Depression and Christian Faith

Some nights you don’t sleep at all. And on other days, you can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel like eating anything, or maybe you eat everything in the house. The things that you used to enjoy seem lifeless to you now. You can’t focus, you can’t get started, you’ve lost all your energy to do anything at all. Sometimes you cry and other times you yell. Little things can set you off. So you stay in your room with the curtains drawn. It feels like hell. It’s depression.

This is more than “the blues” that all of us experience from time to time. Depression is a chronic physical and emotional disease that can lead to job loss, family dissolution, substance abuse, and suicide. Yet even now, after decades of study and treatment, many people remain ashamed of having depression. They try their best to hide it from their family and friends for as long as they can. They don’t want to admit that they need help. And sometimes Christians can be the worst at this. We think our faith should somehow protect us from psychological problems. Like the rest of our culture, we don’t want to seek help for depression. If we’re filled with the joy of our faith, how can we depressed? Well, I’ve got news for you, Christians are just as susceptible to depression as anyone else. Does our faith protect us from cancer or diabetes or heart disease? Then why should we believe that Christians can’t be depressed? The Bible gives us plenty of examples of folks who struggled with it. Moses, Elijah, David, Job, and Naomi all suffered emotional pain and depression, for a variety of reasons. Psalm 42 is a great example of someone struggling mightily with his faith and feelings of desolation, loneliness, abandonment, and despair.  

Among the great saints, several were plagued by depression throughout some or most of their lives. These are people like us who were able to persevere through trials and sufferings with heroic faith and virtue. Yet some also had to fight depression every day. One of my favorites is St. Noel Chabanel who worked with the Huron Indians in Ontario, Canada during the 16th century. As a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Chabanel worked closely with the Hurons each day in the school and village. And he hated it. He disliked the natives, their culture, and their habits. He struggled just to be around them. He became very depressed. But he renewed his promise to stay with them for the rest of his life. He kept his vow and persevered until he died at the hands at one of the Huron men when he was just 36 years old. He offered the Lord his life of suffering and sadness and, in return, God gave him a martyr’s crown.  

Depression can be a kind of martyrdom. Just as any affliction can aid in our holiness if we give to our Savior. God never wastes any opportunity to draw us closer to Himself. Even in the midst of a dark depression, Christians can be assured that our Lord is with them. There’s nothing shameful about being depressed and nothing “un-Christian” about seeking help for it when you need it. Also, be aware of the people in your life and help them if they show signs of serious, lasting depression. Your concern could be exactly what they need but might not be able to ask for. We’re in this life together and we owe one another our kindness and compassion. We haven’t yet become so divided that we don’t still know how to care for one another. Suffering and sadness are both a part of life in this broken world, but we are all members of one body and when one of us hurts, we all do. Be kind.  

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

—–Colossians 1:24

Fathers In The Bible

“Our Father, Who art in heaven….”  Jesus gives us the most perfect of all prayers when His disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).  The image of God as our Father is a constant one throughout Holy Scripture.  We are the children of God; He is our Father.  The title of “father” is applied to other persons in our lives, other than God the Father.  Some Christians cite a verse in St. Matthew’s Gospel as a reason for denying this title to any person other than God.  In this verse, Jesus says:  “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  Does Jesus really mean that we are never to use the word “father” except when addressing God?  Of course, it seems evident that He is not forbidding us to call our male biological parent “father.”  Holy Scripture repeatedly makes reference to biological fatherhood.  Most famously perhaps in Exodus 20:12 when God Himself commands us to “…honor your father and mother…”  It’s pretty clear that Christ wasn’t talking about our biological fathers when He was discussing our use of the title “father.”

Another use of “father” in Scripture is in reference to spiritual or religious leaders.  It is in this sense of the word that Catholics confer the title of “father” to priests of the Church.  Scripture has many references in this regard.  One review shows 144 occasions in the New Testament when the title of “father” is used for someone other than God.  The patriarchs of Israel, Jewish leaders and spiritual leaders are all called “fathers” in the Gospels and the Letters.  While Abraham was the biological ancestor of the Jews, Jesus also taught of Abraham’s spiritual fatherhood.  He once told a group of Jews that they were not Abraham’s “children” at all and that he was not their “father” because they were not of the same spirit as Abraham (John 8:37-44).  St. Paul refers to Abraham as “father” seven times in Romans 4:1-18.  When St. John writes to the spiritual leaders of the early Church, he refers to them as “fathers” (I John 2:13-14).  “I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning…”  St. Stephen refers to the Jewish High Priests as “fathers” (Acts 7:1-2).  Most notably, St. Paul refers to spiritual leadership as “fatherhood” when writing of Timothy as “my own son in the faith:(I Timothy 1:2; II Timothy 1:2 and 2:1).  St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them that he is their spiritual “father”:  “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.  For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the Gospel”( I Corinthians 4:14-15).  Surely Sts. Paul, James, Stephen and John weren’t all in error in their understanding of Christ’s instructions about our “fathers.”

