on discernment

Happy Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

So there’s an old joke that goes something like: a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit are concelebrating Mass. During the liturgy the light in the Church goes out. The Franciscan praises God for the opportunity to live more simply. The Dominican gives a learned homily about how Christ is the light of the world. And the Jesuit changes the light bulb.

I had the opportunity to learn this practical side of Ignatian spirituality while I was an undergrad at Boston College. I knew little to nothing about St. Ignatius of Loyola before I arrived at Boston College nearly 10 years ago, but it is safe to say that St. Ignatius has been one of the most influential saints in my spiritual development.  His was a spirituality grounded in the everyday human experience of each and every individual person encountering God.

When I arrived at Boston College—a Jesuit institution— as a bright-eyed freshman, I was ready to take on the world. I had signed on to be a double major in Biology and Psychology to fulfill my dreams of going to medical school and becoming a pediatric cardiologist. I started my first semester of courses—Molecular Cell Biology, Behavioral Neuroscience, Chemistry, Calculus, and a freshmen cornerstone class. Within days of the first week of classes, I began to sense that something was wrong.  I didn’t enjoy any of my work (and believe me, I love school.) I began dreading going to class and my grades were plummeting.  I had never received less than a B+ in my life, and suddenly I was getting C’s and D’s for the semester.  I could not, for the life of me, understand how I could be failing at something that I “wanted” so badly.

Around this time I got involved with Campus Ministry at BC and began to learn more about the Jesuits and Ignatian Spirituality.  St. Ignatius development a method of discernment that seemed to really make sense to me.  I learned that St. Ignatius believed that God speaks to us in the desires of our heart—anDSC01255d that if we look really carefully at our feelings—what brings us joy (our consolations) and what doesn’t (our desolations)—that God speaks to us in these desires about his will for our lives.

It became abundantly clear that I really didn’t want to become a doctor. I loved the idea of being a medical professional, but it was definitely not in the plan for me. I found no joy, whatsoever, in my pursuit of this goal. That is not to say that life should be without its challenges. But Ignatius would probably say that God speaks to us even in the challenges, and that I would still feel some joy or fulfillment as I strove onward toward my goal.  But there was no joy or fulfillment in my pre-med classes.

I went home that Christmas to break the news to my parents that I wasn’t going to be a pre-med major anymore.  When I returned to BC in the spring, I took a few random classes to fulfill my core requirements for graduation while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.  One of those random classes happened to be “The Biblical Heritage.”

In this course on the Old Testament I was introduced to what would become one of my greatest passions.  I became obsessed with the study of the Old Testament. I hung on every single word, loved the nuances and the poetry and more than anything, I loved the development of God’s relationship with his people.  It became abundantly clear that theology was what I was meant to study.  I finally knew what it felt like to be passionate about my work.  I was thrilled.

I could write a book on how Ignatian spirituality has shaped my life, but it is this practical experience—the experience of figuring out what God wanted me to do with my gifts—that left the most profound impact on me.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,

 All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love a
nd your grace,
that is enough for me.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Light of Christ in Rio

There’s a great me992810_659039764107551_348015512_nme making its way across social media—it features a picture of Pope Francis, gesturing as if he is having trouble hearing, with the caption, “Did you say ‘young people think the Church is irrelevant?’  Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the million young people at World Youth Day!”

World Youth Day is, in a word, inspiring.  Hundreds of thousands of young people are in Rio celebrating their Catholic faith—a faith that is one holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The oneness is self-evident in the presence of the tens of thousands of young people from all over the world, waving the flags of their own countries but celebrating their oneness in faith.  Young people at this event gather for speakers, for prayer, for Mass—and on their journey to greater holiness they celebrate that the Church indeed is catholic, universal.  How incredible that this massive group of people from around the world can gather as one to celebrate Mass.  Their native tongues may be different, but each and every moment of the Mass is celebrated in the same way throughout the world.  All will feel at home in the presence of God. That is the beauty of the Catholic faith. And all who are present will celebrate Mass with Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, the guardian of apostolic tradition.  Pope Francis’ holy joy and genuine love for Christ and His church is contagious.

