Stop Attacking Me!—How To Deal with Conflict Effectively and Gracefully

There is often confusion with how we can speak up for ourselves, set healthy boundaries, or respond effectively to antagonistic people from a Christian perspective.

The Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that every person has dignity and deserves to be treated with love–including the people who we experience as antagonistic and unsupportive.  However, TOB also reminds us that loving people doesn’t mean letting them treat us however they want. Loving someone means working for their good. We aren’t working for another person’s good if we allow them to demean themselves by behaving in a cruel, abusive, disrespectful, antagonistic, or unkind manner. We can’t just do whatever comes naturally–whether that means avoiding conflict or enflaming it. Instead, when we feel attacked, we have to ask God to help us make a response that serves the ultimate good of everyone involved.

Jesus modeled two ways of confronting abusive behavior. Sometimes, when he was clear about the greater good being served–for instance, the salvation of humankind–he patiently bore the wrongs committed against him. But other times, when the greater good required it–for instance, when the pharisees intentionally tried to twist his meanings, confuse his message, or undermine his mission–he confronted them. Like Our Lord, we must always respond to antagonistic people with the greater good in mind. Rather than simply reacting, we must bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to respond in a manner that will glorify him, help us be our best selves, and lovingly challenge the antagonistic person to be better. Sometimes that will require us to give them the space they need to self-correct, and other times it will mean being more direct. With prayer and practice, we can learn to deal gracefully with even the most antagonistic, unsupportive people.

Here are a few ways to respond to conflict gracefully and effectively:

Know Your Worth—In order for us to handle heated moments gracefully, its helpful for us to know our worth and respect ourselves (and the other person) enough to present ourselves calmly, firmly, and virtuously. Allowing ourselves to lose our cool, or give our power away by reacting based on the other person’s reactions, does not help us to act in accordance with our dignity as a person. Allow yourself to say, “I respect myself, and you, too much to allow this conversation to continue disrespectfully.” If you are able to have the conversation respectfully in that moment, it’s okay to continue, but if you or the other person are not able to be respectful at that time, it’s okay—and encouraged—to come back to the conversation at a later time when both parties have had time to cool down. 

Focus On Caretaking—When conflict flares, taking care of ourselves and the other person is usually the first thing that goes. Conversations go much more effectively when we focus on taking care of ourselves and our partner. For ourselves that can look like being attentive to how we feel physically—knowing when our muscles tense up and working to stretch and release those muscles, or taking deep breaths when our heart or respiratory rate starts to increase. Taking care of ourselves can mean knowing when we need to pause before we respond or when we need to take a break, step outside, get a drink of water or a snack to help engage our parasympathetic nervous system. Taking care of our partner can involve small acts such as, “I’m getting myself some water, can I get you some?” Sitting next to them and making eye contact to help engage in active listening, or saying something like, “I want to work through this with you, how can I take care of you during this conversation so you know I am working to be your partner through this?” Taking care of one another throughout a conversation can also mean taking pauses together and saying, “I’m starting to feel ____ (frustrated, defensive, angry, etc.) and I don’t want to feel that way. How can we take care of each other better in this moment?” 

Control Your Boundaries—Often we say something to another person in order to set a boundary with them and then we expect them respect and uphold that boundary. However, while it is appreciated when someone upholds our boundaries, it is actually our job to maintain the boundaries we set. 


For more on working through conflict, check out:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People 

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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.

The Miracle of Fulton J. Sheen

By: Patricia Treece


God has friends in places little connected with Him in the public mind.Would you believe an American proposed for official sainthood whose prime time television show brought him an emmy  – for talking about God yet?

TV star Fulton John Sheen’s heroic virtue was recognized with the title Venerable in June 2012. You know well by now that it is God’s approval through a miracle that permits a beatification. In this Cause miracles seem in good supply. So beatification could come soon. When it does Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen may have the distinction of ending up with not just one shrine but two.

