk of suicide. That being said, there are some suicidal individuals who are very difficult to assist.   In these instances, we place these individuals prayerfully in the hands of God, as theCatechism  states with pastoral sensitivity: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.   By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.   The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).   And so should we.

CWR:  What are some of the myths or misnomers regarding psychotherapy? And what basis exists for a Christian approach to psychotherapy?

Dr. Kheriaty:  It seems in recent decades that the psychotherapist’s office has replaced the confessional in the Western world.   While it is true that the confession lines are all too short, and most of us, including those suffering from depression, would benefit from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently, it is also true that the confessional is not meant to cure psychological disorders like depression.   Blessed John Paul II said as much in an address to psychiatrists when he said that the confessional is not and cannot be an alternative to the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist’s office, nor can one expect the Sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions.   He went on to say that the confessor, though he is a healer of souls, is not a physician or a healer in the technical sense of the term. In fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals.

The relationship between psychotherapy and the Sacrament of Confession once again points to the need for constructive dialogue between religion and psychiatry, between priests who are instruments of Christ’s healing in the confessional, and psychiatrists and other therapists who are instruments of Christ’s healing in psychotherapy.   Neither one can or should try to replace the work of the other.   Psychotherapy has its limitations, and therapy alone cannot cure our deepest wounds, but it can play an important role in the lives of many people in need of psychological healing.

Msgr. Cihak:  Another way of stating this truth is that no amount of psychotherapy can take away sin or the guilt that comes from sin.   For this, we need conversion and Sacramental Confession.   On the other hand, while we never presume to limit the way in which God works, the grace of the Sacrament and the counsel given in the confessional (which by necessity is usually very brief), isn’t designed to work directly on the deep and habitual patterns of thinking and feeling that are the focus of treatment in psychotherapy. In fact, by respecting the competence and autonomy of each of these two ways of healing, they can come together to work powerfully in a person’s life. We made the deliberate choice to work together on this book–one a psychiatrist and the other a priest–precisely to show how this Catholic approach can be so effective.

Dr. Kheriaty:  I’ll add a few remarks regarding your question about a Christian basis for psychotherapy.   A Christian approach to psychotherapy does not just mean that the therapist quotes Bible verses when offering counsel (though of course, this may be helpful in some circumstances).   Rather, it informs the entire approach to the patient in therapy, which seeks to know and heal the person in a way consonant with the person’s nature as a human being.   All therapists can recognize some foundational truths about the human person, by the light of reason and sound science: that the human person is a substantial unity of body and soul; that he is rational (able to grasp truth), relational (made for relationships of love and self-giving), and free to pursue the good.   A Christian therapist, moreover, by the light of revelation, can also perceive that the human person is created good, though fallen and therefore wounded, but also redeemed and capable of being sanctified by God.   This is the philosophical and theological framework within which a Catholic therapist approaches his or her work.   These characteristics, unfortunately, are often denied or contradicted by many modern and overly narrow psychological theories that do not take into account the full truth about the human person, but instead attempt to reduce the person to one or another aspect only.   This may allow for partial truths and insights to emerge, but such a reductionistic approach ultimately prevents one from seeing the full and marvelous truth about the human person as created and redeemed by God.

Msgr. Cihak:  As people can see from what Dr. Kheriaty said, psychotherapy has everything to do with the big questions of human life, and therefore has everything to do with philosophy and theology. Psychotherapy is basically applying philosophical and theological insights to the way we think, feel and approach life. It is fundamentally a human science. Psychotherapy can benefit from the full truth of the human person that comes from the philosophical and theological tradition of the Church; and this same tradition can benefit from way these ideas actually come to bear on a person’s life in psychotherapy.

CWR:  What are some of the spiritual disorders that lead to depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think we could begin by observing that sin creates misery. Moral evil is not simply a bad idea; it harms and ruins peoples’ lives. The fundamental spiritual disorder is the choice of sin, which if left unchecked becomes habitual and begins to corrupt and even destroy that vital relationship with the Lord of life who desires our fulfillment and happiness. So being immersed in serious sin can certainly lead one to or hold one in a depressive state.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Precisely.   I will mention as well the sin of  despair, which is contrary to the virtue of hope, and commonly leads to depressive states.   Also  envy, which is a form of sadness at another person’s good, can also incline one toward depression.   Spiritual lukewarmness or coldness in relation to the things of God, and what George Weigel has called “metaphysical boredom”, a sort of spiritual ennui, can put a person at risk for depressive or anxious states.   Atheism, especially in the face of death, can lead ultimately to despair or a denial of reality.   A person faces his own mortality, yet lacks a transcendental hope or a spiritual reference point, will often resort to desperate attempts to control the timing and circumstances of his death, or to avoid suffering at all costs.   We see this in the push for physician-assisted suicide, for example.   The world is chock full of dead end paths that lead a person away from ultimate and lasting happiness.   Not all spiritual disorders lead to clinical depression, but all spiritual disorders ultimately lead toward unhappiness of one form or another.

