Calming Conflict—Effective Ways to Avoid Escalation

Are you struggling in your communications with others—or at least one particular person? Tired of these conversations escalating and never actually going anywhere? In order to calm conflict and cultivate effective communication, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are called to live in communion. Ironically, because we live in a fallen world, building that communion requires us to learn to deal gracefully with conflict. Our natural human tendency is to either try to avoid conflict as much as possible–even when we shouldn’t–or to get caught up in it and fan the flames, but neither of these choices are options for the Christian. In fact, both are sinful. Avoiding problems we could do something about is the sin of sloth. Escalating conflict needless is the sin of wrath. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with conflict, Christians have a third option: to be peacemakers. 

 To be a peacemaker is to work to restore the right order that God desires in a situation.  When conflicts arise, being a peacemaker doesn’t mean just keeping a lid on things any more than it means unnecessarily escalating the tension. It means starting disagreements by seeking God’s wisdom and grace, entering conflicts with the intention of working for the good of everyone involved (including ourselves), and doing what we can to both encourage everyone involved in the conflict through the tension and toward godly solutions. The peacemaker doesn’t run from conflict or fan the flames of conflict. Rather, the peacemaker is someone who knows many different ways to actively engage and extinguish the fire so that new life can spring up from the ashes.

Here are three ways to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict:

1.  Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement. That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?” and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive way

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior. Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully. For instance, you might say something like, “When you do this or say that, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?” Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future. Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat. It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3.  Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them. Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!” But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what they are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room. It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings. Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more resources on conflict management, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

4 Ways To Find God When You’re Suffering

In this Easter Season, Christ’s passion, death and resurrection calls us to reflect on our own response to suffering.

Suffering is a big part of life. A Christian’s ability to finding meaning in, and (hopefully) deliverance from, suffering depends on our ability to correctly understand the role suffering plays in the Christian walk.

Much frustration and confusion about suffering is based on the tacit assumption that things are supposed to work all the time, and that God has somehow dropped the ball when things aren’t working as we think they should. But here’s the truth: There’s nothing about the Christian view of the world that suggests this assumption is correct.

Yes, in the beginning, before the Fall, God ordained creation to exist in perfect balance. But as the story goes, this balance was catastrophically demolished when Adam and Eve committed the first sin. Because of this, in the Christian worldview, everything is actually supposed to be awful all the time. Original sin made the world a warzone, and misery is meant to be our natural state of being. If anything else exists — if there is anything good in this world at all — it is only because God is unfathomably merciful and, despite our ongoing efforts to keep wrecking everything, he is intent on creating order out of the chaos, peace out of the turmoil, joy out of the misery, life out of death. “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rv 21:5). “Good” is God’s miraculous, merciful response to suffering.

The fact that we take for granted how good things usually are and presumptuously assume that they should always be this good is a testament to how astoundingly merciful God actually is. It is proof of what I call “the mystery of good” — that is, the mystery of how (and why) God literally moves heaven and earth every single moment of every day to care for us, provide for us and tend to our wounds despite the fact that we are living in a warzone of our own making, a warzone he never intended for us to live in, and that he is doing everything he can to deliver us from, including sending his own Son to lead us through the minefields and back to the green pastures where he gives us repose (cf., Ps 23).

Although it can be tremendously hard to find God when we’re in pain, we discover that God is imminently, superabundantly, omnipresent in our experience of suffering.

Read the full article Here.

Understanding The Parable of the Talents–What Does It Mean For Us?

This past Sunday, The Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)  was read as the Gospel reading at Mass. As you may remember, this is the story in which “The Master” entrusts his servants with his property. One servant is given five talents. The second is given two. The third is given one.

The servants who received five and two talents respectively, doubled what they were given and pleased their master. The servant who received one talent buried it and only returned what he was given, which caused the master to punish the servant.

Over the years, I’ve heard many comments from people who are confused by this parable. Not only do they feel that the servants are being treated unfairly at the outset, but they are often disturbed by what a jerk “the Master,” who “reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scattered no seed” appears to be.

Here are my thoughts, I hope it helps:

1. The Master who “reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he scattered no seed,” is not a jerk.  He is God. God harvests salvation from the fields of the Devil (i.e., the fallen world). God brings good out of difficult situations. He reclaims what sin has worked to destroy.

2. The talents are a metaphor for grace (they are NOT merely abilities or money). The different sums are a sign of the receptivity to grace of each of the servants. The message here indicates: No matter how much we are open to receiving God’s grace, he gives us as much as we are willing and able to receive.

