Atonement and the Undoable

Note: This is a re-post of an earlier post. I hope you enjoy reading it again.

Forgive

Eve Tushnet and a friend went to see a presentation at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC. The presentation was designed to prepare people for the High Holy Days.

Since the High Holy Days are about repentance, it tracks that the presentation was on atonement. However, Eve finished the evening more bemused that enlightened. As she put it,

All of the stories were interesting and for the most part well-told–but literally none of them followed the form I was most hoping for: “I sinned, I realized I was wrong, and I made amends, here’s how.” Several of the stories explored related questions of conscience: Ritija Gupta turned the story of how a bad-girl friend persuaded her to steal sixty cents’ worth of beads, at age seven, into a sharp little parable on how we misunderstand the gravity of our actions, condemning ourselves for peccadilloes while assimilating huge ongoing sins into our sense of what’s normal and acceptable. The host, Amy Saidman, did a funny shtik about the war between “Citizen Amy,” whose conscience would never allow her to damage a car and not even leave a note, and “Spray-Tan Amy,” who can’t stop because she is receiving an award that night, who is special and above the rules.

… The most powerful story came from the most intensely compelling storyteller, Colin Murchie. He’s someone I’ll be looking out for at future Speakeasy events. I don’t want to tell his story for him, but it was about a night when he was forced to completely reassess the motives which had led him to become a volunteer firefighter in a very tough Maryland suburb.

Based on Eve’s description, I would say that one reason the stories didn’t lead to atonement is that they weren’t about serious sin. I understand why, or at least I think I do.

The evening wouldn’t have been entertaining if the story tellers had talked about their adulteries, abortions, shoplifting and the night the guys all got drunk at the fraternity house and passed the girl around. If the wife-beater among them had confessed to beating his wife, and the woman who was sleeping with her husband’s best friend had told all, the evening might have ended early.

But the truth is that the first requirement for atonement has to be an action that wounds someone else.

Let me give you an example. Back in my misspent youth, I was the NARAL Director for Oklahoma. I referred women for abortions. I helped organize the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma and got it up and running.

In short, I helped kill people.

Lots of people.

Helpless little people that I denied were people while I was advocating for their deaths.

Now there’s something that needs a little atonement.

But how? How does anyone atone for so heinous a crime?

For those of you who are reading this with baited breath, waiting for me to give you an answer, I’ll cut to the bottom line: You can’t. You can not atone for sins as black as the ones I’ve committed.

Can’t do it.

Nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing, but nothing, but nothing will ever make right again what you have done wrong.

But if, for reasons that confound all comprehending, God still loves you, even after what you’ve done; if He welcomes you home to Him with joy that defies your ability to find words to describe it, and if He then puts you back into the same place where you committed some of your worst sins in the past –

– If He does all that, then, just maybe, you get the chance to … not do it over, because nobody ever gets the chance to do anything over … but to do it again, and this time to do it better.

How does an adulterer atone for his or her adultery? By being faithful to their spouse.

How does a wife-beater atone for beating his wife? By loving her the way God intended.

But even this kind of living atonement cannot undo the harm you have done. One of the hardest penalties of committing grave sin is that you can’t un-sin it. 

You can’t unadulter, unbeat, unrape, unkill anyone.

Without Jesus Christ you are stuck there in the pit of your sin and remorse forever. You will be a murderer/adulterer/liar/beater all your days. This is why I sometimes get so impatient with people who come on this blog and demand that the Catholic Church change the rules to tell them that their sins aren’t sins. They never do this about eating too many cookies or being a volunteer firefighter for the “wrong” motives.

Nope. They’re ok with those things and the Church’s teachings about them.

It’s the biggies that get them on here demanding a hall pass to heaven. They want the Church to tell them that their adulteries, abortions, disordered sex and lying, cheating ways are not a sin. They claim that anyone, anywhere, who says otherwise is “judging” them.