Yet it is all too easy to lose sight of all of that tradition and inspiration in our increasingly secular world. Oftentimes, believers feel alone in their conviction. That is what makes experiences like World Youth Day so vital.  World Youth Day provides communal and universal experiences of faith, of encounters with Christ. I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis as a teenager, and I can still remember the feeling of awe as I sat in the crowded stadium that usually holds bellowing Colts fans but on that day was filled with young Catholics just like me. We sang together, listened to witness talks together, celebrated the Eucharist together. I left with my faith emboldened and with the knowledge that I belonged to something much bigger than myself.

As Pope Francis wrote in Lumen Fidei, “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed” (Lumen Fidei, 22).  Just like in the story of Emmaus in Luke 24: Jesus walked side by side with his disciples—though they did not yet recognize him—and they shared stories of faith with one another. When they gathered together in the Eucharist, suddenly their hearts and their minds were opened—“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” When they recognized that Christ was with them, when they had experienced the reality of Christ as a community, they returned at once to Jerusalem to evangelize.

Let us pray for all of these young pilgrims, that they may encounter Christ and set the world aflame with the light of faith.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA blog here.

organic family planning

As a result of the HHS Mandate, the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception have garnered an abundance of media attention.   It is clear from the  headlines that Catholics are depicted as a people divided when it comes to contraception.  It is widely—though erroneously —reported that 98% of Catholic women will use a form of contraception at some point in their lifetime.  With numbers like these, and headlines like, “Catholics Take Sides over Health Law’s Birth Control Policy,” what’s a Catholic to do?  Many Catholics know that the Church views contraception as immoral, but are unsure exactly why.  Catholics may be unfamiliar or have misconceptions about what options are considered morally licit.  So while everyone is clear that the Church disallows contraception, the Church’s side of the story is not widely known.

With this in mind, last year I pitched Church teaching on contraception to my classroom of high school students. I began the conversation by asking them what they thought about the recent trend of environmental activism: everything nowadays is about “being green” and farming organically and cleaning with elements found in nature rather than chemicals. Everyone chimed in with examples from their own lives or advertisements they had seen on TV.  I then posed the question, If we are concerned with the chemicals that we put in our bodies, if we spend extra money to buy organic produce, use botantical cleaning supplies, and eat only antibiotic-free meat, why, then, are we so quick to use chemicals to control a woman’s fertility?

The room was quiet for a few moments—a small feat in an all-girls environment—and then the conversation really picked up.  I explained that the Church encourages married couples to use Natural Family Planning, or NFP, to plan their families.  Natural Family Planning can be used to achieve or to avoid pregnancies.  There are several different methods, but each works in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine the days that she is able to conceive.   NFP does not use any chemicals and does not involve any act before, during, or after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.  Upon hearing this one student remarked, “It’s organic family planning!”  The real beauty of NFP, though, is that it fosters care for the whole person, body and spirit.

Marriage has two essential qualities: it is unitive—bringing the couple together in body and in spirit—but it is also procreative—that is to say, open to life.  As Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae,

“…the  fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”

When we deliberately remove the procreative element of sex through contraception,  we are removing an essential quality of the marital act.

That is why NFP is not considered contraception or birth control; it involves an awareness of naturally occurring times of fertility and infertility.  Couples who wish to avoid a pregnancy simply abstain from intercourse during the woman’s fertile phase.  Contrary to popular belief, NFP is 99% effective if a couple seeks to avoid a pregnancy and uses the system correctly.

More than anything, though, NFP requires a couple to embody agape love, that is, sacrificial love.  It requires sacrifice because short periods of abstinence are required if a couple is trying to avoid a pregnancy.  It calls couples beyond themselves to a mutual responsibility for their fertility.  It does not rely solely on the woman or the man—it necessarily requires mutual responsibility. It is a remarkable exercise in authentic self-gift. In fact, couples who use NFP report that it strengthens their marriage because it fosters communication and a deeper appreciation for the other.

Natural Family Planning acknowledges that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and it promotes a deep respect for our bodies’ natural cycles of fertility.  In a society where “being green” is so prized, we shouldn’t settle for using chemicals to alter what is a remarkable natural cycle.  This week is NFP Awareness week –take the opportunity to learn more about authentic Church teaching on contraception. For more information on NFP, I’d urge you to check out the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.  In addition, the book Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi, is filled with essays (written by brilliant, academic women) about the theology and the history behind these teachings.

the great pep talk

The Great Pep Talk

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.  For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” –Matthew 10 : 19-20

Today’s Gospel is a great pep-talk for any apologists out there.

