Lending a Listening Ear–How Being Heard Can Impact Our Mental and Physical Health

It’s understandable how being heard can have an impact on our mental health, but can having someone there to listen to us impact our physical health as well?

According to a study out of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers have found that having a good listener in our lives is associated with improved brain health and greater cognitive resilience.

In this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance. The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.

So what do we do when we’re struggling to be heard?

Theology of The Body tells us that love is the only appropriate response to another person.  Listening is an important part of loving.  To love someone means working for their good, but we can’t know what they need help with, what their goals are, or what they are struggling with if we aren’t willing to listen–and that goes for kids as well as adults.  Listening is hard, but it is even harder to feel loved by someone who is unwilling to really listen to us.

Here are three ways to ensure you can be heard:

1.  Be Direct–If you want to be heard, it’s best to be clear and direct.  Sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be polite, we simply hint at what we want or even just describe a problem and hope others will come up with ways to solve.  But if other people don’t pick up the hint, or propose solutions that don’t really meet our need, we can become resentful and feel like we weren’t being heard. If you have a problem or need, it’s best to begin the conversation by saying exactly what you want from the people around you.  For instance, instead of announcing, “This place is a mess!” and becoming upset when you end up cleaning everything yourself, say, “Guys, listen up.  We need to make a plan for how we’re going to get the place cleaned up before dinner.”  The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you will actually be heard.

2.  Always End a Conversation with A Plan–Often we don’t feel heard because we discuss a problem with someone but don’t actually end the conversation with any action items or a plan for following up. This is usually the problem when people say, “We’ve talked about this a million times, but nothing ever changes.”  That usually means that you talked about the problem but there were no clear decisions about what to do about it, who was going to do those things, and when you were going to check in with each other for how things were going and what else might need to be done.  If you end a conversation without a follow-up plan that determines who is going to do what by when, then chances are high that you will be talking about this same problem again–and again, and again–in the very near future.  If you want to be heard, make sure to end your conversations with clear action items, who is going to be responsible for following up, and when you are going to follow-up.

3.  Back Up Words with Action–If you’ve done all the things we’ve mentioned so far, and you still aren’t being heard, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t hearing you because they don’t want to listen.  It may be that things are working for them the way they are and they don’t want to change even if that means that you are being inconvenienced.  Of course, that’s not OK.  In those cases, it’s best not to use more words.  It’s time to take action.  Tell the person that you aren’t happy leaving things as they are and that you have decided to make some changes on your own, invite them to join you in solving the problem, but if they still refuse (or don’t follow through) go ahead and take that as permission to act alone to make some changes even if they affect the other person.  Taking action may just be the thing to do to get the other person’s attention.  Either way, you’ll feel better, because you’ve taken active steps to solve the problem.

If you need additional support or resources for being heard and strengthening your relationships with others, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Finding Joy – Helpful Tips To Cultivate More Joy In Your Life

Maybe it’s because we often do the same thing day in and day out. Maybe it’s because we are going through a hard time or dealing with a particularly difficult challenge. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know what’s next for us. Whatever the reason, it can often be difficult to find joy in our day to day lives and relationships.

When it comes to finding joy in our daily lives, it’s first important to look at the way that the Theology of the body reminds us of the difference between work and toil. Before the Fall, the work that Adam and Eve did to tend the garden was joyful and fulfilling. It had purpose and meaning, and their efforts literally produced good fruit. After the Fall, because sin knocked the entire world out of order, work became toil. The earth fought back against their efforts to cultivate it. Their work felt like a struggle. They lost sight of the purpose of their efforts. Work became something that divided them instead of making them feel united for a common purpose. This is the basis of losing our joy–when our efforts seem meaningless especially when it comes to our relationships

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Are you looking to discover greater joy and purpose in your life?

Check out:
The Life God Wants You To Have!

