Does He stop doing ‘new things’ after our eightieth birthday? Surely ninety is too old for His mercies to still be new every morning? Clearly, though, this is not the Biblical witness. Think of Abraham and Sarah. Think of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Still, to many elderly men and women, entering a “senior living” facility symbolizes the end of life’s exciting adventures. At least, that’s what Sherry* thought when she moved into Belmont Village. After selling her home and handing over her bank accounts to her adult children, Sherry transitioned into what she assumed would be a quiet life of cribbage and quilting until her time in this world was up. Having been widowed for sixteen years, she believed that the best of her life was behind her. To her great surprise, however, some of her best days were yet to come.
Sherry has been a fervent and faithful Catholic her whole life-long. It was a deep sadness for her that her husband of so many years did not share her love and enthusiasm for the faith. He was fine with the kids being raised Catholic, but he was no praying man himself. Sherry dreamed of being able to go to Mass with her other-half, of sharing times of prayer and reflection together. But it was not to be so with her husband… at least, not with the first one.
Sherry never imagined, in her wildest dreams, that she would marry again at the age of ninety-one. But her friendship with her hallmate at Belmont, Charlie, was making her feel things she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager. When he walked into the room, she got butterflies in her stomach. Time in his presence passed without her notice. They seemed to just fit together, effortlessly, like hand in glove. After just a few months of knowing each other, Charlie asked Sherry to marry him.
There was no question in Sherry’s mind. This was meant to be. Far above and beyond the ease in their relating with one another was the spiritual life they were able to share together. Like Sherry, Charlie was a long-time devout Catholic. He attended daily Mass, and he made frequent visits to the chapel for times of prayer. Here, finally, was a man with whom Sherry could share not only her heart, mind, and body, but her soul as well. The local parish priest was, expectedly, surprised by the news of their engagement, but he was, nonetheless, supportive and encouraging of their new sacramental life together.
When I first met Sherry, only four months into her new marriage, she was aglow with the joy and love of her second union. It was such a wonderful blessing to meet with her and to hear her love story with Charlie. In addition to attending daily Mass and praying a daily rosary, Charlie and Sherry spent time together in the chapel each and every day, resting silently in the presence of the Lord and of one another. At ninety-two years old, Sherry said that she had never been happier.
My video calls with Sherry were incredibly reinvigorating for me. Her joy and her gratitude were both inspiring and challenging. At precisely the moment in her life when she surrendered most to the Lord—giving up her home and her familiar life—in order to follow where she felt He was leading her, Sherry received something she had longed for her entire life.
The Lord’s plans are always so much bigger and so much better than our own. I recognize many ways in which I limit the Lord’s action in my life by my attempts to manage my own happiness and my own ministerial success. Sherry has taught me the importance of surrendering my plans and my desires to the Lord, trusting in His providence and care. Although I may see an end in some personal or pastoral situation, it very well could be just the beginning.
Rightly does the author of Lamentations exclaim: “The Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted; his compassion is not spent. They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:22-24).
* All names of people and places have been changed to preserve privacy.
“Wisdom from above is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” -James 3:17-18
What is wisdom? It seems to be one of those elusive concepts that cannot be defined in just a few words.
There also seem to be different types of wisdom. In this passage from the Letter of James, we hear about a “wisdom from above.” James describes this kind of wisdom as innocent, peaceable, docile, etc. But what exactly is this kind of wisdom, and how do we attain it?
A good man to turn to with such questions is always St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor.” In his SummaTheologica, St. Thomas distinguishes between wisdom as an acquired intellectual virtue and “wisdom from above,” which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom as an intellectual virtue is right judgment about things attained by human effort through experience and reason. This type of acquired knowledge or virtue usually applies to particular areas. For example, someone can be a wise fisherman, a wise farmer, or a wise architect. Each of these would have many years of experience and acquired knowledge in their respective field.
The gift of wisdom, however, which “descends from above,” is right judgment about all things which is an effect of a person’s loving familiarity with God and His ways. A person who has the spiritual gift of wisdom is inclined toward right judgment in all matters because of his knowledge of and love for God. St. Thomas says that these judgments are based not “on the perfect use of reason,” but rather on an inclination or an affinity of myself to God. An analogy for this kind of wisdom could be the inclination toward right judgment that a husband has in all things concerning his wife of many years. Because of his deep and profound relationship of love that the man has with his wife, he knows what decisions to make and what actions to take in their life together.
Wisdom from above is a mode of knowing which involves desire as well as intellect.
St. Thomas states that wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit is “more excellent than wisdom as an intellectual virtue, since it attains to God more intimately by a kind of union of the soul with Him,” and “it is able to direct us not only in contemplation but also in action.” One’s knowledge of God and one’s love for Him lead to judgments and to actions which rightly order all things both within oneself and around oneself. Someone who knows and loves God as the highest cause is said to be wise “because he is able to judge and set in order all things according to Divine rules.” This is why St. Thomas says that the ultimate effect of wisdom is being peaceable. “Wisdom is connected with peace since wisdom is the ability to put things in [right] order, and order results in peace.”
Put very simply, wisdom from above is what St. Augustine had in mind when he wrote: “Love, and do what you will.” Growing in this kind of wisdom requires not mere academic study, but rather leaning against Jesus’ chest in intimate communion, like St. John the Beloved, getting to know His heart, His priorities, His vision. The Holy Spirit imparts “wisdom from above” that can direct both our thoughts and our actions as our love of God grows.
In the words of Thomas A. Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone. This is the greatest wisdom.”
 Cf. ST 1a, 1.6 ad 3; 1a2ae, 68.1 ad 4; 2a2ae, 45.2–3. See also the entry for “knowledge, connatural” in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
We have a very wow-worthy faith. There are so many truths of our faith that move our hearts and minds with endless awe and wonder. One of these awe-some truths that the Church presents us with during the Easter Season is given in Romans 8:11- “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” This is amazing!! “The baptized Christian is not only ‘in the Spirit,’ but the Spirit is now said to dwell in him or her” (Brown, 835). Through our Baptism and our Confirmation, THE VERY SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells inme, dwells in you!
If this is the case, and we know that it is, what does it mean for our lives?
One thing it means is that we don’t have to stay locked in the tomb of hopeless, despair, insecurity, or fear. St. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17 that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, then we are free to live a resurrected life, a life in the Spirit and by the Spirit. We are no longer slaves to fear. We are free to be fools for Christ, to follow the promptings of this Spirit within us in every moment and in every situation. Our self-confidence is not based on our own strength or ability, but on the power of the Risen Christ and of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
I had a wonderful experience of this new life in the Spirit as I was traveling back from the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee two years ago. The Healing Center staff gave us what they called the “airport challenge.” They challenged us to be prayerfully resting in the Lord, secure in our identity as beloved sons of God, and to ask the Holy Spirit for opportunities to pray with people in the airport or on the plane. This is such an awesome way to live into this freedom of the Spirit because this kind of thing runs completely against the typical airport and airplane culture of keeping your head down, not making eye contact, and not intruding on anyone’s space.
