Monthly Archives: March 2014

When I was a child, our family pulled up stakes and moved to the Great Unknown that was The West – Arizona, to be specific. Thereafter, visits to my grandparents’ home in upstate New York were few and far between, a not-uncommon phenomenon in the early 60’s when average people did not casually hop on a plane and fly off somewhere. One visit sticks in my mind. Grandma and Granddad were in their 70s, and their average day, I noticed, followed a predictable routine – a very predictable routine. The high point of their day was the arrival of the postman, not that they got anything exciting or even interesting in the mail, but the thought that they could have, and they might someday sustained them. At the age of 10 I decided that at all costs I would avoid the kind of life that left me shelling peas on the front porch, or sitting in the parlor, waiting for the doorbell to ring.


With my eyes on the prize of excitement, I fled the country upon graduation from college, moving to Germany where everything, everything was different from the way it was back home. Okay, maybe not everything – but certainly enough things that I could content myself with seemingly constant novelty. After five years, when things began to get a little stale, I moved even farther away from home to Asia, where not only did the people not speak English, but even the writing was inscrutable. For me, it was the opposite of culture shock; it was raw heaven. I had discovered the polar opposite of the Same Old.


Although not everyone moves to the other side of the world to avoid boredom, most of us do go to great lengths, and when we’re young, we’re generally pretty successful. Things usually just seem to be leading you onward and upward when you’re young. Possibilities swirl in your future, and you have that feeling that the Next Great Thing might at any moment tap you on the shoulder or call out your name. Then, as you get older, the field of opportunities, like your arteries, begins to narrow. You finally meet Mr. or Ms. Right, you marry, you have kids, and one day you look up from what seems to be the 96th load of laundry you’ve done this week and realize that that sound you hear is your brain cells screaming as they die. Boredom, with which you have up to that point in your life had only a passing acquaintance, has become a permanent house guest. It’s a shock and a half.


I think my grandparents handled monotony far better than we do. It never occurred to them to expect that life would be ceaselessly entertaining. We, on the other hand, have been promised great things, leaving many of us middle-aged suckers demanding our money back. We can end up feeling cheated somehow, as if our lives might have been perpetually thrilling if only we had or we hadn’t (fill in the blank). Our minds wander back to kindergarten, when the other kids used up all the glue and so the teacher said we couldn’t put glitter on our art project, but not to worry because it was very nice just the way it was. And we took our drawing home, and our mom told us that it was very nice just the way it was. And we knew that it wasn’t. It lacked sparkle. If only we could get some glitter into our lives….


I wonder sometimes if that doesn’t account for some of the attraction of the Protestant charismatic movement. Believing in God, having faith that He loves you, and counting on His beneficent providence is nice. Actually seeing someone healed right before your eyes, or hearing a prophecy of future events isn’t nice – it’s spine-tingling! Thrills are just what is lacking in most Christians’ spiritual experience, so a movement that promises them can be most appealing. As a teenager my mother introduced me to the charismatic movement, and when miracles weren’t forthcoming (in 30 years of charismatic affiliation, my mother – who believed to the bottom of her soul – never encountered one verifiable miracle), we remained undaunted – the thought that they could have, and they might some day sustained us. The idea that our God might not be opposed to allowing His people to suffer the monotony of faith was simply foreign to our doctrinal system. Yet in competing with the spirit of this age, we were bound to lose. Perpetual stimulation is a worldly goal. The tabloids of the 21st century have gone waaaay past shrill in their headlines: Gwyneth baby drama crisis SHOCKER!!!! They have had no choice – the clamor for excitement has driven them and all advertisers to scream hyperbolic prevarications at the top of their lungs. Understatement went out with 8-track tapes. The world is totally 24/7, beyond xtreme. Information overload is our mom, and hyperstimulation our stepmom.


No wonder Lent is a tough sell. It asks us to accompany Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days – 40 of the longest days in history, to hear some people tell it. They are being deprived of the Internet, or texting, or TV watching, so that they can sit around with Jesus, and He isn’t saying much. He isn’t doing much. He appears to be sitting on the front porch watching the world go by, like my grandparents at the end of a long, hard day of waiting for the mail. If He can hear our brain cells dying, He isn’t giving any indication.


Faith, hope and love are the front porch of the Christian life, and that is where Jesus is to be found. Lent is the Church’s attempt to reorient us to this fact, to call us back out of the shrieking world and invite us to sit at the feet of the Man Who believed He had nothing more important to do than to spend 40 days alone in prayer. Out of that extended retreat, we may recall, came miracles – real miracles, the kind seen in the Catholic Church to this day. Jesus never got out of the habit of retiring to be alone with His Father. Had His Dad required Him to spend 80 years in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth planing boards, He would have planed those boards with great love and contentment, because He had but one objective: to do His Father’s will.


