How to Give Helpful Advice Without Overstepping

We’ve all been there, watching someone struggle with a problem without making any progress: the spouse who is perpetually late, the friend who won’t leave a dead-end relationship, the college graduate whose job search has stalled out.

Meanwhile, we can see exactly what they need to do to fix their problem…if only they would just listen!

It’s one thing to yell advice at the television as we watch our favorite team fall apart on the field. But when the person in question is someone close to us, our “helpful advice” will probably be ignored—or worse, met with annoyance.

There’s a better way to help the people closest to us, though, as Dr. Greg Popcak discusses in his book, God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace With Difficult People. Here’s a summary of the process he outlines in chapter 2 of the book.


What’s Your Motivation?

Before offering your advice, take a moment to ask, “Why am I so eager to jump in with my two cents?”

Let’s face it: sometimes, it’s less about them and more about us looking for some kind of personal ego boost.

If we’re living a Christ-centered life, though, our main motivation should be to love the person in the way God loves them. The Christian definition of love is wanting the other’s good. Our aim, then, should be to help our friend or family member become more fully the person God intends for them to be.

Aligning our desire for the person we’re trying to help with God’s desire for them is absolutely critical. If we’re not on board with God’s plan for them, then we’re at risk of simply trying to impose our own wishes, desires, and preferences on the person we’re trying to help. Rather than helping the person become the unique and wonderful reflection of God’s image that they were made to be, we’re really trying to remake them in our own image.

The reality is, playing God is way above our pay grade.


Are You Invited to the Party?

Unless you’re in a formal mentoring or supervising relationship (as the parent of a child, for example), steer clear of offering advice that hasn’t been asked for.

“The rule of thumb when helping others is wait to be invited to the party before you offer to bring the potato salad,” Dr. Popcak writes.

That doesn’t mean you need to sit by biting your tongue. You can offer your help, respectfully: “I know you’re struggling with your job search. I think I might be able to help, if you want.”

Whether the person is open to hearing your advice or not, this approach strengthens your relationship because you’re showing up as a respectful ally, not a boss ready to take charge of their life.


Start with Listening

Listening is an act of love, the saying goes, and it’s a critical part of giving good advice.

“If you really are interested in helping a person become what God created him to be, your first step should be to ask him who he thinks that is, and then you should be quiet and listen,” Dr. Popcak says.

If “who does God want you to become?” is a little too abstract, break the question down. Ask them what qualities they want to be known for at the end of their life. Do they want to be known as a strong person? A loving person? Wise, prudent, patient, creative?

Next, ask a follow-up question: If the person were to live out those qualities in the situation that is causing the problem, how would he or she act differently? In other words, if they approached the problem in a way that lined up with their aspirations, how would the situation change?

Often, this question helps a solution to “snap into place,” Dr. Popcak says. Better yet, because the solution comes from inside the person and lines up with their own stated values, they are more likely to act on it.


For more ideas about how to help the people in your life, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace With Difficult People. Or, if you want more one-on-one advice, connect with one of more than a dozen Catholic counselors at

This Is My Circus And These Are My Monkeys! — How To Gracefully Deal With Drama and Stress

Does the world around you feel chaotic? Are you having a hard time knowing how to handle certain challenges that are coming up in your life? Often when situations are escalated, we can quickly become overwhelmed and feel as though we don’t know where to start or what to handle.

This is because drama pulls us out of the receptive spirit God calls us to live in. It makes it difficult to hear God’s voice and cooperate with his will. We’re so busy living in reaction to the drama-causing events and people that it sometimes doesn’t even occur to us to ask God what to do.  The Theology of The Body reminds us of the importance of resisting the impulse to get caught up in our drama: that, even in the middle of the drama, it’s important to cultivate receptivity, the ability to step out of the craziness that’s happening around us, center ourselves in God’s grace and respond (rather than react) to what’s happening in a loving, responsible way that glorifies God, works for our good and the good of the people around us.