CWR:  How can the saints and the sacraments bring freedom from anxiety and depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  The saints show the life of Christ to be real, concrete and possible.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Well said.   When we look to the saints for help with depression, it’s important to remember that every one of the saints was a person of flesh and blood, just like us.   Each of them had defects that they had to struggle to overcome.   Too many overly pious biographies of saints gloss over the messy aspects of their life and omit their defects or vulnerabilities, as though these people were sanctified from birth — as though they were made from fundamentally different “stuff” than the rest of us.   These well-intentioned books ought to be tossed in the trash bin.   The saints were real people.   They fought and won; they fought and lost.   But the thing that made them saints is that when they were defeated by their own weaknesses, they got up again, brushed themselves off, and with God’s grace, they went back into the fray to fight again.   Many of them suffered from depression or other severe mental illnesses at various points in their journey of life.   With God’s grace they finished the race, they kept the faith.   The saints can, through their friendship and their intercession, help us also to fight the battles against our own defects and weaknesses, to struggle and persevere on those days that feel messy, where nothing seems to be going right.   They know; they’ve been there too.   And from Heaven they are cheering us on to victory.

Msgr. Cihak:  If the saints make the divine life a real possibility and a concrete invitation to imitate, then the Sacraments are the primary way that the divine life is communicated to us. Jesus does nothing superfluous, and so the Sacraments that He instituted should be of paramount importance to the Christian. Immersing ourselves in the sacramental life, as well as cultivating a life of prayer and virtue, is what we call “the ordinary means of sanctification”. These means can be of great help in resisting and recovering from mental illness, including depression. It is important to remember that the primary aim of the graces of the Sacraments is to accomplish the work of salvation in us, but we ought not to overly compartmentalize the effects of grace given the unity of the human person. Grace can also accomplish physical and mental healing when it is part of God’s plan for us. In any case, the Lord’s grace is always good for us.

CWR:  Therapy, you note, cannot uncover the most important truths about the human person. What is the foundational truth that must be appropriated in order that we might be whole and healed?

Msgr. Cihak:  God desires our happiness. We were made in His very image and called to become like Him. We were created to live with the Blessed Trinity forever and to have our humanity become fully illuminated and enlivened by the divine life. This happens through Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world. Because of sin, the path to that destiny is marked by the Cross. So every follower of Christ will have difficulties and struggles in this earthly life. Sometimes struggling against depression is part of one’s conformity to the Cross of Christ, which always leads to everlasting life. By union with Christ, in the end, He will form us by the power of His grace to be like Him, truly Godlike.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Here is another way of saying the same thing: the most important truth about us is truth of our divine filiation — the marvelous truth that  God is my loving Father.   In Christ the Son, my Savior, I am an adopted son or daughter of God.   Each day we should try to go deeper into the meaning of this truth for our lives.   The fact that God is my loving Father is not just one more fact among many; it is, so to speak, the lens through which I should view everything else in my life and in the world.   God loves me more intensely and more affectionately than all the fathers and mothers of this world love their children.   He is close to me, so very close, “more inward to me than I am to myself,” in St. Augustine’s mysterious formulation.   Not only did he create me, in love he sent his own Son to redeem me from sin, from death, and from despair.   Jesus Christ, who is our brother, our friend, our Savior and our God, says to us now what he said to his apostles the night before he died: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20), and he assures us, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

Credit to Catholic World Report Staff and CatholicExchange.

The Miracle of John Paul II

By: Patricia Treece


Moments after Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, the chant “Santo subito! Santo subito!” [“Sainthood now!”] begins from the sad, but somehow exhilarated, crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Through all the events that are part of burying a pope, it continues.

Through all this, in the south of France, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre’s struggle with Parkinson’s is not going well. For some time before his death watching him on television had gotten too hard. “I saw myself,” she would later remember, “my own future.”

When Parkinson’s hits an individual who is sixty or seventy, the disease often moves slowly. Sr. Simon-Pierre  was probably already ill in her early thirties. In younger people, Parkinson’s can move very fast. After diagnosis, she did her best to carry on her work in the maternity birthing ward. But before the pope died, tremors causing trouble controlling her hand movements forced her to give up handling fragile newborns for off-the-floor work in administration. To add to her distress, although she was exhausted, sleeping was becoming increasingly difficult.

Pope Benedict’s waiver to open the Cause became official on May 13. Immediately Sister’s community, the Congregation of the Little Sis ­ters of Catholic Motherhood,  united in asking John Paul II to get God to work a miracle for Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre. Women of faith as well as of medicine, they prayed fervently with “strong hope.” Even their one foreign mission in Senegal, Africa, joined in.

As if thumbing the papal nose at the little French community, rather than a cure, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre’s condition at once deteriorated markedly. June 1, the two-month anniversary of John Paul’s death, she could no longer go on. The pain was unbearable. It was a struggle to  even stand. Walking, kneeling, and driving a car were terribly difficult, all hampered like face, hand, arm, and other parts on her left side by stiffening as the muscles hardened. She was left-handed, and the entire left arm now hung as if lifeless at her side.

That afternoon, she dragged herself to the office of her immediate superior of the past sixteen years, Sr. Marie Thomas Fabré, a midwife serving the congregation as one of its leaders. The suffering sister asked permission to give up professional work. Sr. Thomas, not quite grasping the deterioration the last two months had brought, thought to encourage her younger charge’s hope and faith, reminding Sr. Simon-Pierre that the community were sending her to the healing shrine Lourdes in August. The superior asked her to stay at her post until then. When Sr. Simon-Pierre tried to explain about her hands, Sr. Thomas told her to write the name of John Paul II.

As she looked at the paper, it hit Sr. Thomas just how bad Sr. Simon-Pierre’s condition had become. They looked at each other and then simply sat silently for a time praying. Sr. Thomas recalls, “I remember praying and thinking at this moment that we had tried everything [medically] and that we had reached the end. ‘Lord, the only thing left is a miracle!’ That’s how I expressed my thoughts.”

Before Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre made her laborious way out of the office, her superior found herself saying, “John Paul has not said his last word.”

