Often we can get caught up in our day-to-day lives, trapped in the bustle of work, social media and everything and everyone that is vying for our attention.
It's also a simple matter to go through our day from our early morning shuffle into work and to our late night shuffle into bed without asking for help, without praying and without recognizing our own needs.
We are so obsessed with this idea of individualism we forget that we are communal creatures. I cannot do everything (despite prideful claims to the contrary) and that is perfectly fine. I'm not meant to.
What I am meant to do is to ask for help, whether that is physical help from a coworker or the help of prayers from my Church and community. We are human and as humans we need each other.
But there is one thing we need more than that.
We need a mother.
I'm speaking specifically about Mary the Mother of God. Now, if you know me, you know how much of a fan I am of this amazing woman but I will tone it to manageable levels for the sake of this argument and your time.
As a devout Catholic, I am asking for Mary's intercession all the time. I pray the Rosary every day and I just straight up ask her to ask her son, Jesus, for me. Why? Well because it works!
Jesus, throughout his earthly life, loved his mother and honored her just like the Commandment "Honor thy Father and Mother" asks us to do. When she asked him for a miracle at the Wedding at Cana, he first said it's not his time yet, but at the end of the day he does exactly what is mother asks him to do.
Mary's intercession is what we like to call efficacious (aka it works and is successful in producing the desired result).
St. Bernard, one of the last Church Fathers, issued an amazing reflection on that very subject and I want to leave you with his words so you can mull all of this over.
"With her [Mary] for guide, thou shalt never go astray; whilst invoking her, thou shalt never lose heart; so long as she is in thy mind, thou shalt not be deceived; whilst she holds thy hand, thou canst not fall; under her protection, thou hast nothing to fear; if she walks before thee, thou shalt not grow weary; if she shows thee favor, thou shalt reach the goal.”(Translation from Pius XII’s encyclical, paragraph 31).
When Jesus entrusted his Mother into the care of the Beloved Apostle John, he said "behold your mother." Those words were not meant for John alone but for all of us. We are each her children and she looks after us in a special way, but if we don't call for her help, ask for it, how can she aid us? Use your free will, ask Mary to step into your life and to help perfect your prayer to God.
Mater Misericordiae, Ora Pro Nobis.
I am not a fan of discomfort.
I enjoy my daily comforts greatly. Whether it's the luxury of AC or the glass of whiskey Friday night.
I'm a firm believer that the world wouldn't have so many good things in it if they weren't meant to be used in moderation and with restraint.
But there is something to be said for what we Catholics call "offering it up," mortification and redemptive suffering. Let me explain.
So when I say mortification or offering it up I'm referring to the practice of something bad happens and you 'offer up' that discomfort or pain to God as an offering. You're saying "Lord this is unpleasant/painful right now but I want to take my little suffering and unite it with yours on the Cross."
And mortification, unlike what certain movies like the Da Vinci Code (which is an awful, no good, very bad movie that is completely inaccurate) claim it is not beating oneself or cutting oneself or wrapping yourself in barbed wire.
It is simpler than that. It can be something like not using butter in the morning or forbidding yourself from using extra salt. The point is you offer something that would be pleasurable for you to the Lord.
Then there is great suffering and that is truly redemptive. Two examples of this stand out prominently to me: St. Maximilian Kolbe and Pope St. John Paul II.
Kolbe was one of many held in the Nazi concentration camps. One day a prisoner escaped. In retaliation for that one prisoner's actions, the Nazi's rounded up a number of prisoners to be be starved to death. One of those men cried out that he had a family and in response Kolbe volunteered. When the guards asked him who he was that he would do this for a stranger his only reply was:
"I am a priest."
Kolbe and several other prisoners were starved for days and while trapped in the dark he led them in prayer and song to Our Lady. Finally, tired of waiting the Nazis injected Kolbe with a lethal dose of carbolic acid.
He died and according to the world he died pointlessly, but his suffering was offered up for love of a fellow human being in a special way.
Then we come to John Paul II. While not a martyr like Kolbe, JPII's final years were marked by suffering and Parkinson's Disease.
In a world of euthanasia and so-called death with dignity, JPII offered the greatest possible example of how to both live with pain by offering it up as if he were another Christ and how to die with true dignity.
Their suffering was redemptive, it was a prayer, a cry to God in the most heartbreaking tone imaginable for each and everyone of us.
Would that we could all offer up at least a little discomfort for the sake of others.