Here are a few ways to ensure we are responding with a receptive spirit:

1. Take a Dramatic Pause–When the drama is mounting, we’re often tempted to try to get control of what’s going on around us, and that’s what pulls us in. Don’t jump into the drama.  Instead, take a dramatic pause.  Mentally take a step back and look inside yourself.  Offer up a quick prayer.  Ask God to give you peace and perspective.  Ask for the grace to respond to this situation rather than reacting to it.  Then think, “Where do I want this situation to go?  What do I need to do to move it in that direction? What do I need to do to protect myself and the people I care about from the drama?”  THEN and only then are you ready to act.  When drama strikes, the best way to get control of the situation, is to reclaim your sense of self control.

2.  Get the Other Person Back “On Book”–When actors forget their lines, they are said to be “off book.” When people are creating drama, they’ve forgotten how to be their best selves.   After reclaiming control of ourselves, the next thing to do get them back “on book”  that is, remind them of healthier ways to deal with the situation they are creating drama about.   Don’t criticize their behavior.  Instead, help them refocus on solutions rather than their reactions.   Don’t say, “Calm down.” or “You’re really overreacting”  Say, “Listen, I really want to help but you’re just lashing out right now.  Can you focus on what we can do to make this better?  What’s the next step you can take to make this better?”   Try to help the person creating the drama refocus on solutions and reminding them that you’re here to help.

3. End the SceneRemember, it is not your job to save other people from their own drama.  You should do what you can to be helpful, but if they resist your efforts, get worse, or lash out, the best thing you can do is end the scene.  When a person is too seriously caught up in their own drama, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.  Although it might feel like you’re being insensitive, the best thing to do is to say something like, “I want to help, but the most important thing you can do right now is take some time to pray about this and think about what you want to do to try to make this situation a little better.  Let me know when you’re ready to do that and I promise I’ll be here.”  Then, find a way to make a graceful–or if necessary, abrupt–exit.  If you can’t redirect someone who is in drama, the most loving thing to do is to refuse to contribute to it, even if that means withdrawing. If the person continues to try to draw you back in, suggest places they can turn for more professional support, and encourage them to turn to those resources.  If they are serious about seeking help, they will be grateful for the suggestions. But if they are just interested in creating more drama, it would be better for you to step out as gracefully as you can.

Find more resources at!


Quick Links and Resources:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Pastoral Tele-Counseling

St Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Maintaining Peace While Home For The Holidays


The Holiday hustle and bustle is upon us and while many things can be very joyous, there are also many things that create stress as well. One of the biggest stressors this time of year can be the pressures and expectations from family members, especially extended family. Everyone has their own idea of what the holidays “should” look like and it’s easy to feel torn in many different directions—often to the detriment of our own needs, desires, or expectations. 


Are difficult people robbing you of your peace? 

Check out:

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


It’s true that as Catholics we are called to be generous to others and to say, “yes” to opportunities to be of service. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a right to have our needs met as well. In fact, the principle of “mutual self-donation” articulated in the Theology of The Body assumes that in godly relationships, all the people in the relationship are equally committed to meeting each others needs, even when it requires them to grow and make sacrifices for one another. Sometimes, this mutual self-donation does not occur, which may leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained, or disappointed, especially around the Holidays. But there is hope! We can in fact work to create this mutual self-donation in our relationships by being assertive about our needs. Assertiveness allows us to achieve mutual self-donation, by seeking a healthy balance between meeting our own needs and being attuned to the needs of others. It enables us to see ourselves not as vending machines that exist solely to be used up by others, but as persons, who have gifts to give others but who also have a God-given right to be loved and treated with dignity.

Assertiveness is a virtuous practice, however can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to be gracefully assertive and achieve mutual self-donation in your relationships:

1. Be Direct–Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”  In other words, it is important to be clear, direct, specific, and honest about what you can do for others and what you need from others. This is the essence of assertiveness. When you feel like others are taking advantage, don’t get resentful. Instead ask yourself, “Have I been honest about my needs?”   Have you been direct about the kind of help you need from the people in your life? Have you let your needs be known–not just by hinting at them and hoping others will just “get it”–but by stating them clearly, specifically, honestly, and directly? The first step to being gracefully assertive is taking the time necessary to clarify what your needs are and to state them honestly with the expectation that others will be as generous to you as you are attempting to be generous to them.