As I took a seat in the terminal—again, resting securely in the Lord, calmly asking the Holy Spirit to guide me—I noticed that the woman sitting next to me looked sad. So, I struck up a conversation with her, and after a while I simply asked her if there was anything that I could pray for, for her. She looked me in the eyes, and just started crying. She told me that her husband of many years had died just a few months ago, and that she had just recently sold the house in which they had raised all of their kids. She was now traveling around to the various states where her adult children lived, trying to figure out what she should do next with her life. I asked her if I could place my hand on her shoulder, and I prayed for her out loud. After the prayer, she mentioned that a song that had been bringing her much consolation and peace during this time of grief was the song “Amazing Grace.” So, I sang the whole song for her, right there in front of everyone in the airport. She closed her eyes, and she allowed the Lord to touch and soothe her pain through my singing. Before we parted ways, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and simply said, “Jesus sent you to me.”
That woman didn’t know that I was a seminarian; she didn’t even know that I was Catholic. She just knew that a companion of Christ was with her, that Christ Himself saw her and sent one of His friends to visit her in her pain. This is what life in the Spirit of the Risen Christ looks like. This is the kind of life that I want to live as a baptized and Confirmed Catholic, and as a future deacon and priest. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us. If we live by that Spirit, we can move about freely in this world, free of all insecurity and fear, and we can allow the Lord to work through us to bring Him to His people.
Whenever anything gets in the way of the wow-worthy reality of your Christian life, renounce the lies and barriers in Jesus’ name, and announce the truth of who God is and who you are in Him. Step out in faith like I did in the airport and live in the awe-some truth that the Spirit dwells in you.
Come, Holy Spirit. Stir into flame your Spirit that is within us! Amen.
The following post was completed for a class assignment in ST 74, “Sexuality and Marriage,” at Mount Angel Seminary.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.
Hey there! Whoa hold on…you can take a seat.
Breathe in deep. Let the breath out.
Try that again.
We know you’ve been scouring the internet for answers.
Your best friend
Your favorite student
Your friend from school
So we pulled together a few things you might like.1
“Who am I?” If you or someone in your life is asking this question, you or they are not the first. And you are not alone. We human beings have the unique ability to reflect on ourselves and to ask important questions. Animals don’t do this. Rocks don’t do this. Just us. Understanding our identity–who we are–is essential in order to know how to live and what choices to make. If we know who we are, we are able to know what to do.
In our world today, “identity” is often viewed as something we decide for ourselves. We determine what and who we are, and these can change throughout our life.
However, the truth is that our most fundamental and important identity is received, not decided or figured out on our own or by other people.
You did not cause your own existence.
You came to exist through the creative cooperation of your parents and God. Ultimately, God created you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb, and breathed a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal soul into you.
Who you are comes from whose you are.
If God is the one who made you, then He is the only One who can reveal your identity... And He has!
Your most fundamental identity is that you are a beloved son or daughter of God. You are part of the family. You are loved.
And God made you either maleor female. Your most fundamental sexual identity is either male or female.
Your body tells you that.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE THINGS I FEEL?”
That’s a good question. Feelings are real, and they are powerful.
But our feelings do not change or threaten our most important identity. Our unchanging and unchangeable identity is our anchor through all the storms (both external and internal) of life.
If you experience attractions to people of the same sex, you are a beloved son or daughter of God.
If you experience discordance between your biological sex and your felt gender, you are a beloved son or daughter of God.
Our feelings are important. But our feelings are affected by all kinds of things beyond our control.
As you continue your journey of understanding yourself or someone in your life more, stay rooted in these fundamental facts:
God created you out of love, for love, and to love.
You are a beloved son or a beloved daughter of God.
You deserve to be loved, received, listened to, respected, and cherished.
The Church is your home. You are very welcome here.
In the midst of our many and mixed desires, we can come to the wrong conclusion that desire itself is bad. We know that our desires lead to both good actions (for example, doing something nice for a person we love) and not-so-good actions (over-stuffing ourselves at our third Thanksgiving meal). However, desire itself is not bad. It’s actually very good, and it is a gift from God.
Desire is what moves us beyond ourselves, outward toward others and toward the world. Without desire, we could not be in relationship with anything or anyone outside of ourselves.
If desire is a good thing, then why does it often lead to not-so-good things (like the over-stuffed discomfort and indigestion on Thanksgiving night)?
Although desire is good in and of itself, our desires are either ordered or disordered.
An ordered desire is one that corresponds to what is objectively good for us. For example, the desire for food is ordered because food is good for us.
However, a desire that is ordered in its object can be disordered in its manner. For example, the rightly-ordered desire for food (an objective good for us) can become disordered when we want an excess of it.
A disordered desire is one that does not correspond to what is objectively good for us. For example, a desire to eat rocks is objectively disordered because rocks are not good for us to eat.
Desires can also be holy or unholy.
A holy desire is one that comes from God and contributes to our holiness, whereas an unholy desire is one that does not come from God and leads to vice and sin.
For example, the desire to love and to be loved is a holy desire. Our ability to give and receive love is how we are most like God, who is Love itself. The desire to love and to be loved is a gift from God, and when we order that desire properly, modeling our love on God’s love, we become holy.
One example of an unholy desire is the the desire to hurt another person. This desire does not come from God, and it leads to vice and sin.
What about sexual desire?
That’s all well-and-good and clear-cut, you might be thinking, when it comes to things like food and vengeance. But what about when it comes to sexual desire?
Just like desire in general, sexual desire itself is very good, and it is holy.
God Himself created sexual desire, and He placed it within each one of us in order to move us outside of ourselves toward others in loving relationship.
We often think of sexuality as simply genital sexual activity. Understood more broadly, though, sexuality refers to the energy, drive, or capacity to be in relationship with another. In this way, our sexuality is our relationality.
There are, classically, four types of love. One of these is eros. Eros (or “erotic” love) is often understood as meaning sensual love which aims at and culminates in sexual activity. While this kind of love is included within eros, eros is bigger than simply sensual love. “The ‘erotic’ does not simply concern the ‘sexual,’ but every experience of beauty, such that the ‘sexual’ may be one way of experiencing the erotic, but is not the only way.”2
In Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he describes this broader view of erotic desire, based on the thought of the Greek philosopher Plato:
“According to Plato, ‘eros’ represents the inner power that draws man toward all that is good, true, and beautiful. This ‘attraction’ indicates, in this case, the intensity of a subjective act of the human spirit.”3
Similarly, the cultural historian Christopher Dawson identifies “the erotic type par excellence as ‘the religious mystic,’ the ‘man of desire,’ like St. Augustine or St. Francis.”4
Eros, then, is the way we come to any interpersonal relationship, including our relationship with God.