I am a Catholic. I love everything about the Catholic faith–the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the smells and bells of liturgy, Pope Francis. I love my faith and I try to follow Christ in all that I do.

Yet Christ calls us to more than “simply” following Him in our individual lives. In fact every single Catholic is anointed priest, prophet, and king at their Baptism. Part of the indelible mark of Baptism is the prophetic call.

Most of us don’t want to be prophets. Most of the Biblical prophets didn’t want to be prophets! Moses came up with an array of excuses when he was called: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11), then “Suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?” (Ex. 4:1), then, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” (Ex. 4:10), “and then the final straw (my personal favorite), “O my Lord please send someone else!” (Ex. 4:13).

Jonah famously tried to dodge his prophetic call and wound up spending three days in the belly of a giant fish.

Jeremiah, too, had his doubts. He cried out, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The hardest part of the prophetic call is necessarily speaking an unpopular message.  The prophets were virtually never well-received. It is difficult to speak out about something that is counter-cultural or radical. I’ve written about this before—I would much rather blend in and mind my own business than spark a controversy.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t accept our excuses: God calls us to move beyond our fear. God promises to be with us and to give us the words to speak.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  This has been God’s message to the prophets from the beginning.  In Jeremiah 1:9, the Hebrew is beautifully expressive—God tells Jeremiah, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” (Admittedly, Jeremiah had the “easy route”—Ezekiel had to eat a scroll! See Ezekiel 3 for that awesome story).

The only choice we have is to move forward, trusting that God will give us the words that we need to continue to joyfully teach and to live Christ’s message of love in the world, as we draw ever closer to the one who knows what it is like to be persecuted.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA Blog  http://catholicvoicesusa.org/entry/jesus-gives-us-a-pep-talk.html

the truth makes all the difference

The 8th commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” is, at best, an ethical minimum. Can, should, this basic truth—don’t lie—be drawn out more broadly to include such ideas as protecting the dignity of a person, or the duty to represent truthfully what one has seen or what one has heard?

The answer, I would argue, is a resounding yes. The 10 Commandments, presented to us by Moses in the Hebrew Bible, set forth a minimum standard of behavior. Christ came and fulfilled the Old Covenant, and in turn elevated the moral standards first found in the 10 Commandments. In Matthew 5, or the “Sermon on the Mount,” Christ presents these new moral standards.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Matthew 5: 21-22

Christ takes what is a simple commandment—do not kill—and elevates it, elevates us—to a higher standard of behavior. Not only may we not kill our fellow brother—we must not be angry with him or harbor resentment toward him.

Similarly within the command “do not bear false witness against your neighbor” lies the elevated command to present the truth with accuracy, with conviction, and most importantly, with love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2464) draws out this idea further (emphasis added):

“The 8th commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and who wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this case, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.”

So when, during a hearing to garner the truth about the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the cause of the attack with, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” I thought about this call to witness to the truth. And frankly, I would argue that the truth makes all the difference.

Lately the truth has been difficult to glean from a majority of principal news outlets.

Take, for example, the Gosnell case, which was largely ignored until Kirsten Powers’ courageous article in USA Today. After a virtual outcry on Twitter, more news outlets began to pick up the story; Fox News has even aired a special on the case. The details of the case are horrific, disturbing, nauseating. But the truth is important. The truth is necessary.

There is a similar dearth of coverage regarding the House Committee’s hearing on Benghazi, which took place on Wednesday. Only one of my usual three radio programs mentioned the hearing during my drive to work on Thursday. Senator Marco Rubio was a guest on one news program, and acknowledging the general lack of news coverage, he thanked this particular program for allowing him to speak about the hearing. His comments regarding the hearing were insightful, especially when he thoughtfully noted, “This is not about politics. This is about accountability.”