2. Use the “Qualified Yes” Technique–When other people ask you to do things for them, instead of feeling stuck between having to say “yes” to everything and not being able to meet your own needs, and saying “no” too often, use the “Qualified Yes” technique. In other words, when someone asks you to do something for them, don’t immediately focus on whether you can help at all, instead, focus on negotiating how and when you might be of assistance. For instance, if your parish asks you to help with an event, you might say that while you wouldn’t be able to run the event, you could assist with this part of it. Or if your mom or siblings ask for your help with a project Wednesday evening, you might say that while you can’t help Wednesday, you could be available Thursday. Using the qualified yes technique allows you to avoid polarizing requests for help and feeling trapped between disappointing others and meeting your own needs.  Instead, this method gives you a way to be generous to others while still being faithful to your own needs and obligations.

3. Use Relationship-Friendly Boundaries–Sometimes you do need to set boundaries with people but you don’t have to feel like you are threatening the relationship to do it. Setting basic boundaries doesn’t mean pushing people away or even frustrating them. It just involves proposing a healthy and appropriate way for them to get their need met while saying “no” to less healthy or appropriate suggestions. For instance, if your in-laws are pushing you to stay with them over the holidays, but you know spending that much time together would be hard on all of you, you might say, “We’re really looking forward to getting time together, but I think it would be better for all of us if we stayed at a hotel.”  In this example, you’re respecting the desire for everyone to have family time, but you are setting a boundary that increases the likelihood that getting this time together will be pleasant and successful. Set boundaries that focus not so much on avoiding short term conflict, but on the long term health of your relationships.

For more resources for maintaining peace during the Holidays—or anytime of year, check out our resources at


Quick links and resources:

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

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace

How to Heal Your Marriage (And Nurture Lasting Love)

Three Ways to Stop Settling and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

Do you want more from your life? Are you struggling with dissatisfaction in your life or relationships? You’re not alone. We were created for more, yet our fallen nature often causes us to settle for less or holds us back from aspiring for more. But the good news is, there are ways to break this habit and live the life we are meant to live!

Theology of The Body reminds us to stop settling.  To see that God wants to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for relationships that are fulfilling, and for a life that reflects the glory of his grace.  Pope St John Paul the Great reminded us that we must keep our eyes, not on what we see in front of us when we look at our broken world and our broken lives, but on what God sees when he looks at us and what God wants to make of our lives and relationships so that his glory could be known in the world through our lives.  The truth that will set us free is the truth God sees when he looks at our lives.  Our job is to stand up to to our doubts and fears and lean into the vision that God has for us instead so that we can become what we are.


Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail


Here are three ways to stop settling and live the life you are meant to live:

1.Get Your Binoculars–We tend to settle because we get so caught up in the frustrations of the present that we lose sight of the destination to which God is leading us; Namely, a life and relationships that are healthy, whole, and holy.  Stop settling for what is in front of you.  Get your binoculars and look to the horizon line.  Keep imagining what a healthier, whole, and holier life and relationships would look like and start walking toward that.  Sometimes it will seem impossibly hard.  No Matter.  Trust that God’s grace will make up for what you lack and start walking.

2.Take Small Steps–We often settle for surviving because we can’t see ways to make the big changes that need to happen.  Remember, big journeys are made up of a million little steps.  Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do today to make the change I want to see in my life?”  Do that, and then ask that question again, and again, and again. Each time, remember that you are fighting against the temptation to survive and, instead, learning to cooperate with God’s grace to live life more abundantly.

3.Turn On Your GPS–We tend to settle when we feel lost.  But there is no reason to ever feel lost if you have your GPS, your GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM–that is, PRAYER.  When you feel lost and find yourself giving into the temptation to survive in your life or relationships, ask God to help you make the turns you need to make to get back on the path to wholeness, health, and holiness that he wants you to be walking.  Just like with a regular GPS, chances are, it will only take a few simple turns for God to get you back on the path.