Perpetual excitement is for weenies. Thrills are for wannabees. Sitting on the front porch with the Master is the real xtreme experience. Let’s pray we’re up to it.



On the memorial of St. Benjamin, deacon and martyr


Deo omnis gloria!

My daughter, a “cradle convert” in that she entered the Church at the age of 10, is issuing informal “save-the date” invitations to the Easter vigil to her Protestant friends (she attends a large Evangelical Protestant university). We’re hoping to get a small group together on April 19th to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. It’s a fantastic way to introduce people to the Church – after all, the Easter Vigil is Catholicism at her finest! And watching those converts as they enter (or are reconciled to) the Church just might give her friends pause for thought….


Here’s hoping!


Converts have a way of doing that, you know – giving people pause for thought. The first thought that probably pops into your mind when you hear that someone is converting to Catholicism is “why?” – what drew you to the Catholic Church? If you’re a Protestant, and you get the news that someone is “poping,” I’m sure “why?” is the question on your mind, too – why in the world would you become Catholic?? Very often, converts to Catholicism aren’t really allowed to explain their decision to the church they are leaving behind – members of that church all too often do that for them, spreading the impression that their exodus was the result of a less than passionate relationship with Christ. So it tickled me when I came across the conversion of Swedish pastor Ulf Ekman. He was a very prominent charismatic clergyman instrumental in bringing the Word of Faith movement to his native land. Not only did Ekman get the chance to explain his conversion to Catholicism to his church, he got the chance to do it on camera. You can watch it here (interpreted in English) – all 45 glorious minutes of it! Pastor Ekman explained the reasoning behind his (and his wife Birgitta’s) decision to leave his work of 30 years behind and ask to be reconciled to the Church Jesus established (starting 29 minutes into the video):


In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself, with a strength and a stability which the gates of hell have not prevailed against. We believe this power and these roots are necessary for the future, and we’re talking about the survival of the Christian world in a cruel future world. We believe that God wants to unite us as one… God’s Spirit was actually drawing us and urging us to join in earnest with the Catholic Church.


The congregation took it well. I didn’t see anyone get up and leave. Perhaps it’s Swedish stoicism, but when the camera cut to the audience they looked pretty composed. In fact, they applauded warmly when he finished, and the pastor who spoke after Pastor Ekman’s sermon assured the congregation that he felt that Ulf and Birgitta were “following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” What I enjoyed the most was the fact that Pastor Ekman told the congregation what he has discovered about Catholics: “how alive their true faith is in Jesus,” “how biblically anchored the Catholic Church is in its classical doctrines,” and that “in their services they use the Scriptures more than we do!” It was quite a blessing that he was allowed to say that, and to explain why he feels that his decision is the right one – that doesn’t always happen.


So, when all else fails, write a book to get your point across! German pastor Andreas Theurer did just that, a book entitled Warum werden wir nicht katholisch? Denkanstöße eines evangelisch-lutherischen Pfarrers (Why Don’t We Become Catholic? Food for Thought from an Evangelical-Lutheran Pastor). Why did Pastor Theurer become Catholic?


The Bible arose from the Church, not the other way around. The deciding criterion is: what has the Church believed since the time of the Apostles?


This decision had no one certain cause, but rather was the result of many years of looking into the doctrines which divide the church; this finally led me to the insight that on all the contested points Catholic teaching agrees with the beliefs of the Apostles. At some point I came to the realization that I no longer had a reason not to become Catholic, and then I naturally had to face the consequences.


Sounds a bit like what Pastor Ekman was saying, doesn’t it? “In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself.” When Protestants begin looking into the first few centuries of Christianity, they often come away with a nagging suspicion that something may have gone awry in the doctrines of the Reformers.


My friend “J” – a layperson hoping to be reconciled to the Church later this year – expressed thoughts similar to those of Pastor Theurer’s. When asked what caused him to consider Catholicism, “J” responded:


I think a major factor in my conversion was simply working in the adult world for several years and realising how the real world worked. Issues of authority, hierarchy, organisation…all these became real and I realised Protestantism has no good solution – or rather, its (present) solution seems to look like modern democracy which, I realised, may simply be a reflection of modern prejudice instead of the government that Christ instituted.


Another factor was just growing older and realising that expertise and properly instituted authority matter. I mean, in companies there is no such thing as democracy and no one kicks up a big fuss about it – why should we then assume that the Church founded by Christ had no lines of authority? Why do we assume that the Church Fathers were free to hold whatever theological opinion they wanted to and that no one took action against them? Why do we assume that there was no authority who could judge such things? The more I examined the issue the more I realised that the Catholic picture of reality fit with the facts better than the Protestant one….