There are days when I want to put my arms around these lost souls and hug them. There are other days I want to ask, Are you kidding? Where do you get the arrogance to do these things and then demand that the Church — the Church — say that they are not sins?

Do you know what saved me?

The knowledge that I had sinned.

Without that, I would still be lost.

As for atonement, that came long afterwards, when I was mature enough in Christ to survive it. Atonement for me was being given an extra measure of forgiveness I most assuredly did not deserve. God put me in the place and almost coerced events so that I would be given the opportunity to pass pro life legislation. Atonement for me was being pilloried by pro abortion people. I was forced (against my will, I have to admit) to suffer public hazing for the babies.

It was that suffering, that character assassination and constant emotional battering, that finally set me free.

God forgave me, and, after a period of intense grief, I realized that I could not refuse His forgiveness by hanging onto my grief any longer. To do otherwise would be to say that my sins were greater than His mercy.

But it was the atonement — which in my case amounted to a kind of social death — that finally set me completely free of my sins.

I could not undo what I had done. I could not unkill those I had helped kill. I was powerless to rewind the havoc I had wreaked with my sinfulness.

But God could heal me of this grief, and He did. He gave me the chance to suffer just a bit, and the suffering cleansed me in my heart and mind.

I read somewhere — I think it was In This House of Brede, but I’m not sure — that atonement is really at-one-ment. That is a beautiful thought, and I think a true one. Atonement heals the person who atones and allows them to fully rejoin the human race, including those they have harmed, with a renewed self and a new purpose.

Now I, the former advocate of abortion, champion the unborn. I moved from who I was to who I am, from my then to God’s now. In the process, I found a wholeness and forgiveness that only someone who has gone to Jesus in the hopelessness and desperation of knowing that nothing they do can ever undo what they have already done can understand.

None of this belongs in a play, of course. At least not an entertaining one.

But it is the truth.

Will They Know We are Christians by Our Love?

Funny raise your voice argument


“A Christian murderer…It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in History.” Pope Francis

I want to tell you two stories, both true, and both of which happened to me.

Back when I was running for office the first time around, I held a fund-raising party at a friend’s house. During the course of that campaign, I had been the target of a group of people who were strongly pro life. I had preachers at the largest churches in the district, preaching against me every Sunday. I had pro life people, walking door-to-door throughout the entire district, spreading outrageous lies about me.

For some reason, whenever a woman runs for office, the lies usually center around sex. I was denounced as a lesbian/prostitute/whore. I was also called a Communist.

When the fund-raising party took place, several of the pro life people showed up and took photos of the guests as they entered the house in what everyone thought was an attempt to intimidate them. They also made a point of writing down the license tag numbers on the guests’ cars.

That was back then, when I was pro choice.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and I am a converted Catholic, and what has been called the most pro life member of the Oklahoma legislature. (That’s the same Oklahoma legislature I was in back when I was pro choice.)

I hold another fund-raising event, this time a reception at the law office of a long-time friend of mine. Once again, I have been attacked by people who are passionate about the issue of abortion. Only this time it is the pro abortion people. I almost get censured by the Oklahoma Democratic Party. I am called a woman-hater/liar/whore. I am also called a (get ready for this) Fascist.

Now, at this fund-raising party, the pro abortion people show up. They — you guessed it — take photos of the guests as they enter the building, presumably to intimidate them, and write down the license tag numbers on the guest’s cars. The only difference between them and the pro life people who attacked me in my past is that they add the flourish of pickets with signs and chanting “traitor” at me in loud voices when I walk into the building.

Here’s my point: How, exactly, would a person on the sidelines be able to tell these two groups apart?

Answer: They’re can’t.

Both groups justify their behavior with claims that they are behaving badly out of a desire to create a greater good. The pro choicers claim that they are motivated by their love for women. The pro lifers say that they are motived by their love for unborn babies.

But if there is love in either group, you can’t see it by watching them. Their motivation appears to be hatred of one another.

In my humble opinion, if you can’t tell the difference between the behavior of pro life people and pro abortion people, then the pro life people are doing something wrong.

