My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Friday, February 6, 2015

Prayer Request

Almost four years ago, I asked y'all to pray for an awesome history professor:

Dr. Brendan McGuire

Thanks to your prayers, Brendan beat cancer then.

But it's back now, in his shoulder; and on Monday, he's starting agressive chemotherapy.

Brendan reading the Easter Proclamation at St. Patrick's Day 2014

In the years since I've graduated, Brendan has become a very dear friend; we're on a first-name basis now; and though I don't see him very often, we keep in touch via email.

And when I found out last week that his cancer was back, I felt like the air had been knocked out of my lungs.

"Noooo!" I shouted to God in the chapel and while wandering around campus; "he's supposed to be cured, he was in remission! He'd made it 3 1/2 years; I was counting down the months until he'd reached the 5-year-mark! This can't be happening!"

And my world was officially upside-down, on its head, again. Thankfully, my job is one I can do without thinking about what I'm doing; I can iron, and clean a house, and fix breakfast for an elderly couple, and try to smile...and all the while, my mind can be forty miles away in Front Royal and my heart can be muttering prayers.

I've wrestled with God again, like I did in 2011; I've asked Him "Why?"; I've maybe sort of kind of been a little mad at Him; and I might have told Him that this just isn't fair.

A friend told me the usual: "trust in God," "pray"; and I might have gotten a little mad, just like I did 4 years ago, at the platitudes; but then someone told me this yesterday:
It might seem that all those phrases--"trust in God," "prayer is the only thing we can do," etc.--are just words, but Our Lord is the Word, and the Word became flesh, and He is with us.
The Word on the Cross took on our suffering, and gives us His identity. And when you ask "Why?" you are joining Him as He has joined you, as He cried out that same question: "Why do the innocent suffer? Why have You abandoned Me?" and you're entering into the mystery of suffering. And suffering "reveals man to himself."
I know all that intellectually, though it's good to hear it again; but there's still the heavy feeling on my hear that there's nothing I can do for Brendan.

Which is a lie.

The only thing I can do for Brendan is to pray for him.

And prayer is the most important thing I can do for Brendan.

A wise man told me this yesterday: 
Assume for a moment that I am God...the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, all-merciful God. And you have this friend, Brendan, who's suffering. What is the most powerful thing you can do for Brendan?
Ask that all-powerful God for help
So your Christian charity, pray for Brendan, his wife Susan, and their three children! Pray for him to beat this just as he beat it in 2011, pray for strength and courage for him as he again carries this heavy cross.

Prayers to St. Peregrine.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Church has spoken up for her children!

The Instrumentum Laboris (Working document) of the Synod on the Family is the first Church document I’ve seen that specifically addresses the topic of the children of divorced parents. (If there are other documents, please point them out to me.)

According to the document, the responses to questions in the Preparatory Document "raise the issue of the children of separated or divorced persons, who notably lack the attention of society. They bear the burden of conflict within marriage and require the Church's care." (87)

I am pleased to see a Vatican document reminding us that the children are the ones hurt by divorce. It is very true that children of divorce "notably lack the attention of society." Their parents are surrounded by friends who support their decision regardless of the fact that Christ and His Church forbid divorce; but their children have no support system. The children may be exhibiting behavior problems, throwing temper tantrums, and otherwise trying to cope with the upheaval in their lives; and they are neither seen nor heard.  “O, she’s just going through a stage,” people might say, making no correlation to the upsurge in tantrums, and the fact that six months ago, her mother kicked her father out of the house.  “O, he’s just being a boy,” people say about a boy bullying other children, not realizing that the boy’s father just left, and the boy is angry and hurt and confused.

And the father did not just leave his wife; divorce is not just a separation of the spouses. That father left his kids behind. No amount of visitation and joint custody can make up for the fact that, to a child, his parents’ divorce means that one of them is abandoning him.