Not only a widely read author, the native of El Paso, Illinois, was famous for  Life Is Worth Living, his television show seen by millions when there were only three networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) in the United States and the whole country seemed to park itself before “the tube” nightly. Although one of television’s biggest stars, full of personal charisma, with a sense of the dramatic that could make viewers weep, as well as wit and a sense of comedy that evoked bubbles of laughter, Sheen was also revered among those, like Apostoli, who looked past the show for his spiritual attributes: primarily his deep love of Christ exemplified, among other ways, by his unfailingly spending an hour a day – he called it a Holy Hour – in prayer before the eucharistic Christ. Apostoli says that when he saw Sheen, he wanted to be like him – not the celebrity aspect but “the man of God.”

It was Billy Graham – no slouch himself at communicating Christ – who said, “Sheen was the greatest communicator of the twentieth century.” Looking at Sheen’s background, this is surprising. When he started his educational path to the priesthood, the successful business-man’s  son’s potential for scholarship, not for communicating to huge groups of ordinary people, was what drew attention. Sent to be educated at some of the world’s foremost schools, the University of Louvain in Belgium, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the Angelicum in Rome, he was the first American at Louvain to win the prestigious Cardinal Mercier Prize for International Philosophy.

He came back to America and, after three years in his home diocese,  began to teach theology and philosophy at Washington DC’s Catholic University as an educationally sophisticated intellectual of proven brilliance. Yet he would become known for the ability – often by coining witty and pithy sayings – “to explain spirituality and the Catholic faith in ways that everyone could understand.” And he did it first on radio – so it wasn’t his striking good looks that had people hang ­ing on his words. That was as early as 1930, when he began a Sunday-night broadcast called  The Catholic Hour. Sponsored by the Church, for twenty years he taught Catholicism that way. From 1951 he “starred” on television.

On TV he taught Life and why it is worth living – a subject which led to God through every topic imaginable. In that anti-Catholic era, 1951 to 1957, there he was before millions, mostly non-Catholics, in full – some would say exaggerated – Catholic regalia: black cleri ­cal garb, a large crucifix on his chest, and a big magenta cape flowing behind him. In down-to-earth, humorous talks about life’s basics, aimed at people of every faith or none, his soft-sell approach won friends for Christ and the Church, his converts too many to detail.

Twenty-four years after his death and burial at St. Patrick’s Ca ­thedral as a bishop of New York, his Cause was opened in September 2003 by the Peoria Diocese.

Already in the summer of 2006, when the Cause for this Servant of God was only open three years, there were two cures of a magnitude to potentially qualify as official miracles – and definitely, in any case, worth sending to Rome. Following ceremonies in Peoria and in Pitts ­burgh, for each of the healings respectively, the Cause’s Rome-based postulator, Andréa Ambrosi, present at both, hand carried them to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The first healing recipient was Therese Kearney of Champaign, Illi ­nois, then in her early seventies. During a surgery in 1999, Mrs. Kearney suffered a tear in her pulmonary artery. Told his wife would probably not make it, Frank Kearney, a long-time admirer of the media star priest, sought Sheen’s prayer intercession. (Sheen at this time had been dead twenty years.) His wife lived, and this was considered something be ­yond what medicine could have done. The couple died in 2006, seven years later, he in February and she, at age 79, in September. But the healing had already survived the diocesan-level vetting. Details of her cure – over five hundred pages of medical data and testimonies by the witnesses, who included the doctors involved, a nurse, a priest, and fam ­ily members – had been assembled under Msgr. Richard Soseman, as delegate of the bishop of Peoria. Packed and sealed in a witnessed cer ­emony, just five days after Therese Kearney’s death, the records were officially turned over to the postulator for transport to Rome.

Postulator Ambrosi made a second stop for similar ceremonies in Pittsburgh. There he picked up a thousand pages of meticulous testi ­mony and medical records on the cure of a seriously ill infant boy whose family belong to the Ukrainian Diocese of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio. The Catholic Ukrainian diocese is small and without either the person ­nel or financial resources to conduct the necessary investigation of a cure. The Pittsburgh diocese took over for them. While details of the infant’s cure were withheld, Fr. Ambrosi said only that the baby was “gravely ill” when his parents sought Archbishop Sheen’s prayer inter ­cession. Vice-postulator Fr. Andrew Apostoli has said the infant had three life-threatening conditions, one of which was the worst form of sepsis. The fact of this being a cure from God, not from medical means, was supported by the main doctors involved in the case. “All of them,” Ambrosi concluded, “recognized that a force superior to their medical science intervened for his [the infant’s] recovery.”