Evidently, my earlier post about slander and hate in political campaigns, felt like a personal attack to at least a few Public Catholic readers. That was not my intention. I know how hard it is to keep your religion when you are dealing with evil, and abortion is evil, right down to the ground. It perverts everything it touches, including good intentions.

It is the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself that sin is not sin if it is committed in the name of doing good. Politicians do this all the time. It’s why nobody trusts them. Politicians have extraordinary verbal skills and a good dose of legal sophistry at their disposal. They can spin up explanations about their own behavior and use those explanations to give themselves a green light to do just about anything. They excuse immoral behavior by claiming a moral imperative to behave immorally on just about every weasel vote they take.

Anyone who engages in the political battles of this world — even volunteers and well-wishers — is positioning themselves for a blast from the temptations of power. There are plenty of power brokers out there working full-time to grease the slide of ordinary people into the same self-congratulatory self-excusing self-justifications that politicians use.

But the truth itself remains untouched. In the end, the only ones we fool are ourselves.

What I’m trying to say is Do not let the evil of abortion and the venality of politics overwhelm your goodness and destroy your Christian witness. Do not tell yourself that sin is not sin if it is committed in the name of fighting abortion. Do not tell yourself that maliciously spreading ugly stories and gossip about other people is ok if it’s done to keep a pro abort out of office.

Because it is not ok. You may not do evil for a good cause. You also may not do evil because someone else did it first. It is wrong. It is sinful. For your own sake — for your own soul — do not become hardened in this sin of personal character assassination.

Several commenters have objected to the use of the phrase “murder with words” to describe the deliberate destruction of another person’s reputation for malicious purposes. I have looked into the eyes and seen the faces of people from both sides of the argument as they spit out vile epithets at me. I saw who sent them in their eyes. I never doubted that they were trying to hate me to death, that the only thing between their hate and actual, physical murder was fear of the law. The experience gave me an understanding of what Jesus meant when he said that a person who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life within him. 

Think for a minute. Consider the dark pleasure that you feel when you are venting your righteous rage. Ponder the ugliness that enters your soul, along with the anger that accompanies it.

I spent a good bit of time in church this weekend, praying about my own righteous anger over fallen Catholics in high places. I knew that I could not and would not take to the various forums that are open to me and begin calling them names and putting out Photoshopped versions of their faces, replete with horns and ugly expressions. I had no temptation to degrade them as human beings or to spread ugly stories about them to punish and hurt them.

But I knew that the anger I felt could fester into bitterness, and that this bitterness would separate me from the one place above all that I want to be, which is in a state of grace. I want to do what my Lord Jesus Christ requires of me. So, I prayed about this anger before it had time to grow roots and begin to own me.

It is ok, it is fine, in fact, to deal with issues and facts and to point out the areas where you disagree with a person. It is ok, when the facts themselves warrant it, to say something such as President Obama is the most pro abortion president in history. I think there is sufficient factual evidence to warrant that statement, and I also think that it pertains to his job performance.

As their employers, the American people are obliged to have opinions about their elected officials’ job performance. Judiciously considering the facts and making reasoned judgements about how our elected officials perform their jobs is part of our charge as citizens of this Republic.

It is also imperative that Christians engage the larger culture through their work, their politics and their ministries. We are called to be the light of the world. We need to go into the world and be that light.

But trashing another person for the pleasure of hurting them — which is the real reason people repeat ugly, personal stories — is sinful. Trashing another person as a tactic is just as sinful. I am not talking about legitimate political criticism. I am talking about attempts to destroy someone’s reputation by spitefully spreading personal stories about them in what amounts to a political vendetta. Use any excuse you want, that is a sin. If you will just look into your own heart, at the darkness it puts there, you will know it for the sin it is.

I can attest to this because I am a human being. I know about the dark pleasure of hurting someone with words because I have felt it. I can tell you, based on my sinful experience that this is a grave sin that not only inflicts helplessness, humiliation and scalding pain on the person you attack, it dips your own soul in the blackness of evil. It is from the pit.