3. When the servants cooperated with grace, they saw the work of grace expand exponentially.

4. The third servant did not do anything with the grace he had been given because, literally, he “was afraid.” Fear separates us from grace.  Think about it.  Grace is the presence of God.  God is love and “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). 

The third servant did not cooperate with grace. Instead of clinging to God, he clung to his fear. Ultimately, the third servant separated himself from God by choosing to focus on his limitations over God’s Providence.

5. Grace will not be thwarted. Even when we resist or reject God, he finds ways around our resistance and redistributes it to those who will receive it and cooperate with it.  God’s will will be done!

Superficially, this seems like a harsh parable but ultimately, it is about the superabundance of grace, the generosity of God, and the fact that nothing–not even our fears of our own limitations–can stop grace from building the Kingdom.

Friendship with Jesus

By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

Jesus

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1986  shortly after my ordination at the hands of St. Pope John Paul II, I was contemplating a compelling portrait of Jesus. It was an image of His Sacred Heart, with flames of fire radiating from His Heart. However, what seemed to really captivate me most in the moment, were six words in Spanish that have been almost a motto of my life as Catholic, Religious and priest, and follower of Christ. These words were:  “Jesus, el Amigo que nunca falla.”  Translation:    “Jesus, the Friend that never fails!”

Christological names are many:    The Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, The Way, Truth, and Life, the Alpha and Omega, Lord, God, Savior, Redeemer, as well as Lamb of God, Son of man and Son of God.      Each of these names, like a precious diamond exposed to the sun through a process called refraction, reflects a different glimmer of the majesty, greatness and beauty of Jesus the Son of the living God.

However, there is still another title that has captivated me for many years and hopefully will captivate your heart and it is  Jesus, the Friend.

On Holy Thursday, as Jesus sat at the Last Supper, about to give to all of humanity until the end of time two extraordinary gifts–we call them Sacraments–Holy Orders and the Most Holy Eucharist, He also called the Apostles and us by a special name:    I call you  friends!      In this most important moment in His life, shortly before being crucified for love of you and me He called the Apostles and us His intimate Friends.

Our Christian-Catholic religion has rules, precepts, orders, prohibitions, decrees and commands, this we cannot deny.    The Ten Commandments are part and parcel of our deposit of faith.  Nonetheless, if we limit our Catholic faith to nothing more than a series of rules, precepts, and mere Commandments to obey, then we have missed the boat, missed the mark, and focused on something very important but not most important and essential.

The essence of Catholicism is a  love-affair.      It is a deep, dynamic, and growing relationship with three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The second Person of the most Blessed Trinity is Jesus, the Son of God become man.    He came into the world to save us. But also, Jesus came into the world to establish a deep, dynamic, and permanent Friendship with us.

The Bible says that to find a true friend indeed is a treasure. We might even call it the pearl of infinite price that we should be willing to give everything else up to acquire.  Of all the friends that could exist in this world, friendship with Jesus is by far the best!    He is the Friend, in the painting of the Sacred Heart, that will never fail us in time and for all eternity.    Even the best of friends are destined to fail each other sooner or later. But Jesus will never fail us. We indeed fail Him, but he will never fail us, never….

For this reason one of the best motivations for us to strive energetically to observe the Ten Commandments is for the simple reason of desiring to establish, cultivate and grow in the dynamism of Friendship with Jesus.

For this reason Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen coined one of the best definitions of sin on the market:    “Sin is hurting the one you love.”  True, sin is breaking one of the Commandments. However, above and beyond the mere breaking of the one of the Ten Commandments, by sinning seriously we are breaking the Heart of God, a God that loved and stills loves us so much that He died on the cross to prove His love and Friendship for all of humanity, but for  you and me.

If you were the only person in the created universe, your Faithful Friend Jesus would have come into the world, preached, taught, exorcised and especially this: he would have suffered all of the torments of His Passion, from the Agony in the Garden, through His crucifixion, up to the shedding of His last drop of Blood when the lance pierced His Sacred Heart. All of this Jesus, your best Friend, willingly suffered for love of  you and me  and so that He would be your Best Friend in time and for all eternity.

Therefore, when we examine our conscience going through the Ten Commandments, why don’t we take a fresh and new approach in preparation for Confession. And it is simply this!    Recognize that your sins, in addition to the breaking of the Commandments, is especially the hurting of the one that loves you and the hurting of the one who wants to be loved by you!

Sin is saying “no” to the love of a God who is madly in love with you and has a burning desire for you to correspond to that love. Still more by sinning I am breaking the Heart of my Best Friend. By making a good confession, I am healing that wounded Sacred Heart and restoring the best of Friendships which will not end at the graveside but will last forever in eternity in heaven.

