Rising Up!–Overcoming the Challenges That Weigh You Down

Day in and day out, it seems as though the challenges in life are constantly piling up. Sometimes they’re little, sometimes they’re big, but either way, the challenges we face often feel like they are going to overwhelm us.

It is easy to allow the problems of life to weigh us down and make us feel like “the cross is all there is.”  In our fallen world, the cross is certainly a reality we not only can’t deny, but also need to embrace. That said, Theology of The Body tells us that embracing the cross doesn’t just mean bearing up under it. It means following Jesus up the hill with the expectation that he is leading us to the resurrection that comes after the cross.  If “carrying our cross” just means “maintaining the status quo” OR “consigning ourselves to being miserable and offering it up” then we’re doing it wrong.

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Are you struggling to overcome the challenges that you are experiencing in life?

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The Life God Wants You To Have!

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Theology of The Body reminds us that the Christian–in order to approach life in a healthy, responsible way–has to keep two things in tension at all times: the reality of what is plus the belief that God is always working to make things better.  We have to learn to respond to the problems we experience with the expectation that God is in the process of delivering us from those problems and with the understanding that each of these challenges is an invitation to respond in a way that helps us become more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we were created to be. God wants to deliver us from our crosses, but while we bear them, he wants us to respond to them in a way that will allow him to transform us into the healthiest, holiest, strongest versions of ourselves. We do that by asking God, “Teach me to respond to this in a way that will glorify you, help me work for the ultimate good of everyone involved, and make me my best self” before we take each, next step.  If we can do this, we can cooperate with God’s grace to both confidently carry our cross, and most importantly, experience the resurrection that comes after it. 

So how do we live this out?

Focus on The Growth—We often feel like our crosses are simply meant to be borne, and because of this, we lose sight of where our crosses can lead us. To combat this tendency, prioritize your focus on the question, “What can I make of this?” Or in other words, “How can I/am I growing from this?” This mindset helps us to become more empowered in our growth towards who God created us to be, rather than getting stuck in the challenges we face along the way.

Remember the Good—It can feel as though our challenges come with more bad than good. From this, we quickly lose sight of the fact that there is any good at all. Rise above this perspective by making a concerted effort to recognize the good that occurs in each day. Maybe you’ll find it in the weather, in your cup of coffee, in the smile from a stranger. But wherever or however you find it, acknowledge the good that is in every day!

Take Care—When we’re struggling with challenges, we tend to forget to prioritize our needs and do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Make sure you take small breaks throughout the day and/or week to check in with yourself. What do you need in this moment? A snack? To go for a walk? To take time for breathing or grounding exercises? Time with a family member or friend? Make a conscious effort to acknowledge and meet your needs.

If you would like additional support in overcoming the challenges in your life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com!

Finding Fulfillment—What Can We Learn From The Theology Of The Body?

Are you struggling to find fulfillment in your work or everyday life? We often feel like we’re stuck or lacking direction. Sometimes we feel we need to make a large shift in our lifestyle as a means to finding the fulfillment we crave—the fulfillment God wants for us.

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The Life God Wants You To Have: Discovering The Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail!

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We can find answers to some of these concerns in St John Paul’s Theology of The Body.

Theology of the Body teaches us first, that we all have gifts and second, that were all meant to be a gift.  The key to finding fulfillment is combining these lessons; learning how to use our gifts to be a gift.

The first step is to get in touch with the things we do that bring us joy. Why? Because we tend to feel joyful when we’re most connected to our strengths and our passions. Knowing what our strengths and passions are can give us hints into how we might be a blessing to others. For example you might find joy in caring for others, or maybe we have an interest in or passion for running and get a lot of joy going for a run every day. These are our gifts, the things that make us unique and unrepeatable in God’s eyes.

It isn’t always obvious how a particular strength or passion could enable us to be a gift to others.  For instance, how could I turn my passion for running into a gift? Don’t worry about that right now. The answer to that question will be revealed in the second step of this exercise; bringing that strength or passion to God in prayer, and asking him to show you how to use it to be a blessing to others.

As you bring your gifts to God and ask him to show you how to use them to bless others, you might be surprised at what he reveals to you. Some things will be more obvious—if we have a gift of being caring, we can use that gift to care for others. But other strengths or interests might be a bit more difficult. Let’s go back to running for a moment. When you bring that passion to God, perhaps he would remind you of an upcoming charity run. Or he might just encourage you

to smile at the other people you meet on your jog instead of staring straight ahead. Or maybe, he would inspire you to draw strength from the joy that you received on your run so that you could engage with your family more, or be more focused in your work or in our life. All of these options represent ways you could use something that seems like a solitary, personal pursuit to be more of a blessing to others.