The question is not whether or not “everybody else is doing it.” Of course they are. Our whole culture is rotten with the politics of personal destruction. That is not a question at all.

The real question is: When people look at pro life advocates, will they be able to tell a difference between us and the pro abortion advocates?

Unless the answer to that is a clear-cut and resounding “yes,” we will never, no matter how hard we try, convert this culture to Christ.

After I wrote this, I found these comments from Pope Francis on this subject. From CNA/EWTN:

.- During his morning Mass homily in Santa Marta, Pope Francis focused on the topic of gossip – saying that when we participate in this sin, we imitate Cain’s gesture in killing his brother Abel.

The Pope began his homily Sept. 13 by echoing the words of Jesus in the gospel reading, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

He spoke for a few minutes on the virtue of humility, adding that Jesus addressed those who practice the opposite and who foster “that hateful attitude towards one’s neighbor when one becomes a ‘judge’ of his brother,” calling them “hypocrites.”

“Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings.”

Pope Francis said that the “Lord does not waste many words on this concept,” and that “he who has hatred in his heart for his brother is a murderer.”

The Pope added that in his first letter, John the Apostle emphasizes that “anyone who has hatred for his brother is a murderer, he walks in darkness, he who judges his brother walks in darkness,” and that those who judge or speak ill of others are “Christian murderers.”

“A Christian murderer…It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in History.”

During this time when there is so much debate and discussion about war amid cries for peace, the pontiff pleaded that “a gesture of conversion on our own behalf is necessary.”

“Gossip,” he cautioned, “always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip.”

Quoting St. James the Apostle, the Pope imparted that the tongue is designed to praise God, “but when we use our tongue to speak ill of our brother or sister, we are using it to kill God…the image of God in our brother.”

I Confess

Pope Francis on confession. I included two videos because together they give a fuller understanding of what the Holy Father said.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Pope Francis Gives an Interview. New York Times Re-Writes It.

Catechism

Pope Francis gave an extensive interview to America Magazine, which you can find here

The New York Times did an extensive re-write of this interview, which you can find here

Just for the record, the Holy Father did not say what the New York Times is claiming. The Times took quotes out of context, and re-interpreted them along the lines of the secular gospel. What the Pope said is simple, clear and obvious Christian teaching that the Church has proclaimed for 2,000 years. 

Here’s what the Holy Father said, and what, in Sunday School parlance, it means. 

What the Pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

What it means in Sunday School:

Love the sinner. Hate the sin. 

What the Pope said:

“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

What it means in Sunday School:

God’s mercy is greater than any sin you can commit and it is available in confession. Abortion and birth control are not the only sins. God has mercy for post abortive men and women. I am a shepherd of souls, including those who commit sins other than abortion and contraception. 

What the Pope said:

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. 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.

What it means in Sunday School:

We can not earn salvation by picking out one or two sins and condemning them. That only makes us bitter and self-righteous. We must focus first on loving Jesus. Then, Jesus will change us and we will want to follow Him with our lives. The Church must preach Christ. 

 

There is a lot more to this interview. It is long and, as always with Pope Francis, completely candid. I suggest you go to the link I gave you and read it for yourself. 

For more information, check Frank WeathersSam Rocha and Elizabeth Scalia

The Burden of Sin: What Jesus Endured on the Cross

The One Who knew no sin became sin for us.

 

YouTube Preview Image

Graphic images, not for children.

She Could Have Been Me

I wrote this post over a year ago. In light of questions raised by a reader concerning this post, I’ve decided to republish it today.

YouTube Preview Image

 

She could have been me.

I didn’t get to that thought at first. My first reaction when I saw the Live Action undercover video The War on Baby Girls was anger. I’ve known this was happening, that women were aborting baby girls because they were baby girls, for quite a while.