She had no idea how true that was about to be!

Some hours later alone in her room, somewhere between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m., Sr. Simon-Pierre  relates, “something in my heart seemed to say, ‘Take up a pen and write.’ ”  She did, writing some Scripture, and, in her words, “the pen skipped across the page.” Before her eyes, her handwriting was clear, completely legible,  normal.

Filled with excitement – still, as is actually not uncommon with those receiving miracles, she did not take in what had happened to her two months to the day and hour  after John Paul died of her disease. An event so momentous, simply too much to absorb, continuing her routine, she went to bed. But at 4:30 in the morning she woke. First she was in awe that she had actually slept. Mornings with the stiffness and fatigue unconquered by sleep were normally “very difficult” but not this one. She recalls, “I got up fully alive.” There was no pain, stiffness, nothing. Even interiorly, she could later say of the moment that she felt “much different.” Dressing without trouble, she hurried to Jesus in the tabernacle.  Filled with thanksgiving for the changes in her body, she spent an hour or so expressing her gratitude and joy for what she would later describe as “a bit like a rebirth.” Then she went to the community chapel and joined her community for Mass. She – who for a long time had not been able to stand steadily enough to do so – volunteered to do the Scripture readings for the daily celebration, proclaiming with gusto. It was only as she received Jesus in the consecrated bread during  the Mass, she says in one interview, that she was able to finally absorb beyond a shadow of doubt that she no longer had Parkinson’s.

Buoyed by the “peace and joy of her Communion,” Sr. Simon-Pierre, for whatever reason, still went back to her room as she did each day and took her morning medication. As always, it caused nausea and made eating so difficult that her weight over time had plummeted. At noon, she decided to stop medication and noticed she was eating that meal normally.

Later that day, Sr. Thomas relates that she met Sr. Simon-Pierre, who had put in a phone call wanting to see her “right away,” in a corridor. Sr. Simon-Pierre excitedly shared her cure. She produced an account she had written.

Now it is Sr. Marie Thomas’s turn to not quite get it. Deeply shaken, she can’t understand what is going on even with the handwritten document before her. As Simon-Pierre insists that she is healed, her stupefied superior demands, “How come you are healed?” The miracle recipient wants to rush to tell the mother superior, Mother Marie Marc. But when she further gushes she has taken no more medication, Sr. Thomas exclaims, “That will kill her!” These are, after all, professional medical women oriented to complying with medical directives.

The mother superior, Marie Marc, is told the following day. She waits for Marie Simon-Pierre’s visit to her neurologist. That takes place on the seventh, a regularly scheduled checkup. As she walks in, the absence of  any Parkinson’s symptoms is so striking, the physician exclaims, “What have you been doing? Doubling up on your Dopamine?”

Sister replies, on the contrary, she is taking no medication (this is now four days). When she tells the doctor what God has done through the request for John Paul’s intercessory prayer, he is shocked, speechless. But his examination agrees that his suddenly former patient has no sign of Parkinson’s. (He will see her again to confirm this several weeks and then several months later.)

The visit over, Mother Marie Marc consults with the neurologist her ­self. That evening she tells the community. Given the news (although asked to keep it among themselves), members enthusiastically switch from asking for a miracle to praising and thanking God and His praying servant, as they marvel over the cure of their “incurable.”

Next the mother superior reports what to her and the other sisters is a miracle to the postulator  of John Paul II’s Cause, Monsignor Slawomir Oder. Oder asks the local bishop, Archbishop Claude Feidt, head of the diocese of Aix-en-Provence, to investigate. Following standard procedures in such matters, Feidt sets up a special commission under Fr. Luc-Marie Lalanne. The thorough investigation involves an expert neurologist  who sets up the questions that need answers. Those involved include other neurologists, professors of  neurology, a neuropsychiatrist, a psychiatrist, and even a handwriting expert, since handwriting is an important gauge of Parkinson’s.  Theologians and canon lawyers also play a part.

It takes a year, during which Sr. Simon-Pierre is probed and prodded, body, mind, and soul. In the end, the verdict is favorable. Sr. Marie Si-mon-Pierre’s cure becomes one of those inexplicable-by-human-efforts, doctor-seconded cures that are being sent by bishops to the postulator.

During 2007 Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, now 46 and working quietly at the order’s maternity hospital in Paris, comes into the public eye as a beatification-miracle candidate (this is rare, a new phenomenon as cures being studied are traditionally kept under wraps). Interviewed, before TV cameras, at a press conference with Archbishop Feidt she admits willingly, “I am cured. It is the work of God, through the intercession of Pope John Paul II.”

Pressed by members of the press to claim the healing is a miracle, she sagely mimics a man cured by Jesus: “I was sick, and now I am cured [cf. John 9:25]. I am cured, but it is up to the Church to say whether it was a miracle or not.”

She and the archbishop are present in Rome that year on April 2. It is the second anniversary of John Paul’s death, and Pope Benedict celebrates a Mass to mark the occasion. It is also the second anniversary of her cure. Archbishop Feidt formally delivers the findings of his commission to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The archbishop and nursing sister also attend ceremonies that mark this as the day when the Cause of John Paul, fast-tracked by Benedict, ends the diocesan inquiry and is formally sent, with favorable findings, to the Vatican for investigation at that level.

A Man Who Has God’s Ear

From the moments of his death, as if by instinct, people around the globe – by no means all Catholics – began turning to John Paul as a man who surely must have God’s ear.

