Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

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How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

When Your Child Stops Believing

For most Catholic parents, nothing’s more important than raising our kids to be faithful, godly adults. 

Sadly, a study by CARA at Georgetown found that 89% of people who eventually left the Church said they’d actually lost their faith between the ages of 10 and 13. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help your kids negotiate their doubts.

When your child expresses doubts about God, begin by thanking them for trusting you, and telling them you’re proud of them.  Why?  Because doubts are a natural part of mature faith development.  

In fact, the reason so many kids lose their faith between 10 and 13 is that they’re transitioning from the “Story and Structure Stage” of faith–that focuses on learning rules, rituals, and stories–to the “Relationship and Mission Stage” where kids need to learn to apply their faith to real life problems.  

This transition comes with lots of questions.  Without patient guidance, kids can start thinking of faith as just a bunch of rules, rituals, and stories that have no real practical bearing on their world.

After you’ve diffused things, start asking questions. Don’t grill them.  Just explain that you’d like to understand what’s going on. In particular, ask if they’re having a hard time applying their faith to some challenge they’re facing.  Nine times out of 10, teens’ faith crises are either caused by difficulties with reconciling their faith with real-life problems, or being led to believe that their faith is an obstacle to having meaningful relationships and finding their place in the world.  

Of course, another reason kids have doubts about God is that they may have never actually MET him!  Going to church isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re praying daily as a family, and when you do, make sure you’re not just saying words at God, but actually modeling how to talk to him as the person who knows you best and loves you most. 

Finally, help your kids express their doubts directly to God. Teach them to pray, “Lord, I’m having a hard time believing in you. Please show me that you are real.”  

For more ideas on how to help your kids through faith struggles, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with God and their faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Prayer and the Reality of Distraction

Guest post by Deacon Dominic Cerrato, Ph.D. Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute Spiritual Direction services

If you’re anything like me, you’re easily distracted in prayer. I don’t think a day goes by when, praying the Divine Office, my mind doesn’t wander somewhere between the psalms and the reading. At times like these it’s not uncommon to become frustrated feeling that we’ve cheated God out of some essential prayer time. As a result, we can strongly identify with Hamlet’s King Claudius who, while attempting to repent of his brother’s murder says, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

While there is some truth to Claudius’ words, we ought not take them too literally. This is because God hears distracted prayers more intently than loving parents hear the words of their distracted children. Attentiveness in prayer is not for God’s sake, but for our own. Focus helps us to concentrate on the goal of all prayer which, if it’s from the heart, is intimate communion with Jesus Christ.

Virtually every saint dealt with distractions in some form or another. In our fallen yet redeemed state, coupled with our human frailties, it’s almost impossible to eliminate distractions completely. The best we can do is minimize those we can, and constructively accommodate those we can’t. The great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, understood this well. Writing in the 16th century, she observed.

I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer….the intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down….All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles…[Yet,] do not imagine that the important thing is never to be thinking of anything else and that if your mind becomes slightly distracted all is lost…think of distractions as mere clouds passing in the sky, momentarily taking your gaze from the Sun of Righteousness…

Properly understood, distractions are anything that prevent us from giving our full attention to God. They are more noticeable when we acquire the habit of prayer as opposed to praying occasionally. Distractions sneak into our interiority, capturing the imagination and diminishing the encounter with God. They arise out of a great many factors typically categorized as the world, the flesh, and the devil. That acknowledged, there are a few things we can do to minimize the number of distractions and their negative impact.

To start with, it’s quite helpful to begin prayer by finding the right place to pray. It should be quiet with just the right amount of light to allow you to see – assuming you are using a devotional, Scripture or even a holy object like a crucifix. Posture likewise is important. For instance, too comfortable a position, like a nice overstuffed chair, may lead to drowsiness. Conversely, too uncomfortable a position, like a hard-wooden chair, may lead to further distractions. Settling down is helpful as well. To the extent possible, we should spend a few minutes before prayer in calming silence, placing ourselves in the presence of God. This disposes us to recognize His voice in prayer so that we may better accomplish His will.

With place and posture set, and the calming accomplished, you may wish to begin prayer by asking our Lord for the grace to stay focused. This is less a challenge with vocal prayer as opposed to mental prayer since the simultaneous “saying” and “hearing” can help keep us focused longer. Timing our prayer may also be quite helpful. If you find you’re too tired to pray night prayer before bed, then do it an hour before bedtime. I can assure you that God doesn’t have a specific time frame when your prayer is heard.

Beyond these practical suggestions, there are a couple of other ways to deal with distractions. The first and most effective of these is just to ignore them as, “mere clouds passing in the sky.” If, while praying, we become aware of a distraction, we should simply let it go and return to prayer. According to St. Francis DeSales, “If all you do is return to God after distraction, then this is a very good prayer. Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.” This persistence means that, despite the distractions, we are intent on seeking God. If we get distracted 15 times and we return to God 15 times, God is pleased with our steadfastness.