Consider turning the music off in the car, maybe don't treat yourself to that extra ice cream. When that awful, horrible, no good, very bad driver cuts you off, offer it up and pray for them.
Every day something happens that we are unhappy about, offer it up. Use it and let yourself draw close to God in your suffering.
The world and society constantly relay the message that the Christian truth has been found wanting, that our truth is not THE truth.
The new movie "Paul, Apostle of Christ" shatters that statement's lie in a resounding way. By reinforcing both the great difficulty in keeping faith and the great peace it brings.
Luke (Jim Cavizel) has come to Rome in the days of Nero to try and help the Christian community and to write down the life and wisdom of Paul (James Faulkner).
Luke and the others in the Christian community look out on Rome and see darkness. There is doubt, questioning and even violence for past crimes. And yet Luke and Paul both echo the truth engraved on our Catholic hearts.
"Love is the only way."
And that love is found in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church. And just like those early Christians, we find ourselves persecuted, ridiculed and mocked. People question how we can still believe when priests around the world have been accused and even convicted of molesting children.
And sometimes we're even afraid to speak out for fear of losing a job or being seen as intolerant. When people speak of immigrants, pro-life issues or even how the Church needs to "get with the times" we hold our tongues.
We are afraid. We are afraid just as Luke is afraid in "Paul, Apostle of Christ."
Our way is hard but it is still the only way. Love, and the Love of the Catholic Church, remain constant. We continue to believe because truth is non-negotiable. Sometimes people may try to bend it, but still the truth cannot, and will not, ever break.
The faith is hard. The Catholic Church asks much of us. As someone discerning priesthood right now, and feeling a strong pull each day, I know how hard it can be. But we must remember that love and grace continue to abound.
When Catholic pro-life rallies are shut down, we will stand up.
When Catholics march side-by-side with our brothers in sisters for civil rights and for the protection of our children, we will stand up.
When society says the Church much change her teaching on any number of issues which their relativistic vision says are correct, we must stand up.
We must stand up and be authentically Catholic in the world today. No matter or nationality, ethnicity or race. We are united along The Way.
And that Way is Jesus Christ.
What does an Albanian-Indian woman, an anarchist and a rich American heiress all have in common? On first glance, not a whole lot, but each of those people had a special love for the poor, the hurt and those in need.
Two of those people are saints and the third is on the way to beatification and canonization if all goes well. St. Mother Teresa, St Katharine Drexel and Dorothy Day.
I bring these three wonderful souls up because I just recently finished a Day of Reflection involving social justice and the teaching of the Catholic Church on the issue. Aka, how we are supposed to treat people and create change in the world.
And while I was one of the absolute youngest people there, it was incredible to take an indepth look at the concrete teaching the Church has created. Due in no small part to the examples of these three souls.
So let's break those examples down.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
If there is a person who hasn't heard about Mother Teresa I would be shocked and appalled. This is the habited nun famous for her work founding the Missionaries of Charity and caring for the poor and the dying across dozens of countries.
From hospices and homes for those affected by HIV or AIDS, to soup kitchens, orphanages and schools her care for the poor was apparent.
Her name is synonymous with mercy for many millions around the world. She exemplifies the social teaching of the Catholic Church and the dignity of the human person (CCC 1700).
"By blood, I am Albanian," Mother Teresa said in one interview. "By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."
Mother Teresa's identity was rooted in Christ and in the need to satisfy the cry of Christ on the Cross. "I thirst" (John 19:28). She worked in the poorest places of the world and brought the light of Christ and the comfort of support wherever she went.
In each and every person she saw dignity. In each and every person she saw the image of God.
St. Katharine Drexel
I honestly didn't know much about Saint Katharine before today when my priest spent his homily praising her.
Wow, I've been missing out on this saint.
Katharine was born into a wealthy family. Like obnoxiously wealthy. Her family fortune, in contemporary terms, came in at about $400 million.
She was born into a life of privilege but decided to live in a radically different way, ministering to Native American and people of color who were neglected and mistreated.
Imagine that. Standing in solidarity with the poor, giving up a fortune and a life of ease for what?
For faith and for love of her brother and sisters in Christ.
"If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them,Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing."-Katharine Drexel
Last, but most certainly not least, we have the still unsainted Dorothy Day, the founder of the the Catholic Worker Movement and a social activist/anarchist like you wouldn't believe.