Postulator Slawomir Oder, the man in formal charge of John Paul II’s Cause, in his words, was “being inundated with emails and letters . . . at a level of 80-100 a day.” Sent directly to Rome in envelopes of every shape and size “they came,” Oder stated, “from all over the world, even from nonbelievers.” Their writers reported various favors, including healing many did not hesitate to dub miracles.  Also arriving after diocesan investigation were claims of miracles from bishops, like the one made on behalf of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre. By 2007, from varied sources, there were many cures that looked as if they might be the real thing.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre’s case could easily have been just one in what was, so to speak, a huge pile. But Mother Marie Marc’s report for some reason had caught postulator Oder’s eye. Perhaps because it is Parkinson’s? Perhaps because it was submitted by a mother superior rather  than a bishop or just anyone? At any rate, he had looked into it even before the local bishop did. Now, for whatever reason, her cure is one of those submitted by bishops chosen for a deeper look.

As this inquiry by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints’ medical commission is in progress, there is a flurry of opposition to Sister’s cure in the press. It goes like this: Parkinson’s is incurable. If she has been cured, she must not have had Parkinson’s. Since she  was  healed, she had some neurological condition that can be cured. Ignored is that her complete instantaneous cure of an advanced neurological disorder was obviously not of a kind to be ascribed to medical intervention whatever neurological disease she had – and that, more importantly, the nurse’s Parkinson’s diagnosis was well established.

On May 1, 2011, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre is there seated among those who will play a part.

A year later, a priest asks her on TV  whether she was scared doing this, reminding her of the million and a half onlookers. The sister, who has sat for the TV interview with this priest who wants people to be made aware miracles do actually happen, with her hands quietly in her lap (there is only once a glimpse she has in them a small circle of rosary beads), happy to let others do the talking for her, lights up. She responds at once, “I had the impression that I was being carried by angels, one on each side. I felt very light.” She sensed, she goes on, that she was carrying to the altar all the sick who ask her congregation’s prayers (a companion sister interjects that it is the cured sister who is asked a lot for her prayers). It seems from her description that the verse that rang in her head about seeing glory has been fulfilled.

Miracles affect a recipient, body, mind, and soul. The French nurse, working again today with mothers experiencing difficult pregnancies and babies born with problems, has been a person of faith at least since she gave herself as totally as she could to God when she was a teenager. When she is next asked by the inquisitive priest what, after the miracle is different in her life, she does not speak again of her restored physical abilities. She speaks instead of her experience of “great interior peace and joy. My spiritual life has been completely transformed.” There is much she could say,  but she volunteers only one example to the TV interviewer: “Eucharistic adoration [being with Jesus in the tabernacle] is a very powerful moment in my life.” And finally the nursing sister says she believes she has a greater compassion for the sick and those who suffer. She admits to receiving letters from Americans who write her for  prayers and, through the translator, expresses her desire to reach out to these people.

A miracle is also never just for the individual who receives it.

This act of God, permitting his beatification, served John Paul and the Catholic Church. It has also given new encouragement, says Sr. Marie Thomas Fabré, to the sisters. The eighty-some-year-old congrega ­tion founded in 1930 has always operated on the principle that every human life is precious, even one that may have to live with limitations and disabilities.

In a time when many disagree that all life  is worthy of defense, affirming life’s value is getting harder. With the miracle, she says, “John Paul II has looked on our little community and given us the courage to continue” this part of their mission. Both Sr. Marie Thomas and Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre believe John Paul II is truly with their con ­gregation, referring, for one thing, to the feeling each had, when they sat silently together in prayer when things looked darkest and later, when they told then mother superior Marie Marc of the miracle, that he was “in the room.”

Beyond all this, to some of us it seems fitting that Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was cured through the dead pope’s compassionate prayers for someone whose condition he understood only too well, God gifting not just Marie Simon-Pierre but newly dead John Paul II, as well. That he may have especially liked bringing it to a Parkinson’s sufferer seems entirely reasonable.

Credit to  Patricia Treece of CatholicExchange.  

Finding Happiness Where You Least Expect It

By: Trent Beattie


Ask someone where happiness may be found,  and you’ll get a variety of answers. Many of them, however, are centered on attaining something currently out-of-reach. The thinking goes like this: “If only I could make more money,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I had a nice car,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I could win that tennis tournament trophy,  then  I would be happy.”

The problem is, there are people all around who have plenty of money, a nice car and maybe even an entire collection of tennis trophies, yet they are not happy. Material goods don’t bring happiness, and in fact, the more earnestly such goods are sought as if they would bring happiness, the more bitter the disappointment that follows.

Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote: “Every earthly ideal is lost  by being possessed.” After someone attains the object he was searching for, he no longer places happiness in it. He realizes that his unhappiness was not due to his lack of that material item. He got what he had wanted, and, despite a possible temporary kick, the general unhappiness remained.

Instead of deriving satisfaction from what we’ve achieved, we use our achievements as baselines from which to achieve more. Those making $30,000 per year want to make $40,000; those making $40,000 want to make $50,000, and those making $50,000 want to make $60,000. As the material rewards increase, the search for happiness does not abate, and it can in fact intensify.

If happiness cannot be found in material possessions, where can it be found? The answer is: we find happiness where we least expect it–in self-denial. This is not a piece of wisdom that is easily learned and lived, because it is so paradoxical. Who, without being told, would ever imagine that denying oneself would bring happiness?

Yet, we are told by Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:24 that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Self-seeking ends in destruction of self, while self-denial (and seeking of God) culminates in happiness.