What Jesus was referring to in St. Matthew’s Gospel was the sin and pride of some scribes and Pharisees, who loved to be called “teacher” or “father.”  Their pridefulness pointed to themselves rather than to God the Father as the source of their authority.  When we understand the fatherhood of our spiritual leaders as subordinate to the Fatherhood of God, we come to a much truer sense of our Catholic priests as our “fathers.”  Catholics are following the examples of the Apostles by calling our priests “Father.”  In doing this, we recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on His Church:  the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood.

“God, who alone is holy and who alone bestows holiness, willed to take as His companions and helpers men who would humbly dedicate themselves to the work of sanctification. Hence, through the ministry of the bishop, God consecrates priests…” Pope Paul VI (1897- 1978)

The End of Days

The end of days is something many folks like to talk about, and even obsess about. There are many preachers who have made a business out of predicting the end of time. They make money off of that work, too. There have been dozens of groups of people over the centuries who’ve busied themselves with trying to discern the end of this world. Some of them were out for fame or for money. Some were just sadly-deluded fringe-dwelling nut jobs. Others seemed motivated by genuine concern for their little flocks and in helping them prepare for what they truly perceived to be some kind of private revelation which they believe God had shared with them. The one thing all these groups have had in common is that they’ve been wrong.

Here’s what the Catholic Church teaches on Christ’s return and the end of time: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).  Jesus says it, we believe it. Our Catechism teaches us that Christ already reigns in glory through His Church (paragraphs 668-679).  We profess the Nicene Creed at Mass every Sunday and we affirm that the second coming of Christ is something we look forward to with great hope. Jesus will come in glory and the dead will rise and each one of us will stand before Him. The symbolism of the “rapture” and the thousand-year earthly reign of Christ are lost on those who read the Scriptures too literally. Jesus spoke many times about us being prepared for His return. When He comes is less of a concern for us Catholics than our work here and now, in our own hearts and lives. Are we making room for Him? Are we living as He taught us to live? Here’s the truth: we’ll meet Jesus at His second coming whenever that may be. But we’ll most certainly meet Him at the moment of our death. It seems a more prudent use of our time, our talent, and our treasure to prepare for that encounter than to worry about the “rapture.”

Instead, we should be like the faithful steward that Jesus described (Luke 12:35-48) who waited on his master’s return from a wedding feast. He kept the lights of his house burning to welcome the master home. Everything was in order; everyone was busy doing their job to make the house ready. The steward wasn’t fearful of his master’s return because he was ready for him. He had done all that had been asked of him. He wasn’t concerned with being punished because he knew the master would be pleased with him. We affirm this in another prayer of the Mass when we pray that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.”  This hopefulness sets us apart from those who dread the end of their earthly journey out of fear. Someone has said that your attitude about death depends on whether you imagine Jesus  as your judge or as your friend.  Of course, He is both. He is Friend, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Shepherd, and Judge. Yet we sometimes persist in fear of our friend and our “Abba.”  Surely the parable of the good steward should be our guide as we anticipate meeting Jesus face-to-Face.

Moreover, we know that we encounter Him in our daily lives in the many “distressing disguises” He wears. When we serve the poor in our communities and visit the sick and the imprisoned—we meet Him. When we make time for a lonely person or care for a child in need—we make time for and we care for Christ. We’re called to actively participate in building the Kingdom of God which has come to us in Christ (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20) and these works of mercy are one way we do that. Catholics believe we live in a kind of “middleness” between the Ascension and His second coming at the end of time. Our salvation is a gift won for us by Jesus on the cross, but we are as St Paul says, “to work out (our) own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) until He returns. In this tension between the “already” and the “not yet” we find the purpose of our lives. We feed the hungry; we love our neighbor; we help bring healing to a hurting world. This purpose and our work are gifts from God and fill us with great joy and sustaining hope.

