Category Archives: Joyful Christian

St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Her Little Sacrifices

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We often think of St. Thérèse in terms of simplicity of life, the life of a joyful young woman in a cloistered convent. She is the Little Flower, which almost has some kind of 60s flower-child connotation.

She was, indeed, a gentle soul, and she did, indeed, live a simple life. Her spiritual life was, however, built around the concept and practice of self-sacrifice.

“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies,” she wrote.

I find the concept of obscure sacrifice to be compelling. We all love to make sacrifices when we get noticed for it, don’t we? We all have “white martydom” syndrome. Do we hesitate to share with others how hard it is sometimes to raise kids? How many times, in an argument with our spouse, do we tell them just how much we have given up for them? When we give up desserts or alcohol or something else for Lent, do we make sure everyone at work knows about it? Do we make a big deal to people about not eating meat on Fridays?

But obscure sacrifices, hidden sacrifices. Aren’t those the sacrifices we are commanded to make? Didn’t Christ say that if we fast we are to wash our faces and not let anyone know we are fasting? Didn’t He tell us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing?

It doesn’t take much. St. Thérèse said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” We have to pick up those pins, and marriage and family life provides ample opportunity. Let’s not squander that opportunity by trumpeting our great self-sacrifice. A little humility would be in order on that front. We should remember that St. Thérèse performed her little hidden sacrifices when she was suffering from a tuberculosis which would take her life at the age of 24. We should remember that St. Thérèse went through a Dark Night of the Soul, herself, and was tormented by temptations and a grave crisis of faith. If she could persevere through that without complaint, we can persevere through our daily pains with a smile on our face.

Thoughts on 20 Years of Marriage

My wife and I recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary. It was a good celebration, full of love and joy and happiness.

The sad fact is that most marriages don’t make it to twenty years. We are blessed to know people, including our own parents, whose marriages have lasted much longer. But more recent marriages often do not. It is important to reflect on the why of that, and not just to chalk it up to some half-imagined attribute that some have and some do not (good communication, for instance).

The first important thing to realize is that no marriage is easy. It is simply not true that the only marriages that work are marriages in which there are never conflicts and the couple is “made” for each other. The concept of the “soul mate” is on the top ten list of modern inventions most toxic to marriages. (Also on that list: contraception, no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, pornography, and so forth.) Every marriage has difficulties. Ours has. We have had our share of crises. We have gone through those moments where we really couldn’t stand each other, where we hurt each other in ways no one else had or could, where we desperately and seriously thought about divorce. Human beings are capable of great cruelty to each other, and we have been no exception.

So with that in mind, how did we survive? How does anybody.

Is It Faith?

Is it simply a matter of faith? Faith does help, of course. But the fact of the matter is that the divorce rate of Catholics who profess to believe the faith is really no different than the divorce rate of seculars. At the same time though, faith is essential. “The family the prays together stays together,” is not a falsity.

It all goes back to this: “Faith without Works is Dead” (Jm 2:17). A faith that remains unacted on cannot help our marriage or any part of our life. Only faith that is lived through daily actions and decisions can bring graces into lives or into our marriages. This is born out by other studies that show that couples who do not contracept or who actively pray together daily or who are active in their parishes are much less likely to have a divorce.

Committment

We all know that a marriage is a committment. But there are the normal kinds of committments – lukewarm, only kept until things get difficult – and then there are the serious kinds of committments – the kind you keep even if it means suffering and death. The latter is the kind of committment both spouses have to have if a marriage is to be strong. It is basically an attitude that divorce is not an option.

That kind of attitude – that divorce is simply not an option – brings with it the will to do the hard work needed to make the marriage successful. It makes you willing to take marriage classes, see a counselor when needed, make changes to your own behavior, keep the lines of communication open even when you don’t want to. A champioship caliber football player has the attitude that nothing is more important than winning that Super Bowl. That attitude gives him the will and perseverence necessary to lift weights all summer, to stick to a serious diet regimin, to stay on the practice field long hours and keep the nose in the playbook late into the evening. We, as married couples, have to have that same attitude.

That is it, in a nutshell. An unwillingness to even consider divorce. That committment comes from living the faith, and that committment leads us to do the hard work we have to do to make it work.

And the beauty of all that? It is the happiness and joy that arises. I would not trade the twenty years with my wife for anything. All that work we have put into our marriage has been paid back ten-fold in happiness. She has brought me places in my life I never could have reached myself, and I know I have done the same for her. I pray that all married couples can have the kind of happiness that we have found. If they live their faith and keep their committment, God’s grace can make that happen.