About four years later, in 2010, another infant is also said to have received a miracle, this one in Peoria. The facts actually made public, with the cooperation of the family, when Sheen was named Venerable in 2012 show the devotion Sheen can inspire.

Bonnie Engstrom and her family live in a small central-Illinois town not that far from El Paso, Illinois, the little town where Sheen was born. Bonnie had a special feeling for then Servant of God Sheen, she ex ­plains, precisely because he was “born in this small insignificant town, El Paso, followed God’s will in his life, and became a great instrument of the Lord.” To Bonnie, this showed “it doesn’t matter where you’re from.” She and her husband, Travis, agreed that the child of her current pregnancy would be James Fulton, the middle name honoring Sheen. Throughout this pregnancy, as she went about her daily chores as wife and mother, Bonnie also sought the prayer support of the dead TV-star evangelist.

But during James Fulton’s birth at the family home that Septem ­ber (2010), Fulton Sheen did not actually seem to be proving much of a friend: a previously undetected knot in the umbilical cord became so tight during delivery that the baby was born blue, without pulse or breath. Mother and the stillborn baby were rushed by ambulance to St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Engstrom remembers chanting Fulton Sheen’s name over and over as a team of doctors and nurses worked on the baby. It seemed fruit ­less, and the ER group prepared to pronounce the Engstrom infant dead when suddenly his heart began to beat.

Today, apparently no worse for his harrowing birth because he is developing normally, James – along with his mother – is now a kind of star himself since mother and child are playing a role in their heavenly friend’s ascent to official sainthood. On the other hand, the small-town tyke is also, to his family’s joy, just like his older siblings.

As for Bonnie Engstrom, she finds her faith affirmed that God does work miracles. “Every milestone [in development] he has crossed was a milestone we thought he wouldn’t achieve,” she says with a kind of awe. The miracle of her stillborn baby’s not only returning to life but being undamaged has touched her in other ways too. One is that the mother of what today is considered a large family appreciates her vocation “a lot more.” She says when she sees her children do something, such as James, who should be dead, shaking toys at her, trying to be cute, she is able “to appreciate all those little moments more.”

Time will tell which of the cures being studied in Rome, this one, the two others, or one yet to come, proves the beatification miracle. There are other cures not chosen for Rome, apparently. Vice-postulator Fr. Andrew Apostoli notes that an extraordinary number of cases where people report the archbishop’s intercession involve infants.

Thinking about these and the elderly woman’s or the Ohio infant’s cures, if neither of the latter becomes the beatification miracle, two physician-proclaimed miracles that took place in our time and maybe not that far away from where you live may just fade away. Will the day ever come, for instance, in this new climate in which miracle recipients often have to be or choose to be protected, when you and I learn the details that caused more than one doctor to credit something beyond what medical skill can do for saving the seriously ill Ohio baby? Even James’s survival – in spite of being in the news – could one day soon be remembered by those close to him alone. Only one thing is sure: each of these events is an example of the miracles most of us will never be aware of and yet, as miracle “middleman” Zbig Chojnowski puts it, are going on all around us.

Credit to Patricia Treece of CatholicExchange.  

Yes Straight Out: Halpin and the Compiegne Martyrs

By: Richard Becker


“Baba O’Riley” is my favorite song by The Who,  but “Who Are You?” is a close second, mainly because of the drums. It came on the radio recently and I turned up the volume. “Listen to this,” I told my son, an aspiring drummer. “Keith Moon is amazing.”

And he was, a great drummer and a great performer…when he was sober. Unfortunately, he was frequently under the influence of various substances, and Moon literally passed out on stage on more than one occasion.