And so at Sunday Mass when we pray for Christ’s return it is in that same joy and hope. On that day we’ll know the final victory over death and sin and evil. The dead will rise in their newly-glorified bodies and the Church, the Body of Christ, will realize the fullness of Her true nature in Him. I love how St. John describes it: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.’ ” This is our hope and our destiny. Until then, we must be about our Father’s work, like the faithful steward, our lights kept burning.

“And the One seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’ “

—(Revelation 21:1-5)

Soaring Free

There’s a red-tailed hawk that lives in my neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s a male or a female, but I’ve imagined her to be a lady. I’ve even named her. Bella. She’s big and fierce-looking and every time I see her, which is at least a couple of times a week, I smile. She’s usually perched on a fence post or power line, her intense eyes scanning the ground for her next quick bite. She’s been around here for several years now and I like to think of her as “my” hawk. I look for her every day and it’s reassuring to see her there. I admire her for being out there, in all kinds of weather, just doing what she was created for. When I see her, I think of the complexity and beauty of God’s creation. And that all of us have a place in His garden.

So many of us struggle to find our place in the world. Families suffer through divorce and estrangement. Relationships get broken and sometimes are never healed. Siblings drift apart from one another. Parents struggle when their children are victims of illness or drug use. Church families can fracture and grow cold when gossip and distrust take root and are allowed to grow. Being human means living in a broken world. Lots of folks try to make their own sense of things and find their own way through their problems. We see them chasing wealth and possessions, trying to fill the void in their hearts with acquiring things. Maybe they do okay, on some level. But that never worked for me. Giving my life to Christ allowed me to find my own place and to have peace in knowing that He is in control of everything. But unlike Bella the hawk, sometimes I don’t cooperate with God as fully and flawlessly as she does. Bella can’t sin. Her hawk’s will is perfectly conformed to her life and the part she plays in God’s creation. Whether she’s soaring over the hayfield looking for mice or plucking at her feathers as she rests on the fence post, everything she does perfectly lives out her role in the world. Bella can’t be anything less than the perfect Bella. Whereas, I can stumble and sin and mess things up, again and again.

Thankfully, God knows my wounded heart very well. He knows how weak and sinful I am. And He loves me. He gave me free will so that I can make choices on my own. This is one of the things that makes me (and all of us) different from the hawks and other animals. Free will allows us to freely love and freely serve Him, but it also allows us to make wrong decisions and wrong choices–choices that go against the will of God, and therefore go against what is good for us. These selfish choices are sinful. God will forgive us our sins and welcome us back to Him in the Sacrament of Confession. He saved us; He is saving us; He will save us. Thanks be to God!

Whenever I see Bella, I thank God for His love and grace. He created a beautiful world, full of extraordinary and gifted creatures. When Bella soars high against the clear blue of a September day, she proclaims the goodness of the Lord. She has a particular and special role to play in creation and she does it perfectly. She reminds me that I too was created for God’s purpose and pleasure and the only way I can truly live out that purpose is to let Christ have His way in my heart. I have to remember and embrace the beautiful words of St. John the Baptist: “He must increase; but I must decrease”(John 3:30). Allowing Christ to increase means putting Him first in all things—in every relationship, in every decision, in every moment of every day. It means picking up the cross that God made just for me and following Him with joy, wherever He takes me. It means embracing whatever pains or sufferings in my life as Jesus embraced Calvary and offering my pain up to Him, for His purpose. The more I decrease the more Christ lives in me and through me. I become a child of my Father and in His joy, He lifts me up. Like Bella, I rise above everything that binds and shackles me and drags me down. He gives me a perspective I could never have on my own — an eternal perspective. Like Bella, I can rise up and see things in a new light, in the light of Christ. I have the freedom that only Christ can give. Bella reminds me that God’s blessings are never-ending and He has great things in store for me, and for you.

“If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me.”
Psalm 139:9-10

Our Dark Secret

It was a day like any other day.  The sun came up right on time.  The sky was a deep blue and everyone seemed in a good mood. Buses and subways were filled with commuters making their way to jobs in the city.  The morning news shows were their usual mix of news, sports, and celebrity gossip.  It was just another day in America—or so we thought.