In his encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI states:
“God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape… Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape… Eros and agape–ascending love and descending love–can never be completely separated. The more the two…find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.“5
Agape is self-giving and selfless love. Thus, eros finds its purification and perfection when joined with agape. One is drawn beyond himself toward the other, but he fully respects the other and selflessly pursues that person’s true good.
Christopher Damian provides a helpful image of eros for our consideration:
“Imagine a toddler crawling around in a field and coming upon a beautiful flower. The flower captivates the child, and he stops in front of it. That “capturing,” the thing that moves us, stops us in our tracks, and draws us beyond ourselves, can be considered the “erotic.” Eros is the kind of love or desire that draws us out of ourselves and towards something beyond us. But eros does not come to us fully grown. Eros needs to be cultivated into maturity.
“A disordered or immature eros always tends toward consumption, objectification, and destruction. So the toddler, because he has little control over his desires, might pluck out the flower and try to eat it, or crunch it up in his fat little hands. He doesn’t know how to take care of the beautiful things that move him. And, while it is good that he can recognize beauty, his lack of control over his desires means that his movements toward beauty will tend to be destructive. I think that this is the experience of most people as they begin to experience sexual desire in adolescence. It comes in the form of amorphous, powerful, and often frightening desires. Initially, we all experience sexual desire with a sense of lack of control.
“But someone who has grown and matured, perhaps learned how to garden, or at the very least learned how to give basic care to a flower, will see the beautiful flower in the field and stop, just like the toddler. But, unlike the toddler, he will not try to consume the flower or crumple it up in his hand. He’ll pick it carefully, so that the petals are preserved. He will bring it home and water it. Or, recognizing that it will live longer in its natural place, he may leave it there, return to it, and bring it water during the dry seasons. He might construct a garden around it. But he will resist the childish impulse to simply destroy it. And, in caring for the flower, in nourishing it, he’ll enable it to grow and live its own life. He will establish a relationship with it, but will resist the temptation to just consume it into his own life and destroy it.
“So, too, with the person of mature sexuality. His sexual desires will no longer control and overwhelm him, but will take shape as he responds to desire with a way of life that respects and cherishes desire’s objects. His desire can be transformed into tenderness and care, passionate at times, but always aware of the deep goodness and inviolable dignity of the other.”6
Church Teaching on Homosexuality
As we examine the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, we need to keep in mind everything about desires described above. The Church uses the concepts of ordered and disordered in its language regarding homosexuality.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses homosexuality in paragraphs 2357-2359. The first thing to note is that the Church begins from a posture of humility, acknowledging that the “psychological genesis” of same-sex attraction “remains largely unexplained.” Same-sex attraction is a very complex reality, and the Church does not purport to have all the answers.
Regarding homosexual acts, the Church states:
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC #2357).
Note the use of the word “disordered,” meaning that homosexual acts do not achieve the objective goods for which sexual acts are intended by God.
Regarding homosexual tendencies, inclinations, and persons, the Church states:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC #2358).
Again, the Church uses the term “objectively disordered” regarding homosexual inclinations, meaning that the desire for same-sex sexual activity does not correspond to what is objectively good for us as human beings. God has intended sexual acts to take place between one man and one woman within the lifelong partnership of marriage for the union of the couple and for the procreation of children.
Regarding the call of persons with same-sex attractions, the Church states:
“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC #2359).
Men and women who experience same-sex attraction are called to holiness just like the rest of us. We are all called to chastity, which is the right-ordering of our sexual desires in line with God’s plan for marriage and sexual activity.
It is important to heed the Church’s words that persons with same-sex attraction are to be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. In C.S. Lewis’ great novel, Till We Have Faces, the main character, Psyche, makes a point that we all need to realize: “Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are things they can’t help?”
The Desires of People with Same-Sex Attraction
The rest of this blog post will examine the desires of people with same-sex attraction, realizing that the desires involved are far more than simply sexual or sensual. The following reflections are the result of dialogue with both men and women who experience same-sex desires.
In an article entitled “The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes on Friendship,” Joseph Prever, a man who experiences same-sex attraction, explains that he came to the realization that “the desire at my center was not perverse in its object, but only in its manner… feeling the desire didn’t make me a monster, but just meant that I was a normal human being who wanted normal human things, albeit wanted them in a nonstandard way. And finally, it meant that the desire that I had always assumed was unfulfillable might be fulfillable after all.”7
While there is certainly particularity to the experience of men and women with same-sex attraction, I hope you will see that their desires are not so different from everyone else’s desires. We all have fundamental desires in common because of our shared human nature and our shared vocation to love.
DESIRE FOR COMMITTED LOVE
The first significant desire to note is the desire for committed love. Listen to the song below, which communicates this desire.
The singer wants a love that will be permanent, that will weather any storm.
Refrain: This is not a temporary love This is not a temporary love Now your heart is in my hands, I won’t give it up This is not a temporary love
Verse: When the world around is caving in And the winds, well, they keep on changing Take my hand and let it spin We’ll hold still
What are they looking for?
DESIRE TO BE AT HOME IN THE CHURCH
Catholics who experience same-sex attraction desire to be faithful to the Lord and to the Church but to live authentically, without shame, and in meaningful relationships with others.
The following song expresses what it is like to be part of this “dying breed.”
One man with same-sex desires explained that this song “pertains almost eerily well to the experience of LGBT folks choosing to remain in the Church and living out their lives without shame and in fruitful relationship to others.”
Verse: When everyone’s compromising I’ll be your die-hard I’ll be there when water’s rising I’ll be your lifeguard We’re cut from a stained glass fountain Baby, we’re a dying breed
Pre-Chorus: There’s gonna be opposition We got everything we need Ooh baby we’re a dying breed
Bridge: I don’t know what you want from me Sometimes I don’t know what to do It’s like I’m screaming in a dream It’s like I can’t get through What if we’re not prepared for this What if we just can’t find the trail And I remember the promise I made And the way that I felt
What do they want from the Church?
A Shelter in the Storm
Along similar lines, another clear desire is to have relationships of support, encouragement, and safety in the midst of life’s storms.
Verse: Ramblers in the wilderness Yeah we can’t find what we need We get a little restless from the searching Get a little worn down in between
Refrain: Brother let me be your shelter Never leave you all alone I can be the one you call when you’re low Brother let me be your fortress when the night winds are driving on Be the one to light the way Bring you home
Fierce, Faithful Presence
Chorus: ‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you Even if we’re breaking down We can find a way to break through Even if we can’t find heaven I’ll walk through hell with you Love, you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Ultimate Quies in God Alone
Quies means “rest.” Although we find rest in human relationships, we are able to find ultimate rest only in God.
“We do not find our final quies in another person, but only in a flight, prompted by friendship’s delights and disappointments, to the Self-same, supremely and transcendentally personal [God].”8
“You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (St. Augustine in Confessions).