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Reclaiming our joy means reconnecting with the meaning and purpose behind what we’re doing and approaching our work and relationships in a way that enables us to feel more connected to God, the people around us, and our own best-selves. Often it takes a conscious effort to step back from what we’re doing and intentionally reminding ourselves why we’re doing it, who we’re doing it for, and what our goal is in choosing to do it in the first place. Then, we need to ask ourselves if the way we’re doing something is really serving those goals.  If not, it’s time to make some changes. God doesn’t want us to settle for grinding our way through the day in our work, life, or relationships. Losing our joy is a sign that we’re starting to settle and that we need to step back, give our situation to God, and ask him how He wants us to approach the work, role, or challenges in front of us.  If we do, his grace will bring the meaning, purpose, and joy back into everything we do.

Here are three ways to cultivate greater joy in your life:

Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important.  This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it. In fact, it’s better if you aren’t. Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.  

Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.  

If you would like to discover more resources to cultivate greater joy in your life, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

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?

Check out:

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!

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Are you dealing with frustrating people in your life?

Check Out:
God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
Making Peace With Difficult People 

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict.  Faith and science agree.  Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message.  Identify the need.  Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources for dealing with conflict effectively, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Building a Better Family

Are you and your family struggling to connect? Does it feel like you’re always on the go and you have no real time to be a family? This is a common occurrence. In a fast paced world, we always have more to do or another fire to put out, but this leaves very little time to fuel our family life in the ways that God intended.

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Looking for more resources on being the family that you’re called to be?

Check out:
Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids!

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Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we learn how to live life as a gift. Obviously thats a very different vision of family life than the world has, which tends to define family” as any group of people that lives under the same roof and shares a data plan.  God wants more for his families. He wants to use your family to satisfy the longing in your heart for a love that is honest, strong, joyful, warm, and deep. 

So how do we find time to truly connect in the midst of our busy lives? 

1. Create Sacred Moments–Want to celebrate the family life God wants for you?  Then ask him to teach you, together. Cultivate meaningful, daily family prayer times. There are lots of different ways to pray.  Just remember that prayer isnt supposed to be about saying the right words, its about drawing closer to God and each other. When you pray, however you pray, make sure to thank God for the specific ways hes blessed your family that day.  Take turns bringing real concerns to him and asking for his help. Ask for Gods wisdom to respond well to the big questions your family is facing.  Family prayer works best when you stop saying” prayers and start offering your hearts to God in prayer. Thats the kind of prayer that lets grace be the source of the warmth in your home.

2.  Waste Time Together--Want to enjoy a closer, more joyful family life?  As Pope Francis puts it, Waste time with your kids.”  Family life doesnt happen when were busy with many things.  Family life happens in the little moments when we stop doing and start being together.  Make time to be together.  Everyday, make it a priority to take at least 15 minutes to do something fun, to talk about something more meaningful than what happened today”, to work side-by-side on something, and to connect to God.  If you take 15 min to do those 4 things, youre spending an hour a day learning how to love each other better, enjoy each other more, and connect a little deeper.  Wasting time with your family isnt an obligation.  Its a blessing.  Let God bless your family by prioritizing your need to work, talk, pray, and play together, even a little bit, every day.

3. Build Your House–Want to have a stronger, more loving family? Build each other up. Most families dont talk about their relationship unless theyre getting on each others nerves. Gods families deserve better.  Regularly talk about ways you can take better care of each other, and get along better with each other.  At dinner time, talk about virtues like patience, joy, love, respect, responsibility and ask how your family can do a better job living out those qualities. Parenting is no fun if youre just putting out fires all the time. But it gets a lot more enjoyable when youre able to talk together about creating a stronger, more loving more joyful family life.  Make a point of making time to build your home together–instead of just always trying to put out fires.

If you would like more resources for building the family life God intended for you, visit us online 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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Are you looking to discover God’s plan for your life?

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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!

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.

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Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

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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 CatholicCounselors.com.

The Pope, the Sinner, and Me

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

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This is not a response to the media distortions of the recent interview with Pope Francis.  I’d rather focus on what Pope Francis actually is saying to me as one of his flock, and admit that maybe there is something here to personally grow from. Second of all, this article is not advocating or in any way considering a “change of church teaching.” If that’s what some readers take away from it, I’d ask them to please read it over.

This has been on my heart to write about for a while, but I must admit, I’ve been a coward. As a Catholic and as a psychologist, I want to add in my two cents to the conversation on homosexuality. This might be one of the single most divisive issues of our immediate time. I have been a coward up until now because this topic is a minefield, and I’m scared of bombs. I say up until now because our Pope has given me an offer I can’t refuse. In his recent interview, Pope Francis gave an example of courage and unyielding tenacity for truth, beauty, and goodness that sparked something in me.

