The Answer is to Love God More

When we struggle to accept a difficult situation, the answer is to love God more.
When we battle with a sin that we just can’t shake, the answer is to love God more.
When we want to do God’s will but just don’t know what that is, the answer is to love God more.
When we cannot forgive our neighbor, the answer is to love God more.
When our prayer life is dry, the answer is to love God more.
When we are angry or hurt or afraid, the answer is to love God more.
When our suffering is more than we think we can bear, the answer is to love God more.

When we love God more, we love ourselves less.
When we love God more, we love the world less.
When we love God more, we see Him in the eyes of those around us.
When we love God more, we find joy in unlikely places.
When we love God more, we come to understand His love for us.
When we love God more, we learn to love our neighbor.
When we love God more, we open ourselves to His abundant graces.
When we love God more, His will becomes our will.
The answer is to love God more.

Thérèse of Lisieux and Louis de Montfort: Two Great Saints Who Go Great Together

I have long loved St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She holds a special place in my family, and she was the inspiration of this blog. I’ve always known that I will never be a hermit on a mountain or a prophet in the desert or a Doctor of the Church. The gifts God has given me are humble gifts, and they are unlikely to earn me a feast day or my own page on Saint of the Day. I am just a husband and a father, with my own virtues and foibles, challenges and opportunities. Thérèse taught me that I don’t have to move mountains to get to heaven. I just have to do the little things with great love. And we are all capable of great love.

Now that I have made my consecration to Jesus through Mary, I see how St. Louis de Montfort is trying to lead us down the same path.

St. Thérèse says, “Expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father.” We are to approach God with a childlike love and trust.

St. Louis de Montfort says, “If you put all the love of all the mothers into one heart it still would not equal the love of the Heart of Mary for her children.”

Every child needs a father AND a mother. And we ARE children. St. Thérèse didn’t make this up. Christ, himself, told us this:.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3.

Every child needs a father AND a mother. St. Thérèse exhorts us to remain a child:

“Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: “Work, now you are able to take care of yourself”. Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him.”

And St. Louis de Montfort guides us to our Mother:

“Mary alone gives to the unfortunate children of unfaithful Eve entry into that earthly paradise where they may walk pleasantly with God and be safely hidden from their enemies.”

What these two wonderful Saints are saying is that we do not need to resign ourselves to a morose and laborious spiritual life, filled with privations and fear of eternal punishment. As St. Thérèse said:

“You are not sufficiently trusting, you fear God too much. I assure you that this grieves Him. Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.”

Our faith must, instead, be suffused with joy and love. And it will be, if we entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother. As St. Louis de Montfort said:

“Happy, then, a thousand times happy, are the Christians who are now fastened faithfully and entirely to Her, as to a firm anchor!”

Be a child. Entrust yourself to Mary. Love Christ. Love His Mother. If we love Christ, we follow His command to take His Mother into our home.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his
home.
John 19: 26-27

So both of these great Saints are guiding us to take the Blessed Mother as our Mother, and allow her to bring us closer to Jesus.

In fact, St. Thérèse’s memory of her first communion – “In that first ‘fusion’ with Jesus (holy communion), it was my Heavenly Mother again who accompanied me to the altar for it was she herself who placed her Jesus into my
soul.” – mirrors St. Louis de Montfort’s instructions on receiving Holy Communion: “Implore Mary to lend you her heart so that you may receive her Son with her dispositions.”

So listen to these wonderful Saints. Be a child. Take Mary as your mother. Consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary. Make of yourself a humble and joyful Christian.

A Reflection on Suffering

It is hard to remember that all things that happen are allowed by God. Since God is all good, and God is love, and since all things are allowed by Him who cannot ere, then our sufferings must be for the good, as impossible as it may be for us to understand.

God is timeless. He sees the world, from beginning to end equally, as one thing. His timelessness is how we can approach Calvary each day at Mass. When we suffer, He sees us as the eternal souls we are destined to be, and our suffering is an integral part of that meaning.

When we suffer, we must trust in His judgment and love.

From the Divine Office:
The Moral Reflections on Job by Pope St Gregory the Great
If we receive good from the hand of God, why should we not also receive evil? Paul saw the riches of wisdom within himself though he himself was outwardly a corruptible body, which is why he says we have this treasure in earthen vessels. In Job, then, the earthenware vessel felt his gaping sores externally; while this interior treasure remained unchanged. Outwardly he had gaping wounds but that did not stop the treasure of wisdom within him from welling up and uttering these holy and instructive words: If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil? By the good he means the good things given by God, both temporal and eternal; by evil he means the blows he is suffering from in the present. Of those evils the Lord says, through the prophet Isaiah, I am the Lord, unrivalled, I form the light and create the dark. I make good fortune and create calamity, it is I, the Lord, who do all this. I form the light, and create the dark, because when the darkness of pain is created by blows from without, the light of the mind is kindled by instruction within. I make good fortune and create calamity, because when we wrongly covet things which it was right for God to
create, they are turned into scourges and we see them as evil. We have been alienated from God by sin, and it is fitting that we should be brought back to peace with him by the scourge. As every being, which was created good, turns to pain for us, the mind of the chastened man may, in its humbled state, be made new in peace with the Creator. We should especially notice the skilful turn of reflection he uses when he gathers himself up to meet the persuading of his wife, when he says If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil? It is a great consolation to us if, when we suffer afflictions, we recall to remembrance our Maker ’s gifts to us. Painful things will not depress us
if we quickly remember also the gifts that we have been given. As Scripture says, In the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and in the day of affliction, do not forget prosperity. Whoever, in the moment of receiving God’s gifts but forgets to fear possible affliction, will be brought low by his presumption. Equally, whoever in the moment of suffering fails to take comfort from the gifts which it has been his lot to receive, is thrown down from the steadfastness of his mind and despairs.
The two must be united so that each may always have the other’s support, so that both remembrance of the gift may moderate the pain of the blow and fear of the blow may moderate exuberance at receiving the gift. Thus the holy man, to soothe the depression of his mind amidst his wounds, weighs the sweetness of the gifts against the pains of affliction, saying If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?