Self-denial being the route to happiness is possible, because,  as Sheen points out, denial of self prepares us for disappointments from others: “Contradictions from others will hurt us less when we have first contradicted ourselves. The hand that is calloused will not pain as much as a soft hand, on catching a hard ball. Contradictions can even be assimilated and used for further taming of our own errant impulses.”

Yes, even the disappointments of life can be used for out greater good, if we take them in the right way. What happens outside of us is not nearly as important as what happens inside of us, and the latter is oftentimes the only thing we have control over. Good can come even from the worst situations, by a mere act of the will.

Sheen reminded us of the great important of the will. He said, “There is one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is you will. Health, power, life, and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in Hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will.”

Happiness, then, is found by making decisions (acts of the will) to contradict our own errant impulses. When our own wills have been negated, we can live out the will of God here on earth and for eternity in Heaven. Complete happiness can only be attained after this life, but true happiness does start here by saying no to oneself.

Because I wanted to share this great paradox  with others, I chose passages from Venerable Sheen found in the new book  Finding True Happiness.  Sheen’s prescription for happiness is just as relevant to us today as it was decades ago when he first wrote it. In fact, it is even more imperative to get his message out now, because even fewer people know of its value. Finding happiness in self-denial and God-acceptance is a reality we all need to be taught or reminded of.

Credit to  Trent Beattie of CatholicExchange.


Rescandalized by the Gospel

By: Cari Donaldson


Sometimes, as an English major, there are certain books I feel guilty for not having read.  Moby Dick.  Anything by Joyce, even a couple pages’ worth.  As aCatholic  English major, adding Flannery O’Connor to the list seemed almost a stoning offense.

Oh, I tried.  I tried to read her and like her, and, failing that, I tried to read her and understand her.  I couldn’t.  If there was a point beyond “bad things happen in dreadful ways”, I missed it.

Then I came across a  really great essay  on O’Connor written by Daniel at  Carrots for Michaelmas.  It’s more than worth a read in its entirety, but it was this quote that really stuck with me:

“But, more dangerously for the Christian,  we’re safe from a violent encounter with Christ. What I mean by that is that we’ve all heard the bloody, scandalous, disturbing elements of Christianity for so long they’ve lost the ability to shock or surprise. It’s easy to forget how radical the call of Christ truly is.  “

The quote made such an impression on me because it not only made me want to give O’Connor another try, but also because I had just read Pope Francis’ interview and was wading through the wreckage of people’s responses to it.

I know that places like NARAL and HuffPo and, shoot, the mainstream media as a whole completely missed the point, and instead decided to “helpfully” translate the three-day interview for their readers to “Shorter Pope: Let your freaky sex flag fly, he won’t judge!”, and I am in no position, from my small and messy corner of the Internet, to dissuade them of their misconception.

But for all the faithful who are wringing their hands and wailing and gnashing teeth about the Pope’s comments, I say this: go back and read that quote right up there.  Christianity is not a safe, comfortable religion.  It’s not a set of manners.  It’s not a political path.  It is a shockingly radical concept- that God Himself loves us so much- us! stupid bags of bones and snot and bad attitudes!- that He became one of us so that we may know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, so that we may be happy with Him in the next.

I’ve heard people complain that the Pope’s words have made things even more difficult for conservative politicians here in America. I’ve heard people complain that the interview signed the death warrant on marriage here in the Western world.

To everyone upset by the Pope’s interview because you think it undermines the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and the permanence of marriage, you’ve been given a great chance to be re-scandalized by Christianity.  You’ve been shocked and surprised by the Gospel once again, and that’s an amazing gift!  This is your opportunity to remember that the Universal Church is bigger than America, or the West, or politics.

Look at the progression of our catechism- we must know God first, then choose to love Him, and  from  that love will flow a desire to serve Him.  There are so many people in this broken and toxic culture that don’t even  know  God.  There are so many people enslaved to sin that yearn to love God.  If we, as disciples of Christ, can help with those first two things, then the last one- serving God, will follow organically.  Engaging the culture about sex and abortion without first giving them some reason to know and love God is like yelling at someone for cutting their arm off and bleeding out when we should be doing everything we can to get them to a doctor.

This is not to say that the moral teachings of the Church aren’t important.  They are.  But they are important only because they help us get closer to God.  They have no value apart from their relationship to Him.

In a world as damaged and fallen as ours is, it is tempting to impose order first, simply to stop the noise from all this sin, then introduce God into the quiet, but that’s not the way our hearts and souls were designed.  We need to remember always that Christianity is about following Christ first, and everything else is a result of that relationship.  There is a whole world longing to be seen and loved and healed by Christ, so we need to be sure we’re bringing them Jesus, and not simply a political cause.  We need to remember the radical call of Christ, and resist the urge to swap it out for something temporal and fleeting,  something safe and tame, something that will never heal us the way God can.

Credit to  Cari Donaldson of CatholicExchange.


See & Imitate the Good in Others

By: Edward F. Garesche, SJ


Whether you like it or not, you are sure to imitate other  people.  The impulse to follow the example of others is so strong in us that we obey it unconsciously. We begin as little children, copying those around us, and we imitate the bad in them as well as the good.

But now that you are older, you can choose what to imitate. On that choice depends, to a great degree, your character and your destiny. If you observe and imitate the good and choose to copy the good qualities of those with whom you associate, you will be, in the old comparison, like the bee that gathers honey from every flower and leaves the poison. On the other hand, if you do not choose carefully whom to imitate, you will collect bad qualities and accentuate the faults of your character.