Religion has become for some — myself included — an opportunity for mediocrity in following Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been this way for thousands of years. Jesus certainly spoke out pretty vehemently against this sort of mediocrity in his time, and now the Vicar of Jesus is speaking against it now. By mediocrity, I mean to say that religion gives us categories to snugly place ourselves into. It gives us a moral system to fall back on that distinguishes “us” from “them.”  Well, for all of us comfortable Christians in the world, Pope Francis just punched us in the gut and knocked the stale air out of our moldy lungs.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.  The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Despite some “spiritual” traditions, trends, and movements, the Church is not to be primarily a megaphone on the street corner calling out peoples’ sins. Likewise, members of the Church, the body of Christ, are not to have these megaphones blaring out from our hearts. Mediocrity is a mentality of  “us vs. them,” those of us behind the megaphone, and those that are on the other side of it. Pope Francis is telling us that we can’t let church become for us a system of dividing “us” from “them.” What then, is he saying the bosom of the universal church is to be?

“Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis outlines pretty clearly the mission of the Church.  We must make a proposition of Jesus to the world.  We must propose Love.  “From this proposition the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis calls on an image that is extremely important in his interview — the road to Emmaus.  What happened at first on the road to Emmaus?  The two walking with Jesus did not recognize him.  They were the “them.”  Did Jesus chastise them, saying, “Idiots, don’t you know who I am?”  “Dirty scum, how are you so blind?”  No.  He walks with them. He speaks with them, as one of them.  They don’t feel the need to form coalitions and march in parades to find some form of validation.  He validates them. He builds friendship with them and leads them into a true encounter with himself,after  which “their hearts burned.”

As a society, we have been so wrong about homosexuals.  As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I can also say that the majority of “faithful” Catholics I have ever known have also been so wrong about homosexuals.  I have a question to ask to make my point.  As you sit with the discomfort this article may be causing, ask yourself this question:

How does your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who identify as homosexual compare to your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who engage in some other mortal sin such as contraception?

How about masturbation?

How about drunkenness?

Let that sink in a bit. How do you treat the person?

I’d especially like to elaborate on this last issue of drunkenness. It astounds me how many Catholic circles consider drunkenness, at least implicitly, as acceptable.  Have we not heard Galatians 5:21 before?  “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that  those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Wow. So it’s ok to get together and drink a few too many with our friends, but being homosexual is the supreme debauchery?

I am not advocating puritanical teetotaling. I enjoy my scotch or wine at the appropriate time.  Sometimes it is even me who has too many with my friends and I have to hand the keys over to my wife for the ride home. Yes, I am a sinner. Not in the garment rending, abstract, and safely generalized way, but I commit very specific sins. Somehow there is an appallingly strange mercy for me.  If we are to love with the love of Jesus, if we are to be Jesus as members of his body, his Church, we will love men and women who experience, and even act out on, homosexual desires the way we love ourselves or our friends when we know the types of sins we commit.

Now as a follow-up question, if you haven’t thought this already (and kudos if you have), let me ask: Did you realize my first question asked about the sinfulness of those “who identify as homosexual”?  Is homosexuality a sin? No, it is not.

First of all, if you do happen to know a person is committing mortal sins such as acting out on their homosexual desires, why in the world is it ok to treat him or her any differently than anyone else you happen to know committing mortal sin, including yourself?

Second of all, homosexuality in itself is not a sin. When you meet someone who is homosexual, you very well might be in the presence of a saint. If someone is living chastely with homosexual desires, he or she is living heroic virtue. Homosexuality is a cross that no heterosexual will ever understand. It is a life called to celibacy without the luxury of discernment. It is potentially the most extreme example of “chastity for the kingdom” that I can imagine. Do you happen to know the interior life of every homosexual?

If they look deep enough, many Catholics might be ashamed of their disposition of heart towards homosexuals. I know I am. Sure, I knew how to say that I “Loved the sinner, hated the sin.”  But Pope Francis seems to think such words aren’t enough.