Therefore, by saying “no” to sin, I am really saying “yes” to the love of God and “yes” to a deep and growing Friendship with Jesus.

Face it, if sinning is simply breaking a series of cold and impersonal set of rules, then chances are we will go back to sinning. However, if we see sin in a personal light of hurting my best friend, wounding His Heart, then I will stop and think and renounce this temptation to sin.

May Our Lady and good Saint Joseph pray for us.

Credit to Fr. Ed Broom, OMV of CatholicExchange.

 

The Sound of Silence

By: Br. Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P.

 

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

These are the words that appeared  on Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s “business card” while she still walked the earth, and it deeply shapes the spirituality of the order she founded. Working with the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx this summer has given me opportunity to reflect on these words. To me the most striking line of the card is the first one. While most Christians who take their faith seriously recognize their need for prayer, faith, love, service, and peace, it is easy to forget the importance of silence.

We live in a world filled with noise: the hum of electronic devices, the incessant sounds of ring tones, music blaring from earphones and radios, the constant chatter of the television. Ours is not a society that places a high premium on silence. Given the constant noise that characterizes our culture, one might expect an order that so values silence to flee from society. Many of the older religious orders did just that, even before the explosion of sound that modern technology has made possible. Whether it’s the Desert Fathers, who staked out their place in the wilderness to wrestle with demons, or orders like the Benedictines, who sought more bucolic settings in which they could live the common life, praying and working for the glory of God, religious orders can sometimes give the impression that the only way to find silence is to retreat to a remote location.

The witness of the Missionaries of Charity suggests otherwise. Following Blessed Teresa’s “vocation within a vocation” to serve God in the poorest of the poor, the sisters establish their houses in the poorest neighborhoods around the world. These areas aren’t exactly the first place one thinks of when one is looking for silence. Queen of Peace Shelter is located in the south Bronx, a crime-ridden neighborhood plagued by drug deals and gang violence. Shootings are not uncommon, and even on “peaceful” days the noise from the street makes attempts to find silence difficult, to put it mildly.

The contrast between the noise of the Bronx and the sisters’ practice of silence is most acute between 2 and 3pm, when the sisters have their daily holy hour. Every day in their simple chapel they kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in silent meditation or praying the rosary in common as noise from the streets — the blaring music of a passing car, the whine of a police siren — wafts into their little sanctuary through the open windows. And yet amidst all the commotion, there they are, day after day, silent in the presence of the Lord.

What Blessed Teresa and her daughters have discovered is something that many of the saints throughout history knew: silence is not primarily the absence of sound, but rather an interior silence marked by an awareness of and attentiveness to the presence of God. St. Catherine of Siena speaks of the “interior cell” in which she would pray even in the midst of daily activities of both the mundane and the extraordinary variety. Catherine de Hueck Doherty, the 20th century Russian noblewoman and foundress of Madonna House, puts it this way: “Deserts, silence, solitudes are  not necessarily places but states of mind and heart. These deserts can be found in the midst of the city, and in every day of our lives.” Silence, as the witness of the Missionaries of Charity testifies, can be found even amidst the hustle and bustle of a big city, and it leads to the fulfillment of the two great commandments: love of God and neighbor.

Our Lord tells us, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). One can see the genuine fruits of silence in the depth of the sisters’ prayer life, in the faith with which they reside in dangerous and neglected neighborhoods, in the love that radiates from their countenances and issues forth in their service to the poorest of the poor, and in the peace with which they lead such a radical life. Not everyone is called to such a radical witness to the gospel, but the Missionaries are a testimony to the fruitfulness of silence, as well as a reminder that even in the midst of this noise-filled culture anyone can find moments of silence. If we seek out these moments of silence, God will meet us there and transform our lives, bestowing upon us the peace that the world cannot give.

Credit to Br. Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P. of CatholicExchange.

 

A Still Small Voice

By:  Mark Giszczak

nature

A Reading from the first book of Kings, verses 19:9A & 11-13A.

“At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
Then the LORD said to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD–
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake–
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire–
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
———————————————————————————————–

What is in a whisper?  When someone whispers, we quiet down, sharpen our ears and pay attention. A whisper conveys often the most important information—whether intimate words of love or secret words that tell of hidden matters. Whispers are usually more significant than shouts, but they also require more of us. If we fail to pay attention, we could miss the last words of a dying man or a key insight that could change the direction of our lives.