God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is the only one who can truly say these words to us:
I’m never gonna let you down I’m always gonna build you up When you’re feeling lost I will always find you love I’m never gonna walk away I’m always gonna have your back And if nothing else, you can always count on that When you need me I promise I will never let you down
Men and women who experience same-sex attraction often hear only the “no” from the Church regarding same-sex sexual relationships without hearing the “yes” regarding their personhood, their good desires, and the whole-hearted life of thriving that is possible within the family of the Church. The Church needs to be home for people with this experience (and for all people). It needs to be the place where we can all wrestle with our restless hearts and desires, where we can be honest with the Lord and with the Church community, where we can be loved, accepted, challenged, held accountable, and empowered for authentic Christian living. The Church as a whole, but especially the local parish church, should be a place where all of us—no matter what our particular struggles are—can be weak and real as we strive to be transformed by the life of grace in body, mind, and soul. The Church (and her members) need to better reflect the heart of the Father, who neither condones our sinful actions nor abandons us to become perfect on our own. With the Father, even though we are not affirmed in our sins, we are always welcome; we are always loved; we are always home. It is our encounter—again and again—with His faithful, passionate, and unwavering love that ultimately leads to our conversion and ongoing sanctification.
Where to Find More
Resources for Learning and Support
To find out more about the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality and to see what kind of support is out there for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, check out these great resources.
Eden Invitation Community is a Catholic ministry that seeks to provide community, accompaniment, and resources for people who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria and who want to follow Christ and Catholic Church teaching. They exist to create spaces to receive the whole person, to grow systems of mutual support, and to empower for mature Christian discipleship.
Life Teen is a Eucharist-centered movement within the Roman Catholic Church which leads teenagers and their families into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. With the Blessed Virgin Mary as our intercessor and guide, Life Teen seeks to unleash the fullness of the Sacramental power present within the young Church.
7 Prever, Joseph, “The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes on Friendship,” in Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction, ed. Janet E. Smith and Father Paul Check (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015) pp. 147-48.
8 Fiona Lynch, “Morality, Metaphysics, and the Romance of Friendship,” in Communio: International Catholic Review 47 (2020): p. 274.
Throughout the first ten or so years of my life, my most persevering career aspiration was to be a teacher. I remember being mesmerized by the life and work of my own teachers—their seemingly limitless wealth of knowledge, their passion for building up young souls and filling up young minds, and their creative and effective ways of leading us into understanding and of helping us to realize our full potential. I was even fascinated by the physical supplies used by my teachers in their craft: the red pens; the gradebooks; the dry erase boards and markers; the overhead projectors; and the ever-cool “pointers,” sometimes a simple wooden or metal stick, and sometimes a magical laser beam. I often played school at home with my imaginary students, and once my six-years-younger sister was old enough, she became my student in these home class sessions. While my classmates asked for toys and video games for their birthdays and for Christmas, my wish list consisted of an overhead projector, transparencies, and all manner of teacher supplies. I loved being a teacher, even if just a pretend one.
As I continued through my later childhood and into my teenage years, I moved on to my next most serious career ambition, which was to become a lawyer. This interest stayed with me into college, where I majored in political science on a pre-law track, with hopes of going to law school after graduation. Of course, the Lord had a bigger plan for a vocation to the priesthood all along, and I eventually became open to this during my college years. But even as my career and life plans changed and developed over time, my early passion for teaching was always present in the back of my mind and heart. In the first several years of my priestly formation, I didn’t fully realize how my passion for teaching would be an integral part of my life and ministry as a priest, even as a seminarian. One of the most significant experiences of my pastoral year so far has been seeing how teaching is very much a part of my priestly calling.
Priests, through their sharing in the ministry of their bishops, participate in the threefold munera of Christ (priest, prophet, and king) by way of sanctifying, teaching, and governing. During my pastoral year, I have been introduced to the teaching office of priestly ministry, not only through participation in the parish’s various religious education programs, but also by serving as the religion teacher for grades six through eight in our parochial school. I have developed, perhaps more deeply than ever before, an immense appreciation for all that I have learned during my life’s journey so far, both in formal education and beyond academia. I have also discovered within myself a profound love and concern for those entrusted to my care. I’ve always sensed my passion for the Lord and for handing on the truths of the faith, but my experience as a seminarian teaching religion in a parochial school has awakened within me a sense of awe and appreciation for the unique opportunity and privilege of shaping the hearts and minds of the young. At the same time, my experiences thus far have awakened a sense of urgency and responsibility—something I’ve understood to be quite fatherly. Standing in front of these middle school students, the Spirit that is within me stirs into flame as my heart burns with loving concern for these children of the Father. I want them to know about Him, but even more, I want them to know Him. I want to share with them all that the Father has revealed to me. I want, in my very person, to be an image—a face—of the Father for them. I want to be the friend of Christ, the Bridegroom, bridging together Christ and these His young beloved by teaching them the truth about who He is. I want to warn them of the dangers (spiritual and otherwise) that lay ahead as they transition into public high school and beyond. I feel that all of this is a sharing in the Father’s own heart, in His desire. And it has come to me through my role as a teacher.
One particular teaching moment encapsulates all of this well. It was the beginning of a new unit entitled “Jesus and the Gospel Message.” We had just concluded the previous unit, which was focused on personal growth, particularly by way of the virtues. I was most excited because, as I exclaimed to the class, “We finally get to talk about Jesus!” This introductory lesson concluded with a reflection and discussion activity based on two images: the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil, and Christ on the Cross above our classroom door. The overarching point that I was teaching that day was the fact that Jesus is the fullness of God the Father’s revelation of Himself—that in the person and Passion of Jesus, all that we need to know about the Father is contained. As I was speaking, I remembered an activity we did at the beginning of the semester in which the students anonymously wrote down on scraps of paper the “baggage” that they are carrying in their lives right now. After they wrote, they crumpled the papers and we mixed them up on the floor. The students, sitting facing outward in a circle, stood up one at a time, picked up one piece of paper, and read out loud the baggage that one of their classmates was dealing with. My heart was moved most particularly by how many of them shared about broken and struggling family situations: divorce, possible divorce, angry and mean fathers, etc. As all of this ran back through my mind in the middle of my lesson on Jesus as the fullness of God’s self-revelation, my heart was enkindled with a desire for the students to know that their imperfect earthly fathers, while they communicate some truths about God’s self, do not adequately or accurately reflect the full truth of God the Father. I pointed to Jesus on the Cross, with His open arms and pierced-open heart, and said that this is the truth of the Father’s heart for us. This is how our Heavenly Father reacts to our sinfulness, our shortcomings, our failures. He enters in; He pours Himself out; He pursues us and wins us back.
