By: Natalie Plumb

When it rains, it pours.

Sometimes multiple opportunities are thrown at you at the same time. Sometimes zero are. But when you have more than one option, decision-making becomes overwhelming. You begin to think that God is testing you. There has to be a “right” answer, doesn’t there? What is His will? What’s the right choice, and what’s the wrong choice?

A lesson I’ve started to learn as my years add up is that God gives us options; each comes with a unique price. The consequences for each choice will be different, and you have to deal with those consequences. Neither will be all good or all bad.

prayer-2When I’m in the midst of discernment, and considering two positive choices (neither is sinful, nor is an occasion of sin), one against the other, I choose.

That’s it: I choose.

It’s difficult to understand, but as long as you pick one and act on it, God’s will is there. After all, nothing can happen unless it is His will. Don’t make one of those wishy-washy half choices – just pick one. It won’t hurt.

It sounds crazy, but after a while of balancing the pros and cons of each, asking multiple people their opinion, and going through mid-life-crisis mode, indecision starts to become not only unhelpful, but unhealthy.

A priest at Theology on Tap a few years ago in the Archdiocese of Washington said something like this about deciding between two positives: “Choose. Act on that choice in your mind; acting in reality isn’t necessary yet. If your choice was actually wrong, your conscience will tell you because you’ll start to panic and feel uneasy.”

It sounds a bit like the flip-a-coin rule, doesn’t it? Each choice is a head or a tail. When you flip it, you might find that you’re wishing for it to land on one side or the other – there go your heart’s true desire.

When we follow this rule, and quit worrying so much, the question then becomes, ever increasingly, more about your conscience, and less about whether choice A is more “right” than choice B for you.

You should check your boxes: Ask for advice. Weigh the pros and cons. Pray. But when nothing seems to tip the balance after a while, do what the priest suggested and just choose. It makes life a lot simpler.

Jesus, my Light and my Guide,

You are Creator of the universe. You, above all, understand the little actions I make, and how each will affect me and my future.

Guide my footsteps, and mold my conscience. Replace my heart with Yours. Help me to desire what You desire. Help me to see as You see. Help me to know my circumstances. Shine light on all that I need to know to make a prudent decision.

Reveal to me Your will. And if you don’t, grant me the patience and wisdom to make a choice, and discern whether it is good in my heart. Settle my soul when the choice is right. Shake it when it isn’t.

Supreme Power of the Universe, I trust in You. I trust You to guide me. Be my Guide, now and forever.


This is the final installment of Natalie’s mini-series on prayer in dryness, doubt and discernment.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Erin Healy

When I was a child, my greatest fear was the darkness. I could not walk through a dimly lit room or fall asleep without the comfort of light. Now, when my prayer life falters, I often experience similar feelings and that is when I know I need to set apart more time for the Lord.

There are many distractions in the world that keep us from turning to God. Yet, we know that God is the only One who can fulfill our deepest longings. During these summer months, if you find that you’re too busy to pray and your focus is no longer on God… Take time to reconnect: Consider attending the young adult silent retreat weekend on August 1-3 at San Damiano Spiritual Life Center.

Led by Fr. Rich Dyer, Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, this weekend retreat will offer talks (guided by the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux), time for Adoration, Confession and spiritual direction. The weekend will address suffering, how to distinguish and carry our crosses, pride, how to truly pray for humility, and more.


The cost for the weekend is $285. This will cover your materials, room, and board. The retreat is filling quickly! Register online at: www.arlingtondiocese.org/yamretreat. Questions? Contact Erin at (703) 841-2549 or yam@arlingtondiocese.org. Scholarships are available.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Saints Joachim and Anne are the most loved grandparents celebrated by the Church. Oddly enough, there is no mention of them in Sacred Scripture – not even their names. Tradition holds that they were married for many years and were thought to be cursed with childlessness.Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-06-_-_Meeting_at_the_Golden_Gate_Anne_Joachim

But the Lord had a different plan. He heard their fervent prayers and sent an angel who said that they would soon receive a “child who shall be spoken of in all the world.” That little girl was Our Lady, Mary. The Eastern Church honored this saintly couple on September 9, the day after Our Lady’s birthday. We celebrate Saints Joachim and Anne on July 26, the feast of grandparents.

Saints Anne and Joachim, pray for us!

By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul at Saint Jude Syro-Malabar Church in Centreville.

I treasure a small icon given to me as a gift, depicting Saints Peter and Paul embracing one another. Their embrace reveals their unity or one-ness of faith in the Lord Jesus and of love for Him and His Church. Indeed, they were one, yet very diverse in their temperaments, talents and roles of service within the Church. Nonetheless, each one — Saint Peter and Saint Paul — is clearly a model for us to imitate as we travel together, disciples of Christ Jesus united in faith and in love.