Then, in the space of just a few hours, thousands of Americans were brutally murdered.  Innocent people, killed without a chance to plead for their lives. One minute, full of life and and hope and the promise of tomorrow and the next moment—a horrible and violent death.  Innocent lives, lost forever.  And all of us are diminished by their loss.

No, I’m not describing 9/11, although the scenario is much the same.  I’m describing every single day in America.  Because every day in our country more than 3000 Americans are violently killed by abortion.  It’s 9/11 every day here, in the greatest country on the face of the earth.  We’re not under attack by Al Qaeda or terrorists from Saudi Arabia or Somalia.  It’s not an organized sleeper cell that’s killing us, but a culture of death that we’ve allowed to infiltrate our land.  We’ve invited them in and given them a home and protected them by our judicial rulings.  And we wonder what’s wrong with the country we love.  We wonder how we’ve gotten so off-track. We wonder why families are disintegrating and why half of all marriages end in divorce.  We’re puzzled when we read statistics about adultery and abandonment.  We shake our heads at stories of child abuse or wife abuse. The #MeToo movement is exposing sexual trauma in a way we’ve never seen before. We’re shocked to hear that the elderly are neglected or mistreated in their nursing homes.  And we allow the treasure of our hearts, of our very lives—our children—to be destroyed each and every day by abortion. Can’t we see the connection between these murders and the state of our American families?

Our country is like a beautiful apple that is lovely to look at and admire, but is rotten at the core.  Death lives at the heart of America and we all must take responsibility for that. We’ve forgotten the values we were founded on which placed God and the gift of life as our anchor and our morning star.  We’ve allowed what is easy to replace what is right. We need an awakening in our land and in our hearts.  We must remember how we all felt that on that September morning—remember the horror and the shock and the outrage.

Remember how it felt to know that so many thousands of our fellow Americans—innocent people—had been murdered so senselessly and were now lost forever.  That’s the horror of abortion every day in the greatest country on earth.  We’re in the midst of another election season. Please pray that our President and the political leaders of our country will protect human life from conception until natural death.  And pray that God will have mercy on us all.

“America you are beautiful . . . and blessed . . . . The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless. If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then America, defend life.” – St. John Paul II (1920-2005)

Cutting Back

Diet. It’s a four-letter word. Most people hate having to give up the foods that they love in order to lose weight. But we do it—at least for a while. We know that in order to meet our goal we have to take in fewer calories than we expend. When we’re able to do that consistently, we starve those nasty fat cells and we lose weight.

There’s a similar principle at work in our spiritual lives, too. When we identify something that is getting in the way of our journey with Christ, we need to starve it. These obstacles used to be called “sins” and the strategy to overcome them was called “virtues.” We need to use those terms more often. For every sin, there’s a corresponding virtue to be practiced. We know how this works because the Catholic Church has been teaching it since the earliest days of Christianity. We know that the great Saints dutifully practiced some kind of spiritual diet as they progressed in holiness. St. John the Baptist said it best when describing his relationship with Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease”(John 3:30). So how do we do that?

We pray that the Lord will reveal our sins to us and we pray for the humility to accept what He shows to us. I can almost guarantee that your number one stumbling block is pride. We know that this is true because Scripture reveals it to us in so many circumstances. It was pride that brought about the fall of the Lucifer and his fellow disobedient angels. Pride fed the original sin of our first parents in the Garden. Pride says, “I know better than God. I can do this on my own. I don’t need any help.” Pride truly is the root of most, if not all, of our sins.

Starving pride means feeding humility. Talk less. And when you do speak, let it be less of your concerns, your wants, your accomplishments. Don’t seek out praise or sympathy from others. Always put others before yourself. Let yourself be last in all things. Practice mercy. Deny yourself little things that give your pleasure and after a while you can do without more and more. Every denial of self is a step closer to a humble soul. Fast, not only from food, but from gossip, judgement, prejudice, impatience, and envy. Pray constantly the prayer that never fails: “Thy will be done.”

Starving anger means feeding forgiveness. Whether it’s getting cut off in traffic or responding to more serious betrayals, anger is a natural human response. But it doesn’t have to become sinful if we combat it, with God’s help. “…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray these words from the Our Father, but do we put them into action every day? Are we as quick to forgive others as we are to become angry? Do you hope that the other person offending you “gets what they deserve,” or do you offer them the mercy that you hope to receive?