And from the morning reading of the same day:
Judith 8:25-26,27
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God who, as he tested our ancestors, is now testing us. Remember how he treated Abraham, all the ordeals of Isaac and all that happened to Jacob. For as these ordeals were intended by him to search their hearts, so now this is not vengeance that God exacts against us, but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near his heart.

My Experience with John Paul II

When I was living in Italy, back when I was a confused and searching atheist, I had a habit of hopping the bus to Rome on Saturdays. I enjoyed walking the city and spending significant time in both the monuments – like the Coliseum – and in the cathedrals. I particularly liked Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Peters.
On one occasion I walked to St. Peters Square. I had intended to see the basilica. But the square was packed with thousands and thousands of people. The entire sea of shoulder-to-shoulder people was centered on one tiny white speck of a person. I had never seen a crowd like it. Of course I knew who the white speck was. And of course I took a picture. I still have it.
At the time, I felt as if I had seen a celebrity from afar. But it was more than that. I was seeing the power of the faith. I was seeing a 72 year old religious figure being treated like a rock star. Better than a rock star, with thousands of people hanging on his every word.
Moments like this – and moments like my awe at the paintings of Carravaggio in Santa Maria Maggiore or my curiosity at the stories told at the San Pietro in Vincolo (St. Peter in Chains) church – were tilling the soil of my heart, preparing me for the seed that soon God would be planting there.
So today I see the news of John Paul II’s beatification. I was in the presence, even tangentially and even if he was just a speck in the distance, of one whom we will call blessed, of one whom eventually we will call Saint. It is a thrilling thought.
These experiences that prepare one’s soul for God’s grace, we owe them to our children. Even local shrines or monasteries or diocesan cathedrals can be moving and can give one a glimpse of the majesty of God, a taste of the supernatural. On May 1, there will be another chance for such an experience, with the beatification ceremony of John Paul II. My kids and I will be watching.

Marrying an Atheist

I ran across this post
Could You Marry an Atheist today and it struck home. My wife – cradle-Catholic, lector, and regular volunteer at Boston University’s Newman House – had planned to do just that – marry an atheist – the atheist in question being me. It was all set to go. We had met with her priest and fulfilled all the Church’s requirements for a mixed-faith wedding. I had agreed to raise any children Catholic, and I respected her faith just as I respected all other aspects of her life.

We had a long engagement during which I lived in Italy for almost a year. During that time, I had a “road to Damascus” moment. God made himself known to me in no uncertain terms. (That is a whole other story.) Atheism was no longer an option. On a cold night – a cold Advent night, as I would later find out – I was given the gift of faith. I returned to the states, enrolled in RCIA, and finally entered at the Easter vigil just months before we were married.
So my wife became engaged to an atheist and married a Catholic.
Not a path I would recommend.

I don’t mean that it worked badly for us. I believe ours was a relationship inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the blessings have flowed from it. But I doubt it would work for others. And most importantly, I would not want my daughter to marry an atheist.

Really, there are only two options. Either the Catholic believes that their spouse will eventually convert (and sees themselves as a catalyst for the conversion), or the Catholic accepts that they will forever be married to an atheist. Both attitudes are dangerous.

As a Pre-Cana couple, we counsel our engaged couples not to think they are going to change their betrothed. Bottom line, changes come from within – or through the Holy Spirit in the case of spiritual changes – they cannot be forced. Believing you will convert a potential spouse is a recipe for disappointment and worse.

Worse yet is the decision to live ones life not only with someone of a different faith, but with someone who actively disbelieves in God. There are more problems with that than I can possibly list, but here are a few that, having been an atheist, are prominent to me. First, each parent has a unique spiritual role in the faith formation of the children. Numerous studies show that if the father is not strong in the faith, the kids will not be either. The father is essential in that regard. Mom is imortant too. She tends to bring in the compassionate side. While Dad may be a by-the-numbers type, Mom is the one more likely to teach the children Christian charity and neighborliness. Every night I bless my children in bed. I frequently lead them in the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. They see me singing at Mass, so they assume they should be singing too. What if they were missing all that?
Second, everyone’s faith goes through difficult dry periods. In our experience, when one of us is dry, the other provides the inspiration to work through it. I know that there are times when the sight of my wife praying pulls me out of a dark place. I know I do the same for her. Without that? How hard would it be for a spouse to keep her faith when her husband is getting along just fine, thank you very much, with his secular humanism that doesn’t require all that silly sacrifice, mortification, and acceptance of suffering?
Third, atheism brings baggage. It usually means a more amoral or immoral background. It did with me. I am still unpacking and disposing of that baggage, and it has caused my lovely wife more than her share of grief. I do not want to see my children dealing with that.

Anyway, I am running out of steam. Sometimes – as in my case – God puts an atheist and a Catholic together with a grand purpose in mind. More likely, however, the marriage is according to a human plan, not God’s plan, and as such will lead down a very dark path.