If I’m the only Catholic who had these feelings, so be it. Here I am confessing my sin to the world. As Pope Francis said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

 

Financial Fear

By: Kevin Lowry

stock market crash

What a roller coaster ride. The market was up today. Or was that yesterday? It was down the day before that. Way down. Tomorrow, who knows?  The financial news these days is fraught with anxiety. Upheaval in the markets. Political gridlock. Rancorous debate.  Particularly when it comes to money, the uncertainty surrounding the future can be disconcerting, even paralyzing. A friend of mine sends me alarmist emails from various groups, peddling gold or other “safe” investments. In times of fear, there’s money to be made.  For many people who lived through 2008, there is also a new, strong, and visceral response to volatility. With the advent of defined contribution retirement plans, people who have spent years saving in their 401k plans saw their accounts rocked hard that year. I don’t even want to recall how dramatically my savings got hit. Worse, I have friends who refused to look at their account statements for years. Many who thought they were close to retirement weren’t anymore. In the face of radical financial uncertainty, as Catholics, how should we respond?  I don’t pretend to know what the future holds. Yet there are a couple principles we can hold onto in the midst of even the most extreme uncertainty: faith and prudence.

Faith

How many times are we told in Scripture to “be not afraid?” We know that we can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). If our faith in money transcends our faith in God, look out. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 provides outstanding guidance. Let’s assume for the moment that most of us can be regarded as “rich” by historical standards.

Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.

So even when our financial lives hang in the balance, we know God remains in control. The markets, they say, are motivated by fear and greed. Our motivation must be far different: we’re called to act out of love, for God and others. Therefore, even if we are directly impacted when the market takes a dive, it can be a spiritual opportunity. Read the verses above again, slowly.

We Catholics have the ability to rise above financial fear and anxiety to the extent we place our faith in the Lord. This doesn’t mean that swings in the market don’t matter or don’t affect us, it means that our hope rests upon a solid foundation that is more important and enduring than money. In the end, we are stewards of wealth for the glory of God and the service of others.

Prudence

The next principle is that of prudence. Our financial lives vary widely, and our decisions must be determined according to our individual circumstances. However, prudence is the right path especially when things get crazy. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario: A friend of mine lost a substantial percentage of his retirement plan during the recent market turbulence, and panicked. He ended up making decisions to modify his investment portfolio and reduce market risk at exactly the wrong time. When the market improved, he lost out on upside potential. Unfortunately, he was in very good company, many individual investors did the same thing.

Prudent move: financial planning is sort of like disaster planning — it’s much better to be prepared before the disaster happens. Using a disciplined approach according to your age and state in life over the course of time is prudent, and generally yields better results. If you need a financial advisor, seek out a faithful and qualified individual, beginning locally at your parish. Then make sure you are purposeful about your goals and the associated risks in your retirement savings portfolio.

Scenario: Another friend has a high level of credit card debt. After taking a financial planning course recently, he lamented that he’s still paying for meals he ate over two years ago. When he lost his job, he ended up losing his house, too.

Prudent move: living beyond your means is always bad, but riskier still in today’s environment. Use every opportunity to reduce debt, build an emergency fund and budget your spending. Make sure your spending priorities are in line with your financial priorities — beginning with your tithe.

Scenario: I know one individual who is so scared about his financial predicament that he is immobilized with fear. Rather than putting together a plan, he has given up and spends in an attempt to make himself feel better. So far, it hasn’t worked!

Prudent move: if you’re in trouble, a plan and small steps towards written goals help provide hope. Most important, pray and have the humility to get help if you need it. The Lord can use even adverse circumstances for our benefit, and his glory.

Recall the parable of the rich fool Jesus relates in Luke 12:20-21. “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”  By exercising faith and prudence during these turbulent times, not only will we opt out of the emotional roller coaster and avoid the plight of the rich fool, we stand to gain eternal wealth beyond our wildest dreams. Talk about maximizing returns!  Do you know any examples of people who have done well exercising faith and prudence in their financial lives?  Note: For those interested in learning more about finances from a Catholic perspective, I like Phil Lenahan’s “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free.” My wife  and I are leading a study at our local parish this fall using the program.