Authority, of course, is the central issue here. Protestantism can seem very appealing with its loose organization, if any at all. The YOUCAT succinctly explains why the Church is not, and cannot be, a democracy:


Democracy operates on the principle that all power comes from the people. In the Church, however, all power comes from Christ. That is why the Church has a hierarchical structure.


Kind of hard to argue with that.


The question of authority is definitely a subject that turns people’s mind towards Rome. Blogger Kala Nila had an interesting experience with a pastor who, when he learned of her intention to swim the Tiber, wrote to her: “I can’t believe you’re letting someone else tell you what the Bible says.” As she put it:


The reality is that I have always believed what somebody else taught me. Before I studied Bible in college, I merely trusted those who taught me and I wasn’t aware of all the assumptions that inform our reading of Scripture (and often compromise our correct understanding of it). Even during college, I trusted my Bible professors so I was shaped by their thinking and persuasions. It seems to me that the difference now as a Catholic is that I am listening to and being taught by the Church which Christ founded, the very one that He promised to protect against the powers of hell.


Pretty perceptive, I’d say. The Protestant idea that individual believers are relying on the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth is a mirage. Protestants are being taught by whoever their leaders are, by whatever materials they are given, even by the Bible translation they choose to use (as Pastor N.T. Wright has bemoaned).


So there you have it, out of the mouths of “11th-hour workers,” as Russ Rentler terms us converts and reverts. But remember, as the catechumens undergo the Second Scrutiny this Sunday (the subject is “Light!”), those of you called “early in the morning” (Mt 20:1) also need to prepare a reply. “Why are you Catholic?” is a question everyone needs to be able to answer articulately, not just us converts, as our first pope instructed us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15). For incisiveness, I think so far no one has beaten blogger George Sipe on this point. He was asked that very question recently – why are you Catholic? – and his response nails it:


For me, it always boils down to one thing, upon which everything else depends. I answered simply “it’s the truth.”


Bravo!  The Truth awaits you in the Catholic Church, and He will lead you to Himself. Just ask Him!



On the memorial of St. Cono di Naso


Deo omnis gloria!

It is a perpetual wonder to me that this day manages to pass by unnoticed year after year – suffering pretty much the same fate as the instruction to bow during the Creed when we come to the Good News that Jesus was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man (I can’t bow! – what if somebody saw me and thought I was Catholic?? I’ll pretend I just didn’t see the red writing). Today is the day on which Christians are called to contemplate two HUGE items of news: the Blessed Virgin’s fiat, and the subsequent Incarnation of the Son of God. Kind of BIG, no matter how you look at it. Mary said “Yes,” and God sent His only begotten Son.


I think it must be because this day falls smack-dab in the middle of Lent. I don’t know about you, but my mind at this time of year runs far more easily along the lines of “Jesus meets His mother on the way to Calvary” than “the angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.” It’s as if we’re attempting to commemorate two very different events in the life of Christ, and our minds just can’t reconcile them, so we let the one slide. After all, Christmas is over….


The celebration of Christmas is indeed over. The celebration of the Incarnation, however, is perpetual, because the theology of the Incarnation is the underpinning of Christianity. No matter what event in the life of Christ Christians happen to be celebrating at the moment, they are celebrating the fact that God became man (wonder of wonders!) so that man could become a part of the body of the second Person of the Trinity (again, wonder of wonders!).


First, to the proposal: the Angelus helps us to digest Mary’s fiat point by point:


The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.


Read those words to yourself, slowly. Reflect on each passage – this is important! Catholics dwell on this miracle of the Incarnation all year round; we announce it to the world every Sunday when we profess that “for us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man.” The Incarnation is literally the fount of our salvation, for had God not sent His only Son in the flesh, that Son could not have died to redeem us. Mary’s “yes” was the word that made possible the deepest desire of God’s heart. Her humility and her willingness to embrace God’s desire rather than her own brought Jesus to the world. The rest is His-story.


And that matters tremendously for a second reason, not just at Christmas, not just at Easter, not just on the day that we celebrate the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but every second of every single day of our short lives, for each second brings with it a new annunciation: the annunciation of God’s holy will to us. And each time we give our “yes” to God’s will, we bring the Lord into the world. Although your be-it-done-unto-me’s may not make history as Mary’s did, they will all have eternal repercussions.


Say yes.


Don’t neglect to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation today. Don’t neglect to celebrate it tomorrow, either. Celebrate every day the wonder of all wonders, that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and that He continues to dwell among us as His Body continues to say “yes” to God.


Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.



On the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord


Deo omnis gloria!

My friend Gina does not mince words. She asked a very pertinent question in the combox a few weeks ago. She was commenting on the lack of support many converts experience from Catholics ensconced in the pews. “What’s wrong with people??” she wondered plaintively.

Catholics who were blessed by God with being Baptized early in life, as infants, owe God the obligation to help others who are searching for Him and His Church. Holy Mother Church is really a warm and loving place, but I know it can be frightening to those for whom it is an entirely foreign experience. Those who are already Catholic should be God’s welcoming committee!

Well, nothing to argue with there. As a convert myself, I can second that emotion; I think a lot of converts can. Many Catholics who would never dream of missing Mass would also never dream of getting involved in the process of helping converts enter the Church. Perhaps it’s from a sense of inadequacy; they fear that they might say or do the wrong thing, that they might not have all the answers (who knows what a convert might ask??), that they just wouldn’t be up to snuff as a sponsor. Believe me, folks, you wouldn’t be the first sponsor or RCIA team member not to have all the answers. To your surprise, you might find that you are more orthodox and knowledgeable than some of the people who routinely serve in those capacities. If you wait till you have all the answers, we converts will have to wait till we get to Heaven to ask you….

I do think that I have part of the answer to the question Gina posed – what’s wrong with people (meaning “you and me”) is that we remain largely unconverted ourselves; hence, our lack of interest in bothering about the conversion of others. We live our lives in the state that Wilbur Rees so memorably described:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man

or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

So we get our $3 worth of God at Mass on Sunday, and we go forth to forget about the Lord for another six days. We congratulate ourselves on being members of the Church Jesus established, and we consider our spiritual condition to be pretty decent, all things considered. The Church has staff and procedures for helping those in various kinds of need, material and spiritual – thank God we belong to such a Church! We pew-sitters don’t need to worry about helping converts – the parish has got that all taken care of!

The dopeyness of this approach to Catholicism was brought home to me by Patrick Madrid’s “conversion story” in the epic Surprised by Truth series (best convert stories ever!!) The funny thing is, Patrick Madrid isn’t a convert to Catholicism, nor is he a revert. He was baptized and raised Catholic, and never left the Church. I was a little put out when I first discovered his putative “conversion story” in the book – seriously, what place does a “I never actually converted to Catholicism” story have in a book about Catholic converts?? After reading it, though, I felt it was one of the best conversion stories in the collection. The short version of Patrick’s tale is that God brought him to the realization that

I had allowed the “muscles” of my interior life – prayer, mortification, and recollection – to atrophy and wither. My spiritual “arteries” – which carry the love of Christ as the lifeblood of the soul – had hardened and constricted as a result of the lukewarm, halfhearted complacency into which I had settled. I think my situation wasn’t unlike that of many Catholics. We who are born into the Faith easily take it for granted, and we make the fatal mistake of assuming that conversion is for Protestants or Mormons or atheists who, being outside the Church, make their way into it. Many Catholics – I being a good example – lull themselves into a state of comfortable, “do not disturb” spiritual incapacitation. They make no real or consistent effort to grasp Christ with all their might and to work daily at keeping and strengthening that grasp, as His grace enables. Simply being Catholic isn’t enough. What is required by Christ is love, and true love means effort, work, and time spent in prayer – things that so often fall by the wayside in the daily lives of many Catholics. We call him Lord in our prayers, but so often we don’t live our lives as if He really is. Membership in the Church, even a strong conviction about things Catholic, is in itself no guarantee of a real friendship with Christ.

Conversion isn’t just for converts.

This Sunday the catechumens and candidates will undergo the First Scrutiny. The theme of the readings is Christ as the Living Water, as we read the story of the Samaritan women who meets Jesus at the well. In this story, the woman’s life is revealed to her by her encounter with Jesus. She faces for the first time the truth about herself, and she is converted. This story is not presented so that those scruffy catechumens will finally face the truth about their lives; it is presented so that each one of us will face the Truth, and change. As Articles 141 and 143 of the RCIA put it:

The Scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The Scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the Scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.

Really, really listen these next three Sundays to the message of the Scrutinies as the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus all come face-to-face with God enfleshed. May we all, catechumens, candidates and cradle Catholics, be converted and carry out our decision to love God above all. And I’ve got a great idea on how to carry that decision out – should the Spirit so move, don’t hesitate to invite a convert to lunch!!


On the memorial of St. Darerca of Ireland

Deo omnis gloria!