Day is a fascinating example to me of a social activist combined with a faithful and traditional Catholic faith. She was Catholic in the fullest sense of the term. Her faith in Christ and His Church informed her actions to help the working poor.
For Dorothy Day the Church's words of fairness, justice and equality weren't just empty words. They were a mandate she couldn't avoid.
“Everything a baptized person does every day should be directly or indirectly related to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy,” Day said once.
Every day we go about our daily lives and our own comfort blinds us to the cry that is welling up from the poor, the dying and the simply lonely.
Our faith begins at the Mass and ends holding the hands of the dying. Let's live that out this Lent. Let our words sing the truth that unites us: God loves us and just as He does so must we love each other.
So I'm writing this at about 3:49 a.m. on a Friday morning. For what earthly reason could I be up at this unholy hour?
Journalism. But that's not what I'm writing about today.
Instead, I want to write about love. Why? Because that's what came into my mind. That's what I think people need to hear and read about.
So love. What could a 22 year-old college student possibly know about love?
Not a whole lot when compared to the couples who have been together 15, 30, 45 years. But I do know what love isn't.
Love isn't selfish. Love gets that glass of water, makes that call or checks on the kids in the middle of the night.
Love doesn't question. It doesn't matter why you're not feeling well or why tonight the demons are worse. Love answers and comforts.
And love is most definitely not cruel. Love does not spit out cruel words unthinkingly in order to get the better of someone. Love smiles.
Love is all about this desire, this need to empty ourselves out, to lose ourselves in the good of another person. There's this great Greek word called "kenosis" which means "self-emptying."
It's this great concept and only when we empty ourselves, are we truly free to act and to love. The culture we live in keeps us caught up in the individual wants and desires we face daily. But that will never make you happy, it will never fill you.
You have to empty yourself for someone else. And that is one of the hardest, most courageous things you could possibly do.
I've loved romantically once. But I was afraid to give it all away, to let myself go out of the picture. And now that's exactly where I am. Out of the picture. Now before you get all sad for me, read on.
That love taught me how to love better, to love more deeply and to love more freely.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has this beautiful quote where she says, "Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self."
And she is so right. Love even when it hurts. Actually, I take that back. Love ESPECIALLY when it hurts. That's the kind of love worth having.
If it hurts, you know it's real. So be real. Be raw and aching. Be a lover and a fighter. Feel every ache, every pain and then...let it go. Empty yourself out. Because you can't just be a well, greedily storing love.
You have to give it and give it freely. Love is never divided, it never fades and if it's real love it never leaves us.
So give, and give and give until you think you can't keep doing it. And like a miracle you'll realize you still can give love to everyone you meet.
Why? Because someone or some event taught you how to love better.
The Black Panther movie is about a lot of things. It's about celebrating black culture and history. It's about building a community. It's also, obviously, about a superhero.
But more than any of that, it's about serving the poor.
Black Panther, in many ways, is the story of our times. A country with advanced technology, medicine and resources has shuttered itself away from the rest of the world. Fear hardens the hearts of the Wakandian people. Their mission became one focused on security, on borders and not bridges. They wanted comfort.
But we are not made for comfort. We are made to serve one another, to build up a community, with each member as an essential and unique part of the whole body. If we close our hearts out of a desire for comfort than we have failed our brothers and sisters.
"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." -1 John 3:17-18
How can we say we love on another, or even love God, if we refuse to aid others? And that is exactly what King T'Challa realizes at the end of the film.
"Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other." -T'Challa
Wealth, resources, power, technology, medicine all of this is dust. It matters, but only in a small way.
What matters are people. What matters are souls. In a thousand years, a million or even a billion all of this around us will be gone. But you and I and will still be alive, and will even be more alive (hopefully) through union with Christ in Heaven.
As C.S. Lewis says in one of his addresses, "you have never spoken to a mere mortal." None of us are mortals. We live, laugh and love with these tremendous immortals. And we also insult, hurt and ruin these same people.
It has to stop. So take a second this week and in the coming days to breathe deeply and to look at the people around you with a fresh gaze.
If your brother needs a coat, provide him one or find a way to keep him warm. If your sister is hungry, provide her with food or make sure she will receive it. These corporal works of mercy are so important not just for others, but for our own growth as members of the human family.
There is no other course of action for someone who truly believes in both Christ and in the Gospel. There is no other allowable path.
Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Al Franken. Those are just a few of the prominent men facing allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
And it seems, everyday the net of of those caught or accused of these sexual acts grows ever wider. Every day I think my shock and my horror could grow no further, and yet they do.
But this isn't a political, industry or male problem; it's a cultural one.
We live in a world that glories in sexual "freedom" for everyone, aka almost everything goes.
And in one sense there is nothing wrong with that. I embedded the tweet above, to illustrate that point as a Catholic myself. Our culture today moved the pendulum away from the Puritanical idea that "sex is bad" and pleasure is always sinful. However, it has now gone too far in the other direction.
Now, as demonstrated by these powerful and prominent men, pleasure at any cost has become the norm for far too many people.
The dignity of other men and women meant nothing to these people. These men, if proven to be predators, sought to fill an emptiness in themselves, but their actions have only managed to create a greater emptiness and foster distrust among all of us.
Their actions are miserable, their behavior like-wise. And this isn't a matter of "boys being boys" or anything like that.
This is all because the culture we live in revels in relativism and the misguided ability to do almost anything you want.
Freedom is not, I repeat NOT, doing whatever you want. Freedom is knowing what you ought to do.
I'm not some Puritanical preacher trying to tell you that sex is bad, etc etc. But our complete lack of sexual ethics and the massive gray zone involved are a problem.
What I'm saying is the opposite of what our contemporary culture says. Actions have consequences, sex should be meaningful and fulfilling, that like the tweet above says, "pornified and selfish pleasure leads to misery."
We think those desires and pleasures will fulfill us, but they won't.
Those predators I listed at the beginning thought they would be fulfilled through their actions and selfish desires, and now look at them.
Torn down at last, after years.
They had the freedom promised by the world and they now suffer accordingly.
What we need is a cultural revival for the type of freedom, joy and pleasure which emphasizes the incalculable dignity of the human person, both male and female.
What we need is a cultural project by which we can change the underlining assumptions that these people, these predators, thought gave them the right to do this.
Nobody has the right to sexually harass someone. Nobody has the sexual "freedom" to commit sexual assault.
So let's stop calling it a male problem, or an industry problem or even a political one. This is about having a complete lack of sexual ethics.
And that is the greatest crime, the greatest blight and disease in our culture. But one that we can change if we have the courage to do so.
The question is, are we brave enough?
Verso l'alto. It's Italian for "to the heights." I know I'm currently residing in Australia and not Italy, but bear with me for a moment and I'll explain.
I've spent the past four months living in a strange, but similar, land. I've taken myself far from my roots, my foundations. And in so doing I've found what those foundation were.
And that's when my penchant for that Italian phrase comes into the picture. Verso l'alto. To the heights.
Those words were the metaphor and motto for the life of a remarkable man named Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Frassati was a devout, Italian Catholic and he lived this phrase to its fullest. For Frassati it was not enough to exist. It was insufficient to breathe in and breathe out until death took him. It is necessary for us all to live and to do that we must orient ourselves towards the heights.
For Frassati and myself, along with many other devout Catholics, those heights represent nothing less than sainthood. Maybe you're not Catholic or even Christian, but I ask you to consider the heights that await at the edge of your vision.
By orienting ourselves towards that high reality, those heights, we can live in a joyful and authentic manner.
But this true form of living requires struggle and effort. We can breathe in and out until death takes us and we may never struggle. TV shows and news programs will fly by and life shall pass with a flicker.
Or we can embrace a steady struggle for charity, joy, truth and decency.
Those heights, those struggles, are not something anyone has to face alone though. The heights are not a solemn and solitary adventure, though there are such moments.
We have around us millions of souls at all stages of the journey. Some still look up at the heights and wonder how they will begin. Some are beside us on these first steps, and we grin even as we climb to know we have such a community beside us. And some are far above, shouting down encouragement, letting us know the heights are reachable and sainthood achievable.
But everyone is called to orient themselves towards the heights, to gaze upwards. Life spent looking at the earth is not for us. It will serve only to steal that wide-eye and childlike joy that we need.
What does this have to do with me and having traveled to Australia? It's simple.
In leaving my home in southern Indiana, I've had a chance to climb just a few feet higher than before on my own journey to the heights. And even in this short journey, I see things differently.
I've traveled halfway around the world and done so alone. I've had to be my own motivation these past few months. I'm my motivation to pray, to study and to run.
It's only now that I realize just what a blessing it is to have dozens of people around you all oriented towards the same reality as you. Towards sainthood and truly living a joyful life.