Many children feel--whether they admit it consciously or not--that the divorce was their fault. So the Synod Fathers specifically state that the children are not at fault, and that the Church needs programs to help children of divorce:

Particular Churches are well aware that children or young people are not to blame for the choices and living situation of their parents. Consequently, children are welcome everywhere, without distinction with respect to others and with the same love and attention. The Christian formation offered to them is no different from the initiatives in catechesis and pastoral activities intended for the other children in the community, namely: catechesis; schools of prayer; introduction to the liturgy; associations… parochial schools and camps; and youth groups. Special programmes to assist children in healing their wounds and working through their problems appear lacking. Consequently, the responses hope for the promotion of programmes on their behalf and support groups, especially in the difficult period of the separation and divorce of their parents, when they must be able to continue to hope in family relationships, despite the fact that their parents separate. In a diocese in northern Europe, where the number of children of divorced parents is very high, some pastors, to deal with these family problems and the strain on the children who on weekends cannot always attend the catechesis classes, are scheduling catechesis on alternate weekends, so that children can always participate without feeling different. (IL 149, emphasis added)

This is going to do a lot towards healing the countless children of divorce who feel abandoned by the Church, who feel that there was nothing geared toward them, that if they missed Sunday school every other Sunday because they were with their other parent, no one made an effort to help them catch up. 

However, the statement "Particular Churches are well aware that children or young people are not to blame for the choices and living situation of their parents" needs to be put into practice, it needs to be lived by the Church. Because children feel that. Even if the thought never consciously crosses the mind of a 7-year-old: "Daddy left Mommy because I was bad, or because I wasn't good enough, or I wasn't worth enough," that's still what they're feeling inside. It is true that good, sound psychology can go a long way toward healing that wound; but there is also a spiritual component to that wound, and only their Mother, the Church, can heal that.

It will probably be years before we see any practical effects of the Synod, but this is a huge step in the right direction.

Because if the Church doesn't speak up for the children of divorce...who will?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fulton Sheen's Cause Suspended...

My faithful readers, I come to you with very sad news tonight:

Fulton J. Sheen's cause for canonization has been suspended.

Read the full story in the Press Release here.

And Bonnie Engstrom's take on it here. (She's the mother of James, who allegedly came back to life through Sheen's intercession.) Both the medical experts and the theologians approved the miracle.

Please storm heaven with me!

Write the Vatican if you're so inclined!

Tell people why Sheen is still relevant, why we need his example in our world!

Write the Archdiocese of New York!

God Love Y'All!

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.
If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Fulton Sheen? Why Now?

Today is a very exciting day for all those who love Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation’s press release says:
The seven-member theological commission who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously agreed that a reported miracle should be attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. …  With the recommendations of the medical experts and now the theologians, the case will next be reviewed by the cardinals and bishops who advise the Pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle would be presented to Pope Francis who would then officially affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of Fulton Sheen. There is no timeline as to when these next steps might move forward. Should Pope Francis validate this proposed miracle, Sheen could then be declared “Blessed” in a ceremony that could be celebrated in Peoria, Illinois, Sheen’s hometown. Upon the Holy Father signing the decree for the beatification, an additional miracle would lead to the Canonization of Archbishop Sheen, in which he would be declared a “Saint.”
Why is a 20th-century saint relevant to our times?

Sheen is an example of what our  modern relativistic age needs: the commitment to truth, and the commitment to spread that truth in whatever means possible.

He was committed to truth.  He spoke out against the errors of his day when it seemed everyone in America was flocking to them. Whether he was preaching against Communism, calling Americans to task for their materialism, or urging his listeners to help the world’s missions, he had only one goal in mind: to bring people to truth. He writes in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay:
When I began television nationally and on a commercial basis, the approach had to be different.  I was no longer talking in the name of the Church and under the sponsorship of the bishops.  The new method had to be more ecumenical and directed to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and all men of good will.  It was no longer a direct presentation of Christian doctrine but rather a reasoned approach to it beginning with something that was common to the audience.  Hence, during those television years, the subjects ranged from communism, to art, to science, to humor, aviation, war, etc. Starting with something that was common to the audience and to me, I would gradually proceed from the known to the unknown or to the moral and Christian philosophy. It was the same method Our Blessed Lord used when He met a prostitute at the well.  What was there in common between Divine Purity and this woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband?  The only common denominator was a love of cold water.  Starting with that He led her to the subject of the waters of everlasting life.
The truth to which he wanted to bring people was a living, personal Truth—the Source of that everlasting life—Christ Jesus. This is why the Church opened his Cause for Canonization: because in the last analysis, a saint is one who preaches truth. A saint preaches truth “in season and out of season” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). He does not preach the relative, changing “truth” of his own day as opposed to the “truth” of two centuries previously, but the eternal, living Truth Who is Christ. The manner in which he preaches that Truth may change; his analogies and metaphors may adapt to the changing worldviews of his audience; but it is always the same Truth that he preaches. And in his books, pamphlets, radio talks, and television show, Fulton Sheen sought only one thing: to preach the Eternal and Living Truth of Christ.