Such was the case on November 20, 1973, when The Who appeared at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Moon actually passed out twice that night, and after the second time, guitarist Pete Townshend, utterly exasperated, turned to the assembled crowd for help. “Can anybody play the drums?” he pleaded. “I mean somebody  good.”

Scot Halpin  was a drummer and present at the concert.He’d just moved to California from Iowa and had gone to see The Who with his buddy, Mike. The two of them ended up at the side of the stage near the event’s promoter, Bill Graham, who was trying to salvage the concert after Moon’s exit. Here’s how Halpin described what happened next in an  NPR interview:

My friend, Mike Deniseph, basically was pushing me forward to do this, and really interfacing with Bill Graham once he got there, nose to nose. And so he looks to me square in the eye and says, Can you do it? And I said yes, straight out.

“Yes, straight out.” That’s so great.  Here’s a kid from Muscatine, Iowa, barely out of high school, and he’s put on the spot to back up one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Without hesitation, without it seems even a second thought, Halpin rose to the occasion. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that came suddenly and out of the blue, yet he  took it on  and, the story goes, acquitted himself pretty well.


The bare outline of Halpin’s story gives us a clue. First, he practiced — not because he thought he’d be a big star someday, but because he wanted to get better at what he loved. Second, he had people around him — Mike in particular — who believed in him, even more than he believed in himself.

And finally, Halpin found the courage to say “yes, straight out” at a critical juncture, despite the lack of warning or preparation. The key there is the word “found,” for it doesn’t appear to be the case that Scot was spectacularly courageous by nature. Still, at an historic moment, a now-or-never crossroads, he found enough courage — reckless courage, some would say — and he followed through.

Playing drums in a rock concert is one thing; martyrdom is quite another.But I think there are some parallels with how ordinary people manage to hang on to their faith when thrust into the most trying circumstances. Like the  Blessed Carmelites of Compiègne  whose feast we celebrate today.

Flash back to 1794 and the French Revolution in full swing.  The Carmelites of Compiègne in northern France were feeling the brunt of the Reign of Terror, having been deprived of their habits and dispersed by the government two years before. Still, they’d made adjustments, donning simple attire and living together in several groups. Despite the open persecution and social disintegration, the eleven nuns and their five lay associates were attempting to maintain their communal life of prayer as best they could.

These were women who’d entered religious life with an expectation of an orderly rhythm of quiet prayer and piety. They weren’t escaping the world, nor were they insulating a refined way of life against the  hoi polloi  — most of them came from working class families, and only one had upper class connections. Nevertheless, they hadn’t signed up to be heroes, and the only martyrdom they had anticipated was the ordinary day-to-day martyrdom associated with celibacy and the cloister.

Here’s the deal with heroism though: Once you throw in your lot with ordinary heroics, you open yourself up for the most extreme forms, which is what we Christians ought to expect in any case.

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves…. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name (Mt. 10.16, 21-22).

We fall in love with Jesus and embrace the Cross because we want to be like him and follow him as closely as possible; we receive the Sacraments, pray, and carry out our daily responsibilities; we strive to avoid sin and to grow in holiness. Is that the end of it? Do we get to coast then all the way to heaven?

The Compiègne Carmelites found out otherwise. The authorities had convicted the 16 women on trumped up charges and transferred them to Paris. On July 17, 1794, the women, now back in their religious garb, were paraded through the streets and brought to the place of execution. At first accompanied by the assembled crowd’s jeers and cheers, the women sang hymns as they were beheaded one by one — a horror captured so movingly in François Poulenc’s opera  Le Dialogue des Carmélites (The Dialogue of the Carmelites).  The dignity and bravery of the nuns and their companions was such that the raucous crowd was silenced — a silence and sobriety that persisted beyond the events of that day and that some believe contributed to the sudden termination of the Reign of Terror a short time later.

All of these women could have avoided the scaffold by renouncing their faith,  but they didn’t. So how is it that a group of women given over to prayer and a quiet life hidden from the world could rise to such a height of fortitude and heroism. I think it’s the same pattern on display in Scot Halpin’s little brush with history — a pattern we do well to emulate as well.