The whole time I was speaking (preaching?), every pair of those thirty sets of young eyes was locked on mine. As my fatherly heart beat in unison with the Father’s heart for them, I could see their hunger, their desire to know, their desire to be loved and fought for in the way that God the Father already does and already has. Our class time was running out, so I had to wrap things up, but the energy and concern that I felt in that moment fed my labors for the next class session when we would go even deeper into how God has progressively revealed Himself over time, culminating in Jesus.
My experience of teaching during my pastoral year has affirmed and confirmed my priestly vocational calling. As much as I like teaching in and of itself, there is a very unique and particular way in which a priest is able to teach that no one else can. Because of his life of dedicated celibacy, his particular conformity to Christ through Holy Orders, and his fatherly responsibility for the children of God, particularly those within his parish, the priest has privileged access to the hearts and minds of God’s people, most especially the young. My experiences of teaching both in and outside of the classroom have increased my desire to be a Father and to give all that the Heavenly Father has given to me so that they might come to know Him ever more deeply.
Very strong is the language and powerful the imagery that we hear in our readings today. We can’t help but feel personally chastised and convicted by the directness of it all. Our Lord exclaims through the prophet Amos in our First Reading: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” But because the readings in every Mass take on a present character—they happen and are spoken to us here and now—the Lord addresses us in this gathered assembly, saying: “Woe to the complacent in St. Joseph’s Parish, at the 7:30 a.m. Mass!” He is speaking to me and to you. Woe to the complacent… enjoying the good things of life without being made ill by the sufferings of those around us. The strength of the message only increases in the Gospel Reading from Luke, wherein Jesus tells the Pharisees the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man, who dresses in the finest clothing and dines on the best foods, does nothing for the poor man, Lazarus, lying at his very door. In the end, the fortunes of these two are reversed. After death, Lazarus is taken to a place of rest and peace where he suffers no longer. The uncompassionate Rich Man, however, is sent to a place of eternal torment because, as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” and “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt. 25:40, 45). Jesus is rebuking and exiling the rich and powerful—not for their wealth, but for their refusal to share it; not for their power but for their indifference to the suffering at their door. Wealth and power are not bad things! But complacency, indifference, and ultimately the failure to love are.
Now, the surface-level message of today’s readings is clear: Jesus wants us to act to alleviate the sufferings of our brothers and sisters around us. But why? This brings us to the real heart of the matter for us as Christians. Because you see, there is a difference between the Church’s care for the poor and the government’s, or that of any other secular institution or person. The real problem here is not simply the Rich Man’s failure to give a handout to a poor person. The problem is his failure to recognize the presence of Christ … in this man at his door. Even if he had obliged Lazarus’ simple desire by giving him the “scraps that fell from his table,” the problem would persist. He does not see Christ in this poor man’s face, and he is unmoved. We are called to recognize and respond to the face of Christ present in one another, to act out of love for one another because Christ is in each of us and loves each of us, especially the poorest among us. As Christians, we don’t get off the hook by simply passing a five-dollar bill to the homeless man in the parking lot so he’ll leave us alone. We don’t satisfy our Christian calling by dropping off an old, worn-out sweater at the Salvation Army, or by begrudgingly signing a check for a second collection. Our Lord calls us to look into each other’s eyes, to recognize Him, and to act out love…
Our problem, I think—yours and mine—is that we have bad eyes and weak hearts. We often do not see with the eyes of faith or respond with the passionate love of Christ. For most people, for most Christians, there is no malice or bad intention in this. We just all too easily become lukewarm, desensitized, and complacent. Like the Rich Man in today’s Gospel, we step right over the Lazaruses at our door on our way to the next event, the next errand, or any other seemingly urgent thing in our day. We don’t see Christ coming to us. We don’t stop. We don’t respond out of love.
Now this problem of our bad eyes and our weak hearts does not only affect our ability to recognize Christ in one another, and especially the poor. A central teaching of our Catholic faith is that Christ has three bodies, and these three are one [repeat]. There is the historical body of Christ, now glorified and ascended into Heaven. There is the mystical body of Christ, which is all of us, the body of believers. And there is also the sacramental body of Christ, the Eucharist. These three bodies of Christ are all mysteriously one. Failure to recognize Christ present in any one of these will necessarily have an affect on our ability to recognize Christ present in the others. The Catechism points out even more ways that Christ is present: in His word, in His Church’s prayer, in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, in the sacraments… But most especially in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, “by which Christ, both God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present” (CCC 1373-74).
It is astonishing to realize that the greatest social action champions of our Church all had a profound love for and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament—a profound reverence for the Eucharist. Think of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who attended daily Mass to adore and receive Christ present in the Eucharist. Think of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who spent her life caring for the sick and dying in the slums of India. She had an intense devotion to Our Lord present in the Holy Eucharist, and she fostered this same devotion in the nuns who worked with her. She wrote: “Unless we believe and see Jesus in the appearance of bread on the altar, we will not be able to see Him in the distressing disguise of the poor.” Precisely because of this, Mother Teresa and her sisters started every day with Eucharistic Adoration. When asked why, she said, “We go to meet Christ in the Eucharist before we go out to meet Him on the streets.” Think also of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the very young “man of the Beatitudes,” who was an extraordinary friend to the poor on the streets of Turin, Italy. He was known not only for his social concern but for his fervent Eucharistic devotion. He stated that Eucharistic Adoration is the training ground for being able to find Jesus in the streets.
If and when devotion to the Eucharist is compromised, so will commitment to the poor be compromised, or it will devolve into merely a type of social work. The Church’s mission given to her by Christ is to worship, to evangelize, and to care for the poor. We can’t isolate any one of these three and say this one is what the Church is all about. If we have lost a sense of the Eucharist, the other two will fall away as well.
This inseparable connection between recognizing Christ present in the Eucharist and recognizing Christ present in the poor is precisely why the recent statistics about Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist are so alarming. You’ve probably all heard about it by now. The Pew Research Center published their findings that 69% of American Catholics do not believe that Jesus is truly present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist at Mass. 69%!! And among young Catholics, that number is 80%. 80% of young Catholics believe that Jesus is only symbolically present in the bread and wine at Mass. Talk about a problem of bad eyes and weak hearts!
So many of us are not able to discern Christ’s presence, even in the most tangible and real way that He presents Himself, in the Eucharist. And even for those of us who do really believe, just like our subtle lukewarmness and desensitization to Christ present in one another, so also do we become complacent about and desensitized to Jesus’ presence in the Holy Eucharist. The two are interrelated. And again, for the most part this lukewarmness and complacency does not develop in us out of malice or bad intention. But our indifference to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, played out Sunday after Sunday, weekday after weekday, eventually affects our belief and our behavior, perhaps without us even realizing it. Like the complacent Rich Man stepping over the presence of Jesus in the poor man, Lazarus, without a second glance, so we step over the presence of Jesus when we come up for Communion with Jesus as the last thing on our mind at that moment, or when we pass in front of the tabernacle with no act of reverence to Jesus there.