If you want more information on how to overcome the frustrations in life and stop settling, visit us online at

The Friendship of the Saints

By: Fr. Aloysius Roche


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit to  Fr. Aloysius Roche &  CatholicExchange.

See & Imitate the Good in Others

By: Edward F. Garesche, SJ


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit to  Edward F. Garesche, SJ &  CatholicExchange.  


Approaching Alcohol and the Addict

By: Jeannie Ewing


Summer heat and sun conjure images of laidback, outdoor fun enveloped in a carefree, capricious atmosphere, and it is not uncommon to envision or expect alcohol to be a central (or at the very least, peripheral) aspect of our annual summer fun.

While alcohol in and of itself is not evil, of course, it is prudent for us to examine our use of it.   I say this, because alcohol (and now marijuana in some states) is considered alegal  substance in our American culture; therefore, most of us believe this means it is also a  safe  substance.   The truth is both alcohol and marijuana are classified as drugs, so they  must  be approached with caution and propriety.

Moderation may be a goal for some of us as we enjoy our gin and tonics or an ice-cold beer at a cookout, but for others of us, moderation is an abstract and futile goal, especially those of us who have a predisposition to alcoholism or addictions in general.   We can know this by being familiar with the disease itself: its neurological and biological origins and manifestations, the psychological aspect of compulsion, and also by acknowledging the pattern of substance abuse in our families of origin.   Finally, we need to be very self-aware and honest with ourselves if we have a tendency toward  anysort of addiction, be it an illicit or legal substance or a compulsive behavior.

I have often heard my non-Catholic friends remark that their only experience with Catholicism is the hypocrisy that one can imbibe excessively on a Friday evening with the intention of confessing the sin of drunkenness on Saturday so that s/he can still receive Communion on Sunday morning with the majority of the congregation.   My heart is instantly immersed in a deep sorrow that  this is the perception we offer to our modern culture.  

While it’s true that, as Catholics, most of us have justified our own — or someone else’s — excessive indulgence in food or drink at least occasionally, it’s only perpetuating the fallacy that we can engage in sinful behavior as long as we ease our guilty consciences with the misuse of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.   Confession must be approached with a sincere and authentic spirit of contrition and  with the intent to change.   That is what the rest of the world does not witness when we do not exemplify one who is actively engaged in ongoing, personal transformation.

Approaching substance abuse with an open and humble heart extends beyond our personal understanding to how we respond to other people who suffer from various addictions.   As I was browsing my Facebook feed recently, I noticed a video posted by a friend; curious, I began to watch it, and I quickly realized it was an exploitation of a young woman who clearly suffered from substance abuse.   Most of the comments displayed were made in jest or a mockery of her obvious addiction.

That’s the temptation most of us face, isn’t it?   We may witness the embarrassment of someone whose speech is slurred from drunkenness or, even worse, a person who has developed substance-induced psychosis due to prolonged abuse of drugs and alcohol.   We find that laughter and jokes are the cover, the façade, we carry in an attempt to conceal our discomfort or perhaps even to justify our own sins.   We tell ourselves that we are nothing like these people who are sloppy in speech and social graces, unkempt in appearance and humiliated as a direct consequence of a lifestyle choice; we put ourselves at least one tier above them, rationalizing that we, at least, have a good grip on our lives and would never lose control like that.

All of my life I have been surrounded by drugs and alcohol.   That is not to say I grew up in a sketchy neighborhood that was unsafe and riddled with overt addiction.   On the contrary, my childhood was filled with warmth, love, and security.   I grew up in a middle class family with both parents who loved my brother and me and each other.

Even so, somehow I have known, loved, and lost several people in my life to drugs and alcohol.   From family members to close friends, I have witnessed the demise and decay of good people’s bodies, hearts and souls because of substance abuse.   As a child, this (rightfully) frightened me and served as a powerful witness that I carried with me throughout high school and college.   I vowed silently and secretly to never, ever touch drugs and to be extremely cautious with alcohol.