Whispers Good and Bad

Think of all the whispers in Scripture–Jesus’ words on the cross (“I thirst!”), the hushed speech of the lovers in the Song of Songs, the whispered exchanged between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Of course, whispering has its dark side. Gossipers speak in a whisper. Conspirators plot in secret. Whispers, which seem designed for lovers, can be perverted into the tools of betrayal.

An Inviting Tone

The power of the whisper lies not in its overpowering thump as with a loud shout, but in its enticing draw, its invitation to draw near and lean closer. One who whispers invites us to share his secrets, to become one with him in a private, shrouded space. In the same way that lovers seek the seclusion of a long walk in the woods or a conversation behind closed doors, away from the bustle of the world, so too do those who seek God seek a kind of seclusion, a secret space away from others where He can be communed with, whispered to. Jesus invites his followers to such a private communion when he tells them to go into their rooms, close their doors and pray to the Father who sees in secret (Matt 6:6). Intimacy with God does not thrive in bluster, bombast and bravado, but in beautiful simplicity, when the soul finally takes to heart the words of Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” The moments of deepest prayer are usually moments of quiet awe before the throne of God.

Elijah and the Whisper of God

While we come to him with whispers both intimate and desperate, he strikingly comes to us with whispers of his own. In the reading from 1 Kings above, we find Elijah on Mount Horeb waiting for such a whispered revelation from God. The story delivers us a paradox: that God can be expected to do the unexpected. Amazingly and appropriately, Elijah journeys all the way to Horeb to encounter God. The mountain has two names: Horeb and Sinai. It is the place where Moses met God at the burning bush and where God appeared in thunder and lightning to hand down the Ten Commandments. Elijah returns to this special mountain of God’s past revelation to encounter him anew. He goes to a place where he can expect God to show up. But of course, God does not come in the expected fashion. He does not descend in thunder and lightning, nor in fire, nor wind, nor earthquake. This time, he does not shout.

Instead, God speaks to Elijah in a “still, small voice” a whisper. Elijah might have wanted a shout. He was on the run from Ahab and Jezebel who were using their political power to try and kill him. Even though Elijah had just won the showdown with the prophets of Baal, his life was in danger and there was no safe place for him to go. In his moment of desperation, he seeks out the Lord. In the end, the Lord speaks to him and gives him a mission to do.

Is God Hiding?

The story contains an essential lesson for us: God invites, not smites. We like it when God shows up with special effects and smashes rocks before our eyes. Often we want him to talk to us loudly, clearly, with power and authority, but God wants to invite us, to speak to us in an intimate whisper. He is not trying to hide from us, but trying to entice us, to pique our interest, to help us open our hearts to him.

The Secrets of Listening

To me, it is like looking at a masterpiece painting. The uninitiated can often stare and stare without understanding, without “getting it.” Only through detailed study and detailed looking can one unlock the secrets of a masterpiece. It does not give itself away cheaply. In the same way, Jesus warns us against throwing our “pearls before swine.” Finding God and being found by him do not come to those seeking an ostentatious show, but to those willing to listen in secret to words spoken by a whispering voice. Elijah’s patient attention in his moment of need and in the face of fires, earthquakes and other noisy phenomena, reveal the attitude that we want to embrace in prayer. Prayer is often a waiting game, a deep listening, a silent attending.

Much of love lies in listening. The one who can listen to another with patience and sincere attention reveals his love. Whispers invite us to listen more closely. In this case, God’s whispering calls for our attention. Learning to hear his voice is the heart of learning to pray.

Credit to Mark Giszczak of CatholicExchange.

Ten Helps to Grow in Prayer

By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

bible

The following is a short article to encourage all of us to desire to grow in our prayer life, seek the means to grow, but especially to persevere in this most important of activates–our salvation, the salvation of our families and loved ones, and the salvation of the whole world depends on men and women who have decided to dedicate their lives to prayer, which is the key to heaven.

1.  Desire to pray. We must pray for a firm desire to pray more and to pray better. Augustine says that we follow our hearts desire.    The same saints say: ‘We must choose the object of our desire and then to live with all our heart.” Of course the object of our desire should be God.

2.  Conviction as to the importance of prayer.    “As air is to the lungs, so should prayer be to our soul.”    As gasoline is to the tank of a car, so should prayer be our spiritual energy.” As wings are to the eagle to soar into the heights, so is prayer for the soul that wants to soar on high into the mystical heights.    As food and drink is to the hungry and thirsty body, so should prayer be to the thirsty soul.    The Psalmist expresses it in these beautiful words:    “As the deer yearns for the running streams so my soul yearns for you O God.”