My sources were nurses and chaplains who work in Oklahoma hospitals. I helped pass a bill which tried, within the straight jacket of Supreme Court rulings on the subject of abortion, to do something about it. The supporters of legal abortion claimed that the bill was unnecessary, that sex-selected abortions don’t happen.

It gets wearying, dealing with the constant barrage of lies that attend politics these days. No one tells the truth; not about their intentions, the legislation, or the objective facts of medical practice. Nothing — and I mean NOTHING — brings out the facile lying more than the fine art and practice of medical misogyny.

So, when I watched that video, my first reaction was anger. It took a few hours for the other reaction to come around. I kept remembering that counselor. She was careful with her words. She never said “abortion,” or “abort.” The word “kill” didn’t cross her lips. She talked about “terminate.”

“If you decide to terminate,” she said.

I replayed her face as she told the girl to avoid telling people that she was planning to abort her baby if the baby was a girl.

Some people might “place judgement,”  she said.

Nothing about the counselor shouted Monster! But what she was doing, what she was saying, what she was aiding, abetting and helping to happen WAS monstrous. How did she, how does anyone, get to this place? The grim logic of abortion and its illogical conclusions doubtless played a part in her actions. If a five month old baby (and that’s what a 20-week fetus is) is not human enough to have a right to life, then what does it matter why we kill her?

But the counselor’s words resonate: “Place judgement” she said. That’s the paralyzing ethos of our times at work. Judging, judgmentalism, are the evils in this upside down world, not the murder of an innocent baby girl.

I would guess that a lot of people look at that counselor with disgust and rage. But I feel sorry for her. I hate having to admit this, but the truth is, she could have been me. There was a time when I wasn’t just pro-choice, I was a stinking fanatic about it. I had seen and experienced first hand the violence, degradation and destruction that is misogyny and, like so many young women of my time, I saw abortion as a way out.

But when you go down that path of using one evil to justify another evil you end up committing even greater evils yourself. If you really aren’t a monster who has no conscience or concern for other people, you look for ways to hide what you are doing from yourself. The greatest lies of our times are the lies we tell ourselves to justify doing things that we know are wrong. What makes it work is that the whole culture conspires with us in the doing of it.

The culture, not just of Planned Parenthood, but of our whole American world, says that you can not, you should not, you must not “judge.”

As with most lies that are effective, this one has truth mixed into it. The desire to play God runs strong in all of us. I think that if we had the power to enact our judgements on one another, none of us would go to heaven. We would all condemn one another to hell.

But using the word “judgement” itself as a condemnation is not only idiotic, it’s destructive. The human brain is designed by Our Maker to observe, compare, think and conclude. These conclusions are just another word for “judgement.” When our culture labels this power to discern and decide an evil; when it shears our thinking brains away from us, we become a culture of co-dependence and mental decay.

It’s as if we’ve all suffered a cultural stroke and the words “this is wrong” have been erased from our minds. Instead of saying the plain facts of things, we go into mental gymnastics, trying to “understand” the most hideous behavior. We create fantasy motives for crimes against humanity which are tissues of lies we tell ourselves. These fantasy interpretations of the plain reality in front of us help us silence the thinking, analyzing parts of our brains. They allow us to avoid the social anathema of being labeled “judgmental.”We find ourselves unable to set standards for behavior for anyone, including ourselves.

That is how a basically kind-hearted person can become a monster.

The great irony is that the flip side of this is no better. If we take the untrammeled power to judge others onto ourselves, we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the gulags, pogroms, lynchings, rapes and murders come from. On the other hand, if we flee from this into a refusal to “judge,” we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the attacks on Christians, abortions, euthanasia, and starvation of millions for corporate greed come from.

We can whipsaw our human nature from pole to pole; from legalistic judging to fear of judging that becomes another kind of legalistic judging, and we always end up right back where we started from. We are caught forever in the morass and mess of original sin and we cannot think, moralize or fight our way out of it.

The only thing that can save us is the cross. The only One who can save us is Jesus.