Starving greed means feeding charity. Do you have to have the latest gadget, the fastest car, the biggest house, or the most impressive wardrobe? Does it make you feel bad to see others with these possessions? Greed and envy eat away at the muscle of our charity. These sins hold onto things, instead of people. And we can only give to others with open hands. Overcoming greed, like pride, means thinking less of ourselves and thinking more of others. When we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, it’s much easier to share these gifts with others. We’re called to take care of one another, to help the needy, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and to be Christ to everyone we encounter.

Putting yourself on a spiritual diet is only successful if you humbly pray for God’s assistance and strength. Like any diet, it’s harder at the beginning. After time, and daily practice, you’ll develop spiritual practices that help you in walking more closely with Christ. Frequent confession and Holy Communion give you the graces needed to continue growing in your relationship with Jesus. The process of becoming like Him is what St. John meant when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Life is learning to die to self and to live in Christ. As St. Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! (II Corinthians 5:17).

“The more a man dies to himself, the more he begins to live unto God.”

—-Thomas a Kempis

Beyond This World

My mother suffered a series of strokes before her death several years ago. Already enduring a second bout with cancer, she was spending much of her days watching television news, which had become a favorite activity during her long illness. But after that initial stroke, she didn’t so much watch the television as watch a spot on the wall about 2 feet above the screen. This would go on for hours. She would smile and nod as if she agreed with whatever it was she saw there, but since she couldn’t speak, we were never able to find out what that was. We all long to know what we’ll experience once we die. The veil which separates our earthly life from the one to come seems thin at times. We love those stories about near-death experiences. The Church teaches us that after we die we experience a personal judgement before God. But what will that be like? Who will we see? Will we recognize our loved ones there?

Steve Jobs was raised by his adoptive parents in a home without much religion. He studied Buddhism for a bit, but he also described himself as an atheist, or an agnostic. Yet, when he died in 2011, his wife provided him with a Christian funeral. We might not know what he believed, but we know that his family revealed his last words to be: “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow!” What was he seeing? Who was he seeing? He seemed impressed, and a bit awed.  

We’ve all heard the story of the country doctor making a house call to one of his patients. The doctor always took his dog with him on these visits, and his pet would sit patiently outside the door. That day, the dying man asked his doctor if he knew what death was like. In answer, the doctor opened the door and his dog gleefully bounded into the room. “You see this dog?” asked the doctor. “He didn’t have any idea what was on the other side of this door. All he knew was that his master was in here waiting for him. And that was enough.” For a more poetic insight, J.R.R. Tolkien has the wizard Gandalf describe death like this: “The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns silver glass…and then you see it. White shores. And beyond…a far green country under a swift sunrise.” To me, those are both beautiful images.  

The Church also teaches us that it’s prudent to meditate on death. We look at our life in relation to its ending and we take things like sin and repentance more seriously. Sin has eternal consequences, and life is so precious and brief. One of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy died a couple of years ago and he reflected on how short our sojourn is on this earth. “Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?” Indeed. We’re too often distracted by distractions, and we look up and another year has passed us by.

I found this reflection which I think beautifully illustrates both the mystery and the joy of passing into eternity. I hope you’ll enjoy it:

“And this is the consolation—that the world doesn’t end, that the world one day opens up into something better, and that we one day open up into something far better. Maybe like this: one morning you finally wake to a light you recognize as the light you’ve wanted every morning that has come before. And the air itself has some light thing in it that you’ve always hoped the light might have. And One is there to welcome you whose face you’ve looked for during all the best and all the worst times of your life. He takes you to Himself and holds you close until you fully wake. And it seems you’ve only just awakened, but you turn and there we are, the rest of us, arriving just behind you. We’ll go the rest of the way together.” 

—-Scott Cairns

We All Know One

Everyone has an Eeyore in their lives. He’s the perpetually downcast, hopeless little donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. And while he’s the ultimate downer, we can all identify with him, maybe we even ARE the Eeyore in our circle of friends. Spending time with one of these folks can leave you exhausted, because all of your energy is spent trying to fill their bottomless pit of despair. Ugh. And yet there’s something endearing about old Eeyore. He’s like all of us on our worst days—that dark, secret, self-absorbed part of us that sees no reason at all to get out of bed, much less to rise and meet the day with gratitude and hope.  