Using our gifts to be a gift, means opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to guide us in using our strengths and interests to bless others.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to begin your path towards finding fulfillment:

Finding your strengths:

  • How would I describe myself based on my strengths/positive characteristics/virtues?
  • Check in every day: What is one thing that I did well today? What strengths allowed me to do that well?
  • How am I capable of using my strengths to serve others?

Finding your interests:

  • What activities help me feel most like myself?
  • In what situations/environments do I feel most at peace?
  • If nothing is sparking my interest, what activities do I dislike least? How can I start there to find greater passion?

Using our gifts to be a gift:

  • In what ways can I use what fuels me to be a better version of myself?
  • What would it look like to be my best self today?
  • How can I schedule at least 20 minutes a day to do something that I enjoy?
  • How can I be present in that activity so that it truly fuels me and I can have more to give to others?
  • How can I be a gift today?

Reflect on these questions. Ask God to help you find concrete answers. As you do, you’ll find that this process can be your starting point for getting to know yourself–and who God created you to be–in a deeper way. Let the Lord help you find true fulfillment by showing you, step-by-step, how to use your gifts to be a gift to the people who share your life.

If you would like additional support in finding the life that God wants you to live, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Fire! Fire!—What To Do When You’re Feeling Burned Out

People often say they feel “burned out” by their struggles with anxiety, but most are unaware of the deeper truth behind this metaphor.

Imagine soaking your hands in bleach for several hours, even days. You would get a chemical burn that left your skin severely raw and irritated. Even brushing up against something afterward might hurt tremendously. In a similar way, the chemicals (glucocorticoids) produced by the brain’s fear response are caustic. When persistently stressful or traumatic events trigger prolonged or too intense exposure to these chemicals, they create something like a chemical burn on your amygdala, the CEO of fear/protection system. At the very least, this can cause us to feel every stressor more acutely. Making it harder to respond in a calm. Rational way. If anxiety persists, the amygdala blasts chemicals at another part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stores emotional memories.

If the amygdala is the CEO of your fear/protection system, the hippocampus is the board secretary. While the amygdala is triggered in the presence of a threat, its the hippocampus’ job to “take notes” and remember that a particular event was anxiety-producing the past. The next time you encounter that same event, or even something remotely similar, the hippocampus triggers the amygdala and reminds you that you “should” feel anxious—even if there is no practical immediate threat present.

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For more on understanding and overcoming your anxiety

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Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Calming down this threat system in our brain is an important aspect to overcoming burn out and finding peace.

Here are three ways to recover from burn out:

Be aware of your physical signs of stress—Stress shows up in our body (i.e. tight muscles, sweaty palms, wrinkled forehead) before our brain is willing to admit to itself that it’s stressed (i.e. feeling stressed/overwhelmed/anxious). Be conscious of these physical signs and when you start to notice your muscles tensing, or your breath becoming shorter/your chest feeling tighter or heavier. Focus on relaxing these physical responses to stress through rolling out your shoulders, stretching your neck, or taking slow deep breaths in order to decrease the stress chemicals in your brain before they take over your feelings.

Take breaks—Taking breaks from stress to do things that occupy you mentally and physically is a great way to decrease anxiety. Go for a walk while counting how many runners or cars you see, engage in a brief exercise break like doing 25 sit ups or 15 pushups, or take deep breaths as you say a short prayer. These breaks are not about finding long escapes from stress, but instead focus on taking down your anxiety in your environment.

Focus on Controllables—Increased anxiety often leads to a sense of powerlessness. We often focus on what we can’t control or what we wish we could do which leads to greater anxiety due to a heightened sense of a perceived threat in our brain. Focusing instead on what we can control—such as our responses, our breathing, our next step towards a solution—we are able to decrease the level of perceived threat and subsequently decrease our anxiety.

If you want more tips or greater support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Innocence Restored-Hope for Those Who Have Suffered Indignity or Abuse

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

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One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my work with victims of abuse—whether verbal, physical, sexual or some combination of all of these—is to hear them talk about how they feel “dirty”,  “tainted,” “guilty” and a host of other adjectives that undermine their dignity and worth as persons.  Intellectually, most of them know that they bear no blame for the things that were done to them, but the emotional and spiritual wounds run deep.  When we’re treated like trash, we often internalize that treatment.   In many cases, we carry the feelings of shame and the loss of our innocence long after the abuse is over.