So what is the solution to all of this, to our bad eyes and weak hearts? How can we recognize and respond to the presence of Jesus in all the ways that He comes to us? Some have said, “Well if the bread at Mass would physically, in appearance, become a piece of bleeding flesh at the consecration, then I would believe in Jesus’ true presence. This sounds a lot like the Rich Man at the end of today’s Gospel reading, when from his place of torment he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to appear to his relatives so that they might be converted. He says, “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Basically, that means, “God, do tricks! And then we will believe.” But Abraham wisely responds: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” And similarly for us and the Eucharist, we have had Eucharistic miracles up and down the ages all around the world when the bread actually has turned into physical, bleeding flesh on the altar. And still we don’t believe. Jesus is risen from the dead, as He promised! And still we don’t believe Him, that He could make this bread and wine His body and His blood, as He promised.
We need to pray, to beg for faith. We need to study our faith. We need to cry out with the man in the Gospel of Mark, who said to Jesus, “I believe! Help my unbelief.” We need to approach Our Lord in Holy Communion reverently, giving a resounding, “Amen!” when the minister holds up the host and says, “The Body of Christ.” “Amen! I do believe! I would stake my life on what you have just said.” Pope St. John Paul II told millions of youth at World Youth Day in 2004: “If you learn to discover Jesus in the Eucharist, you will also know how to discover Him in your brothers and sisters, particularly in the very poor.” Mother Teresa said this process of growing in faith and service begins with silence and prayer in front of the Eucharist. “The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace. This is the way to meet Christ.”
Christ’s action of pouring Himself out for us in the Holy Eucharist teaches us how to pour ourselves out in love for others, to love others with Christ’s love, and not simply our own. The goal for us as Catholics is to be able to recognize and receive our brothers and sisters around us, especially the poor, with the same reverence and love with which we recognize and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. If we look with eyes of faith at Christ present in the Eucharist, we will be able to look with eyes of faith at Christ present in the poor. Only then will the dismissal at the end of Mass take on its full weight and significance in our lives: your encounter with Love Himself here has changed you; now go out and transform the world with that love. You have seen and received Christ present here; now go out and recognize and respond to Christ present in those around you.
The Cry of an Anguished Lover: A reflection on Genesis chapter 3
“Where are you?”
The great tragedy of the human race… Man turning away from his Divine Lover in pursuit of lesser loves. Bishop Robert Barron once reflected on this Fall, calling the question of God in the Garden the “cry of an anguished lover.” For that is who God is to man: his Creator, yes, but only because of His passionate love for man. Since the beginning of time, God has been a passionate Lover seeking the hearts of men, not a tyrannical dictator angry at His disobedient subjects.
“Where are you?”
The tragedy of man’s Fall is not that we broke a rule, or failed to meet an expectation, or even that we ate a forbidden fruit. The tragedy of our Fall is that we forgot our Lover: the One who crafted us out of the clay with His own hands; the One who breathed His own Divine life into our nostrils, giving us our life; the One who prepared everything for us, and desired only that we would love Him in return.
“Where are you?”
What great sorrow that moment must have brought to the Divine Heart! The moment when His beloved took their gaze off of Him and looked to another, desiring lesser goods that would never satisfy them. To think of all the moments when you and I do this in our lives… The one and only thing that we have that God does not, but that He so desires, is our love for Him.
“Where are you?”
How easily man used to walk in friendship with God. After their Fall, the Lord came “walking in the cool of the day,” seeking the presence of His beloveds. This is the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God… He certainly knew what had just transpired in the Garden and where Adam and Eve were hidden. And yet, still He asks…
“Where are you?”
We could hear this question as, “Where are you in relation to me? What has become of your love for me? Where are you?”
The cry of the anguished Lover. Not entirely unlike the anguished cry of the wife whose husband has been unfaithful. Except it’s even more tragic here. Man chooses to sever ties with his Maker, rejecting His love.
“Where are you?”
And instead of seeking reconciliation with their Lord once they had recognized how terribly they’d fallen, they pointed fingers and allowed something new, something foreign to now course through their veins: pride. Oh, wretched pride! The true source of all human sin.
“Where are you?”
Such unfaithful beloveds. If it had been any kind of human love that God had for His people, this would have been the end of it all. Betrayed and heartbroken, God could have given us what we truly deserved: a final death.
But no! So far above human ways are God’s, and so immense His love for His creation that this is not how the story ended. He sent us out of the Garden because of our choice, but with an angel to guard it for our eventual return. He promised a New Eve and a New Adam, one who would defeat Satan and reconcile man to Himself. What He gave in return for our unfaithfulness was not condemnation, but hope. For so great is God’s love for us.
“Because you are precious in my eyes, honored, and I love you.” -Isaiah 43:4-
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8-
“What is it like to be a seminarian?” It is difficult to give an adequate answer to people when they ask this question. I wrote this post bit-by-bit over the course of my first semester in the seminary in an attempt to show you glimpses of what this life consists of. It is far more than going to classes and saying some prayers on a routine schedule. It is an immense adventure of seeking God’s will and being formed into the image of Jesus Christ Himself. Faith, struggle, surrender, joy, growth, brotherhood, service, prayer, and intimacy with Christ… These are just a few of the things you’ll read about. This post is far from exhaustive, and I know that there is so much I have left out. These reflections are not comprehensive lists of my daily activities, but rather snapshots of some of the defining moments of my seminary journey so far. It is deeply personal and real. I pray that Our Lord will inspire your heart through the words He gave me here, and that He will continue to guide each of us on our journeys of faith as we seek to follow after Him. +
Seminary is fumbling with your phone at 5:15 a.m. when your alarm goes off, and you’re so tempted to shut it off for more sleep. Some days you do. But… Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel downstairs for your morning time together. And you have the Office of Readings to pray. And you remember St. Josemaría’s “heroic minute”—the time fixed for getting up. And so, as a small act of love for God, you do. Before your feet hit the ground though, your knees do, and you make your morning offering: “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will…”
Seminary is loading up three guitars, three music stands, a drum set, and ten seminarians into two cars and driving to a family’s house an hour away on a Saturday night. You spend hours gathered together, praising the God who brought you all there in His divine providence—the God who called you to seminary, gently tugging at your heart your whole life long; the God who called this man and this woman to be one flesh in Him, giving life to these children in this family worshipping beside you. Each of you has his and her own unique journey of faith, of struggle, of triumph, guided by the ever-loving, ever-gracious hand of God. And so you lift your own hands in worship. And you lay them on each other, praying and speaking words of love, words of peace, words of grace. Your voices are one, and so also your hearts.