  1. Regular practice: It’s funny to talk about “practicing” our faith the way Halpin practiced the drums, but that’s exactly what we do — because we never are quite finished polishing our skills. In fact, the Catechism directly associates the word “practice” with the idea of “heroic virtue” (CCC 828), which implies that the kind of heroism the Compiègne martyrs demonstrated is rooted in the ordinary heroics we perform every day.The Carmelites  practiced  through prayer and penance in the cloister, but we’re called to practice in a similar way out in the world, which includes carrying out the duties associated with our state in life — single, married with family, whatever. Such matters might not seem like the stuff of sainthood, but God can create saints out of very little — as the Carmelite St. Thérèse of Lisieux observed in her writing about the “little way.” We measure bigness on a different scale than God does.
  1. Communal support: Heroes, in real life, are not loners, and they always have people rooting for them from the sidelines. That’s true for martyrs as well, and we see it at work even in the brief records we have of what happened in Compiègne. Although the sisters had anticipated the guillotine, it was undoubtedly a shock to find themselves actually facing execution as an imminent reality.In their case, it was one of their own that provided the fortifying support, their youngest member who started off the singing, giving courage to the rest of her community. Plus, the silenced crowd gave an almost implicit form of support, and, of course, the sisters were surrounded by an invisible “cloud of witnesses” as the Scriptures attest (Heb. 12.1). We must not forget, as we go about our days, that we’re surrounded by that cloud as well.
  1. Reckless courage: On this point, we have the words of two Pope Benedicts to guide us. In the 18th  century, Benedict XIV  wrote  that heroic virtue enables one “to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning.” Certainly that was the case with the Carmelite martyrs who, as one body, gave themselves over to their fate with confidence and a song on their lips.But what of us? How do we live out reckless courage in our humdrum lives with no guillotines on the horizon? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed the way when he  said  that “heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of ‘gymnastics’ of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed….”

Practice of our faith. Mutual support and encouragement. Reckless courage in the ordinary activities of life. This is how people like you and me become saints. This is how we become martyrs when it comes down to it.

In other words, saying yes, straight out, on the scaffold means that we’ve together been saying yes, straight out, over and over and over again every day. And if we haven’t, it’s never too late to start.

Credit to  Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.


Don't Neglect the Word

By: R. Thomas Richard


If the evil one were looking for a way to quietly render infertile  the Catholic Church, by effecting a decline of faith from within, I’d guess he would work for reduction at the source of faith: namely, the hearing of the Word of God.  Paul left the clue in Scripture: “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”   (Rom 10:17)   “So let this be,” the evil one might say, “the strategy of our battle against the Church: we will diminish and weaken the preaching of Christ, we will dilute the proclamation of God’s Truth, we will degrade the sacred to the level of the secular — we will stifle the potency and strangle the effects of the Gospel.   We will bring the Church to impotence.”

The words of the Word nourish the very life of the Church: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”   (Mt 4:4)   Therefore, withholding the food of faith from human persons by withdrawing the Word from among them, contracepting new conversions and impeding continuing conversions, the evil one could starve the supernatural life of the Church.   He would twist the wisdom of the Word in Paul to his own dark purposes:

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17)

The Word — and faith effected by the Word — arm us both defensively and offensively, to guard our souls from his evil lies, and to forge the sword to defeat him.   “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”   But deprived of that Word, what are we left with?   I repeat the question:   Deprived of His Holy Word, what are we and the Church left with?   You might answer, “We have the sacraments!   We have Christ!”   This will be addressed below, but for now, let’s consider the effects in a Church deprived of the food of the words of the Word of God.

Persons left with malnourished faith, the uncertainties of poor understanding, impotent against the assaults of evil, too weak to look beyond our own narrowed horizons, and having no bread to offer the starving world — what do we have left, more than blind loyalty of habit — and I use the word carefully — superstition?   Will this convert the world?   Will this “make disciples of all the nations”?   Indeed, will this save us, in the coming of “the evil day”?