I was reconciled to the Catholic Church in 2003; up until that point in time I had been a member of several different Protestant denominations. When my children were little, we were Baptist, and since Baptists only administer “believer’s baptism,” my husband and I had our infants “dedicated to the Lord.” As we and many other couples stood before the congregation, the pastor (Jerry Falwell) joked about how we young parents had all taken seriously the Lord’s command to “be fruitful and multiply!” While the congregation chuckled, I asked myself about that command – “be fruitful and multiply.” No one I knew took it seriously in the modern day and age. Obviously Dr. Falwell and the congregation of Thomas Road didn’t take it seriously. So I mentally wrote it off as one of those Old Testament mandates that are “not for us today.”

That indifference towards the concept of fruitfulness is the norm among Protestant Christians, just as it is among the non-Christian population. Fruitfulness is seen as an antiquated notion. It would seem that the majority of adults in the developed world nowadays have their hearts set on being rendered pharmaceutically or surgically sterile, and many are doing their darndest to impose this state on the denizens of the developing world as well. This contraceptive attitude does seem, though, to run contrary to God’s instructions to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who got “the Talk” from the Lord:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” “… As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Gen 9:1, 7

God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.” Gen 35:10-11

Genesis certainly makes it sound as if fertility in marriage is something that God takes a real interest in; if that’s correct, then there’s a problem with the Protestant contraceptive mentality. The Catholic Church teaches that the marital act is to be open to life, even if a couple has already has their 2.5 children. The Church also, however, teaches that while marriage is very, very good, celibacy is better. So, does God want us to be fruitful and multiply, or not? Does the fertility issue pose a theological problem in regards to the Catholic insistence that St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord, never consummated his marriage with the Virgin Mary, who Catholics insist remained a virgin after the birth of Christ? After all, the Catholic Church insists on the one hand that Mary had no children other than Jesus, and yet that

By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.

You can’t have it both ways! What was up with Joseph and Mary? Why didn’t they have sexual relations after the birth of Jesus if the command, “Be fruitful and multiply” is directed toward all married people?

We’ve looked at God’s command to Adam and Eve, to Noah and his sons, and to Jacob. God’s instructions to the patriarch Abraham, however, and God’s explanation of His plan for Abraham’s life and legacy, put the Catholic understanding of Genesis 1:28 in a new light:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed….” Gen 12:1-4

And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Gen 15:5

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Gal 3:6-9

We see that God expected Abraham to be fruitful and multiply, and Abraham became a father. But God told Abraham that he would be fruitful in another way when He said, “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Because of his faith, the faith which led him to pack up and head off to a foreign land, Abraham became a spiritual father to all those who have faith. Abraham was therefore fruitful not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well.

And it is spiritual fruitfulness that is emphasized in the New Testament; we can trace its importance through the Gospels. John the Baptist begins his ministry by assuring the scribes and Pharisees:

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Jn 3:8-10

A pretty strong message delivered by the voice crying in the wilderness – be fruitful, or prepare to be cut down! Jesus certainly didn’t tone that message down:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Mt 7: 19-23

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. Jn 15:1-2, 4-6

And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’ Lk 13:5-9

The message is crystal clear – zero tolerance for fruitless living. God commanded Adam and Eve to bear fruit in a physical sense. Jesus commands His disciples to bear fruit in a spiritual sense. What do these two have in common? Simply put, no one is placed on this earth to live for himself. If you call yourself a Christian, then your life is not your own. The sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes laborious, sometimes thankless job of bearing fruit is your calling. Jesus was quite outspoken about the necessity of fruit, underscoring its importance with a sobering miracle:

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. … As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” Mk 11:12-14, 20-21

A hypoglycemic Jesus throwing a hissy fit? Think again. Even at that time of year, although it was not the season for figs, the fig tree should have had edible little knobs on it that appear before the actual figs grow. Jesus found none of these, and thus knew that no figs would be forthcoming, either. In a most memorable object lesson, Jesus cursed the fig tree because it bore no fruit, and it withered and died.

There’s no way around it: bearing fruit seems to be quite a big deal in the Kingdom of God.

And so, we must be about the business of bearing fruit. Our culture, however, encourages the opposite. Ours is a consumer culture. We are taught to seek to be served and entertained. Christians have to swim against a very strong current, both in our nature and our society, to be obedient to the Lord’s command to bear fruit, because the process of bearing fruit throws a serious monkey wrench into the gears of the consumer lifestyle. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; all of these require active cultivation, which means less time for me, in more ways than one. Less time for me is really the point of the fruit – less me, more Jesus. Pretty awkward if you’ve already got plans for the weekend.

