In Brittany’s video, her mother mentions that her immediate hope was for a miracle. My response to my diagnosis was the same – I hoped for a miraculous recovery so that I would not have to deal with the suffering and pain that was likely to come. However, I now realize that a “miracle” does not necessarily mean an instant cure. If it did, would we not die from something else later in our lives? Is there any reason that we deserve fifteen, twenty, or thirty or more years of life? Every day of life is a gift, and gifts can be taken away in an instant. Anyone who suffers from a terminal illness or has lost someone close to them knows this very well.
I have outlived my dismal prognosis, which I believe to be a miracle, but more importantly, I have experienced countless miracles in places where I never expected to find them. Throughout my preparation for the priesthood I have been able to empathize with the sick and suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. I have traveled to Lourdes, France, the site of a Marian apparition and a place of physical and spiritual healing that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. I have had the great opportunity to serve the infirm there who trust in God with their whole hearts to make sense of their suffering. Through my interaction with these people, I received much more than I gave. I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience.
Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take. As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others. Sadly, the concept of “redemptive suffering” – that human suffering united to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation can benefit others – has often been ignored or lost in modern times. It is perfectly understandable that medication should be made available to give comfort and limit suffering as much as possible during the dying process, especially during a terminal illness, but it is impossible to avoid suffering altogether. We do not seek pain for its own sake, but our suffering can have great meaning if we try to join it to the Passion of Christ and offer it for the conversion or intentions of others. While often terrifying, the suffering and pain that we will all experience in our lives can be turned into something positive. This has been a very difficult task for me, but it is possible to achieve.
There is a card on Brittany’s website asking for signatures “to support her bravery in this very tough time.” I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave. I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide. A diagnosis of terminal cancer uproots one’s whole life, and the decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil. It is an understandable temptation to take this course of action, but that is all that it is – a temptation to avoid an important reality of life. By dying on one’s “own terms,” death seems more comfortable in our culture that is sanitized and tends to avoid any mention of the suffering and death that will eventually come to us all.
Brittany comments, “I hope to pass in peace. The reason to consider life and what’s of value is to make sure you’re not missing out, seize the day, what’s important to you, what do you care about – what matters – pursue that, forget the rest.” Sadly, Brittany will be missing out on the most intimate moments of her life – her loved ones comforting her through her suffering, her last and most personal moments with her family, and the great mystery of death – in exchange for a quicker and more “painless” option that focuses more on herself than anyone else.
I remember a conversation I had when I was about eight years old. A kid who waited at the same bus stop as I did asked me if I believed in God. I thought about it for a moment and said “I don’t know. Maybe God’s real, and maybe not.” The boy said “Oh, you’re an agnostic.” I remembered the conversation not because it seemed important, but rather because I’d learned a new word, and that was always interesting to me as an avid and precocious reader.
My family was ‘culturally Christian’ in a small way: at Christmas, there was a nativity set on display and Christmas carols on the stereo, and my mom at one point reprimanded me for the teen habit of saying “Oh-my-God” as a verbal filler. But there was no Bible or religious books in the house, and we never went to church. As a teenager, I began to be concerned with questions of right and wrong, and felt a longing for meaning and connection, but it didn’t occur to me to explore these issues in religious terms.
In college I absorbed the prevailing idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was just a historical curiosity, and that science could explain everything. By the time I was in my mid- to late twenties, I was convinced that there was no God (or any spiritual reality). I did not believe that I had a soul; I thought I was just an intelligent animal, and that when I died, my consciousness would simply blink out. I thought that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that people who believed in any form of God were seriously self-deluded. It was a bit depressing, but I believed it to be the best explanation of the way the world is, and truth is better than false comfort.
Much more at the link. Read it, be inspired, pass it on.
Hard to believe it's been more than three years since I wrote this:
I've got a confession to make.
I'm regularly praying the Rosary. There, I said it.
For months now and daily during the work week, I'm up at 4:15 AM. It's still dark. Quite dark. I find my Droid X and the Rosary App I downloadedfor free, I find my beads given to me by the angel who ran our RCIA program at St. Joan of Arc's and I head quietly downstairs to my living room, my dog Harley following sleepily and looking at me as if I've lost my marbles, communicating with his eyes that he'd much rather be back in his bed.
I've hesitated to write about it for a variety of reasons, most having to do with an ego yet too large. Doing something I once vigorously opposed is somewhat problematic and of course I'm not the most pious feller publicly and so this sort of thing is likely seen as unusual by those who know me (or who think they do). And frankly there will be some who see it as a weakness, as something less than manly, as something done more usually by females, most of them of the blue haired variety. All these folks are wrong and I'm as wrong for worrying an iota about it.
I continue to pray the Rosary daily though now it takes me less than 20 minutes usually, I combine it with a walk and I no longer need an app to git'r done. It's become something I seriously look forward to doing every day and I know that it's changing me. I do.
Growing up, I’d occasionally catch my father as he finished praying the Rosary early on Saturday mornings (begun in peace when the rest of us were asleep), or notice he’d left his handsome set of beads lying out on a coffee table. I had the blessing of his example. Other men know their fathers have placed a Rosary in their locker at work (try and find a Catholic firefighter who doesn’t have either a Rosary or a saint’s medal) or even just keep one in their pocket, where from time to time they’ll pause and touch the beads. But for those men who haven’t “seen” or “heard,” how do we make sense of the Rosary as a manly devotion?