3.  Texts for Prayer.    St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of prayer, as beginners we should never go to our prayer time without the help of a good book.    This will help to forms good ideas and eventually ignite the heart with noble and heavenly aspirations.    In other words, we have to be trained and educated in prayer.

4.  What texts to pray with?  Of course, the first and best of all texts should be the Bible, the Word of God. In this God speaks to us directly. Highly to be encouraged would be the Gospels, the very heart of the Bible and the Psalms, the best prayer book ever composed by the Holy Spirit, using as human instrument King David.

5.  Prayer Method.    Methods are helpful to learn any new art. This applies to prayer.    A classical method is that of  Lectio Divina.      These are the steps:  Lectio–read attentively,Meditacio–think/ponder the Word of God,  Contemplacio–use your imagination to enter the scene and be part of it,  Oracio–  pray and talk to the Lord,  Accio–make sure that you put into action the fruits of your prayer.      This method could prove invaluable to help us on the highway of prayer.

6.  Readings on Prayer.        There are many texts written on prayer and we should educate ourselves by reading some of the best. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, part IV, could prove to be an excellent tool as teacher of prayer. Read it and follow its advice!

7.  Retreats.    The prime time and prime place to grow in prayer are retreats.    Ignatian retreats, with a competent director, have proven most efficacious over the centuries. If you have time, a thirty day retreat, or an 8-day retreat, or at least a weekend retreat.      The best way to learn how to pray is simply to pray. Retreats have as their primary purpose to go deeper in prayer.    Set aside some time every year. Jesus Himself invited the Apostles to come apart and rest–to be with Him, which is of course prayer.    This is a good “spiritual tune-up.”

8.  Persevere in the Struggle.    Prayer is not always easy!    The Catechism of the Catholic Church compares prayer to a wrestling match. Actually the Catechism takes as example Jacob wrestling with the angel all-night as model for prayer.    St. Teresa of Avila puts it succinctly:    “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.”    The devil will do all he can to trick us into believing that we are wasting our time in prayer and that there are many more noble and worthy pursuits that should override prayer.

9.  Get a little help from your friends.    I find it to be of great help, while engaged in prayer, to beg for a little help from my friends. These friends are God’s faithful friends now and for all eternity: the angels and the saints. They passed the test and are confirmed in grace. They contemplate God face to face. They prove as most powerful intercessors before the throne of God and are patiently waiting for us to invoke them. Their prayers for us can help to enlighten our minds and ignite our wills to connect with God. Then read the lives of the saints.    The saints are all different in the sense that they come from a specific time, place, culture; they are sinners and have their own character and temperament. However, there is one point that all of the saints have in common: PRAYER!  Undoubtedly and universally, in all times and places, the saints were men of women who tenaciously clung to prayer, recognizing it as the breath and life of their souls and the key to success in their apostolic lives.

10.  The Holy Spirit: The Interior Master.    St. Paul reminds us that we really do not know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with ineffable groans so that we can say “Abba” Father.    St. Teresa of Avila, was struggling with her prayer life.    A Jesuit priest gave her the advice to pray to the Holy Spirit. From that time on her prayer life improved drastically.    The first Novena in the Church was in preparation for Pentecost and culminated in the descent of the Holy Spirit, transforming the Apostles into great warriors of prayer, warriors of Christ, and great saints. Praise and thanks be to the Holy Spirit–the Interior Master or Teacher. Why not also turn to the newly canonized Saint John XXIII who was presented as a man truly docile to the Holy Spirit and beg for his intercession, too.

In conclusion, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who pondered the word of God in her Immaculate Heart as model for prayer and beg her for the grace to have a growing desire for prayer, love for prayer, growth in our daily prayer life, and perseverance in prayer. St. Augustine encourages us with these closing words: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; he who dies well, all is well.”

Credit to Fr. Ed Broom, OMV of CatholicExchange.

 

Joan of Arc: Model of Strength

By: Emma Smith

joan of arc

While researching potential confirmation saints, I learned that Joan of Arc had a “notoriously volatile temper.” This caught my attention as, if there is one thing I’ve struggled with, it’s my temper. Thus, learning that Joan of Arc, now my patron in Heaven, had a temper was of some consolation. However, learning that one can get to Heaven  even with  a temper was merely the beginning of what Joan of Arc had to show me about being a saint today.

We all desire the “big call.” People love the romance of leaving everything behind, traveling to foreign lands, abandoning our homes. There is something timelessly romantic in the notion that God could physically call us away from everything that makes us who we are. You can thank Hollywood for that in part, but in part you can thank the human existence. We understand that we were made for greatness and having a “big call” that asks those “huge sacrifices” of us makes us feel as though we’ve attained the greatness we strive for.