Seminary is standing up in the middle of your Holy Hour in the chapel early one morning and walking out because you yearn to hear His voice speak in the depths of your heart, but you aren’t ready to listen; because you want more than anything in the world to be close to Him, but this close?—close enough to feel His aloneness, His abandonment?; because you come to Him with all your wants and needs, with all your longing to be loved, and He just rests there in the tabernacle, just hangs there on His cross as the One who is more than you could ever imagine, and yet the One more hidden than any other; because you’re tired, and worn, and weary from expending so much effort trying to see yourself through the eyes of other people that there’s not much left to see yourself through His; because your heart is restless and anxious, and all He wants is for you to just sit there, still and silent and docile, as He looks at you with His loving gaze; because, again, you just don’t get it when you think of how unworthy you are to be here (which you are, really), but that’s not the point, really.
Seminary is kneeling at your umpteenth daily Mass when, again, time folds into eternity and eternity folds into time, and you’re there, and He’s there—the night before He had to suffer—and you watch His precious body taken, broken, blessed… and as He is lifted up, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” He looks down from His cross through all eternity and meets your thirsting gaze in that single moment, and He says to you—you!—with an almost unbearable, anguished love, “You are enough for me to die for. Am I not enough for you?” Tears welling, heart falling, you renew again your answer and your resolve, “My Lord and my God, You are enough for me!”
Seminary is walking to class and passing your brothers—some joyous, some worn, some shining, others torn. You say, “Good morning,” and some say it back; others simply smile, some nod, and some just…can’t. It’s okay, you know what’s in their hearts: a battle you all face between your Lord’s ways and your own, between your God and your gods, between angels and demons. You try to smile brightly to each one, hoping to remind them—and yourself—that love conquers all.
Seminary is taking three hours to prepare for a General Confession, peering back through more than twenty-one years of life and recalling every sin you ever committed, great and small, previously confessed and unconfessed. Why? Because as you begin this new chapter of your life as a seminarian, you want to be totally and completely free. You want the light of God’s love and mercy to come and touch every shadow, every stain, every dark corner of your heart. You reach back to the little sins from kindergarten that you laugh about now but which still prick your conscience. You don’t have to search far for the greater sins of your more recent years: the ones you’ve confessed but that still haunt you, the ones most difficult to put into words and write out on your notepad. Three legal pad pages in and you begin to remember and write down the sins of other people that have affected your life: the ones that hurt you and caused you pain, the ones that chipped and broke you, the ones that took your youthful innocence from you and failed to protect you, the ones who turned away, the ones who led you astray. Why? Because they caused wounds that need healing; because they’ve hardened and walled-off parts of your heart that now yearn to be softened and freed; because they’ve made you hold on to anger, guilt, unforgiveness, and pain which keep you from fully giving and receiving love for God and for others; because these people, these sinners are God’s children—broken, weak, and human just like you—and they need His mercy too.
So you bring all these things, these heavy burdens, to the man in black—your spiritual father, your guide, your Jesus-on-Earth—and you confess every sin you’ve placed on your long list. You go through each Commandment and each year of your life, your throat tightening and tears welling as you get to the hardest of sins to confess. This is not about the man sitting before you who is just listening in. You are laying bare your soul to your Savior, Jesus Christ, through His vicar who stands in His place. Like a cancer patient in surgery, you want the doc to get it all, every last bit, so you leave nothing out.
At the end of an hour, you place your final burden at the foot of His Cross. The priest raises his hand—Christ’s hand—over you and prays, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” With a resounding “Amen!” and a cathartic exhale, you are filled with an immense peace and indescribable joy! You feel like you’ve just run a spiritual marathon and won a great victory. You can almost feel the delight of your Father in Heaven as you picture Him smiling down upon you, proclaiming those precious words, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
The Father’s mercy is our home. It is where we are free and loved. Mercy re-wires the human brain and re-creates the soul. Mercy allows us to be found by the loving Father. In the Confessional, the love of God reaches down to every prodigal son and daughter. Love removes fear. Jesus desires to press the miseries of man into His Sacred Heart. Here, the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.
Walking out of that Confession, you realize that you are freer in that moment than you have been since the day of your infant baptism. You gave everything to Jesus Christ, and He bound up all of your sins with Him on His Cross. His victory there set you truly free—free to love Him and to be loved by Him. There is not one thing left for the devil to taunt you with, no hidden sin or strain of guilt. Your faults and failings have become your crowns of victory and salvation. Because of them, you came to know the love and mercy of God. He emptied you out, and now this blessed emptiness, this clean hole in your soul makes you long to be filled by His presence in the Eucharist. Oh how splendid that next Mass will be! Alleluia! This is the life of grace. This is the life of the redeemed.
Seminary is meeting with the in-house psychologist on a Thursday afternoon to talk about your struggle with perfectionism—thinking that your worth depends on some ideal performance in every aspect of your life—and about your lack of self-love: the God of the entire universe created you and redeemed you out of love, but you don’t love what He has created and redeemed? Who are you to refuse loving that which He does? And “sometimes good enough is better than perfect, because good enough will let you be a part of humanity in a way that perfection won’t.”
Seminary is bending down to look lovingly into the eyes of an eight-year-old girl. She is one of your students in your third grade faith formation class at a parish you’ve been assigned to near your seminary for Sunday ministry. In this class, she is an outcast, an undesirable. As you peer into her young but worn eyes, you see her pain, disguised as it is by her unruly behavior and protective exterior, like the thorns of a cactus shielding its tender inner fruit. To her, and to all of these children, you are a messenger of God. From you they expect His words, His care, and His love. And so they should. You do your best to be Christ to them, teaching them His ways and showing them His heart. Is it enough? Are you saying the right things and giving the right witness? You know how precious these little ones are to Him. “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Seminary is seeing an Associated Press news alert on your cell phone in the middle of your philosophy class: “Active shooter on Oregon college campus,” and you wonder where, how close to you is it? And then Fox News: “10 confirmed dead in Roseburg, OR shooting.” Your heart skips a beat and you feel your soul hit the ground, because Roseburg. Because that’s the hometown of your friend—no, of your brother. That’s how close. Because his grandma is a teacher at the college there. Because in a town of only 22,000, you know that he knows someone—many ones—affected by this tragedy. Because he is your brother, and you know his heart. And neither Jean-Paul Sartre on the desk in front of you, nor any professor looking right at you keeps you from stopping to pray, to beg, and to plead with your God in Heaven above for mercy and protection for your brother and his beloveds. Please, God. And you swipe away the news alerts to text your brother, to tell him that you know, and that…you know.
Seminary is slapping closed your laptop with all of its ridiculously trivial to-do lists to drive your brother home—home to pray, to grieve, to be. Your heart is full—full of love, and understanding, and sorrow—but your words are few. But it’s okay, because you don’t need words, because your eyes meet his and you both know. Words fail and actions aren’t enough either, but presence, and prayer, and shared pains too—while so quiet, really say it all.
Seminary is having your voice and the voices of 140-some other seminarians melded together into one as you all praise and glorify the Lord with the Psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours. “Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord.” You all move and breathe and pray as one: stand, sit, bow, strike your breast. It’s like a company of military soldiers marching in unison, conditioning together and preparing for battle. No, it’s not like a group of military soldiers, it is. Soldiers for Christ, for His Church. We prepare to do battle for souls.