I know. Because He saved me. My first reaction to that video was anger. Then, I indulged in a few minutes of self-righteousness by remembering what I went through trying to help pass a bill to lessen the practice of sex-selected abortion. Finally, I came around to the truth: That counselor could have been me, was me, is me, without Christ.

Human beings become monsters when we take the deciding of right and wrong, good and bad, on ourselves without reference to the One who made us. Nothing we can do, and I mean NOTHING we can do, can save us from this. You can go to church, sing in the choir, read the Bible, but if you do these things on your own power and by your own lights, you can and you will become a monster to somebody. You may not have an abortion. But you’ll do something.

We are not saved by ourselves, of ourselves, or even for ourselves. Our salvation comes through the humiliation of the cross and the only honest way we can approach that cross is with humility.

The only salvation we have is at the foot of the cross.

The counselor in that video could have been me.

When you look around at the sins of the world, which of them could be you?

Death. And What Comes After.

1349663921250 cached

Ascent of the Blessed, Heironymous Bosch, circa 1500

Death.

And what comes after.

Near death experiences happen to a lot of people. I know people who have been through near death experiences. I know that what these people say is the truth as they understand it.

What do these things mean? Well, first of all, the person did not die. They were near death, not dead. So, I think it’s safe to say that what they experienced was not death itself. At the same time, these are not just dreams or hallucinations as dreams and hallucinations usually are. There is a profound quality to what happened, and it fits with what also happens to the person afterward.

The near death experiences I know about that I feel secure in believing involve a good afterlife. However, this video contains the story of a Catholic priest who had to deal with the reality of judgement and hell. We will all stand before God one day and give an account of our lives. None of us will escape this. As the priest in the video says, the self-serving explanations we give ourselves for our actions here won’t avail us much on that day.

The video raises some of the most important questions any of us will ever have to answer. Give it a watch and see what you think.

YouTube Preview Image

Self-Aggrandizing Ego and Eternal Suicide

482127 512279958836026 1700772862 n 575x847

Bank robbers and drug dealers aren’t the only ones who turn their backs on God until they get in trouble. We’re all prone to do this.

Jail house conversions are the stuff of bad jokes and legend. Once in a while, one of these literal “come to Jesus” events holds up throughout the rest of a person’s life. More often, the repentant sinner reverts to their old selves as soon as the bad times pass.

The difference between the convicted felons and the high and mighty of the world in terms of conversion is a matter of circumstance, not righteousness. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that I find it much easier to deal with an alcoholic or a philanderer who knows that they are doing wrong than with a self-righteous, self-worshipping upstanding citizen who only sees the crimes and faults of others. 

It is possible to work with the miscreant who knows they have faults. The person who is so sure of their rightness, not so much.

Pope Francis gave a homily yesterday that I think every successful and powerful person should hear. It doesn’t matter if you are an elected official, the head of a corporation or a doctor who is using the medical technology at your disposal to exploit your patients, your soul is always in great peril, precisely because of your successes in the arena of life. 

It is too easy to become what the Holy Father calls “corrupt,” which is to say, self-sufficient to the point that you no longer think you need God. The first corruption is always, as Elizabeth Scalia wrote in Strange Gods, making a false idol of yourself. The first challenge of the high and mighty isn’t adultery or abortion or lying or stealing or any of the sins people commit with such reckless disregard for consequence. The first challenge is narcissism. 

Self esteem is not usually a problem for the lords of this world. Realistic self-assessment is. The harbinger of all internal corruption of the powerful is always self-referencing self-adulating self-worship. It is so easy to think that god (little g) is made in your image when nobody tells you “no,” when your jokes are always funny and lunch is always free. 

It is, as Jesus told us, easier by far for a successful person to feel they have gained the world and in their smugness, lose their own souls. 

Self-corrupted people like this are found inside the Church as well as outside it. Clergy get a heavy dose of unearned respect and adulation along with equally unearned abuse. This is unbalancing for anyone. They are talented people with the ability to persuade others. Their verbal skills are the equal of any politician’s and the temptations they face are often startlingly similar. 