Cavalier d'Arpino - Madonna and Child with Sts. Peter and PaulSaint Peter was — and is — the source of unity within the Community of Christ’s Disciples, the Church. He is the source of unity in faith. When Jesus Christ asked His disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “But who do you say that I am?”, it was Peter alone who professed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Authentic disciples of Jesus Christ are united fundamentally by their profession of this same act of faith: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Very Son of the Living God.”

Saint Peter is also the source of unity in leadership within the Church. In response to his profession of faith, the Lord Jesus clearly announced: “… and so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” By these words, the Lord Jesus appointed and confirmed Saint Peter to be the visible head of the Church, His Vicar on earth, the first among equals within the College of Apostles.

This role of leadership has continued down through the centuries; each successor of Saint Peter, the one who is the Bishop of Rome, the one we call “Holy Father” or “Pope”: he is the visible sign of unity in leadership within the Church Universal. Authentic disciples of Jesus Christ are united fundamentally by their communion with Saint Peter’s successor.

Saint Peter is likewise the source of unity among all Christ’s disciples: forming as they do the Universal Church as well as forming a particular diocesan Church. This unity is achieved through the union of each diocesan Church with the Church of Rome and all the other diocesan Churches. Every Eucharistic Prayer expresses this communion when it directly and clearly prays for unity between Francis our Pope and Paul our Bishop, by the members of the Arlington Diocese, or Jacob our Bishop, by the members of your Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago.

Saint Paul was — and is — the icon of evangelization. Persecutor of Christians turned convert, Saint Paul was irresistibly drawn to Jesus Christ and became passionately in love with Him. This conversion and deeply personal union with Jesus within the Community of the Disciples impelled Saint Paul to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to everyone and to the farthest bounds of his world. Yes, Saint Paul was passionate, zealous, determined, on fire with love for God and others, on fire to evangelize! And he remained so to the end, as we heard again in today’s second reading: “I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

So, what lessons can we learn from Saints Peter and Paul?

(1) Saint Peter: Are we united by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Each day, through countless circumstances we are being asked: “Who do you say that I, Jesus Christ, am?” What is our real response? Our actions tell us! Are we united with the leadership within the Church? With our Holy Father, and with our proper bishop? Their style or approach in accidentals does not really matter. Are we listening to their teaching about faith and morals? Are we seeking to foster unity in faith by our concrete witness in daily life? Do we give to the Lord and to His chosen representatives our “obedience of faith”?

(2) Saint Paul: Are we daily seeking to be turned towards Jesus Christ more fully, to be converted, to be re-evangelized? Do we experience the joy of the Gospel, a joy rooted in our daily encounter with Jesus Christ? Are we eager to share the love of Jesus Christ and His message of hope and life with others? In a word, are we heralds and protagonists of the New Evangelization, our hearts on fire?

As members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, and this local visible expression, the Saint Jude Catholic Church here in Centreville, are you on fire to proclaim by your daily witness: “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God” and to invite everyone to come to know and love Jesus within the Community of His Disciples, the Church?

One final lesson to be learned. We are in the midst of the United States Bishops’ third Fortnight for Freedom, an extended period, from June 21 through July 4, for us to pray, to become more informed, to dialogue, and to witness for the cause of religious freedom, here in our own country and beyond. The freedom of religion is the first freedom. When the answer to the question “Who am I?” is “a disciple of Jesus Christ,” then every other action of ours flows from that identity. If I am not free to answer God’s call to love fully as Christ’s disciples, then all my other freedoms lose their meaning. Why have free speech if we cannot speak in praise of God? Why have freedom of association if we cannot gather as two or three and have Christ present among us?

It is our first freedom not simply as Catholics, but also as Americans. It is our first freedom because it comes first in our Bill of Rights — the guarantee of our freedom from an established state church and our freedom to exercise our religion without state interference. It is our first freedom as Americans because it was the reason why the first settlers came from England, so that they might be free to practice their beliefs free from the threat of oppression and governmental coercion.

At the same time, we can never allow our rights — even our right to freely worship — to become merely a political club by which we beat back our political or ideological enemies. We have rights in freedom because we have duties in love. Freedom of religion is not rooted merely in some sense of personal spiritual fulfillment. It flows from the duties we have as children of God to respond to His providence.

We serve our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends, our community and country best when we exemplify Christ the obedient Son who carries out the will of the Father. Our country is stronger and our people better when Christians are free to be images of Christ to the world, in our faith in God and our charity towards others. We know that our religious freedom is not some selfish design to fulfill our own plans, but our generous response to the love we have received from God. And so we insist on our rights in liberty not simply for our own sake, but for our neighbors and for the generations to follow. This is freedom’s ideal — that we are free to pursue the truly good, and so to serve the common good. This is why the theme for this year’s Fortnight for Freedom is “Freedom to Serve.” Please make your voices known in upholding and defending religious freedom.