But hope is the fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ. Hope is being confident in the promises of Christ, knowing with certainty that He will never disappoint. To live without hope is to, in effect, reject the salvation that Jesus died to offer us. If we’re hopeless, we’re no different from the unbeliever. And it’s an easy habit to fall into, and a dangerous one. A quick look at Holy Scripture makes it pretty clear that if we follow Christ, hope should be the anchor of our lives. In Hebrews, we read that hope is “the conviction of things not seen”(11:1). Hope is not a feeling nor is it merely wishful thinking—hope is a conviction. St. Paul writes that hope is an “enduring virtue”(I Cor. 13:13) and that “love springs from hope”(Col. 1:4-5). Hope is that gift which allows us to understand and persevere through suffering, pain, and disappointment (Romans 5:2-5). “Hope does not disappoint”(Romans 5:4). And maybe the most profound teaching of all is in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy: “Jesus Christ is our hope”(I Timothy 1:1). To be alive in Christ is to be infused with the virtue of hope—not like Pollyanna, but like any of the great Saints who lived in hope despite suffering, torture, and death. Hope takes us out of ourselves and places our hearts at the foot of the Cross. 

But we have to cultivate the gift of hope, just as we exercise the virtues of faith and charity. And sometimes, we get it wrong. Here are a few ways to know if you’re an Eeyore:

1) You’re fearful and anxious—a “worrier.” You are afraid of life’s challenges and opportunities. You fret excessively about money, status, or what others think of you. You have unfocused fear that sometimes paralyzes you into inaction.  

2) You’re a complainer. A hopeful heart is one that is grateful and praises God even through the bad times. Without hope, every small bump in the road of life is an injustice.

3) You blame other people for your problems. If you’re not living in hope, it’s easy to point fingers at others whenever things don’t go your way. Your family, your teacher, your boss, your ex—it’s their fault that things are a mess. You constantly compare yourself to others, and are perpetually disappointed.  

4) You’re a drama queen, or king. Hopelessness exaggerates any small suffering in your life. It’s the worst, the most horrible, the most unfair (fill in the blank) ever! You are easily discouraged and you look to others for sympathy and affirmation.

5) And maybe the clearest sign of failing hope is pride. A prideful heart tries to do everything for themselves, rather than giving God control and embracing His will. Humility and hope go hand in hand. The more we grow in humility, the more we rely on Christ for everything and, as we know, He never lets us down. Want to be more hopeful? Pray for humility.

Faith, hope, and love are virtues that we need to exercise through prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. Ask God to increase your hope. Surround yourself with hopeful, encouraging people. Read about the Saints who are examples to us of great hope and ask them to pray for you and to help you to grow. Remember all the blessings God has given to you. Gratitude grows hope—the more grateful you become, the more hopeful you’ll be. Our Lord holds our future in His hands, and we needn’t worry or be anxious.

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

        —-St. Pio of Pietrelcina


The Ones We’ve Lost

One of them might have cured cancer. Another one could have flown us to the stars. One of them might have helped the world find a way to peace in places that have known far too much war. They would have been doctors, farmers, mothers, fathers, teachers, firemen and priests. They might also have been burglars, layabouts, swindlers and yes, even murderers. But every one of them had been created in the image and likeness of God. They were known by Him before all ages and loved by Him beyond all knowing. Fifty-eight million Americans. Lost.

It’s been 48 years since the Supreme Court decision which effectively made abortion legal in this country. The justices based their decision on an understanding of a woman’s right to privacy. Abortion was found to be a private decision. But it is not. Many women are coerced or even forced by husbands, boyfriends, or parents into having an abortion. Many may have an abortion because they can’t see any other option for themselves. Every woman will remember the abortion they had. Most of them will come to say that they regretted their decision as the years went by. Abortion kills a child and it wounds everyone else. And it has wounded our culture as well.

Abortion allows us to see all human life as less sacred and more disposable. We begin to see assisted suicide as a right and we form groups to support legislation to make it legal. We hear talk about death panels and we’re no longer shocked. We begin to withhold food and water from the terminally-ill so as to hasten death. We abort babies we see as imperfect. China has murdered a generation of women through gender-based abortions. Minority women in America have a disproportionate number of abortions. Yet we condemn racism or sexism in other contexts. Abortion is anything but private.