Seminary is having people see you as a seminarian and they assume—they believe—that you have a deep connection with Jesus Christ. They assume that you know Him intimately, that you love Him profoundly, that you belong entirely to Him, and that you have His ear because you live so closely with and for Him. You are daily humbled by this reality, one that spurs you on to greater surrender of your whole self to God. It’s humbling because you recognize your own sinfulness, your days of unfaithfulness to prayer, and the distance you often allow to grow between you and Jesus because of your waywardness. This is who you will become, God-willing, at ordination: standing in the place of Jesus Christ on Earth. You must bind yourself to Him. You must bind yourself to His Word. You must take up His identity and daily work to become more like Him, begging God for the grace to do so. You must be constantly detaching yourself from the things of this world: its pleasures, its anxieties, its empty lusts and pursuits. You must be able to say with St. Paul, “Yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Through prayer, the Sacraments of the Church, the Holy Scriptures, and acts of mercy and charity, you must “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:20), taking on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. Because you are His. Because He has called you. Because the world needs Him in you.
Seminary is walking down your dormitory hallway at 9:00 p.m., seeing a brother’s door open, and stopping to talk about the mundane, when seven other brothers join in one by one, and you begin to talk about the Divine. You grab your Missal, some open Bibles, others pull out their phones, and soon you’re reading His words, praying to His heart, and sharing yours with Him and with them. One Sacred Heart of God pierced and broken; nine wounded hearts of men made new, again.
Seminary is spending five days in silence on a retreat with your holy Lord on a holy hilltop. It seems daunting to you at first, but that quickly changes. Your life is filled with so much noise and so many distractions that it’s no wonder you find it hard to hear and connect with God. His Spirit resides in the calm whispers of the winds, not in the loud chaos of the thunder. It’s fascinating that the thing which you most desire—intimacy with God—is also the thing of which you are most afraid. What will it cost, this intimacy? How much of me will it require? What might I miss out on while sitting still in His presence? The answers are that it will cost you everything; it will require giving your entire self—all that you are, have, and want. With Him, you have everything. Without Him, you have nothing. In the silence of your heart He speaks.
After only half a day, you are able to quiet your heart, open your mind, and feel Him all around you. In surrendering your everything to Him, you find Him. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This is the greatest treasure: being touched by God, seeing the face of Christ. In this intimate communion on your knees before your God, your heart and your soul are at rest. No human person can give you this kind of love. You search and you chase after so many others, trying to fill that emptiness within you with their love, affection, approval, favor… But only His can satisfy you. This is the pearl of great price for which you will sell all to have. Nothing in the world can compare with this love of God you have come to know.
Seminary is sometimes springing up out of bed in the morning, and sometimes crawling. It’s having great days, good days, in-between days, and some bad. It’s laughing so hard with friends that you cry, and crying so hard that only God Himself can bring you peace. It’s struggling to persevere in prayer, and sometimes praying so profoundly you can almost hear His divine lungs exhale.
I continue to be increasingly captivated by the depth, and breadth, and height of our God’s love and mercy. I feel so set apart for Him, for His sheep. For much of my life, I was frustrated by the ways that I was made differently, think differently, desire differently… But it all seems to make sense—I make sense—in the light of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it feels as though my heart is enveloped in sorrow, not out of despair but out of a deep longing to be more and more united to Jesus. The story of my life and my vocational discernment centers on discovering God’s call, discovering that which He has destined to make my heart sing with joy, peace, and fulfillment as I lay down my life for Him. I am, in a sense, the Rich Young Man hungry for the high adventure of the spiritual life. I am Matthew, wholly unworthy and laden with worldly attractions, but convicted by the pointing finger of Jesus, who calls me to come after Him. My journey thus far has been long and complex, full of my own shortcomings and stubborn resistance to God’s will, but He has never ceased weaving the thread of His love and mercy through it all, guiding me gently into a life of self-giving love, the fruit of which is an ever-deepening intimacy and walk with Him.
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
You’ve fallen once more on your journey. You were quite pleased and thankful for the progress, by the grace of God, you were making before that moment came. Always be wary that your thankfulness does not turn into pride, for it is at that moment when you forget your dependence on God and you open yourself up for attack by the enemy of your soul.
And so you fell, and your spirit wept bitterly. You fell, not from the secure embrace of your Father, but from the high-backed horse upon which you allowed yourself to climb. Even now, you hang your head in shame, but I say to you, get up! Do not let your gaze linger any longer on the dirt beneath you. Get up! Do not give the devil a chance to work on you. You do not belong down there, in that place of oppression and groaning, but the devil so enjoys having you there.
My child, don’t you realize how quickly a father reacts when his son falls and gets injured? He rushes immediately to his aid, embracing him and lifting him up, covering all his wounds. No earthly father leaves his precious child there alone to soak in his misery before coming to save him. Not for any time at all! It is even more so with your Heavenly Father. How quickly He is there, all around you and within you, the second after you’ve suffered your fall! He really never left you; it was you who allowed your sight to be clouded.
So rise, now, the instant after you realize where you are! Never delay, letting yourself be consumed by your anguish and sorrow. Do not forget that your freedom was purchased at a very great price. Claim it, my son! Claim your freedom in Christ Jesus, even after you have momentarily strayed from Him. Do not hesitate. Let your dust fall to the wind as you take the merciful hand outstretched to you.
When you allow Him to lift you up into His merciful love, you give Him the joy of being your Savior. Oh how he cherishes that role He has in your life! Come to Him in the Confessional to be healed and released from your transgression, like a patient comes to his doctor for restoration, but do not wait until that visit to rejoice and give thanks! Turn your heart from sadness to joy and thanksgiving even now, the instant after you have fallen; not because of what you have done—you will always be frail and prone to falling on your own—but because of the great mercy and love you know the Father has for you in all of your wanderings.
I think that you will find that the greatest source of your sorrow and shame comes not from despairing of God’s mercy—you know and trust in that already—but rather it comes from the damage your fall causes to your spiritual reputation, to your pride. Why are you surprised that you fell again and so soon after the last? My son, you yourself are capable of nothing else. It is God alone who does good things in and through you, even in your innermost spiritual life, by His grace. Rather than despairing over this reality in the midst of your guilt after your fall, keep your dependence on God always before your eyes. Never credit your own ability, strength, or ingenuity for any success or goodness you have in your life. Always remind yourself that the credit belongs to the Giver alone.
In this way, you will come to see your sin as nothing more than it really is: a distractedness, a split second of taking your eyes off of His loving gaze. Don’t give it any higher standing in your life than this. Do not give Satan the honor of keeping you disconnected from the peace of your Divine Lover for any length of time. Simply smile at your littleness, and lift your arms for your Father to pick you up—back into His care, His peace, and His joy.
He delights in you, little one. Always.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39-