That’s probably who Pope Francis was zeroing in his homily this morning. I don’t know, but I would guess that he was talking directly to some of the people sitting in his audience. However the truth of his homily, like all truths about human nature, are universal. 

We are killing ourselves spiritually with our self-aggrandizing egos. It is a form of suicide that can last for eternity. 

YouTube Preview Image

What Is God’s Purpose for My Life?

I know people who search for “God’s plan” for their lives all the time. They spend days in prayer, “seeking the Lord” over what they should do next.

I am not criticizing that or even commenting on it except to say that I know there are people who approach things this way. My way of walking with God is much more passive. My experience has been that if God wants me to do something, He’ll tell me. In fact, if God wants me to do something, He’ll pursue me. I won’t be able to get out of it.

I’m not someone who has ever hungered to do great missions for the Lord. I am so grateful that He forgave me and lets me be part of Him. That is enough for me. All I want is just to live my life in His grace, and when I die to get my toe onto the lowest rung of Purgatory. I trust Him completely with my life. I’ve been in the palm of His hand since the moment I was conceived, and I will be in those same hands through the passage of death and onwards through eternity.

However, as I said, there are those who “seek the Lord” asking for a ministry or cause. This video is for them. It’s also for all of us in that it gives some good common sense Christian guidelines for discerning how to live, whatever you do.

For instance, if you feel that the Holy Spirit is leading you in directions that oppose 2,000 years of Church teaching, then you need to do some more honest praying. It’s time for you to listen to God instead of telling Him.

The only vocation I ever prayed for was the vocation of motherhood. God gave that to me, but after a time of trial and sorrow. Then he has added other, complimentary vocations on top of it. He took me out of the world and let me spend wonderful years as a full-time wife and mother. Then, He put me back in the world where I “mothered” a broader swath of people … my constituents.

Now, he’s leading me beyond that.

God does not waste anything about us, including our deepest sins. He doesn’t obliterate our sinful acts or undo them. He transforms our weakness and our sinfulness into an instrument of His purpose.

But before He will do this, He first puts us through a deep-cleaning, a personal Gethsemane. I suffered deeply in this period when I faced the full horror of my sins. God gave me the gift of letting me see who I really was and what I had done. He removed the self-protective illusions of being a good person that I had sheltered behind and let me see the depth of my own depravity.

I think sometimes that the people who are praying for God to use them do not know that before He can use you, He has to first break you of your self-sufficiency. They think they’re good to go just as they are.

Active vocation is not a higher blessing that simply being still in the Lord. The most generous gift the Lord ever gave me was those years at home, removed from the spotlight, with my husband and babies.

Never forget that our first vocation is just to let Him love us.

Enjoy the video.

YouTube Preview Image

Pope Francis: The Struggle to Reject Gossip

Pope francis hugging disabled child


Pope Francis is a priest.

That sounds like an absurdly redundant statement. Of course he’s a priest. But I’m not talking about the collar and the black clothes. I’m not even referring, for the moment, to the fact that he is one of those men whose life work it is to gift the world with the sacraments. From priests’ hands we receive the Eucharist.

I don’t mean that right now. I am referring to the fact that Pope Francis is a pastor of souls. He is the good shepherd we’ve been given. Not all priests are pastors of souls. Some are more turned to other things that can range from mysticism to a flair for administration. None of these things are bad. In fact, taken together, they give us the whole of the faith.

But pastors of souls, true shepherds of God’s people, are what Jesus specifically mentioned when He commissioned Peter. “Feed my sheep,” he said. 

I am beginning to look forward to the reports each day coming out of Pope Francis’ morning homilies. These homilies are deeply pastoral, dealing as they often do with ordinary sins and vices, daily weaknesses and challenges, that every Christian faces. He gave a homily this morning on complaining. When Vatican radio posts it, I’ll put it here for you to read.

Today, I’m going to share one of his previous homilies. This one is about gossip.