I applaud Senator Rubio for speaking out. Cases like Gosnell and Benghazi matter. The content is difficult to discuss, because it brings to the forefront all of the worst parts of ourselves that we seek at all costs to cover up. We have created a culture of death, “men without chests” as C.S. Lewis wrote, yet we are shocked when we see evil in our world. Our response to evil is more shocking than the evil itself—cover it up! Don’t talk about it. It’s too disturbing. It’s too political.

So what happens when the usual news outlets, or the people charged with providing the truth, purposefully misrepresent the truth (what seems to be the case in the Benghazi terrorist attack) or simply ignore the story altogether (as was the case with the Gosnell trial)?

Then we must demand the truth. Kirsten Powers’ article shamed the mainstream media into covering, or at least mentioning, the Gosnell trial. The “Break the Gosnell Media Blackout” Twitter campaign was largely effective. We must use whatever tools we have as individuals, whatever platforms, whatever influence, and demand the truth. When these stories aren’t being covered, we should call into the major news outlets and ask why every word of the Jodi Arias case is discussed on the evening program, but not a word is mentioned about the House Committee hearing on Benghazi? And, equally as important, we should take time to thank the news outlets, journalists, and individuals who put their careers on the line to speak the truth. Let them know that we want the truth and that we are grateful when people take risks to bring it to us.

This is about accountability. We need to continue to hold each other lovingly accountable for our wrongs. If we can look evil in the face, if we can call it out of the darkness and name it, then we can move forward and try to ensure that atrocities like the Gosnell clinic and tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Benghazi don’t happen ever again. It is not enough to live out our morality individually. We must demand the truth.

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-32

answer teen pregnancy with compassion, not pills

The FDA has made the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill available to all women ages 15 and over without a prescription or parental consent.  Prior to this ruling, anyone under age 17 needed a prescription to obtain this drug.  Proponents of the legislation argue that all women should have timely access to emergency contraception, regardless of age.  Thankfully, the Department of Justice filed an appeal against the ruling late on Wednesday.  Reactions to the appeal were mixed, but perhaps one of the most disappointing headlines I read this morning was, “Women’s groups decry appeal on morning-after pill.”

To be honest, I just spent hours working on an article to post here. I unpacked this issue from a scientific and medical perspective—is this pill an abortifacient? Is this pill safe for young girls? Armed with my facts and my arguments, I presented the article to my faithful editor (read: husband) and he lovingly told me that he thought I had missed the mark. Annoyed, I hung up the phone and sat down at the computer. I prayed. And I realized that he is right.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what science says about this pill.  What matters is that we are treating pregnancy like the common cold.  We are saying to our young women that pregnancy, like cold symptoms, can be treated with a quick trip to CVS.  Even worse, we are saying to our young women that we will not be there for them when they need guidance.

When I was in college, I was an intern at Catholic Charities Pregnancy Plus Medical in Tampa. I met with women daily, gave free pregnancy tests, and talked through next steps with the women once the results were in.  I was 19 years old, single, no children.  What did I possibly have to offer these women?  I had no pregnancy advice, no relationship advice. I had no words about overcoming addiction or abuse. The only thing I could offer was compassion and a shoulder to cry on. My youngest client that summer was 15 years old, and all I remember is that she just needed someone to talk to, someone to reassure her that everything was going to be ok when her pregnancy test came back positive.

This ruling robs us of the ability to support the young women who find themselves in these difficult situations. If a young girl is sexually active and her birth control fails, she can go to CVS and pick up a pill and end her pregnancy.  Did she abort an already conceived child?  Perhaps.  Is this pill safe?  Will this affect her fertility in the future?  We don’t know the answers to any of these questions. We can speculate, but we don’t know.

What we do know is that God calls us to reach out to one another in love. Our call, our purpose, is to love one another.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 31-40

pruning

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of escaping my chilly New England home to visit my parents in bright, warm Florida. I’ve lived away from home now for quite some time, and each time I go back to visit I love to wait for the moment when we turn a corner and my house comes into view.   My favorite tree is right on the corner of the lot; my family planted it when we moved into this house many years ago.  I love this house for everything that it represents and all of the memories that it holds.

But this past visit when we pulled up to the house I did not get to relish that moment that I love. I had just heard a few minutes earlier that there had been two explosions at the Boston Marathon.  My body was there in Florida, but my heart was back in Boston, worried about my family and friends there.