We see the same factors at play when we examine people’s reasons for not having children – offspring eat up one’s time, money and energy – not to mention the banana pudding that I was saving just for me. Children simply aren’t what I want to do with my life. I won’t have as much for me if I have to share. My free time, my career choices, my discretionary income – all these will be limited. I know what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future – changing diapers and tying shoes and packing lunches and wiping snotty little noses, when I could be water-skiing and auditioning for plays! Life will simply be much easier if I remain childless, or if I at least keep my fertility from getting out of hand, so that there’s some kind of life left for me at the end of the neonatal tunnel….

I believe Protestants simply haven’t thought their fertility through. They love God, and many of them are willing to go to the ends of the earth to win souls for Christ, yet they are reluctant to bring souls to Him through marriage and childbearing.

God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock.

If the joy of eternal life with God is really all that, why would Christians be reluctant to bring more souls into this world? If we really believe that unimaginable indeed are the delights of God’s fellowship, why hesitate to make those delights possible for more human beings? And greater still, not only are our children potential heirs with Christ, Pope Pius XI reminds us in Casti Connubii, but as such they are also members of Christ’s body, His bride – and she, too, is called to be fruitful!

But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase.

Married couples are called upon to imitate Christ and His spouse, the Church. As He works through her, He is fruitful to the end of the age as countless children of God are born through the waters of baptism. Married couples bring their children to God and His Church, and those children are called to grow up to bring others into the fold. Biological children and spiritual children – both are evidence of fruitfulness, the fruitfulness enjoined upon us by God. St. Joseph, though he never attempted to father children in his marriage to Jesus’ mother, is therefore rightly considered by Catholics to be the “Pillar of families.” He was a chaste spouse to the Blessed Virgin, and a holy foster father to Jesus. In guarding the virginity of the spotless Mother of God, Joseph forfeited his opportunity to bear physical offspring, and in so doing became a spiritual father to all those who come to Christ. When you behold the Catholic Church, you are contemplating the fruitfulness of St. Joseph and of all the saints.

So, yes, the command “be fruitful and multiply” is still very much in force, and applies to all, implying physical fruitfulness (for those who can – not all are blessed by God with children) and spiritual fruitfulness, i.e., personal holiness which leads by God’s grace to the generation of spiritual offspring. This is the “abundant life” which we have been promised.  In God’s kingdom, where the blind shall see and the lame shall walk, not even eunuchs have an excuse for sterility, for there are, as Jesus told us, “those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Those “eunuchs,” too, are called to be fruitful and multiply, adding to the population of the Kingdom. When that census is taken, St. Joseph will be counted as a father to one and all.


On the memorial of St. Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Deo omnis gloria!

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I recklessly announced at the beginning of Lent that I had decided to give up complaining as my Lenten sacrifice. So how’s that been working for you? you ask. Like the old footage of Orville and Wilbur trying to get their plane off the ground, I answer, and for pretty much the same reason – excess baggage.

At first things were going well. On the morning of Ash Wednesday I was actually congratulating myself that I had not yet uttered a complaint. Of course, it was 6 a.m., and I had not yet gotten out of bed, either. By about 7:30, the situation was deteriorating. I found that the outfit that I had been planning to wear to work wasn’t ready. “Great!” I mumbled sarcastically, and then deflated. My first Lenten complaint.

As the day progressed, I made a discouraging discovery – I complain when I’m frightened, I complain when I’m worried, I complain when I’m flustered, I complain when I’m out-of-sorts, I complain when I’m aggravated, and I complain about complaining. Interestingly enough, the biggest obstacle in my quest for a grumble-free existence has been to pinpoint exactly what constitutes grumbling. All my life I have just let it all hang out, as far as griping goes, and now I’m sorting through every thought that strays through my mind and every word that crosses my lips, trying to distinguish the good from the bad and the ugly. So far there’s been a lot more bad and ugly, it seems. But mostly I’m just confused by all the unaccustomed decision-making. What actually constitutes “complaining”?

  • I go to get gas in an early March blizzard, and a woman makes small talk with the question, “So, how ya liking the snow?” I answer, “I’m freezing to death!”

Was that a complaint? Should I have said, “What a brisk and beautiful way to start a fantastic day!!”? Should I just have smiled and said, “I’m fine; how are you?” Should I have burst into a chorus of “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!”??

  • I’m late for work, and a car pulls out in front of me which appears to have serious engine problems, because there’s no other explanation for the speed at which he’s driving. Of course it’s a one-lane road, and of course it’s the day of our monthly meeting at work, so I kind of need to be there on time today. The car ahead of me is going 20 in a 35; he gets up to 25, but the excessive speed scares him, and he slows back down. “Why me??” I whisper in desperation.

Was that a complaint?

  • The doctor asks me how I’m feeling. I tell him, “I feel lousy.” Well, it’s true. That’s why I’m at the doctor’s office, for Pete’s sake!