Sheen’s commitment to Truth led him to embrace the new media of his day, namely, radio and television. Similarly, if he lived in the 21st-century, he would probably also embrace our age’s new media of Smartphones, wireless Internet, Twitter, and Facebook. But it is how he would use that media that is important. Just as he spread Truth via radio and television, so too would he use today’s media to spread Truth, while at the same time warning us to not let these media distract us from true love of, and real communication with, God and our neighbor.

What else can Sheen teach us?

The medical experts and now the theologians assert that a miracle occurred through his intercession.  Does this make Sheen perfect, other-worldly, a standoffish figure who will only scoff at our sinful selves? Will he make us cower in inferiority when we see his heroic words and deeds?

No. Fulton Sheen was human, just like the rest of us. He was a sinner, too, just like the rest of us. In his posthumously-published autobiography he admits:
When I was a priest I thrilled at being called “Father.” I found the title “Monsignor” mellifluous…. I enjoyed the prestige of being a university professor, and of appearing on radio and television not only at home, but abroad; I was popular, I was sought after, I was loudly applauded after lectures and banquet talks, I was a friend of both royalty and the masses, my features became so recognizable that I would be identified by a passerby in a revolving door, my face appeared in millions of homes.
What does this perfectly human struggle with vanity say about him? it says he can understand our struggles with pride, the root of all sin. It also says we don’t need to feel that his perfection is condemning us.

Sheen himself says in Fullness of Christ that complete perfection of the Church as a whole would prevent the ordinary man–the poor, fallen human–from approaching the Church:
[W]ould not those who object to her because her members are not all holy, be just as scandalized if she were all they wanted her to be?  Suppose every Vicar of Christ was a saint; suppose every member of His Mystical Body was another St. John the Baptist or another St. Theresa.  Would not her very perfection accuse and condemn those who were outside?  . . .  She might even appear to struggling souls as a terrible Puritan, easily scandalized at our failings, who might shrink from having her garments touched by sinners like ourselves. . . .  [A] perfect Church would be a stumbling block.  Then, instead of men being scandalized at her, she would be scandalized at men—which would be far worse.
Is not that also the case with our saints? If our saints were perfect people who never struggled, never sinned, and had no faults…wouldn’t we be afraid of them? Wouldn’t we feel inferior to them and think: “I can never be like St. So-and-So”?

Well, here is a saint-to-be with whom we can identify. He embraced new media, he used it for good, and he struggled just like we do.

Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Only after Good Friday...

…do we celebrate Easter Sunday.


always has to come before, and is always followed by


Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that Easter Sunday only comes after Lent, after 40 days of fasting and penance? Or more than that, even, that Easter Sunday only comes after Good Friday?

Venerable Fulton Sheen says this eloquently in Life of Christ:

Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives there will never be an Easter Sunday. The Cross is the condition of the empty tomb, and the crown of thorns is the preface to the halo of light.
When all is said and done, there are only two philosophies of life. One is first the feast, then the hangover; the other, first the fast and then the feast. … Christianity begins not with sunshine but with defeat.
Out of the darkest moment in the lives of Christ’s Apostles, and, it seemed, the darkest moment in His Life, arose the brightest moment. That darkest moment was not the end.

Not only is that true in the Life of Our Blessed Lord, and continued in the liturgical and personal life of His Mystical Body the Church; it is also true in our lives–both as we follow the liturgical year of the Church, and in our own personal day-to-day lives.

Belief in that truth requires hope. There will be an end to the fasting and the penance. Good Friday is not the end; we do not need to despair–indeed, we ought not to despair.