But it wasn’t until more recently that I recognized the  pain  behind the addict and alcoholic.   The fear and trepidation of my childhood was replaced with empathy and a deep, deep sorrow.   I believe it is because I finally realized that  substance abuse is a disease,  and it can afflict virtually any of us.   It does not discriminate among socioeconomic status, age, race, or gender.   The stereotypes of addicts and alcoholics I subconsciously adopted for so many years — the dirty, homeless, toothless, jobless slobs talking to themselves on the street corners — vanished slowly and steadily over time.   I realized that good people with good hearts can develop this disease; I realized that  Icould fit the demographic of a potential alcoholic, especially since it is pandemic in my family of origin.

God unveiled my intense aversion to the addicts and alcoholics with whom I came in contact so that, in an unprecedented humility, I saw for the first time the  person,  the soul behind the disease.   I was able to separate the sickness from the dignity of the person, something I was incapable of achieving without Divine Grace.   What’s more is that I noticed that I had reacted to the addicts and alcoholics with misplaced fear.

I have come to believe that  we fear what we do not understand.    The only way we will change our perception about those who suffer from addictions of various types is to respond to them with  love  instead of  fear.    “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).   This, I believe, is the key to self-mastery and to humility: the grace we receive by opening our hearts to truth in charity, in our awareness of self and others, and in embracing the reality that  we can enjoy life with or without alcohol!

Credit to  Jeannie Ewing of CatholicExchange.

The Gift of Christian Death?

By: Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.


There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.

–  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 — 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest?  Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide  exactly  when and how it happens!  Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study,  The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity — activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a  Christian  death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies  with Christ. The  Catechism  puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with him in his death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The  Catechism  goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act. (1010)

This summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the  Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of  palliative  care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly  passionate  care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this:  vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well.  One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican  and  Jesuit) as well as  contemporary  (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC  1114). After all, if this life is to be a  sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of his death and we offer ourselves united to him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all he has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the resurrection.

Credit to Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P. of CatholicExchange.


Social Media Makes Us Ruder

By: Tamara Rajakariar

facebook friend

Have you ever argued with a friend  on Facebook? Blocked or deleted them after a virtual agreement? Well, it turns out that you’re not alone. It’s actually a thing!

It doesn’t surprise me at all that relationships — whether with friends, family, lovers — have been ruined thanks to social media. According to a  recent article, 78% of people surveyed have reported increased rudeness online, and most have no qualms at all about forgetting their manners in the online sphere.

Yes, online media connects people, but it is also fosters people who are less thoughtful.  Think about it; it’s much easier to express an unpopular opinion or mean comment over the internet than to a person’s face.  That disconnect of not being in front of them means we often end up treating them with less dignity than they deserve.

I think this is what happens:
 social media makes people a bit like objects, and therefore easier for us to disregard. Bear with me! For example, take the action of adding and deleting friends. Isn’t it almost object-like, how we can “gain” and “discard” friends with the click of a mouse?

There’s also the problem of gossip. Rumour and scandal is facilitated, because we have so much access to information about people we might hardly know. This makes it so much easier to be critical and judge them.

People on our social media accounts can also become a form of entertainment. They are like objects for my viewing and analysing as I please, instead of an actual person. I see this especially with the style blogs I like to look at. While most would never walk up to a girl in the street and tell her that her shoes are disgusting, on Instagram this is exactly they’ll say. And there are no apparent consequences.

You could be thinking — who cares? Why does it matter if at all? I’ll tell you why it’s scary. I did a class on genocide back in university, and every case we studied began with the victim group being constantly degraded to animal status, so that it didn’t feel so bad to kill them. Jews in World War II were often called rats, and in the Rwandan genocide the Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches. This rhetoric made their abuse acceptable, as it demoted them from human level. And to some degree, the fact that we interact with others like objects in social media, could be why we are getting ruder online.

Anyone who’s read my past posts must think I am completely anti social media. Well I’m not, believe it or not. But I do think that it’s developing and changing so fast that often ethical modes of behaviour don’t have time to catch up. As a result we should be constantly on the alert, and have a healthy criticism of the technology we use.