Superstition: the Counterfeit of Faith

Whether or not such a plan ever existed in the dark mind of the evil one, such an impoverishment is taking place in the Church today:   we are suffering from feeding from the Table of the Word increasingly thin and watered-down, having little substance, little meat, little to fortify and grow us into the fullness of the stature of Christ, our destiny.   This must be discussed more fully, and will be, God willing.   But first let us consider more carefully this troubling word: “superstition.”   Can such a thing as “superstition” be appropriate here, discussing results of an impoverishment of the saving words of truth and of life?   Could superstition exist today among Catholics, in our devotional and sacramental lives?   Yes, and especially in souls malnourished or starved of the bread that proceeds from the mouth of God, His holy Word.

Secularists commonly charge believers with superstition.   Secularists have no basis for understanding the difference between faith and superstition, so they easily confuse the two.   Both faith and superstition are, to them, irrational — without substance.   The two are the same thing to secularists, both seen as relics of an uneducated and unscientific past.   There is a radical difference, however, between faith and superstition — sadly, the superstitious can be present among the company of faithful people.   Superstition is very close to faith, outwardly, but there is a radical distinction inwardly.   The Catechism gives a brief but helpful teaching:

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

Yes, the fruitful reception of any sacrament requires faith, and proper interior disposition.   This must be heard alongside with the intrinsic efficacy of a sacrament.   From the Catechism:

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. …

1128 This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act  ex opere operato  (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

The sacraments confer grace, because of Christ!   Their outward signs “signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament.”   But that same paragraph adds: “They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”   This same crucial factor is found also in #1128: “From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister.  Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.”

That proper disposition is formed through the power of the Word, and specifically, the words of the Word: revealed Truth, the Gospel, received and embraced personally in the heart of the believer.   The Catechism teaches, “The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the sacraments by the Word of God and the faith which welcomes that word in well-disposed hearts.” (#1133)

To Summarize

Proper reception of the sacraments requires faith — which comes by hearing and receiving the words of the Word, holy Truth.   Fruitful reception of the sacraments requires right disposition — a fully human reception, an act of mind and heart, a personal presence and participation, a conscious, willing, free reception of God’s grace in the sacrament.

But what happens when the potent words of the Word, the truths of the Gospel, are neglected in the life of a fully initiated Catholic?   What happens to faith in a young adult, or an older adult, who has received no catechesis and growth in the Catholic Faith since eighth grade confirmation, who has no real life of prayer or the frequent companionship of Holy Scripture?   What happens to faith after years of insipid homilies that avoid the hard moral challenges and full presentation of the faith of our Church?   What happens after years of sweet platitudes from the ambo, droning weekly and weakly a gospel of “be nice to one another”?   What happens to the authentic Gospel having power to save, transform, raise up, give life to a human person?   What happens when living faith is starved, leaving mere habit and superstitious loyalty?   What happens is that the potent sacrament is made barren, to the delight of the evil one: grace is wasted, grace is received in vain.

In a previous article, I gave some reflections on the contemporary abandonment of the Catholic Faith by about 1/3 of the “Cradle Catholics” in the U.S., from the results of  a recent Pew Forum study.   The Church has not been faithful to her mission: “make disciples!”   Indeed the total membership would be shrinking today in the U.S., were it not for immigration.   We continue to rely on sacramentalizing, while neglecting evangelizing and catechizing.

The result is for many in the pews weak faith, loyalty due to history or habit, and maybe even for some, superstition.   They deserve better.   He deserves better.   Others in the Church may have faith, yet a blind faith, a faith in spite of poor formation and teaching we have given them!   These members are gifts of God for us, because He remains faithful even though we continue to slumber and sleep.   We need to recognize the crucial need for a potent ministry of the Word, proclaimed and taught with power and unction.   A famine has come upon us, even while the storehouse is full to overflowing!

Credit to R. Thomas Richard 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.


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.


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.