16 Ways To Be a Radical Catholic Family, Because Pope Francis Wants us to be an Apostolic Nuisance!

Today in his Thursday Mass homily, Pope Francis called on each and every one of us to make ourselves a nuisance. To be annoying Catholics!
No, I am not kidding. He was talking about St. Paul:

“Paul is a nuisance: he is a man who, with his preaching, his work, his attitude irritates others, because testifying to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of Jesus Christ makes us uncomfortable, it threatens our comfort zones – even Christian comfort zones, right? It irritates us.”

But our pews today are not full of St. Pauls. They are full of St. “Bland”s who annoy no one:

“There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal.”

Our Holy Father is praying for something else, something far grander for us:

“So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!'”

So how can we as Catholic families, become “nuisances” like St. Paul? I am far from where I need to be, but here are sixteen ideas to get us on the path:

1. Be annoying to your kids and get the smut out of your home. Cancel cable TV or satellite TV or whatever you have. Get all TVs out of bedrooms, leaving only one TV in a family area. Police movie rentals and keep away anything with negative morals. Now go tell everybody at work.

2. Let your faith show in public. Wear prolife tshirts, crucifixes outside your clothes, crucifix rings. Put Catholic bumper stickers on your car. Hang a crucifix in your cubicle.

3. Write letters to the editor defending religious freedom or prolife values.

4. Say grace before meals at restaurants just as loudly as you do at home.

5. If someone is telling you about their divorce, be sensitive to them, but don’t pretend as if it is a good thing. Show sadness and ask if there is anything you can do to help them get back together. (Three times this has resulted in us being asked to help them, and divorces have been averted.)

6. If you have a big family, take it places and let people see the joy that choosing life brings.

7. If someone asks you to donate to a charity that funds abortion, population control or other immoral causes, refuse and tell them why.

8. Learn your faith so that you can share and defend it under any circumstances.

9. Be the person at work who always has something nice to say, always a good deed to do, and never complains about his work.

10. When people ask you how you succeed (at anything) give the credit to God.

11. Make regular use of the sign of the cross, no matter where you are.

12. Say “God bless you” not only when people sneeze but even as a way of saying goodbye.

13. If someone shares a misfortune with you, don’t just say “I’m sorry”. And definitely don’t say “I’ll be thinking off you”. Tell them you will keep them in your prayers. Better yet, tell them you’ll add them to your nightly prayers.

14. Be the person at work around whom people aren’t comfortable using 4-letter-words. Show them you don’t like their dirty jokes.

15. If someone trash-talks the Church, stand up for her. If someone blasphemes the Lord, defend him.

16. Love your spouse, and let everybody know it.

I know, simple stuff, and stuff that won’t make us popular. But if we want to be saints, we have to get started! Because some people will look at all this and go, “Huh? What’s motivating him, anyway?”

A Message for Our Holy Father, Pope Francis

Dear Holy Father,

I didn’t know who it would be or how I would feel, but now I know. I am so grateful to have you as our Pope!

Everything I have heard about you during this short time since the white smoke fills me with hope for the future and passion for Our Lord. Your humility, simplicity, and firmness of virtue already inspire, and I am sure there are more wonderful stories to come.

All we have heard about in the last weeks are the problems you will face, as if you are just another political candidate trying to address all the concerns of a divided electorate. But now the smoke has cleared. You have one and only one problem to face: how to evangelize a world that has turned in on itself.

But seeing the people in Saint Peter’s square, hearing professional journalists break down in tears at your address, reading the jubilation of millions online; these things show the truth, that there is a planet full of people out there who love Christ and who love his Vicar.

God bless you Pope Francis! And thanks be to God. I can’t wait to see what you do next!

One of the Good Guys

I am taking a musical theater class with my daughter. (I find that participating in my kids’ activities – as coach, helper, or fellow student – brings us closer in a way that’s hard to get otherwise.) My daughter’s vocal teacher, who is leading the class, picked out a song for me: One of the Good Guys from the music revue Closer Than Ever. It is a remarkable song about temptation, mid-life crisis, and the truth about marriage.