The Truth Will Set You Free

As difficult as this can be to face, one truth that seems to really resonate for my clients is the idea that they cannot lose what didn’t belong to them from the beginning.  What do I mean?  The truth is that as Christians, we know that none of us can claim to be good or innocent on our own power.  We are simple lumps of carbon; obstinate bags of water that, left to our own devices can claim no goodness, innocence or dignity.

But, as Christians, we also know that we  can  claim goodness, innocence, dignity and more as our inheritance  because we are loved by the God who is the source and summit of all of those qualities. Because God loves us, he shares  his  goodness,  hisinnocence,  his  dignity,  his  grace with us and through his merciful love, makes us good, innocent, dignified and grace-filled.  When he shares these qualities with us, they do not become ours.  Rather,  they make us more his.  That’s a tremendously important distinction, especially for the victim of abuse.  Why?

Because the abuser pretends to have the power to take away his victim’s innocence, goodness and dignity. That’s part of the spell the abuser casts on his victim, making the person he preys upon believe that he has more power than he actually does.  But while an abuser can hurt our bodies and wound our minds, he or she cannot take our innocence, dignity or goodness because these qualities are not ours to lose in the first place.  They are God’s to give.    And God would never give away those qualities that are part and parcel of his love for us. Nothing separates us from the love of God or the benefits that accompany his love.  No one can take either his love or the benefits of his love from us either.

Loved Into Innocence

 

In other words, we are not innocent because nothing bad has ever happened to us.   (BTW, That’s Pelagianism, not Christianity!)   We are innocent  because we are loved by God regardless  of what we have done or have had done to us.   Likewise, we are not good because we have not done anything bad or been subject to badness.  We are  good because we are loved despite  the badness in our hearts or in the world in which we live.  We do not have dignity because we have never suffered indignity.  Rather,  we enjoy dignity because God loves us no matter what  indignities we have suffered.

I do not mean to suggest that the abuse victim’s pain should magically disappear because they might read these words.  But I have found that reflecting on these truths in a spirit of prayer does open survivors’ hearts to new possibilities.  Specifically, the possibility that they  are  good,  and  innocent  and  have dignity and that they have always been these things and always will be these things as long as God loves them, which is always and forever.

Your Innocence is Assured

If you are the survivor of abuse, first know that you have my deepest sympathy for your pain and your struggle.    Second, be assured that I am lifting you up in my general intentions each evening.  But thirdly, and most importantly,  know that you are good, and innocent, and have dignity not because of or in spite of anything that has or has not happened to you or because of anything you have or have not done.  You are good, and innocent, and have dignity because you are loved by God.  Period.    And no one could ever take that away from you no matter what they may pretend to the contrary.

Depression Does Not Discriminate

By: Michael J. Lichens

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I know in my own struggles with depression, comedy  was exactly what I used before discovering the toxic cocktail of food, sex, and booze (really, just don’t do it). A little secret of mine is that my first real writing gig was a weekly satirical column in the  Eugene Comic News  and I got to meet a lot of comedic writers through that. All of them struggled with some form of mental anguish.

So it is that many wonder how a man who is so funny, so full of life, and with so much adoration, could be depressed. When I hear people asking that, I swing between having no answer to wanting to hit my head against a book case. The same question  was asked again when Mother Teresa was “outed” as having dealt with some heavy dark nights of the soul. No one could figure out how a holy woman could feel God’s presence, act in great charity, and yet feel the pains of depression.

Then there’s my personal life. One of the most jovial friends I ever had killed himself after his wife left him several years ago, and just a week ago another close friend attempted to take his own life.  I’ve recently been public  about  my own struggles with MDD and how many times I stared down that abyss where death seemed like it would be the only relief. At one point, medication and a lot of counselling is the only thing that made me turn away from it, along with some deep religious experiences that I can only call  miraculous.  Yet, you’d never guess that from meeting me in person.

The Depressed Look Nothing Like That

The average depressed person is not wearing black eye-liner and writing emo lyrics for a crappy band. Sure, I went through a phase of listening to a lot of punk and metal, but I generally don’t wear all black. Instead, those who deal with depression are, in my experience, folks who can be quite charming and even seem to be always happy. This would, to some minds, seem to point to an overall good mood. In private, though, it’s a living hell.