Is that complaining??

Words cannot convey to you how hard it’s been for me to think straight these past few days of Lent as I strive to assess every thought and emotion while simultaneously attempting to live and breathe. And that’s not a complaint.

Is it?

Aww, gee….

One thing I have conveniently overlooked all my life is that telling the honest truth is not always a virtue. I have blurted out all kinds of complaints in the name of full disclosure, thinking that it is right, always and everywhere, to complain heartily as long as the sentiments expressed are true, as in “I can’t tell you how much I loathe giving up an hour of sleep because of Daylight Savings Time,” for example. That’s true. That’s also a complaint; no doubt about it. The Catholic Church is slowly but surely teaching me that it is right, always and everywhere, to give Him thanks, for Daylight Savings Time and for everything else that crosses my path, whether said occurrence happens to tickle my selfish little fancy or not.

Pretty much overwhelmed by all the insights and choices forced upon me by my Lenten sacrifice, I turned to the Sacrament of Penance, hoping to obtain the grace to abandon the ways of sin, specifically, the sin of Complaint. Fortunately, I have a very handy aid to confession, and used that to arm myself with a few apt descriptions of my failings. In the confessional I accused myself of ingratitude, of a lack of trust in God, and of a lack of humility (since I seem to think that I should have things my own way in all things). I also accused myself of spreading gloom (ouch). I abstained from confessing that I have pretty much raised sarcasm to an art form; I figured Father was getting my drift. He, for his part, graciously abstained from engaging in sarcasm of his own, like, “Well, it’s about time, Renée!“, simply asking me to make an Act of Contrition, which I did wholeheartedly. I came away from the experience with grace, hopefully enough grace to hold me till confession next Saturday afternoon. I am committed, by God’s grace, to change my lifelong habit of “stewing my life in the juice of my complaints,” as the Holy Father so aptly puts it.

So, I’m learning, and I’m changing. I’ve never been Little Mary Sunshine. I’m concerned that if I change too quickly, my kids may get creeped out like the poor Asian dry cleaning guy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the one who whispers “That not my wife!” Kids, I’m still your mom; I’m just better now.

Like I said, creepy.

I’ve made it my project to commit to memory the Magnificat, a passage that I as a Protestant never bothered with. Each time I complain, I try to stop short and pray as much of Mary’s Song as I’ve memorized so far:

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;

Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is His name;

And His mercy is from generation to generation

on those who fear Him.

He has shown might with His arm,

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy

Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

Luke 1:46-55

It is my hope that the God the Holy Spirit will work in my heart to make the Blessed Virgin’s sentiments my own. As St. Ambrose put it, “Let Mary’s soul be in us to glorify the Lord; let her spirit be in us that we may rejoice in God our Savior.” Amen. If you think of it, you might offer up a prayer for this, my intention.

I wrote this post to try to explain what not complaining is not. Not complaining is not… easy. And that’s not a complaint.

Is it?

Aww, gee….


On the memorial of Bl. José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

Deo omnis gloria!

It was one year ago today that my daughter called me at work with the news we’d all been waiting for: white smoke! And then the second phone call: “His name is Jorge, now I’m going to spell this – b,e,r,g,o,g,l,i,o. Have you ever heard of him?” I had to laugh. Two days before, his name was a last-minute entry on my list of those cardinals considered papabile by the experts. Some website had decided that there was an outside chance that this obscure cardinal from Argentina just might get the nod. On March 13, he did.

Well played, Holy Spirit!

This new “rock star” pope has garnered an unprecedented amount of attention from the most unlikely sources. As I blogged back in April of last year, one good thing about Pope Francis is that Evangelical Protestants have noticed him. And they have noticed him in a good way – quite a feat for a Pope, him being a Catholic and all. Any number of Evangelical articles and blogposts have appeared extolling the perceived virtues of the new man in the Vatican.

So, what can we say about Francis? Well, he’s down to earth, that’s for sure. His style is really what caught the attention of Evangelicals, who have long thought that being pope was about living in extravagance and having everybody come to kiss your toe. This pope has warned believers repeatedly against being sour and dour representatives of the Faith; he himself embodies joy-filled Christianity. Many Evangelicals are kind of vague when it comes to doctrinal beliefs, so they can’t really hold the pope’s theology against him. They like what they hear him saying, and they like what they see him doing. Many religious liberals like what they don’t hear Francis saying; they don’t hear him talking much about issues like abortion, for example (I guess they missed the phrase in Evangelii Gaudium where Francis explained that “the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question“). When this pope does speak, though, he is astonishingly frank:

“Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia and thus fomenting coprophagia, which is a sin that taints all men and women, that is, the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive aspects.”