Temptation

The song is sung by a self-professed good guy, who dotes on his wife and kids. It quickly becomes a confessional:

But there was a night in Hawaii
On a business trip,
That my mind has suffused with a mystic glow.
She was someone’s friend, and she had this smile…

They become close, but in the end he resists the temptation to cheat on his wife. (Though he should never have been on that beach in the first place!)  And in his reflection it gets interesting:

…one of the good guys
Who trades a flash of heat
To build a warmer fire;
Denies himself a treat
To shoot for something higher
And that’s the part that’s sweet
That only the good guys know.

What is the “something higher”? Of course it is marriage, but it isn’t just any marriage. There are plenty of loveless and miserable marriages out there. It is a marriage that has realized something important. A marriage in which self-sacrifice is recognized as the highest virtue. A marriage built according to this guideline:


Husbands,love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5: 25-31

This is a call to self-sacrifice, a call to the husband to give over his very life for his wife, just as Christ gave up his, a concept out of fashion in our no-fault divorce world. This sort of self-sacrifice, however, which is the definitive sign of real love, is what we were built for, what we are called to, and when we reach it, we have reached something higher. We have reached something holy.

I can honestly say, after twenty years of marriage in which we have seen our share of pain and in which we have failed to love more than I would care to admit, that what you get to after those 20 years of perseverance really is something higher, something transcendent. We have, even in a very imperfect way, attempted to imitate Christ’s love, and even imperfectly it is something wonderful.

But that’s not the end. There is more to the story.

Mid-Life

Fast forward and the singer is now 44 with everything laid out in his life as perfectly as he could ask. But…

Sometimes at night, in the stillness,
Lying wide awake
As the wife I still desire sleeps by my side,
I can feel the wash of the perfumed air
As my mind is drowning in billowing hair…

He is tormented by thoughts of what might have been, of what he gave up, and of the possibility that even now he could seize those fantasies and make them real.

Of course, he doesn’t. After all, he’s one of the good guys. And then he passes on the key piece of wisdom from the song:

It’s not which road you take,
Which life you pick to live in,
Whichever choice you make,
The longing is a given.
And that’s what brings the ache
That only the good guys know.

He has come to realize that no matter how happy you are, no matter which spouse or career or life you choose, you will feel the regret, the questions, the uncertainty, and the temptations. It is just a normal part of life. These things we find ourselves desiring – and the people – are mirages. Worse, they are lies. They promise something they can never give, which is completion. Total happiness.

But why? Why are we built that way? Why can’t we achieve that happiness we desire? St. Augustine understood:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We have an emptiness inside us that only God can fill and that will not be filled in this life. We try to fill that need with pleasure; with sex or alcohol or excitement or food or other indulgences. We try to fill it with our spouse. But it is never enough. We always come back to that empty feeling.

Even our marriage cannot fill that God-sized hole, and if we persist in believing that it should, we may be tempted to throw it away and start over. But if we come to understand what marriage is and what its relation to God is, then we can feel that transcendence that I talked about earlier, even while tormented by the longing that never goes away.

And what is this understanding of marriage? Marriage is no less than a relationship, designed by God, to reflect both Christ’s love for his Church and the Father’s love for the son. It aspires to be the perfect and selfless love that is Christ’s love. Paradoxically, the only way to achieve total happiness is through a total outpouring of oneself for another, for in doing that, we begin fulfill our purpose, which is to be an image of God. Likewise, our marriage an family begins to fulfill its purpose, which is to be an image of the Holy Trinity, that most fundamentl and perfect of all relationships.

And that truly is the part that’s sweet, that only the good guys know.

Happy Feast Day, St. Thérèse!

Today is the feast day of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patroness of my family and this blog.

I woke up this morning, not realizing what day it was, and immediately upon preparing to shower I noticed that my St. Thérèse medal had disappeared from the chain I wear. I was sad and determined to get a new one at the earliest opportunity. Later that morning, I realized that I had lost the medal on her feast day, and was more than just a little sad. I realized I hadn’t said a novena to the Little Flower in quite awhile, and so I decided to start one tonight. Then, this evening, I found the medal in the middle of my bedroom floor.

I like to think that St. Thérèse was trying to tell me that, like a loving sister, she is praying for me, even when I forget about her. That seems reasonable to me. After all, she is a Saint of “signs”. Stories of roses from St. Thérèse abound. I have, on at least three occasions, received unexpected flowers of some sort on days where I was praying particularly fervently for her intercession. Once, at a particularly low point in my life, I was praying hard to her. That evening, I dropped by my parents-in-law for some reason that I don’t remember. My wife’s mother saw me and said, “Oh, I have something for you. I found it at the Dollar Store.” It was a framed picture of the Little Flower, herself. How often do you find framed pictures of saints at the Dollar Store?