Whatever the agonies and the Good Fridays through which we are journeying now, they will always be followed by Easter Sundays. The journey does not end on Good Friday. However much we might preach that suffering is redemptive and that mortification is an essential part of the spiritual life, we never slam on the brakes on Good Friday. We don’t congratulate ourselves on having made it to Good Friday, and then wallow in the despair and the pain and the abandonment.

Rather, from the Good Fridays of our own personal lives, we must try to say with Job:
For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. (Job 19:25-26)
Because in our lives, as in the life of the Church, Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday. Job knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that God exists. He knows his “Easter Sunday” will come.

In the words of the prophet Hosea:
For he hath taken us, and he will heal us: he will strike, and he will cure us. He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. (Hosea 6:1-3)
Apart from the fact that these verses are a prophecy of the Resurrection of Christ, they are also an expression of the prophet’s hope, just as Job’s words are his expression of hope.

We’re struggling; maybe we’re wrestling with the constant fear that our struggles are something that God has deliberately sent to us to teach us a lesson or to see how strong we are (God’s not like that); but our Easter Sunday will come.

God will heal us; He will cure us, and He will raise us up with His Son to rejoice with Him forever.

Because He has risen, and He is with us. And He will never, ever leave us in the darkness of Good Friday.

God Love Y’All!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gratitude List #3...21-30

Today has just been a beautiful day.

#21. The day started  with SPRED (religious education for children with special needs) at my friend Leksi was in a good mood today and even said a few words I understood!

#22. Then a bike ride to the library to pick up...finally!...Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.

#23. The aforementioned book, which I'm looking forward to reading.

#24 After a quick bite of lunch, it was time to take another bike ride to confession.  None of the anxiety that usually builds as I stand in line and shift from foot to foot.  Just peace.  And the forgiveness of sins.

#25. Reminders of the approaching most solemn days of the Church Year.

Hosanna to the Son of David!
(I know I'm a day early, but these palms were already up in our Adoration Chapel)

#26. Pictures of Spring!

This isn't a rose, but...

  I see His blood upon the rose
              And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
              His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

    I see His face in every flower;
                  The thunder and the singing of the birds
                           Are but His voice—and carven by his power
   Rocks are his written words.
            All pathways by His feet are worn,
                       His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
                               His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.     
Joseph Mary Plunkett, "I See His Blood upon the Rose"

Mary Most Holy, pray for us! 

#27. The time that I had; no rush to get home, just time to bike and look at spring.

#28. The time to bike into the cemetery, to pray for the souls of the faithful departed.

#29 The deer I saw. In the middle of the cemetery.  In the middle of a busy city.

He didn't move.  I was able to move until there was no fence between me and him.

He just stood there and looked at me.
And I looked at him, and marveled, and thanked God for this.

#30. Evening Prayer 1 for Palm Sunday...
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee: because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!

God Love y'all!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude List #2...#'s 12-20

Today's list is going to be a little bit harder to find...the stress roared in from nowhere again. I was in such a good mood as I biked to my part-time job, and then, at work, the good mood evaporated. And I started over-thinking things, and panicking, and feeling generally grumpy.

However, I'm going to plow through that and write the gratitude list:

#12. Good books...I just (finally!) started reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, by John and Stasi Eldgredge. So far, so good...maybe I'll write a book review in a few weeks.

#13. Employment...the fact that I have a part-time job, and some income.

#14. The roof over my head, a place to sleep, food in the fridge, and money in the bank account.

#15. My first attempt at braiding my own hair...I have resolved that I will learn to braid my own hair by the time I'm 25. A month and a half to learn.

#16. The music of Jason Crabb, Steven Curtis Chapman, and others.  Songs that lift my spirits.

Jason Crabb, "Let Mercy Hold You"

Steven Curtis Chapman, "Fingerprints of God"

#17. A cup of warm black tea.

#18. That afternoon's been a very long week!

#19. Tomorrow's SPRED session...working with those kids always cheers me up...and then the chance to go to confession in the afternoon, to prepare for Holy Week!

#20. The ability to write this gratitude list, even though stress and worry are weighing me down again.

God Love Y'All!