Gossip norman rockwell1

Gossip is such a common vice. Everyone does it. People are interested in other people. We live with, love, cherish, compete with, hate and hurt one another. For most of us, our whole world is other people. Walk through any cemetery, and what you will see on the gravestones are words linking the dead person to relationships with the living. Beloved Father, Dearest Mom, Sister, Brother, Son and Daughter; that’s what we inscribe on the stones we leave to mark the fact that there was a life here, a life lived in relationship with other people.

We know ourselves through other people. Most of what we think of ourselves comes from what they tell us. They are the mirror we have for our selves and our lives.

Which is precisely what gives gossip its power. Idle chit-chat gossip is usually harmless, and can even be kind. But the darker kind of tale-telling that involves dwelling on people’s faults and criticizing their weaknesses can hurt. If it gets to the point that it becomes a group judgement, it can inflict deep wounds. I am not talking here about deliberate calumny and character assassination for gain. That is an obvious, terrible and mortal sin; the kind of thing you can go to hell for.

What I am talking about is the picking and pecking away at another person to the point that the whole group of people they associate with — be it family, classmates or co-workers — makes a kind of group assessment of them and fixes it on them. Gossiping about someone in this way is almost always unkind. Fixating on them in some small and critical way is cruel. When a group of people they have to associate with decides through gossip that this is what they are, it is destructive.

It wounds the person who is the object of the gossip. It dirties the souls of those who engage in this gossip. It damages the harmony and happiness of the group or community which has allowed this to happen to itself.

Gossip hurts people. It fractures community and damages the ability of people to work together for a goal. Whether that goal is a happy home life or building a bridge, gossip can make achieving it a hard and thankless slog.

If we are truly born again into a new way of living and thinking, then gossip that wounds can not be a part of us. The ultimate harm of gossip is that it separates us from who we are meant to be in Christ. It not only weakens our witness for Him, it weakens our relationship with Him.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness,” James tells us.

I need to remember that as much as anyone else. When it comes to gossip, I think almost everyone could take a good look at themselves. Let’s consider what the Holy Father had to say about it.

Pope francis soft smile

From Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) May the Holy Spirit bring peace to Christian communities and teach its members to be meek, refusing to speak ill of others. With this hope, Pope Francis concluded his homily at Mass Tuesday morning with staff from the Vatican medical services and office staff of the Vatican City Government. “The first Christian community is a timeless model for the Christian community of today, because they were of one heart and one soul, through the Holy Spirit who had brought them into a “new life”. Emer McCarthy reports: RealAudioMP3 

In his homily Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage that recounts the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, who did not immediately grasp how a man can be “born again”. Through the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, we are born into the new life which we have received in Baptism.” However, Pope Francis added, it is a life that has to be developed, it does not come automatically. We have to do all we can to ensure that our life develops into new life”, which may be “a laborious journey” but one that “depends chiefly on the Holy Spirit” as well as our ability to be “open to his breath”.

And this, the Pope pointed out, is exactly what happened to the early Christians. They had “new life”, which was expressed in their living with one heart and one soul. They had, he said, “that unity, that unanimity, that harmony of feeling of love, mutual love …”. A dimension that needs to be rediscovered. He noted that today, for example, the aspect of “meekness in the community,” is a somewhat ‘forgotten virtue’. Meekness is stigmatized, it has “many enemies”, the first of which is gossip. 

Pope Francis further developed this reflection. “When we prefer to gossip, gossip about others, criticize others- these are everyday things that happen to everyone, including me – these are the temptations of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community”. “These struggles always exist” in the parish, in the family, in the neighborhood, among friends”. Instead through the Spirit we are born into a new life, he makes us “meek, charitable.”

The Holy Father then outlined the correct behavior for a Christian. First, “do not judge anyone” because “the only Judge is the Lord.” Then “keep quiet” and if you have something to say, say it to the interested parties, to those “who can remedy the situation,” but “not to the entire neighborhood.” “If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit – concluded Pope Francis – we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great step forward” and “will do us allgood”.

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X