Later that evening when I went out for a walk with my Mom, I noticed that my favorite tree had been completely cut down. At least, that’s what it looked like from my vantage point.  I expressed my shock and sadness to my Mom, who just laughed and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s Knuckles!” She went on to explain that she was gardening over the weekend and decided that the tree needed to be pruned.

The tree post-pruning!

The tree post-pruning!

 

Pruned, yes, I argued. But not completely cut down. Every single one of the tree’s branches was gone. It looked like the Giving Tree at the end of Shel Silverstein’s iconic book.  It was tragic. I couldn’t believe that she had nearly killed this tree.

And my mother—in her infinite wisdom—patiently explained that yes, the tree looked dead.  But it needed to be pruned so that later it would grow even taller, even fuller. Sure, it was ugly. By all outward appearances, it was never coming back. But new life was just waiting to burst forth.  Sure enough, right before I left home a few days later, Mom pointed out the brand new little branches that were springing forth.

These were the memories that were in my heart this morning as I heard today’s Gospel.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

Remain in me, as I remain in you.

Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.”

I suppose, then, that perhaps I should look at challenges, suffering, and pain as a kind of spiritual “pruning.”  Perhaps God is a Master Gardener, up there in the clouds with a giant pair of shears just waiting to cut away anything that hinders his plan for me, for you. It hurts. It’s ugly. By all appearances it doesn’t seem like anything is going to change, or improve. But then when we least expect it, life and beauty spring forth in great abundance.

Prune away.

 

Call it what it is

I am deeply saddened by President Obama’s duplicitous remarks at a Planned Parenthood function earlier today.  That I am disappointed that the President would so clearly align himself with one side of a polarizing issue is another matter entirely.  Here, I’d simply like to express my disappointment at his choice of words.  Today it seemed that the President chose his words carefully to disguise the nature of the truth.

President Obama said today:

“As long as we’ve got to fight to make sure women have access to quality, affordable health care, and as long as we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you’ve also got a president who’s going to be right there with you, fighting every step of the way.  Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.”

That is a great sound bite.  If I didn’t know any better and I had heard that clip on the radio, I’d be filled with pride.  But what do his words really mean?

By “access to quality, affordable health care,” I imagine the President is referring to the Affordable Care Act.  In the context of his speech to Planned Parenthood, he is most likely referring specifically to the HHS mandate, which requires all employers to provide contraceptive coverage to employees. Women’s access to contraception is so important that it has been written into the Affordable Health Care Act, with shallow exemptions in place for those who find contraception morally unacceptable.  As a woman, I am offended by the assertion that offering me “access to quality, affordable health care” means providing me with contraception.  Furthermore, why is men’s reproductive health care not included in the Affordable Care Act?  Why will my employer pay for sterilization for women, but not for men? And why will the Affordable Care Act not cover other methods of family planning, such as Natural Family Planning?

By “we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health,” the President is  most likely referring to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.  The President really means that I should be able to choose to end the life of my child if I so desire. I should be able to make this decision up until a late stage in my pregnancy. I have the right, as a woman, as a mother, to feel my child’s heart beating inside of me and decide that I can end my child’s life.  I should have access to an abortion clinic, and if my doctor “botches” my abortion and my child is born alive, my doctor should be allowed to kill my child on the table.  To quote a Planned Parenthood official, it has become a “patient-doctor” issue, and to be clear: I am the patient, not my newborn child.

Yet, President Obama did not once use the word “abortion” in his remarks today.  He continuously used the phrase, “right to choose.”  Why, in addressing the nation’s largest abortion provider, did President Obama not use the word “abortion?”

I am not passing judgment on women or men who agree with these policies or those who find value in them.  I am insisting that we use the appropriate language and truly call these policies what they are.  When we rewrite the language, when we say things like “a woman has a right to choose,” we need to finish the sentence. What does the woman have the right to choose? If we can say, out loud, in public, on television, to Planned Parenthood officials, “A woman has the right to kill the child growing inside of her” then I think we would be making an enormous leap toward truth.