And yet, there is hope. God’s mercy can heal the heart and soul of any woman who has chosen abortion. Anyone who has encouraged a woman to have an abortion, driven her to the clinic, assisted in the procedure, or promoted abortion—all are offered God’s mercy and forgiveness. No sin is beyond the reach of His love. There is hope for the unborn when their fathers accept their responsibilities and support the mother of their child. In many ways, the rise in abortions parallels the decline in faithful fatherhood.

As a Church we must welcome and support mothers in need. We can’t just shake our heads and preach about sin. We must be God’s mercy to them. We have to open our hands and help. We have to support pro-life programs that offer real help to moms in crisis. We have to support adoption. We must elect politicians at all levels of government who will protect life from the moment of conception until natural death.

As individuals we have to do all that we can to transform our culture, one person, one heart at a time. Pray. Vote. Protest. Fast. Offer sacrifices and perform works of mercy. When we do nothing in the face of evil, will we also be held accountable for it? Be a defender of life, a voice for the child who has no voice, a friend to the woman considering an abortion. Welcome her and her baby into your pew, your home, and your prayers.

“Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life,
And for the lives of all my brothers and sisters.
I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion.
Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death by the Resurrection of Your Son.
I am ready to do my part in ending abortion.
Today I commit myself
Never to be silent.
Never to be passive.
Never to be forgetful of the unborn.
I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement,
And never to stop defending life
Until all my brothers and sisters are protected,
And our nation once again becomes
A nation with liberty and justice
Not just for some, but for all.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
—Priests for Life

God Reveals Himself

All of us long to know God. It’s been said that there is a God-shaped hole in the hearts of men. I believe that’s true. We seek Him out — in His scripture, in His Church, in the beauty of creation, and in one another. And if we truly and humbly search for God, He never disappoints us. Lately, I’ve been reading about people who claim to have encountered God in their dreams, in visions, and through His angels. This can be a confusing journey full of hazards and dead-ends. Thankfully I’m blessed to have guidance along my way in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

The Church teaches (and has taught for many centuries) that the public revelation of God ceased upon the death of St. John, the last living Apostle. Jesus Christ was and is the complete and total revelation of the living God. Nothing can “add to” to the Word of God in His beloved Son. As the Catechism states,”….no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ”(paragraph 66). So do Catholics believe that God no longer reveals Himself to us? Of course not. We come to know God throughout our lives in and through our prayerful participation in the Church He left for us. We enter into His family at Baptism. We encounter the grace of His mercy in Confession. No more intimate knowledge and experience of Christ exists than in our communion with Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Our Confirmation infuses us with the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit. God reveals Himself to us in our reading of Sacred scripture and in our prayer life which is a true fount of His love and grace. The Holy Spirit inspires and teaches us in the Sacred Tradition of His Church. God is always reaching out to us and pulling us closer to His Sacred Heart.

Throughout the centuries, people have claimed to have received private revelations from God. From the very first years after Christ’s Ascension, the early Church fathers taught that private revelation should always be approached with great prudence. Men like Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Augustine all taught about the proper limits of private “knowledge” of God that persons might claim to have received in dreams or visions. And yet the Church has always been open to the workings of God in the lives of His children. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good”(I Thess. 5:19-21). The testing and retaining is part of the authority that Christ gave to His Church and so this process is rightfully one left to the pope and bishops. St. John spoke of this authority: “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who doesn’t belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” (I John 4:6). Catholics believe in miracles and our Church is open to them. At the same time, any true mystic or visionary will readily submit themselves to the investigation and scrutiny of Christ’s Church because the Church acts with His authority. She is, after all, His spotless Bride.

Private revelation is never necessary for salvation. A person’s visions or writings can never “correct” or surpass the revelation of Jesus Christ. If anyone claims otherwise, he or she is in error, even if their “revelation” gains a large and popular following. We see this everywhere today. In the final analysis, either there is a Church whose authority was given it by God, or there is not. If there’s not, then anything goes and your religion is just as valid as anyone else’s religion. From the writings of Mohammed and Joseph Smith, to all the new-age mystics and seers and prophets, we have more than 33.000 different religious denominations on the planet today. Someone has a vision or a “word of knowledge” and the next thing, they start their own church. We have splintered the Body of Christ by rejecting the authority He gave to St. Peter and his successors. Surely God weeps that His family is so estranged from one another. If we are followers of Christ, we must pray and work together to come back under the same tent, to kneel together at the same altar and to profess our faith in the one, true God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“…I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
—–Matthew 16:18

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