To have a clear, alert, and fair mind, and to judge men’s good qualities rightly are of supreme importance, especially to the young. Do not be deceived by appearances; do not adopt wrong standards of conduct. Some people have showy, specious, false characters that make a good impression at first, but there is no substance to their personality. Others do not attract or impress us much at first, but they improve on acquaintance. They wear  well; they have solid characters, fine hearts, good minds, and consistent principles. Those are the ones to imitate. Many a young person has gone wrong and wrecked his whole life be ­cause he did not see truly and judge rightly whom to follow, but let himself be carried away by his first impressions, his feel ­ings, or his emotions.

All human beings have some good qualities, of course, and by observing their good qualities and imitating them, and rec ­ognizing their mistakes and avoiding them, you can steer your way safely through the difficult seas of human character.

It is told of one young man who made a supreme success in life, that he deliberately noted the good qualities of all those around him. He would jot down such notes as this: “I like A’s pleasant, kindly smile; I am going to try to imitate it. I like B’s everlasting willingness to oblige and serve other people, and I am going to try to make it my own. I like C’s custom of punctu ­ality and reliableness, and I am going to try to be the same my ­self. D’s fine mental culture appeals to me, and I want to be like him in that respect.” In this way, the young man deliber ­ately emulated, and made his own by constant practice, the very best that he saw around him.

No human character is quite ideal, but every one has some divine spark of goodness in it. By taking all the good characteristics of those around you, you can build up the ideal of a perfect character, just as, by taking all the unpleasant charac ­teristics of each one, you could create a sort of monster.

One advantage of this method of looking for the good qualities of others and imitating them is that it brings out by contrast your own imperfections. If you study the best in oth ­ers and compare that best with your own corresponding traits,  you will feel humble and be stirred up to be better. There is hardly anyone around you who does not surpass you in some ­thing. Yet, you have the divine gift of free will, by which you can continually practice and aspire after the good qualities that others possess, without envying them and without taking anything away from those whom you imitate. This is the very opposite of jealousy, that wicked and hideous monster of vice, which observes the good in other people and is saddened by it. Your keen observation must pick out the good qualities in oth ­ers not in order to envy them, but to rejoice in them and imi ­tate them. Thus, you will multiply their goodness and gain by it, by becoming like them in that particular characteristic in which they most excel.

Suppose you had the power of taking for yourself the best qualities you see in others. With what keen interest you would study each one’s character in order to choose the very best trait you would find there. You would weigh each one’s per ­sonal charm and try to find out on what it depended. Here you would see that it was the result of a spirit of great kindness and interest in others, and you would choose that characteristic. There you would see that it came chiefly from a finely cultured mind, and you would make that quality your own. Another man’s influence over others and power to do good to them has come, you would perceive, from his deep conscientiousness and faithfulness to duty, and you would make those qualities your own.

Now, in literal truth, you can obtain to a degree any one of these things, by wanting it earnestly enough and seeking it persistently enough. The measure of your right judgment in seeing clearly the best that is in others and your strong will in  disciplining yourself to acquire their particular excellences will be the measure of your success in getting the best that they possess.

When thus trying to acquire the best characteristics of man ­kind, you need not confine yourself to the people you actually know. Through the magnificent works of literature, you can associate with marvelous familiarity with the great minds, the noble hearts, and the shining characters of all history. Saints and heroes of hundreds of years offer you their knowledge and companionship on the shelves of libraries.

This is one of the greatest blessings of a love of reading: it brings us into communion with the choicest spirits of all the ages. Entering a library in a thoughtful and reverent mood, we can stretch forth our hands and bid this, that, and the other of the most excellent of mankind to speak to us. In great books, we find a revelation of human character in its excellence and nobility that our personal experiences could never offer us. The ordinary dealings of everyday life are sometimes like a game of hide-and-seek, in which men and women carefully conceal even their own excellences. They are reluctant to show the finest depths of their characters. But the wonder of good books is that they can faithfully reveal these hidden excellences of human nature and can acquaint us with the in ­ward workings of good hearts and cultured minds. Therefore, in our reading, we may choose our associates from the most ex ­cellent of mankind and, through our knowledge of them, learn to emulate their finest characteristics.

Then, too, in our wonderful times, when nations are drawn so much nearer, we can become acquainted with the intellec ­tual and spiritual nobility of all the nations. We should avoid  that excessive nationalism which sees no good in people of other nations. On the contrary, we should try to recognize in nationalities, as in individuals, the excellent qualities in which they excel. This is one reason among many why it is a fortu ­nate achievement for anyone to learn a new language. When ­ever you learn a new language, you think the thoughts of another race and acquaint yourself with new models to imi ­tate, new excellences to emulate.

Human nature, therefore, lies before you, like a beautiful garden, in which a variety of exquisite flowers delights the eye. Some are more beautiful or more fragrant than others, and through the exercise of your intelligence and your will, choos ­ing from each character its more beautiful blossoms, you can pick for yourself an exquisite bouquet of fine characteristics and make for yourself a personality that will bring color and fragrance into the lives of others.

Credit to  Edward F. Garesche, SJ &  CatholicExchange.  


A Nobel Prize Well-Deserved

By: Michael Cook

stem cell

Two stem cell researchers have shared the Nobel Prize  in Medicine for 2012, an elderly Briton, Sir John B. Gurdon, and a younger Japanese, Shinya Yamanaka. By a serendipitous coincidence, Sir John made his discovery in 1962 – the year of Yamanaka’s birth.