In that sense, Joan of Arc speaks to all of us. At a young age, she left all she knew behind to lead an army and was killed for her response to God’s call. That is no small calling. However, Joan also seems very distant from us. None of us (or not many of us!) will be asked to gallivant off across the globe for Christ’s kingdom. Her story is inspiring, yet we are unable to relate to it.

In our glorification of Joan’s work and martyrdom, I believe it becomes a temptation to gloss over the Joan of Arc who was  tried  before being burned at the stake. The Joan who was taken to trial is the Joan we should — and can — aspire to be, because the Joan at trial was incredibly human.

During her trial, Joan’s human weakness and frailty came out in incredibly real ways. The close proximity of evil and the inevitable pain it would cause allowed Joan’s human weakness to overpower her several times. Accounts vary, but one account reflects a time when Joan had to be removed from the court because she was so nervous that she was unable to speak clearly and kept recanting her statements. Further, when faced with burning at the stake on May 24th, Joan signed an abjuration document regarding her male clothing, visions, and call from God.

Her fear is understandable, and makes her less of an icon and more of a person to us. She shows us that trust in God is difficult at any moment in life, but when alone and faced with a torturous death, it is near impossible. Joan’s human weakness, then, points not to our own human existence, but to God’s faithfulness and mercy. On May 28th, Joan recanted her previous abjuration. Having been visited by saints overnight to encourage her, she gained strength from Christ and was able to say “yes” one more time to our Lord. She faced her death with composure and peace on May 30th, 1431.

That is the true romance of Joan’s “big call.” She waged the war, not without, but within, and won. God didn’t merely ask her to lead an army to victory — that was the relatively easy part. Rather, God asked her to abandon herself — her fears, her pains, her human terrors and weaknesses — and place herself squarely and firmly in His care. He was faithful to her, and she  accepted  His love and strength, thus being faithful to Him as well. By overcoming herself and allowing her human frailty to decrease, Joan was able to allow Christ to increase in her, and do the very thing that we celebrate her for today: she died for the glory of God so that His will could be done.

Joan’s story remains incredibly relevant today. Millennials especially have the unique opportunity to be modern day Joan of Arcs. We are called to wage a war that is, in many ways, very similar to Joan’s. Instead of a physical army of English swarming our lands, we are faced with a cultural war. As radical feminism, gay marriage, and the abortion debate swarm our cultural landscape, we are faced with the call to go out and lead our nation back to greatness.

Just as Joan’s work was only fulfilled in her martyrdom, in her total gift of self to Christ, so too will our cultural war only be won when we truly die to ourselves and leave ourselves solely in the care of Christ. When we die to our fears and temptations, when we decrease our own importance, we allow Christ’s hope and strength to increase. We are called to overcome the temptation of mediocrity and the fear of death (physical, social, or otherwise) by dying to ourselves so He may increase in us. Only when we successfully turn ourselves over to him do we become vessels for His glory, making His will present and witnessing to His goodness, just as Joan was finally capable of on the fateful day 583 years ago.

If we want to win the culture war we must wrestle with the very real possibility that we will be “burned at the stake”. We should look to The Maid of Orléans for guidance in turning to Christ and accepting His mercy and inspiration for those times when we fail to trust in Him. She can help us to win the war within so that our fight for beauty, truth, and goodness may not be lost without. May she be an inspiration to us to accept our fate with the same joy with which she finally bore her own Cross. In seeking her aid and learning to die to self, we may defend ourselves against the same evil Joan faced as it attempts, once again, to take over our land, nation and culture for its own.

Credit to Emma Smith of CatholicExchange.

 

St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Father and the Child

By: Fr. Dwight Longenecker

St Theresia

C.S. Lewis once observed,  ‘How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.’ In his little biographies of Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis of Assisi, G.K.Chesterton revelled in the sparkling individuality of both saints.   Aquinas was the greatest philosopher of his time while Francis was a troubadour for Christ. Thomas a great bull of a man; Francis a scraggy fool of a man. Thomas was a restrained logician; Francis an extravagant poet. In their uniqueness, Aquinas and Francis display the magnificent full blooded humanity which every saint exhibits.

Chesterton and Lewis weren’t the only ones to be delighted by the variety of the saints. Writing to her prioress Thérèse of Lisieux said, ‘How different are the variety of ways through which the Lord leads souls!’ ‘Souls are more different than faces.’