No doubt about it, this new pope has forced everyone to sit up and take notice, for one reason or another. That’s a good thing.

Interestingly though, many people are taking peculiar notice of, and attaching a great deal of significance to, a lot of things the pope hasn’t actually said. Rumor has it that Francis is going to change dogma and revamp liturgy. This pope, being an open-minded Son of the Modern Age, is going to open the Church to some fresh, new doctrinal options like divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, contraception and the like. At least, that’s what a lot of journalists will tell you. And because they actually believe what they write, they too like this pope. Because they believe he’s going to remake the Church in their own image, they keep publicizing his good works, which keeps his picture on magazine covers and in the minds of kindly disposed Evangelicals. No doubt about it; this pope has gotten a lot of good press.

Ironically, this has resulted in a number of Catholics who really don’t like him, because they too believe the scuttlebutt originating from the mainstream media. Sure, they can’t really point to anything the pope has done wrong so far, but they’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, because as everyone knows, this pope is an open-minded Son of the Modern Age. And they’re scared….

What I’m trying to say is that God the Holy Spirit has worked mightily through this papacy, helping Francis to speak to millions who just weren’t listening before. Yet, a chicken-livered spirit among Catholics may be the one thing that can derail all the good work that the Spirit has so far accomplished. Rather than seeing himself as an open-minded Son of the Modern Age, Francis has told us that he is a faithful son of the Church.

German Cardinal Joachim Meisner spoke about a talk he had with the Pope:

During my last visit to Pope Francis I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of topics. And I also told him that his proclamation in the form of interviews and short statements leaves many questions unanswered, questions which should be explained further for the uninformed. The Pope looked at me with surprise and asked me to please give him an example. And my reply was that, in his return from Rio to Rome, on the airplane, he was asked about the question of divorced and remarried people. And as the Pope said, divorced people can receive Holy Communion, remarried divorced people can not. In the Orthodox Church it is possible to marry twice. That was his statement. And then he spoke of mercy, which in my experience, which is what I told him, is only understood in this country as a substitute for all human failings. And the Pope very energetically replied that he is a son of the Catholic Church and is not saying anything but the teachings of the Church.
And mercy must be identical to truth, or it doesn’t deserve the name mercy.

The bishop of the archdiocese of Denver, James Conley, repeated that contention in an interview:

Pope Francis’ personal style in these interviews and elsewhere, Bishop Conley said, “has given us an opportunity to put his words into context and to explain maybe some of the ambiguities, some of the lack of precision in his language. It’s not a bad thing.” He emphasized that the Pope has said repeatedly that he is first and foremost a son of the Church and “has made it clear he has no intention of changing Church teaching on fundamental issues; but because of perhaps his style, or his way of doing interviews, it leaves a lot of room for us to explain what he really means.”

And Deacon Keith Fournier writes:

For any readers who may worry, perhaps because they have read or heard some media reports which suggested wrongly that Pope Francis is veering away from the truth as taught by the Catholic Faith on major matters of profound moral importance, nothing could be further from the truth. He is, in his own words, a “son of the Church.” He cannot change her teaching and he does not seek to do so. He fully embraces this teaching precisely because he knows it is true. It also informs his compassionate, pastoral outreach to a world in need of hearing its liberating and saving message. As for its practices, some of its disciplines and applications, that may be a different matter.

Have a little faith, people. Let’s face it, no matter what Francis says, he will be misunderstood. It kind of reminds you of another famous figure:

The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Jn 2:18-20

Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” Jn 4:31-33

Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews were saying, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come ‘?” Jn 8:21-22

Maybe Jesus needed a better speechwriter.

The hopes of the mainstream media will be dashed when they eventually wake up and smell the orthodox coffee brewing in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Ditto the hopes of any Protestants who are inclined to believed that the Pope will see the light of the Reformation and embrace the heresies of sola fide or sola Scriptura. But if you’re a theologically conservative Catholic, the only way your hopes are likely to be dashed is if you’re one of those making what Phil Lawler calls “gleeful proclamations of doom.” Sorry, Eeyore – this pope is going to prove you wrong.

If Pope Francis makes you uncomfortable, let it be because he challenges you to get up off your duff, to downsize, to ride the bus to work, to volunteer for the Meals-on-Wheels program – that kind of uncomfortable. Because the only way “doom” is going to befall this papacy is if Catholics insist upon it, work towards it, and lie down on the railroad tracks of history to derail Francis’ train. What happened on March 13, 2013 was an awesome move by the Holy Spirit, and the only one who can stop the Spirit now… is us.


On the memorial of St. Euphrasia of Constantinople

Deo omnis gloria!