Yet we do not use these words, because these words are harsh, difficult, painful.  Perhaps we are afraid to speak the truth. The truth is not pretty; no one wants to hear about the abortion as a life/death issue when we can easily reframe it to be a rights/choice issue.  Between the lack of mainstream media coverage (or sporadic coverage at best) of the Kermit Gosnell trial and President Obama’s remarks today, the need for truthful language is clear.

The President and I can agree on one thing today— I too would invoke God’s blessing upon Planned Parenthood. I pray for them, and for all of us as a society,  that we may start to call things what they truly are. There is power in truth.

Re-Post: Faithful Thomas

Today’s Gospel (John 20:19-31): Jesus and “Doubting” Thomas

I’ve always thought it is wildly unfair that Thomas gets such a bad rap. I mean, the guy had a good point—he needed some evidence. What is wrong with asking for a sign? If I walked into a room and 11 of my friends told me that they had just seen Jesus, I’d think they were all crazy, and you can be certain I would want some sort of sign! But nonetheless, poor Thomas ends up being the poster child for doubt.

Tonight at Mass, the celebrant pointed out something I had never realized: just a few chapters before the doubt incident (Ch 11), Thomas had been the most faith-filled of all the disciples. As Jesus was preparing to head back to Judea, the disciples warned him not to go.  They reminded him that last time he was in town, people tried to stone him.  Thomas, however, was filled with faith in Jesus’ mission.  Thomas said to the other disciples “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” That doesn’t sound very “doubtful” to me. In fact, that is one of the boldest statements of faith in the entire Gospel of John.

Why, then, is Thomas remembered as the one who doubted Jesus, and not as the faithful believer?

I think that we need a figure like Thomas. We need to be reminded that even someone who lived and walked with Jesus every day, and who saw him perform miracles all the time, can doubt.  We need to know that even though we have followed Christ in the past, and made radical statements of faith, that we are human. We doubt. And we need signs, and we need serious help. We need to know that we’re doing the right thing, loving the right way.

And you know what? Thomas asked for a sign, and Jesus gave him one. Jesus appeared a week later, and he wasn’t even angry with Thomas for doubting. He knew the poor guy just wanted some proof. So he showed up, showed off his wounds, and said “Do not doubt but believe.”

We are human, after all. And we are deeply loved. And sometimes, even though we’ve seen some great things happen, we just don’t get it. Something is still missing. So we ask for a sign. And then we wait, and pray for the grace to recognize it when it shows up.

the dangers of moral relativism

On April 18, 2005, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, delivered the homily at the Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff.  In his concise yet poignant homily, he warned against what he calls the “dictatorship of relativism.”  The following is an excerpt from his homily:

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.”

Each morning as I peruse my usual news outlets, I cannot help but think that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was right. As a society, as a world, even, we are indeed “building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”  There is a loud clamor of voices urging relativism; to speak out against these voices garners one intense criticism–one is labeled a fundamentalist, bigot, or is dismissed as “not with the times.”

Yet where does moral relativism lead us?  The dictatorship of relativism leads us to a Catholic university under threat of suit because of a student-run group distributing condoms on campus.  Relativism leads us to a Planned Parenthood official arguing that if a child survives an abortion, the decision on whether or not to kill the child is a “patient-doctor issue,” not a legal one. Moral relativism leads  a federal judge to allow the morning after pill to be sold over the counter to women of all ages.  Is the right to life an objective truth? Is life itself relative?

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, talks about the necessity of objective truth in the face of relativism.  He argues that if we fail to pass along specific standards of right and wrong, rooted in objective truth, then we necessarily must accept responsibility for the moral bankruptcy that we ourselves have created.  At the end of Chapter 1, entitled, “Men without Chests,”  C.S. Lewis explains,

“And all the time—such is the tragicomedy of our situation—we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” 

Today, we lament the loss of life, yet we pass legislation that makes life “a patient-doctor” issue, or worse, an over-the counter issue.  We try to teach our young people about the sanctity of life, but insist that they be allowed access to condoms and over-the-counter abortifacients for “protection.”  How can we expect people to honor the dignity and sanctity of life–of every person, regardless of age– when we are willing to discard it when it is too inconvenient?

To borrow from C.S. Lewis, “such is the tragicomedy of our situation.”

Bob Rice

Catholicism, Culture, Creativity

Cole Ryan

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