Take three women who share her name: Theresa of Avila, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Teresa of Calcutta. They all wear a dull uniform and submit to a regime which seems designed to obliterate their individuality, yet each of them emerge as feisty, formidable and utterly unique individuals.

The saints are unique because they are ordinary people who have allowed an extraordinary power to bring them to their full potential. The saint is fascinating because she is the person she was created to be; and the more we become who we are, the less we will be like anybody else. The saint has no time for role models. She cannot spend time pretending to be someone else because she realises it is the work of a lifetime to become oneself.

While the saints are unique, they also complement one another. Threading through the life of every saint is a strand that links them to every other saint. Chesterton shows how Aquinas and Francis, despite their differences,   complement one another and reflect the light of Christ back and forth. Thérèse makes a charming observation about how saints depend on one another spiritually. In heaven, she says,

‘all the Saints will be indebted to each other……who knows the joy we shall experience in beholding the glory of the great saints, and knowing that by a secret disposition of Providence we have  contributed there unto…and do you not think that on their side the great saints, seeing what they owe to quite little souls, will love them  with an incomparable love? Delightful and surprising will be the  friendships found there–I am sure of it. The favoured companion of an Apostle or a great Doctor of the Church will perhaps be a young  shepherd lad; and a simple little child may be the intimate friend of a

In the divine drama God creates a cast of heroes and children. The thought is echoed in the words of Pope Pius XI about Thérèse, ‘God created such giants of zeal and holiness as Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. Behind these, on the far horizon, we catch a glimpse of Peter and Paul, of Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Ambrose. But behold! The same heavenly Artist has secretly fashioned, with a love well nigh infinite, this maiden so modest, so humble–this child.’

Benedict also hints at the surprising complementarity in the communion of saints. For him the magnificent community of heaven is reflected in the monastic community on earth. The monks are not ranked according to social privilege, ability or age, but in a celestial sort of egalitarianism,   they ‘take their places according to the time of their coming to the monastery, for example, one who has entered the monastery at the second hour is to know that he is junior to him who entered at the first, whatever his age or dignity.’ As in Thérèse’s picture, the young and old respect one another, so Benedict expects the younger monks to show an oriental type of courtesy to their elders: ‘Whenever the brethren meet one another,   the junior should rise and seek a blessing of the elder.’ However the older monks should respect the younger because ‘the youthful Samuel and Daniel acted as judges over their elders,’ and in his chapter on summoning the brethren for counsel the older monks must listen respectfully to even the youngest monk for, ‘it is often to the youngest brother that the Lord reveals the best course.’

To study two saints together is to perceive three things: their unique personalities, their similarity to one another and the way their lives and teachings complement each other. When Saint Benedict and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux are studied together the contrast between their personalities is striking. One is an Italian patriarch of the sixth century, the other a bourgeois French girl at the end of the nineteenth. Benedict writes from the edge of the middle age. Thérèse writes from the edge of the modern age. Benedict writes a monastic rule, founds monasteries, rules as an abbot, is visited by royalty and dies an old man. Like a French Emily Dickinson, Thérèse hardly moves beyond her provincial family circle. She has a pious father, lives an enclosed life, writes poetry and a quaint biography, and dies a painful death at the age of twenty four. Like Aquinas and Francis, Benedict and Thérèse are radically different personalities; also like Aquinas and Francis, they complement one another in surprising and profound ways. Augustine wrote about the Scriptures that ‘the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old made manifest in the New.’   So it is with the writings of Thérèse and Benedict;   the remarkable insights of Thérèse are hidden within Benedict’s simple monastic rule, and the universal wisdom of Benedict is made fully manifest in the writings of Thérèse. In the two of them Thérèse’s picture of the saints in heaven comes true, for in Thérèse and Benedict ‘a simple little child becomes the intimate friend of a patriarch.’

In ‘studying’ a saint one is never drawn only to their writings. The first attraction to any saint is to their unusual life. The saint’s teachings are nothing without their life because their writings and their life are one. As Gregory the Great said of Benedict, ‘he could not have written what he did not live’ and Hans Urs Von Balthasar says ‘Thérèse protected herself from ever writing any statement that she herself had not tested and that she was not translating into deeds as she was writing.’