Sometimes, a distraction is not really a distraction. This is particularly true when we’re dealing with a major struggle that dominates our thought process. In this situation, we find it almost impossible to escape the struggle as it continually encroaches on our prayer time. Depending on the nature of the struggle, this could be the prompting of the Holy Spirit calling us to redirect our prayers to that difficulty. This differs significantly from other kinds of interruptions. Where distractions lead us away from prayer into our drifting imagination, dealing with a struggle simply redirects the focus of prayer such that we are still praying. The fact that we’re still praying ought to confirm for us the influence of the Holy Spirit and therefore not a distraction in a strict sense.

Looked at positively, distractions, far from impeding the spiritual life, can provide a means to draw closer to Christ. Though they remain an interior battle throughout life, by cooperating with grace, they become less an irritant and more a routine spiritual exercise.

For spiritual direction, contact us at 740.266.6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

A Crisis of Authority: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin.  Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the Pope to lift the prohibition.  Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban.  Certainly some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept.  Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican:  in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.

The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times.  The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInery’s What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology”;  2) the Pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions and that his function was to go with the vote—the “witnesses”; and 3) for the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.

Crisis of Authority

Since the Council and Humanae Vitae, there has been a mass exodus of priests, religious, and laity from the Church, continuing today with 76% of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly.  The Council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen—so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” (p. 13). He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the Pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving…the dissenting theologians have… whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.” (pp. 145-6)

In short, the dissenting theologians have set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.

Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion amongst Catholic laity on many matters of faith.  In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86% of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic¼.” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76%), priests should be allowed to marry (64%), and women should be allowed to be priests (59%).  The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.

Did Anyone Read The Documents of Vatican II?

It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read!  What the bishops finally voted on and the Pope promulgated did not, in fact, set up a democratic Church!  Even if they could, church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display.  Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not!

The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority:  “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff….For the Roman Pontiff,…has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen Gentium, no. 22).

 

Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks ex cathedra (infallibly) is also clearly refuted by Lumen Gentium (25): the submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”

It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching.  In the end, the laity suffers the most.

The Vatican’s Response to the Dissent

The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system.  Almost every Papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized, and marginalized.  And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.

Conclusion

“Since Catholicism is something we receive rather than invent, authority is absolutely essential to it.”  (p. 147)  It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the Pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic.  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  In my opinion, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium function as the immune system of the Body of Christ—and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.

In the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system.  But confusion has reigned long enough! Don’t be illiterate!  Men, read McInery’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II, or better, Humanae Vitae and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old-Christ-instituted authority!

 

“He Ain’t Heavy…”: The Death of My Same-Sex Attracted Brother

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

“I don’t believe in hell.  If there is a hell, it can’t be any worse than my life here.”  These were the most striking words from my 55-year-old-same-sex-attracted brother Mark in the last two-plus weeks of his life.  He died February 27, 2017, from throat cancer.  I wanted to remember him here and witness to the abyss of God’s mercy.

It started in May 2016 with a diagnosis, then treatment in August, and two hospitalizations in January 2017 which included a heart attack and a lack of response to treatment.  When my wife and I saw him on February 10th, he was exploring hospice.  This began the whirlwind of two and a half weeks of reconnecting and parting with my brother.

Hell: A Homeless Heart

Mark remembered many more ugly and painful memories from childhood than I did that shook the foundations of my world.  He felt profoundly unloved and was bullied at home and in school.  He was assaulted as an adult for his sexual orientation.  He struggled with bouts of deep depression and would want to die.  He disconnected from our family for decades; he had a “Homeless Heart” (from a song on his iPod).

He had a way of remembering things that kept his wounds open.  In his hell, he did not know that Jesus experienced deep excruciating pain when he said, “I am grieved unto death,” or “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  I share some of Mark’s pain here, because he disliked when people minimized it with clichés, and because I think it made his life more remarkable.

Responding to Hell

Early in our conversations, when he talked about hell, I responded, “I believe there is a hell, but I don’t think you’re going there.  God doesn’t send anyone to hell (see CCC 1033)!  God is love, and he can’t do anything but love you. Because of your free will, he will honor your rejection.  He understands if you are angry at him, that you have been hurt.  But God does not send people to hell—they must request it.”  I continued, “When you die, you will step into love—the love you have never known and always longed for.” He nodded in thoughtful approval, a light in the darkness.

Ugly Into Beautiful

Ironically, I think because Mark had seen so much ugliness in his life, he had a strong sense of and attraction to beauty.  A rehabber at heart, he could make the ugliest houses beautiful!  God is a “rehabber” too, bringing good out of evil.  So Mark had unknowingly lived out a deep Catholic spirituality, making the world more beautiful.

Making Death Beautiful

Death is ugly.  But it was also awe-inspiring to stand at the boundary between life and death with Mark.  We talked about his life, about the end, about his regrets.  I was able to put my hand on his heart, to hold his hand, and cradle his head.  And even when he could not talk, I challenged him to forgive himself and others.  I read him a note of apology from my mom.  He would respond with groans and would calm down when I told him to be at peace.