Fifty years of stem cell research have brought cures for intractable diseases within reach but they have also generated firestorms of controversy. Between 2001 and 2008, stem cell research vied with climate change as the most contentious issue in science. But since then, the firestorm died down – basically because of Yamanaka’s achievements. In fact, Tom Douglas, of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, at Oxford University, describes Yamanaka’s work as “a rare example of a scientific discovery that may solve more ethical problems than it creates”.

So what happened in these 50 years? (Click here for a graphic explanation  from the Nobel Committee.)

In his classic experiment at the University of Cambridge, Sir John discovered that cell development is reversible. The conventional wisdom was that cells could never change once they had specialized as nerve, skin, or muscle cells. He proved that this was wrong by replacing the nucleus of a frog egg cell with a nucleus from a mature intestinal cell. This modified cell developed into a normal tadpole.

This astonishing development eventually led to the cloning of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 1996 and subsequent attempts by rogue scientists to clone human beings.

But while the technique clearly worked, no one really understood how cell development worked. The obvious target for research was the embryo. From this ball of undifferentiated cells come each of the body’s specialized cells – more than 200 of them in humans. Surely the answer must lie there. In 1998 an American scientist, James Thomson, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, isolated and cultivated human embryonic stem cells.

But a one-eyed focus on embryos left stem cell science hostage to ethics. Despite scientists’ bravado, everyone had some qualms about destroying embryos for their stem cells. Even Thomson  admitted to the New York Times  that “if human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough”.

Still, it seemed the only way forward. Desperate patient advocates, backed by a supporting chorus of bioethicists, scientists and doctors, argued tearfully that the possibility of miracle cures had to trump ethics.

But, in 2006, there came astonishing news from the University of Kyoto. An orthopaedic surgeon turned stem cell scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, had discovered that skin cells from mature mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. It was an amazingly imaginative step. Instead of mimicking natural development from embryo to adult, why not wind back the clock from adult to embryo?

Yamanaka found that by introducing only a few genes, specialized skin cells could become pluripotent stem cells, i.e. immature cells that can develop into all types of cells in the body. Until then, creating pluripotent cells without resorting to cloning seemed unlikely. Like Gurdon, for whom he has an immense respect, Yamanaka had skittled the conventional wisdom.

This was electrifying news for biologists. It was as if commuters on the pot-holed, terrorist-infested road from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone could suddenly detour down a six-lane autobahn at 200km. Many famous scientists dropped human embryonic stem cells and began work on what Yamanaka had termed “induced pluripotent stem cells”. A year later, in November 2007, both he and James Thomson, in separate papers, confirmed that human cells could also be reprogrammed.

The rest is history.

As the  Nobel Committee says  about Gurdon and Yamanaka’s research, “Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy.”

What turned Yamanaka away from the group-think which goaded his colleagues into the swamp of human embryonic stem cell research? Nowadays, the feverish excitement over human embryonic stem cells in the early Noughties seems ridiculous. Leading scientific and medical journals launched a crusade of Enlightenment heroes against prejudiced troglodytes. In one memorable endorsement of embryo research, the  New England Journal of Medicine   – the world’s leading medical journal —  published an editorial  which concluded with this cringeworthy hyperbole: “The Promethean prospect of eternal regeneration awaits us, while time’s vulture looks on.” It never mentioned cell reprogramming.

Yamanaka’s originality may have sprung from his ethical sensitivities. Even Julian Savulescu, the director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, who has no objections to embryo research, recognises this. “Yamanaka has taken people’s ethical concerns seriously about embryo research and modified the trajectory of research into a path that is acceptable for all. He deserves not only a Nobel Prize for Medicine, but a Nobel Prize for Ethics.”

In an interview with the  New York Times  in 2007, Yamanaka remembered one day years before when he paid a social visit to a friend’s IVF clinic. There, he peered through a microscope. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realised there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said the father of two. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

Nor does he believe that scientists should put progress above ethics. In another 2007 interview, with  New Scientist, he spoke about the firestorms. “These are very difficult decisions, and I think that society should make them,” he said. “It should not be scientists. They can find it difficult to think like the person on the street, and instead may see it simply as a good opportunity. We scientists can be involved in the decision-making process, but I think unless society is comfortable with the therapy it should not go ahead.”

Once again, experience shows that that ethical science is good science.

Credit to  Michael Cook of CatholicExchange.


Religion is Bad for Marriage (when there’s not enough of it)

Great post over at David French’s blog on the Evangelical Channel on Patheos.  The Blue States often sneer at the South because the South claims higher rates of religiousness but ALSO higher divorce rates.  Many liberals take this to assume that religious people in general are just a bunch of hypocrites.  I’ll let David take it from here.

It’s pretty simple: When it comes to marriage, church attendance matters more than church affiliation.

I’ve often heard the South described as “God-haunted,” in the sense that there are millions of men and women who identify as Christians, who attend church at least semi-regularly, and who at least aspire to live a Christian life as they understand it. Within that “God-haunted” culture is a very large subculture of the “God-fearing,” in the sense that they hold to the orthodox tenets of the faith, attend church regularly, and –furthermore — immerse themselves in the larger life of the church, from Sunday School to mission trips to small-group Bible studies.

It turns out that the God-haunted lifestyle is terrible for marriage. The God-fearing lifestyle is excellent. The reasons are not difficult to discern.   READ MORE

Spanking Decreases Gray Matter in Children’s Brains

CNN reports one more shocking reason corporal punishment isn’t the answer.shutterstock_121813207

Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain — not only in an “I’m traumatized” kind of way but also in an “I literally have less gray matter in my brain” kind of way.