In taking myself away from those people and those foundations, I've made some rudimentary steps in orienting myself towards the heights above and made several halting steps in that direction.
I could never have done that had I not left.
Life is a constant evolution and I've had similar moments before and will have more after this. But this much I've learned.
We're not here to take life slow, to breathe in and breathe out and then lie quiet.
We're here to shout to the heavens in one moment and then to kneel beside the sick and the poor in the next. We're called to fall to our knees in thanks for the beautiful day while jumping up in protest at the indignities heaped upon our brothers and sisters.
In orienting ourselves towards the heights we gain a greater perspective for those around us.
Life is defined by the heights of joy and the valleys of sorrow. You can look down or you can look up. You can shrug and keep walking, or you can begin climbing.
I don't know about you, but I'm not here to just "get along," I'm here to live and to burn brightly in the short time that I am on this earth.
So who wants to scale the heights with me? Verso l'alto.
A Sea Calling
By Dominick Jean
The heels of her brown Valentino boots clacked across the cobblestones. And though she was hidden behind the bulk of a heavy woolen coat, a hint of gold could be seen peeking from beneath a black ball cap. Her steps were so full of energy in the early morning light, but there was also a sense of fragility in each step.
It was as if she knew that every step was one more move into an uncertain future. It was as if she knew that life would never be the same.
She wandered further and further, until her steps at last stopped at the edge of the Annapolis city dock. Her gaze carried over across the water even as her mind flew back into the past.
Golden days and silver nights filled her thoughts as she looked backwards through time. She thought of a boy sometimes. Just once in a while.
But often she merely thought of all her plans. All the ideas, desires, and unbridled energy which had brought her to this point.
Her life had always been one without reserve. Not easy, but one where each day and each new joy was a gift happily received.
You could see that in her hazel eyes which crinkled up at the barest hint of joy. You could see it in the callouses on her hands and the way her smile was just a little bit crooked.
Her life had never been easy, but it had always been hers. A distant, if loving, father, a workaholic mother and two sisters who were aggravating enough to make you tear your hair out. Her life wasn’t always easy with this family, but they were hers.
And her name was Catherine.
Let me start by saying Wonder Woman is quite possibly the best film of the year. And I'm not just saying that because I was trapped on an airplane and it was the best of the available films.
But why is Wonder Woman the best film? Well let me tell you.
It's because in a movie centered on the horror of war and mankind's genius for destruction, we are called to hope.
We are called to forgive and be forgiven.
And even more importantly, we don't deserve it. Get that thought in your head right now.
We in no way shape or form deserve mercy and forgiveness.
We've achieved much. We fly across the fleecy skies of our beautiful Mother Earth. We explore the wide open and deep places of the earth. We discover the pathways of the brain which carry our thoughts into action.
But we have also dropped bombs and left fathers weeping over their children. We fought over borders and left the young orphans with vengeance burning in their hearts. And we have twisted ourselves and our minds into knots of burning hate.
We've loved and lost, broken hearts and healed souls. We are light and shadow mingled into weird, often awkward and clumsy things called "humans."
We are guilty. Any jury would convict us and send us to our just reward.
But as Diana, aka Wonder Woman, says "it's not about deserve."
It's about what we believe.
Mercy, and love which is the starting point of mercy, are the calling of us all.
We cannot forgive once or twice. We cannot even allow ourselves to only forgive as much as we CAN. We have to forgive as often as we must.
What would life be if a mother could not forgive her daughter an angry word?
What would life be if men and women who have fought each other for years couldn't somehow, someway forgive each other and call peace?
What would life be if we were so consumed with hate at those who broke our hearts we couldn't love again?
Life would be...worthless.
If we define ourselves by only our darkness we would be only half of a real person, if that.
We must define ourselves with love and with mercy. It is light that brings growth and definition to our lives.
Parents are defined by the love and forgiveness they show their children.
Good men and women are defined, not by their conquests, but rather by the compassion they provide.
So extend the hand. Extend the hand a thousand and one times even if a thousand times it is cast aside. Because maybe it takes someone going one step further for us all to get anywhere at all.
Start small maybe. It was St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said to do small things with great love.
Forgive your friend the harsh word, extend the hand of compassion to those who are hurting, provide for the poor and the downtrodden. Open your homes to the sick and needy for all nations.
We do this in hope. Hope that we might be forgiven. Even though we do not deserve it.
We still have hope. Forever and always.