Hagiograpny and biography are not the same thing. We do not study the life of a saint as we might read the story of a dead celebrity. We can’t study the story of a dead saint because there’s no such thing.   The saint’s life is dynamic because in Christ the saint is still alive. Thérèse is famous for anticipating the great work she would do after her death, ‘I will spend my heaven doing good on earth,’   she said.   We venerate the saints and ask for their intercession not because they have written fine words, nor because we think them especially powerful in heaven. Neither do we venerate the saints and ask for their intercession simply because they are holy and good. We venerate saints and ask for their help because they have become our friends. They may be friends, but they are exalted friends. We relate to the saints as we might to a member of the royal family who has come to call. We are fascinated by them because they are greater than us, but we’re more fascinated because they’re not greater than us. They might wear satin breeches, but they step into them one leg at a time. Because the saints are like us and unlike us they not only show us what we are but what we could be. Studying a saint therefore, is a work of devotion not diligence. It is a relationship, not a report. We study a saint not for the love of knowledge but for the knowledge of love.

Credit to  Fr. Dwight Longenecker of CatholicExchange.

 

Feeling Guilty

By: Br. John Dominic Bouck, OP

 

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Ashlyn Blocker is in many respects a normal American teenage girl.  She lives with her family, has fun with her friends, watches TV and sings pop music. But there is something different about her, something very different. After she was born she hardly ever cried. For instance, once she nearly chewed off her tongue while her teeth were coming in, but she didn’t cry or complain. It turns out she has a genetic disorder which blocks the electrical transmissions of painful events from reaching her brain. She has a congenital insensitivity to pain.

On the surface, that sounds like a problem that we would all like to have. Imagine the amazing things we would be able to do, and yet, not feel the painful consequences. It seems that congenital insensitivity to pain is a lot like a superpower. In reality though, it is really a super-disability.

In an  article  in the New York Times Magazine about Ashlyn and her situation, Dr. Geoffrey Woods, the geneticist who discovered the mutation, says about pain:

It is an extraordinary disorder. It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize pain is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your body correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.

For Ashlyn, what comes as second nature to us, like pulling a hand away when it is getting burned, has been acquired through a lifetime of damaging trial and error. All those who share her condition know the benefits of pain and the danger of not experiencing pain.

It doesn’t take much searching to encounter someone who decries “Catholic Guilt.” It is portrayed as the experience of feeling bad for doing things that should be natural to us. It prevents us from being fully alive. It is a prison which rational adults should cast off as soon as they realize they suffer from it. I concede that many times, people feel guilty when they shouldn’t. This should indeed be cast off. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As people of faith, we believe that each person is composed of body  and  soul. Just as dangerous things cause our bodies to feel healthy pain, so too does healthy guilt alert us to the fact that we are endangering our soul.

If we experience pain in our bodies, we ought to cease doing the action which causes that pain. If we set our hand on a burner, we pull it off. We are free to decide not to, but then our hand will be destroyed. If we experience guilt in an action we commit, then most likely we should stop doing it. Otherwise our soul will suffer.

Recall Dr. Woods’ finding, and substitute “guilt” for “pain” and “soul” for “body”:

It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize  guilt  is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your  soul  correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.

Minor pains from cuts and bruises can be healed easily at home, just as minor venial sins simply need to be taken care of by an act of charity, devotion, or a simple expression of sorrow. But big pains–lost limbs, cancer, heart attacks–these need to be taken care of by a professional physician. So too, grave sins need to be taken care of by a spiritual physician. This physician is Jesus Christ himself, acting through the priest as his sacramental representative.

Often the healing regimens in the spiritual life are difficult, and they may involve cutting off activities and relationships that are dangerous. But we can have confidence that the Divine Physician knows exactly what he is doing, even if we don’t. His healing is our salvation. The prescriptions he gives out are remedies of love. They heal us and those around us. If we don’t take the medicine the doctor prescribes, then our health will get worse. If we don’t live out the life that Jesus Christ has shown to us through the Church, our soul will feel worse. The pain will still be there, but how will we treat it? Most forms of self-medication just mask the pain: alcoholism, careerism, living a double life, etc.

Often we can think of the life of sin vs. the life of the spirit as a legal drama. We want to do certain things, but there are laws that we try to avoid breaking because of various punishments that are imposed on us as a result. This is a poor way of looking at our lives.

On the contrary, in the life of the soul (and in the life of the body) our goal is to be  happy. That is how we are made. We commit sin, though, when we search for happiness in the wrong places. We try to be happy, yet we hurt ourselves, and we hurt others. Just think, when we are not feeling our best—a cold, a stomach-ache—we can be crabby, we can want our alone time. When we are sick in our soul we suffer from similarly isolating behaviors. However, we can recognize the pain that we feel, be healed, and learn more about what activities cause us pain. All we have to do is make an appointment.

Credit to  Br. John Dominic Bouck, OP of CatholicExchange.