Here are two good articles on St. Thérèse that showed up in my inbox today:

From the blog “Beginning to Pray”
and
From the blog “The Integrated Catholic Life”

And here is a link to EWTNs novena to St. Thérèse.

I pray to St. Thérèse that we may all learn to approach God as little children and attempt to do the ordinary things in our life with great love.

Baptisms and a Bad Attitude

At Mass this past Sunday there were two baptisms, an unusual occurrence. There were a few good-natured (and not-so-good-natured) groans and sighs as people anticipated Mass running twenty minutes longer. One fellow, however, who entered with his young grand-daughter, was a little more emotional.

“My G_d, this is not what I come to Mass for! Baptisms!”

He was steamed, and those of us around him were more than uncomfortable. I guess his indignation built during the readings, because he left during the homily and did not return.

My initial reaction was to criticize. After all, if all I do on Sunday is make it to Mass, then I have had a successful day. But something else occurred to me. I saw myself in his “righteous indignation”.

How many times have I become impatient when the actions of others threatened to disrupt my carefully planned day?

How many times have I become indignant when people did things to inconvenience me or were inconsiderate of my feelings?

How many times have I walked out of a store or restaurant with an attitude of “they don’t deserve my business if they’re going to do that?”

Now, of course, we should not feel obligated to bring our business to establishments that don’t provide satisfactory service, but how much of those feelings were a result of an attitude of over-inflated self-importance?

That kind of anger, that kind of ego; those are dangerous feelings to nurture. When we cloak our egos in righteous indignation, those egos become stronger, infecting the rest of our life, and they can even raise their ugly faces during the most holy of moments.

Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Little Way

Yesterday’s Office of Readings contained a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that nicely summarizes The Little Way.

The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly,to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly,to do it because it is his will.

For those of us who are married and parents, the will of God in our life, our daily work, is simply to love our spouses and children, to live out our marital vocation, and to teach and raise our children in the faith. It is not to make a bunch of money, move into the nicest neighborhood, or raise a sports star, pop star or otherwise hyper-successful child.

What is the manner in which he wills it? We do our daily work as perfectly as we can, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. We don’t cut corners in order to make time for TV, partying, or ladder-climbing. We focus on the task at hand and are grateful for it, even if it involves mowing the lawn or cleaning up after a sick toddler.

We do it because it is God’s will. We don’t do it because it makes us feel good, though satisfaction and joy may come as a grace. We don’t do it with the expectation of gratitude from wife/husband or child. We don’t do it to impress others. Others might not be impressed. Gratitude might not be forthcoming. This daily work might include suffering such that satisfaction and worldly happiness is a rare experience. The fact that God wants it must be enough for us.

So let us today resolve to be an instrument of God’s will. We don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Padre Pio or John Paul II or Elizabeth Ann Seton (who, by the way, was a wife and mother). We just have to be a devoted husband, wife, father, or mother.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!

It’s Hard to Love Your Neighbor

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he almost runs you over in the parking lot.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she takes 20 items into the 10 items or less lane–and cuts in front of you to get there.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she not only talks during the movie but explains to her partner exactly what is going to happen next.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he tosses an empty beer can out of his car window.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when you have to walk through her cloud of cigarette smoke.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he lets his dog potty in your yard and doesn’t clean it up.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when the “music” from his car drowns out the conversation in your car.

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he mocks you, spits on you, beats you, pierces your hands and feet and side, and leaves you to die in front of your weeping mother.

Well, ok. Maybe I could try harder to love my neighbor.

Osu! Thank You!

In my son’s karate class, when the instructor calls out push-ups or some other unpleasant exercise, the students know better than to grumble. If they grumble, they get more of whatever they were complaining about, be it push-ps, crunches, or what have you.

Instead, the students are taught to reply, “Osu! Thank you!” (“Osu” is a generic sort of athletic greeting that literally means “push” but in this context might be translated “Yes, sir!”)

My wife pointed out that this is a good lesson in our spiritual lives as well. When God in His wisdom gives us trials, difficulties, or suffering, our response shouldn’t be to complain or whine or, worse, to question God. We should respond in gratitude to God, for after all,
God brings great good out of seemingly evil events.

So, in the spirit of my son’s karate class, whenever life brings us disappointment or difficulty, my wife and I grit our teeth and give Our Lord a heartfelt “Osu! Thank you!”