Followership

By: Kevin Lowry

following duckies

 

Leadership. We hear the word everywhere these days. It seems like every time we turn around, another seminar, book or webcast is promising to help us become better leaders.  Leadership development opportunities abound, and for good reason. By learning the principles and examples of great leaders, we internalize important virtues and increase our positive influence on others.  Leadership is important. In fact, the leadership of Pope John Paul II is one of the reasons I became Catholic. I have studied the topic for years, even to the point where my MBA program concentration was “Applied Leadership” (whatever that means). I’m not sure that study actually made me a better leader, but it did help me to appreciate the value of good leadership in our lives and admire those who seem born to lead.  So imagine my surprise when my dad sent me a reflection he recently wrote on followership.

With a diverse background as missionary, entrepreneur, academic–and Presbyterian minister converted to the Catholic faith–Dad has long been in leadership roles.  Why focus on followership?  We have all seen countless examples, thankfully, of great leadership – the ultimate model being that of Jesus himself. His leadership focused on the service of others, hence the birth of “servant leadership.” It’s an approach that focuses leadership efforts on facilitating the success of the followers, for mutual benefit.  And yet, when we talk about developing leadership skills, we are often focused on becoming better leaders ourselves. The danger inherent in this approach is that, unlike Jesus, we have a proclivity to selfishness. All too often, we see examples of people striving to become better leaders only to use their leadership positions as means to advance their own careers or agendas. This misses the entire point (and opportunity) of good leadership.  So what about followership?

Followership is intrinsically other-centered, as is true leadership. To excel in followership, our task is to facilitate the success of the leader, to the mutual benefit of both leader and followers.  Note that both leadership and followership, properly understood, are aimed at helping people to be “good and faithful servants.” So how does this work in practical terms? Here are a couple examples from a context most of us can relate to: the workplace.  I have a friend who is a successful attorney. Jim respects his boss’s authority, works like crazy to make her successful, trusts her implicitly, and speaks positively about her even when she’s not around. He uses his gifts to help her succeed, and this is frequently reciprocated.

Another friend, Diane, demonstrates followership in a different context. She works in a nonprofit advocacy group that takes public positions on issues pertinent to its constituents. Diane instinctively defers to her boss even when they hold divergent perspectives. With tact and affirmation, she has learned to ask questions to draw out her boss’s thinking, often resulting in better solutions. Their skill sets are complementary, so, through Diane’s followership, she makes her boss more effective.  Why is good followership not practiced widely, and even used as a pejorative? Perhaps it’s our cultural tendency toward narcissism – many of us want to be leaders in all our relationships. When we’re not the leader, we’re quick to pass judgment, often imputing selfishness to their motives. If only we were leading, things would be better!

Yet, in life, we play both roles. Being a good leader is important, but so is being a good follower. The difference is that, while we’re trained extensively on leadership, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to followership – even though we tend to play the role of follower more frequently.  All of this may sound like so much navel-gazing, but ideas really matter in our daily lives.  We all know the price we pay for poor or misguided leadership. The last century was rife with high-profile examples – Hitler, Stalin and Mao, for starters. Unfortunately, there are also countless examples of bad leadership on a small scale. These negatively affect our governments, organizations and families. Think about the impact corrupt bureaucrats, dishonest executives and neglectful fathers often have on people over whom they have some measure of power.

It’s just as easy to come up with examples of parallel consequences, both large and small, for failures of followership.  Consider just one. As we all know, the devil is a master strategist. Over the past few hundred years, his “divide and conquer” approach to Christianity has visibly reduced the influence of the Church around the world. Jesus desired unity for his bride the Church and, through our sinfulness, we have let him down.  So here’s a question: what if Martin Luther (whose writings led to the Reformation) had embraced the notion of authentic followership? What if he had reacted differently to the very real abuses going on in the Church at the time (that , striving to preserve the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ and trusting our Lord to bring about good from the situation? Might we have avoided the pain and division of the reformation and its aftershocks, and at the same time effected real and needed change within the Church?

The foundation of good followership is trust – not in our imperfect leaders, but in Jesus himself.  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  So go ahead and attend that leadership seminar. Read the book. Take in the webinar. Just don’t forget that we also need to work on becoming better followers. When our boss (or our bishop) succeeds, we do too.