Eternal Revolution, Not "Old Time Religion"

By: Benjamin Mann


The 19th  century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard  was preoccupied with the problem of “becoming a Christian in Christendom”: that is, the problem of following Jesus in a society where Christianity was simply the done thing, expected (at least nominally) of any respectable person. Where, in such a world, was the risk and sacrifice of living alongside the Crucified Messiah? How could authentic faith exist in a society determined to render it safe and domesticated?

In the 20th  century, G.K. Chesterton diagnosed a new, but related problem: that of being a Christian in a post-Christian culture, convinced it has progressed beyond Jesus and the Church. The world, in Chesterton’s words, thinks the faith has “been tried and found wanting,” when it has only “been found difficult and left untried.”

This dilemma develops logically from Kierkegaard’s problem: where the Gospel was once identified with the status quo and taken for granted, it is now identified with the past and dismissed. In response, Chesterton was at pains to show that Christian orthodoxy is not a historical relic, but an “eternal revolution” — a source of constant renewal and endless life. Our faith proposes the convergence of time and eternity; a Christian looks to what is past because it may provide an image of what is timeless.

We now live, to a degree, with both problems: the Kierkegaardian problem of a stagnant Christendom, and the Chestertonian dilemma of an “eternal revolution” appearing outdated in the eyes of the world.

Kierkegaard’s diagnosis still applies, and will apply insofar as Western culture remains residually Christian. As long as faith in Jesus appears conventional and safe, we will have the Kierkegaardian quandary of “becoming a Christian in Christendom.”

But Chesterton’s warning accords increasingly with the new cultural reality in which the Gospel is seen as obsolete. This problem emerges in a world whose central myth is that of evolutionary progress: nothing is fixed for all time; the new is always more advanced than the old, and Christianity is supposedly “old.”

Combined, the two realities pose a unique challenge. It is the challenge of a world where belief in Jesus no longer seems revolutionary, but can be regarded — approvingly or dismissively — as the symbol of a past status quo. Some want that past back; others want it gone; but all seem to agree in seeing it as “past.”

This is a surprising commonality between today’s cultural “conservatives” and “progressives.” Though they draw different conclusions from the fact, both groups tend to see Christianity as “That Old Time Religion”: not a faith pointing toward eternity, but a symbol — for good or ill — of history.

Some cultural combatants want to restore the bourgeoisie form of “Christendom” that Kierkegaard attacked. They prefer the world that conflated faith with social convention, a “churchgoing world” of cultural cohesion.  “It wasn’t perfect,”  they may acknowledge,“but it was better than the mess we have today!”

For others, however, Christian orthodoxy appears not so much false as outmoded.“Jesus was a great teacher, and we can still learn from him,”  they may say,  “but the world has moved on. Spirituality evolves, as humanity does; we know now that no set of beliefs can be definitive for all times and places.”


Both of these attitudes toward Christianity — nostalgic conservatism and dismissive progressivism — are shallow. Neither reflects an understanding of what the Messiah came to accomplish:  “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”  (Lk. 12:49)

Yet these misapprehensions correspond to the main cultural currents of our time: a move away from faith, in the name of “progress”; and an opposite insistence on holding to religion as part of a fight to preserve the past. These trends, both based on a misunderstanding of Christian orthodoxy, line up fairly well with our cultural-political Left and Right.

As a believer in Christ, naturally, I have more sympathy with one of those currents than the other: in a pinch, given only two choices — to see our faith lukewarmly respected in the name of “tradition,” or to see it washed away under the banner of “progress” — I will choose the first without much hesitation.

What disturbs me is that these should apparently be the only two choices. What is frustratingly lacking, at least on any substantial cultural scale, is a sense of how traditional Christian orthodoxy could be a force for something other than the conservation of a status quo or the restoration of some past reality.

Kierkegaard and Chesterton were quite different thinkers: an idiosyncratic Protestant and an outspoken Catholic, a solitary and a  bon vivant.  But both of them, in different ways, grasped this central problem: the dilemma of Christianity being viewed as “Old Time Religion” rather than the Divine Revolution.