My particular form of mental illness is defined by an over-all low mood. Most days I can function normally, but there are those days when getting out of bed seems like the hardest thing in the world to do. On the worst days, I’ve had to check myself into a hospital because all I could think about was ways I’d like to die. That part is hard to explain to people who have never been there. It’s not so much a desire  to no longer exist, but a wish that whatever this is that is clouding my judgement would just be gone.

The worst of it, though, is the loneliness. The feeling that even God has abandoned you to your sufferings and that relief is not coming.

I’m much better now than I was even five years ago, but trust me that those feelings rarely go away. Even though I have a job I love, good friends, and a loving family, I am always having to worry about the day that the bark of the black dog will be too loud to endure.

That’s the point of depression and all other forms of mental illness: it clouds the mind and impairs judgement, you are literally unable to think straight and sometimes reality looks like a hazy dream. My mother once described it as seeing the world through a thick blanket. You can’t reason with it, you can’t negotiate with it, and even if you understand that your thought process is not normal or healthy, it’s easier to make out with a grizzly bear than to try to keep your mind from repeating that inner dialogue.

I don’t expect this to make sense, because it barely makes sense to me and I have to live with it every day.  Throw in the fact that I, like many depressed people, keep a  persona  bon vivant,  it becomes alienating when my mood reaches a low where I can’t even stand my own company. We want so badly to have some companionship, but we’re so afraid of our own minds that we’d shiver at exposing other people to our inner darkness.

That, above all else, is why I write. I don’t like writing on this subject. It takes just about every once of energy I have to write about depression. But, if one person can understand that they’re not alone than I can hope that my mild discomfort can help them.

The world though, especially most Catholic media, is lousy at offering the help we need. In the months since I started writing openly about depression and faith I’ve received the kind of cheap email messages that drive people crazy; things like, “have you tried avoiding gluten or taking Omega-6 oils,” (because, holy crikey, I just needed Dr. Oz, M.Div all along) or “maybe you should pray more” (because depressed people don’t pray, ever). Depression is hard to understand, I get that, but we could be better at explaining it and helping the many who endure it find some form of healing or at least enough grace to go on. Depression does not sell conferences or books, but we need to see how many people it touches and do what we can. Lives are on the line.

Arise from the Darkness!

I wanted to point out that depression touches many lives, whether we know it or not. Even my worst days I can fake being happy for a few hours before I collapse in exhaustion. If someone is depressed, you may never know it unless they feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Then, it’s up to you to do what you can to be a friend, mother, spouse, or whatever  part you play in their lives.

Unlike many illnesses, it does not always show outwardly. The person in your life suffering mental anguish is probably barely aware of it himself. Dig, though, and it’s there. Like all conditions of the Fall, we cannot let it fester in darkness but there needs to a light to shine the truth and to give hope to those who feel like all hope has abandoned them.

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can  you  be depressed!”  Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and accept it  if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

Also, if you are reading this and have been exhausted by your own black dog, know that it is not all there is. I’ve found some peace, but it doesn’t mean my burden is gone. Seek help, go for a walk, do whatever you can to come back tomorrow with the determination that you shall live. Also, know that God did not take on our nature and defeat death just to leave you alone. It may sound cheap, I know, but sometimes that is the only assurance I have and it is no small thing.

Credit to Michael J. Lichens of CatholicExchange. Article first appeared on The Catholic Gentleman.

 

Yes Straight Out: Halpin and the Compiegne Martyrs

By: Richard Becker

martyrs

“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.

How?

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.

 

Feeling Guilty

By: Br. John Dominic Bouck, OP

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ten Reasons to Rejoice

By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

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St. Paul exhorts us in his letter  to the Philippians to rejoice, not just once but twice:    “Rejoice in the Lord; I say it again: rejoice in the Lord.”  (Phil. 4:4).    Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation reiterates the same theme–“The Joy of the Gospel”.    St. Francis de Sales remarks on spiritual progress commenting that after sin the worse thing is sadness.  St. Ignatius agrees, warning us that when we are in a state of desolation–that is to say sadness and discouragement–that is the moment that we are a prime target for the fiery arrows of the devil.

Why then should we be constantly living in a state of joy? There are many reasons, but we would like to offer ten simple reasons to be rejoicing constantly and exultantly.

1.  Baptismal Graces.    Once baptized we receive so many graces that we can barely count them. However of primary importance is that through Baptism we establish a deep Friendship with three Divine Persons–the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism God becomes our Father; Jesus becomes our elder Brother; the Holy Spirit becomes both the Sweet Guest of our soul and our best Friend. Rejoice in God’s Friendship!