As for what to do to stop being impolite on social media — I think the first step would be to actually make an effort to see the important people in your life, so that your friendship doesn’t only exist in a virtual space. And perhaps we should try to spend less time on social media, so we can move away from entertaining ourselves with the lives of others.

Credit to Tamara Rajakariar of CatholicExchange.


Courage to Change the Things That I Can

By: Rebecca Smith

serenity prayer

The country singer Brad Paisley recently released the song, I Can’t Change the World, which indirectly contains a valuable reminder for Catholics regarding the way we should treat others. After a verse describing the feeling of helplessness which comes from seeing so much suffering in the world, the chorus is as follows: “I can’t change the world / Baby, that’s for sure / But if you let me, girl, / I can change yours.”

Although these are romantic lyrics, their basic message is one that applies any kind of human relationship, whether it is that of a spouse, sibling, friend, or even a simple encounter with a complete stranger. No matter who we come in contact with, we have the ability to change that person’s world in a positive way.

So often, when we hear this message, we automatically assume that it applies primarily to anonymous gestures to complete strangers: the kind of heartwarming story of a mysterious benefactor that you might read in a Dear Abby column, for instance. We often overlook this responsibility when it comes to those closest to us, however, partly because it is easier to commit to a “no strings attached” action for someone who we may never see again than for someone who we have a long history and future with. As important as it is to reach out in support to those we do not know, we do have the greater responsibility to reach out to the people who love us (and who we love) the most.

Choosing to act with love can take many forms. It could be something small like offering to babysit a grandchild or something large like forgiving a debt, but whatever it is, it is a conscious effort to change someone else’s world for the better. It can also take the form of tough love, however, and mean reaching out with a concern, rather than with a compliment, especially when it comes to spiritual issues. Unfortunately, we can rationalize away our responsibility to do this by telling ourselves that we are overstepping our boundaries. We value “keeping the peace” over everything else, and feel uncomfortable with getting too involved. There is no question that it can be difficult to risk offending someone by expressing worry over a moral decision they are making–but it is sometimes necessary to do so. And if we, as someone who knows and loves them, will not speak out, who will? After all, true love means wanting the best for them, which means a peaceful eternity in Heaven, not a non-confrontational lifetime on Earth.

It might be helpful to remember that we often do express our concerns already, likely on a regular basis–but only in terms of issues that are earthly welfare, not spiritual. We urge our chain-smoking parent to stop smoking, for example; or we offer to exercise with our overweight best friend. We see this as a simple matter of practicing tough love and daring to speak a truth that they need to hear, even if they don’t want to hear it. We feel justified because we know it is proof of how much we love and care for them, but we decide that, when it is a spiritual matter, it is not our place to say anything. For instance, it is unfortunate that while we might be eager to tell our sister to guard her heart and lose her jerk of a boyfriend, we don’t feel comfortable advising her to guard her body and chastity from this loser.

One of the reasons why we draw back so quickly from asserting ourselves in this way is because we are afraid of being labeled “intolerant,” “judgmental,” or possibly worst of all: “holier-than-thou.” When we are tempted to rationalize away our responsibility, however, we should remind ourselves of the consequences that could accompany whatever choice we make–and that we could change someone’s entire world, in the process. Just think, that family member who is considering having an abortion? Voicing concerns to her could save the life of that baby and give that woman a lifetime of joy in her own son or daughter (and save her a lifetime of regret). And that close friend who is struggling with a pornography addiction? Speaking out could help him save his marriage and give him the strength he needs to break free. It seems clear that the risk of not speaking out is far greater than the risk of doing so, since the worst that could happen is that we are rejected or ignored, and even if we are, that person will at least know that we cared enough to try (and that we believed in our own message enough to share it with them).

There are several crucial elements that must be in place if one is to take on this responsibility and actively seek to carry it out; and those are humility, consistency and discretion. We must not correct with an attitude of pride and judgment, we must prove by our lives that we practice what we preach, and we must have the ability to choose our battles. In fact, there is no better model of the attitude we should have than that which is expressed so beautifully in the famous Serenity prayer: “God, grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Credit to Rebecca Smith of CatholicExchange.