1. The Rosary is covert. A fierce point of intimidation of being a man of faith in our culture is the fear that we will amount to being hypocrites (and we know how much Jesus loved that…). In the face of our own weakness, we want to be authentic about who we are, what we’re capable of, and what we believe. Rather than broadcasting or projecting a false image of ourselves as mighty saints, men prefer to keep things on the down low. The problem is this principle of authenticity—which is truly noble—can be our undoing. When we’re not grounded in something solid, we’ll drift away. We’re not all called to some kind of grandiose witness, like martyrdom or preaching, but we do need to be faithful. The Rosary offers a structured program for building up the foundation of faith in our souls in secret, so that when the storms come our hearts will be strong enough to be true.
2. The Rosary arms us for spiritual warfare. The fact of the matter is that spiritual life is war (cf.CCC 2725). St. Paul puts it this way, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). To contend in the battle, we must put on the armor of Light (Rom. 13:12)! Dominican friars wear the Rosary on the left side, the side which bore the sword for knights of old. In the battle of the spiritual life, prayer is the only weapon, and it must be used. Frequently. Unceasingly. Devotion to the Rosary reclaimed the life of the 19th-century Italian lawyer Bartolo Longo (who had become entrapped in the world of the occult and often dreamt of taking his own life), and without a doubt, devotion to the Rosary will help us overcome the evils which plague us. The temptations and cycles of sin of the 21st century do not own us, for the Rosary narrates the greatest conquest of all time: the victory of life and light over sin and death.
Br. Briscoe has two more reasons to substantiate his thesis.
"I chose it with no intention to provoke or scandalize. Reading the text, without being influenced by previous interpretations, you discover that it is a song about the power of love to renew people, to rescue them from their past," she explained. "And this is the way that I wanted to interpret it. For this reason, we have transformed this song from the pop-dance piece which it was, into a romantic ballad, a bit like the ones by Amos Lee. Something more similar to a lay prayer, than to a pop piece."
"A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himself."
We are wounded by God because in being touched by Him we have been opened to a whole new way of living and seeing the world. Opened in this way we respond by going out of ourselves, offering ourselves up. As St. John of the Cross puts it “…after wounding me;/ I went out calling you, but you were gone.” These wounds then are wounds of love, of openness to the Other.
Such openness takes the form of a wound because we are not yet able to fully embrace God while we remain in sin and imperfect. There is no other way: We must be open to God before we can be filled by God.
As we come closer to Him, however, our wounds only worsen, as it were, as the dross of sin is melted away from our souls.
Not exactly what we hear from the televangelists, from the name it and claim it crowd, the prosperity gospel-arians, the well coiffed get rich quick theologians, all who flood the airwaves with their heretical bottom-of-the-birdcage-make-Jesus-your-Savior-and-be-happy claptrap.
If I've learned anything about faith, orthodox, traditional, historic faith (and not the sort of shallow, Hallmark sentimentalism too many are selling and too many more, so very sadly, are buying), is that faith can in fact be most painful.
Faith that lasts, faith that overcomes, faith that sustains, perseveres and eventually brings the greatest of comfort is faith that comes paradoxically from wrestling with God and from the pain God allows to happen in our lives. It's the faith taught by the Saints and especially by their lives. It's the faith passed down over the ages. The faith taught by the Church. It's the faith we all seek though many of us unknowingly, even blindly.
Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic letter titled Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), wrote:
A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person "completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions"; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. (SD 27)
I've not yet suffered like a Saint. I hope in fact to never have to but I'm conforted by the fact that should Saintly suffering come, I'm enmeshed in the faith they used to overcome it.
God help all who suffer see You in that suffering and might they be sustained by that seeing.
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” – St. Padre Pio
After a talk I gave a while ago, a young man came to me with a question. “I think I’m a good Catholic,” he began, “but I don’t go to mass. I hear it’s a sin not to go, but I don’t understand that. I guess I don’t see the point. Can you give me any reasons why I should go?” His question was sincere, and it led to a long and healthy discussion of why being present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is important in the life of a faithful Catholic.
But truth be told, many Catholics probably ask the same questions, even if they attend mass faithfully. What’s the point? Why should I bother? This confusion and apathy about the source and summit of the Catholic faith is due to an almost complete failure of teaching on what the mass actually is.
To clear up some of this confusion, let’s examine the nature and purposes of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
WHAT IS THE MASS?
Let’s begin with what the mass is not. The mass is not a community meal designed to strengthen our unity and “gather us in.” Feelings of unity and community can be strengthened at any number of events, including potlucks or Church picnics. At most, feeling unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ is a nice byproduct of the mass, but it is certainly not its chief end.
Second, the mass is not about you. It is not about having a wonderful “weekend experience,” as one new parish based program claims. Nor is its purpose to make you feel good about yourself, to encourage you, to inspire you, or to make you feel included and welcomed. You simply aren’t the audience—God is, and the mass is all about him.
Real forgiveness is hard because it address people, you know, sinned, dammit! They don’t deserve forgiveness.
Correctamundo. People who have sinned do not deserve forgivenness. A helluva a lot of them don’t (or won’t) even admit they’ve sinned, much less gotten around to asking for forgiveness. Jesus’ extremely hard command is still plain:
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mk 11:25).
Note the completely unqualified nature of that command. Nothing about the sinner apologizing. Just “forgive everybody everything, always, and forever”.
“But then they’ll have gotten away with it!”
No they won’t. God is still God. He sees if and when they repent. The forgiveness is for your sake as much as theirs. Forgive and they won’t own you anymore. Hold to bitterness and their cold clammy hand will still grip your ankle 25 years after they have died (and perhaps all the way to hell). Forgive. Let them go. Be free. Let God worry about their destiny.
Mark Shea should be a regular read for anyone wanting to take Catholic faith seriously. And yes, I'm completely aware some Catholics will disagree.
What I love about Mark is this. You can disagree with him all day long but you better bring your "A" game when doing so. And the plus side of that is you've studied what you believe and why and you've come to know more about the Catholic faith.