2.  Sanctifying Grace. If we can strive to live in the state of sanctifying grace then the Friendship with God is constant. We are never alone; loneliness becomes alien to our lifestyle. We can close our eyes and seek the God within the depths of our souls. How happy this should make us!

3.  Mercy!    Even if we fall one hundred times a day, we know that our God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. As soon as our heart beats with the words “Jesus mercy, Jesus forgive me; Jesus I love you”–then once again this treasure of His Friendship is restored and it is sealed in the sacrament of Confession.    “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever.”

4.  The  Blessed Sacrament.  What overflowing and immense joy we should experience in knowing that Jesus said that He would be with us even until the end of the world. Where is He? Response: in the Church. However, most especially He is truly Present (The Real Presence) in the consecrated Host present in all of the Tabernacles of the world. Let us rejoice and come let us adore Him.

5.  St Raphael.  An invitation: Why not delve into your Bible and go to the Old Testament where you will find a short but truly inspiring book from the Wisdom literature with the title of the Book of Tobit.    In this spiritual masterpiece you will find a heart-warming Friend; he is actually one of the three Archangels mentioned in the Bible.    His name is Raphael, meaning God heals.      One of his special gifts is to befriend us and to fill us with joy. Why not invoke this holy angel every day for nine days (a novena) and you will notice that your sadness will melt as the snow exposed to the midday sun.

6.  Saints.    Not only should we walk and talk with the Archangel Raphael but we should be in constant contact and communion with the saints.    While on earth the saints were the most joyful men and women. However in heaven their joy is boundless.    Still they so earnestly long to share their joy, which is their Friendship with God, with us on earth. Call out to them now! By the way, who are your three favorite saints? Beg them to share the joy they experience with you now. Your joy will abound.

7.  Heaven.      The reality of the existence of Heaven and the knowledge that Jesus has already gone there to prepare a place for you should cause an explosion of joy in your soul right now. Listen to Jesus’ words: “I go now to prepare a place for you so that where I am you also might be. In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”    Wow!    Jesus has not only prepared a place for you, but a huge, beautiful, spacious, ineffable mansion for you for all eternity.    No cracks, dust, ants, cockroaches, leaks, mildew–none of these, but the best of resting places, all this is yours if you simply persevere in grace. Mary, full of grace pray for us!

8.  Prayer.      If you wanted to talk to some celebrity, President, star, hero, high-class dignitary most likely it would take a year and a day to possibly set up a short meeting.    How extraordinary is God’s love for us that in any time, any place, any circumstance that we want to we can talk to God and He is ready to listen and respond.      Too often people are too busy and simply do not have time for us–sad to say, even those who should be closest to us!  Not so with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are always at our beck and call. How humble and loving our God is! Rejoice exultantly in the reality of prayer. Why not make a proposal right now to augment your joy: strive to pray a little bit more and a little bit better every day. Your joy will be like the fireworks of the fourth of July

9.  God, the Most Generous Giver.    In all honesty, and with the most profound humility and deepest sincerity, we should all admit that everything that we have–except the sins that we willfully choose to commit–is a pure gratuitous gift from God.    As the Apostle Paul reminds us, quoting one of the Greek poets,  “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  Thank God constantly for His abundant and ceaseless gifts to you.    Have you ever noticed this fact: when you exercise gratitude towards God joy surges in your heart? Try it!

10.  Our Lady.  Our life, our sweetness and our hope!    One of the titles of Mary in her Litany is  Cause of our joy.    After his death, St Dominic Savio returned appearing to St. John Bosco and told the great saint of the youth that his greatest joy in the short 14 years    and 11 months of his life was his great love and affection towards Our Lady. Savio exhorted St. John Bosco to follow that path of promoting love and devotion to Mary.    In your life get to know Mary, love Mary, invoke Mary, pray to Mary, consecrate your life to Jesus through Mary and spread devotion to Mary. If you do, then undoubtedly you will experience in the depths of your soul an ineffable joy which will overflow in your life to all those you meet.

In conclusion, friends in Jesus and Mary, let us strive to spread the joy of the Gospel right now and live out a life of constant joy. We might as well get into the habit of rejoicing now in the Lord because we will be rejoicing with exultant joy in heaven for all eternity!

Credit to Fr. Ed Broom, OMV of CatholicExchange.  

 

The Friendship of the Saints

By: Fr. Aloysius Roche

saints

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.