On the one hand, the world does not seem to want the revolution Christ has brought. The world wants change and progress on its own terms: quantitative and visible, linear and comprehensible, popular and utilitarian. Thus, it will discredit the Kingdom of God by any means necessary — including the modern tactic of casting Jesus and the Church as antiquated. Chesterton’s insight, in this regard, is quite correct.

Yet on the other hand, one may wonder whether many Christians actually want the “eternal revolution” that Jesus brings: the revolution that reveals the Kingdom of God and accomplishes the spiritual remaking of man, not only at the end of time but here and now.

Was Kierkegaard not correct to diagnose a cancer of mediocrity among us? Can we read the Acts of the Apostles and not feel pricked in our consciences? Could our religion even become, in the worst case, a way of keeping God at arm’s length, to remain at a safe distance from “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29)?

These are questions for our individual and collective consciences. We are accountable to the One who has said:  “Behold, I make all things new”  (Rev. 21:5).


It is wrong to identify Christian faith as “revolutionary” in a worldly sense, as if it were only a means for attaining certain temporal goals. Yet it is equally wrong to act as though our faith were primarily a counter-revolutionary or conservative force.

Christianity is principally a revolution from within: a renewal and reshaping of man’s inner life — and consequently, his entire way of living — through communion with the Incarnate God. It is the spiritual melting-down and re-forging of humanity, in the furnace of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

And this inner revolution, when it occurs, cannot remain purely private. It is to become manifest: through self-sacrificing love, all-encompassing solidarity, and a re-sacralized relationship to the whole creation.

If our faith is not transformative, then it is nothing: it would be only an assemblage of precepts and observances, combined with a set of obscure, inaccessibly abstract doctrines.

Unfortunately, that is exactly how Christianity appears to many outsiders — and perhaps even some frustrated adherents! — in our time. And one cannot place all of the blame for that perception upon them. If our lives show no sign of Christ’s transforming power, then we are witnesses against the truth rather than for it.

In his challenge to the Church, Kierkegaard was fundamentally correct: a complacent, self-satisfied “Christendom” may be in a worse spiritual state than an unevangelized society. If we claim that God’s Messianic Kingdom is present among us, the world expects to see something more than just another religious institution going through the motions from week to week. The sins of believers are a scandal to the outside world; but our respectable mediocrity is at least as scandalous, if not moreso.

It is likewise scandalous, that Christians should regarded in the public square as if they were primarily the partisans of convention and the “Old Time Religion.” There are things in our civilizational heritage that should be conserved; but our faith is not a defensive, rear-guard action against modernity. Chesterton,  who resented being called a “conservative,”  was right in this regard: Christians should care about the “permanent things” — virtue, beauty, truth — not because they are old, but because they are always new.

Monasticism, the vocation I am pursuing, is a good example of this. Tradition regulates the monk’s life: he prays the services as they have been prayed for centuries; he adheres to customs dating back a millennium or more. Yet the overarching goal is an ongoing inner renewal. Tradition is not an immersion in the past, but the gateway to that absolute Reality which is eternal and timeless — the reality of God.

Tradition is needed, both in the Church and in society at large; but it is not an end in itself. Paradoxically, we need tradition for the sake of constant renewal. Tradition is meant to wake us up, to change us, to unite us with the Lord who “makes all things new.” It is a  leaven  and not simply a preservative.

Christ is the reconciler of all things that should be harmonious, yet have fallen into discordance. In him, and his holy Church, man’s instincts toward both tradition and revolution — instincts in constant tension with each other, in the ordinary human world — are reconciled to one another, and both are fulfilled. Stability and creativity become compatible and interdependent.

A Christian revolution — a social and cultural manifestation of the Eternal Kingdom — cannot take place without the historic Christian tradition. But that tradition, reciprocally, cannot be practiced in truth without at least the implicit desire for such a revolution: the revolution of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, the revolution that frees us definitively from the prison of ourselves and our sins.

The world does not want such a revolution; and that is to be expected. But if the Church does not want God’s revolution, then we have a much more serious problem on our hands — a crisis that can only be overcome through bold acts of faith and love.

Credit to  Benjamin Mann of CatholicExchange.