“Exposing children to HCP (harsh corporal punishment) may have detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development,” one 2009 study concluded. (Click for link to the study abstract).

Harsh corporal punishment in the study was defined as at least one spanking a month for more than three years, frequently done with objects such as a belt or paddle. Researchers found children who were regularly spanked had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders, the study authors say.

The researchers also found “significant correlations” between the amount of gray matter in these brain regions and the children’s performance on an IQ test. (READ MORE)

The Theology of the Body reminds us that God’s plan for relationships is encoded in the design of our bodies.  The more we understand how God designed the human body to work, the more we see that gentle discipline (e.g, teaching skills, redirection, teaching the positive opposite, logical consequences, rapport building/discipling) is most consistent with God’s plan for child-rearing.  For more information on how the Theology of the Body can help you raise healthy, happy, holy kids and get more joy out of parenting, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Saintly Wisdom for Worriers

By: Judy Keane

worried man

A recent  Gallup  poll revealed  that most Americans, ages 18 to 65+, say that the U.S. economy is their greatest worry followed by the national debt crisis and sluggish job market.  While it is not surprising that economic issues are top of mind when it comes to what American’s are most worried about, I think we can also agree that, to one extent or another, we worry about many things during these challenging times.   We may worry about our relationships, retirement, our children, or our individual workplaces.   Perhaps we cling to worries of the past, or are anxious about the future? We may worry about paying the bills on time, making rent, our endless “to-do” list, health issues, and so many other things!

We can literally wear ourselves out with worry! It is now widely known that chronic and excessive worry can negatively impact the body leading to high anxiety, high blood pressure and higher risk of serious disease.   While it is unrealistic to eliminate stress and worry entirely from our lives, wouldn’t it be far more beneficial to dramatically reduce our worries and instead, like the Saints, increase our prayer and trust in God to the point of resting in his love and care for us?

Here we can confidently look to the saints and their wisdom in helping us to overcome our many worries. While there is no Church declared “patron saint of worriers”, one can certainly look to St. Padre Pio for some great advice.   In fact, the motto most often associated with Padre Pio is, “Pray, hope, and  don’t worry!” Padre Pio noted that, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer!” With unwavering faith in God’s providence, St. Pio never hesitated to abandon his past, present and future into God’s hands saying, “My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”  We would be wise to imitate Padre Pio’s great faith, especially when we feel overwhelmed amid our worries and concerns.

St. Louis-Marie De Montfort also emphasizes that we focus on living in the present, placing our trust explicitly in God and Our Lady, “What God wants of you…is that you should live each day as it comes, like a bird in the trees, without worrying about tomorrow. Be at peace and trust in divine providence and the Blessed Virgin, and do not seek anything else but to please God and love Him.”

Soon to be canonized Blessed John Paul II also encourages us to find answers to our worries by spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist, “Confidently open your most intimate aspirations to the love of Christ who waits for you in the Eucharist. There you will receive the answer to all your worries and you will see with joy that the consistency of your life which he asks of you is the door to fulfill the noblest dreams of your youth.”

Passionist Founder Saint Paul of the Cross advises us, “When you notice that your heart is moving away even the tiniest bit from that inner peace that comes from the living faith-experience of the divine presence in the soul, stop and examine what the cause of this anxiety might be. Maybe it is some worry concerning your house or children, or some situation you cannot change at present. Bury it in God’s loving will.”

You may find that you are more of a “Martha” than a “Mary” when it comes to having many cares.  Like Martha, are you also “worried and upset about many things?” (Luke 10:41-42). American humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote that “worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere!”   The saints recognized this and with prayerful perseverance, abandoned their cares and entire selves to Christ, knowing that nothing happens without the Lord’s knowledge and permission.   St. Paul of the Cross knew such worrying was counterproductive saying, “Stop listening to your fears! God is your guide and your Father, Teacher, and Spouse. Abandon yourself into the divine bosom of His most holy good pleasure. Keep up your spiritual exercises and be faithful in prayer.”

So this Lent, why not pay special attention to spending less time worrying and instead make a conscience effort to prayerfully bring all of your worries to Jesus.  Such relinquishing prayer along with positive thinking and positive self-talk has the ability to transform your life.   According to physicians at Mayo Clinic, more positive thinking and less worrying can increase your life span, promote better psychological and physical well-being and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.   On a spiritual level, like the saints, let us refocus our hearts, minds and souls on our Divine Savior amid the worries and anxieties of our day, trusting that his providence and grace is sufficient for all our needs.   Once we begin the practice of bringing our cares to our Lord in prayer, the sooner we can begin to experience His peace in our lives and leave the energy zapping worry habit behind us.   It is also important to reflect back on our lives and remember how often the things we worried about never came to pass!

Let us also call to mind the actions, dispositions and words of the Saints who refused to let worry overcome them.   After all, there isn’t enough room in your mind and soul for both worry and faith — therefore you must decide which one will live there!    I close this article with a prayer for worriers like me to Saint Anthony and hope this Lent we can all worry less and pray more with the help of our friends, the Saints.

O Holy St. Anthony, your deep faith in Jesus Christ comforted your heart, especially during times of trial and distress.   Help me to grow in faith, so I may experience peace of mind and heart in my present needs (here mention).   Free me from undue anxiety, needless worry, and burdensome fears.   Grant me sure confidence; unfailing trust in God’s loving mercy and daily serenity.   Amen.  

Credit to  Judy Keane of CatholicExchange.