The Hour of Mercy

On the Friday before Mark died the hospice doctor thought he could go that afternoon or within 48 hours.  So I asked St. Faustina to intercede and let Mark die during the hour of Mercy as a sign to me.  Friday turned into Monday, waiting at the foot of the cross.  I left for a lunch break at 2 PM.  Just before 3 PM, the nurse called me back, saying Mark was on his last breaths.  When I arrived, he had just breathed his last—exactly at 3 PM he had stepped into love.  I sobbed at his side.  He was gone, and I couldn’t believe the time.  I urged him to go toward God’s love.  It had been an absolute whirlwind, an agony in the garden, with deep joy, too.

But God was not finished.  Songs have come into my life at particular times to capture the moment and bring a message of love.  After perusing Mark’s iPod that day, I hit play and heard Queen Latifah’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!  I felt God was showering his mercy on Mark from above, and Queen Latifah from below.  I had surrounded him in mercy because (I can’t resist)—“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Not Really the End

We dressed him for cremation in a flannel shirt, cargo pants, and an old pair of work boots.  After all, he was a rehabber.  Now that he has stepped into love, I believe he has a new job from his place in purgatory and heaven, this time rehabbing hearts, making the ugly beautiful.  I sense his presence and blessing and often call on him to help with a hurting client.  Please join me in letting his new-found love “spill over” into our lives (Benedict XVI) to heal broken hearts—please pray for him and to him.

Fear, Men, and The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute

Men are more wired to assess threats than women; maybe that is partly why the disciples hid in fear behind locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion (see John 20:19-23).  Fear perceives the other as the enemy.  Fear underlies all sin—any attack on the dignity of the human person.  It becomes a problem when we fear the wrong people—like our spouses and kids.  It is not a new problem, since it dates back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  In fear, Adam and Eve covered themselves when they understood they could take advantage of each other, and they hid from God in the bushes.

Because God is love, we are a religion of love, as demonstrated by the greatest commandment and a new commandment.  Fear is the opposite of love: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  “Be not afraid” is a thread running throughout Scripture.  And it was a motto, of sorts, of St. John Paul II.

The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

The disciples lived in fear of the Jews, having locked the doors, and it was evening…isn’t this usually when our fears come out?  When we feel fear, we often lock the doors of our hearts, even to loving people, including Jesus.  So what hides behind the locked doors of your hearts?

Jesus appears to the disciples behind those locked doors.  He starts with “Peace be with you,” showing them his hands and side.  I am sure he does this to identify himself; but beyond that, he leads with his wounds.  This is an interesting leadership style, worthy of reflection in a culture that peddles “Never let them see you sweat.”  This motto, ironically, is a perpetual prescription to live in fear of exposure and…to sweat!

Jesus never imposes himself on us.  So we must invite him behind those locked doors of our hearts, where everything is bound and loosed (CCC 2843), into the ugliness where our fears, wounds, and sins have reigned.  For many men, this ugliness is the sin of pornography.  Fear and shame keep us from inviting him in. Satan is the Accuser, but he transfers this job to us, and we tend to cooperate by accusing ourselves!  The Devil’s name means “to separate,” especially from God and others; and separation results from self-accusation.  Freedom is found only in God’s presence.

How Does Jesus Come? 

Once invited, Jesus does not come as a King to judge in power, but as the King who heals—the wounded healer who leads with his wounds.  He comes as Priest to link our fearful hearts to his Father of love, or to Love’s second name, Mercy.  He comes as Prophet not to speak harsh words in love, but to speak the truth of Love Itself to the lies of our fearful hearts.

I imagine him entering my heart, absorbing my fears, pain, and darkness into the wounds in his hands.  But it is not enough to “sweep the house clean,” leaving it vulnerable; it must be filled!  So I imagine the wound in his side that gushed forth the water and blood of our Baptism and the Eucharist, pouring forth his love and mercy, filling the empty space with the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:14-21)!  Sometimes I don’t even know what his wounds are absorbing; I just know I calm down and am no longer fearful, and I feel grateful.  And I rejoice as the disciples do!

Loved and Now Challenged!

But he is not done! He continues, “Peace be with you.”  Each time, I understand this more.  Then he stuns with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  It means we must receive God’s love, as Jesus does—the Father gives himself totally, without reservation, to his Son, an echo of which is heard when the prodigal’s father tells his older son, “Everything I have is yours.”  We are loved first, now challenged.  We must work from love, never for love.

Jesus is sent as priest, prophet, and king, so we are sent as priest, prophet, and king.  We are baptized and made gods—not just adopted, but made sons of the Father through a nature change.  Then we are strengthened with other sacraments.

He is still not done! In his overwhelming generosity, Jesus breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”—Love himself.  Of course the apostles receive a special authority to bind and loose here, but we are also given the Holy Spirit and must receive him to fulfill the challenge of love!

We fear being unlovable in our sins.  So the Father sends his Son in love as priest, prophet, and king.  We must invite him behind the locked doors of our hearts into those shame-filled rooms.  By his wounds, he leads and heals us to receive his peace.  Then he sends us out with the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king to love others as spiritual fathers!  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”