Yes, the icon of Saints Peter and Paul is much more than a beautiful image of these two saints embracing each other in the unity of faith and love, although it is that in a very concrete way. The icon is the call and challenge to imitate Saints Peter and Paul, surrendering in faith to Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior; proclaiming Christ to everyone; and upholding and defending religious freedom. It is fundamentally and ultimately to live what we believe, not only in the private sector of religious worship, but also in the public square of concrete witness and involvement — for the common good and the salvation of the world!

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, and his recent letter on the new evangelization, Go Forth with Hearts on Fire, are available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

This homily first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

By: Natalie Plumb

I thank God every day that He is truly a God of justice. And I thank God every day for Purgatory, too: I like to believe that He will not base your fate on what you did at the very moment you die. He loves to give us one million second chances. I think His justice will prevail above all, and your whole life will be laid out before you as you knock on the gates of Heaven. I firmly believe that.

Allow that to be encouragement when you doubt His sovereignty, will, justice, love, peace…. Doubt can be an overwhelming emotion. It can quickly lead to despair.

Despair is quite possibly the most dangerous emotion to have. It lacks hope. It lacks trust. It lacks faith. It completely lacks virtue. It digs, deep into your feelings, and comes out with “I doubt,” and never “So be it.”

Ben1Though I am a naturally optimistic person who believes all things are foreseen by our Creator, I have had many moments in my life when I’ve doubted that, and Him. And I’ve acted on that doubt frivolously. Do yourself a favor: Try not to change your mind concerning a decision when you doubt His goodness. Do not change the course of your actions when you are in the midst of despair. Pray to get out of the hole first, so that you can see light shedding on your circumstances in order for you to discern – something we will talk about next week.

Most recently, I’ve struggled with doubt in the form of having faith in God’s divine providence. I am an ocean away from the man I love. He lives in France, and I in Washington, D.C.

Long distance relationships are naturally at risk of being full of doubt and despair. That’s a pretty common reason for their not working: Where is your hope? In seeing the person soon? In moving eventually? It is a hard question to answer in the moment, when your fullest emotions – love, desire, hope, and so many more – mercilessly insert themselves into your will.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much stronger the distance we’ve experienced as a couple has strengthened our relationship more than I think it could have been strengthened had we been in the same country for the last half year (and then some).

Astonishingly, we haven’t grown further apart, but closer, because we rely on God to move us and to change us. In getting closer to Christ, we are closer to each other. When we can’t talk to each other (you know, that silly 6-hour delay thing) we must talk to God.

lovetriangleThink of the triangle: Each of you and God is at one of the intersections. As each of you grows closer to God (and His point on the triangle), the closer you as a couple get to each other. Your segment gets shorter. Amazingly (and oh so joyfully!), the sins we had before, both individually and as a couple, in the same country, are no more.

God knew that all along. He knew that distance would help us to grow spiritually on an individual level. We needed to be apart long enough (seven months, and counting) to become better persons for the other.

Cliché statements like “There is light at the end of the tunnel” and “The darkest hour is just before the dawn” are really not cliché at all, but true. Periods of doubt, as with periods of dryness, which we discussed last week, are there to form you into the person God wants you to be.

The truest version of you as a Child of God is waiting to be formed. And you will never stop growing, even if your circumstances make you doubt His plan. That is exciting, not despairing.

Dearest Jesus,

We know in our heads and in our hearts that You are here and that Your will is just. We know that You wish the best for us, and that nothing comes to be before being filtered through Your hands. But our circumstances are pulling at us to lose faith and to make unwise choices.

Pull us back, Christ Jesus. Pull us back into Your arms. Pull at the strings of our hearts to trust you again. Give us the virtues that we need to honor Your will, trust in Your providence, and have faith in Your works.

Grant us faith, and no more doubt. But if it be Your will, grant that the doubt that we do have might change us and form us, and inspire us to grow only deeper in the carrying of our crosses. Let this journey be speedy and light, if you will it. And never leave our side.

Praise be to You, for every cross we bear! We know it is no heavier than the one you carried for us.


Next week, I’ll write about discernment, my final post on prayer in dryness, doubt and discernment.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thomas O’Neill

What do men want in a woman?

Why am I even asking myself such a risky question?  Perhaps it was Beer_tapsthe recent blog posts on relationships by Natalie Plumb and Erin Kisley.  Or it may have been celebrating 10 years of knowing my wife and three years of marriage earlier this year.  Whatever it was, I started thinking about what a man looks for in a woman and how dramatically my views have changed since I was in my early 20s.

Admittedly, I was a bit of a cad when I was younger.  Suffice it to say that I lived the typical “happy hour” lifestyle of many 20-somethings in D.C.  My views on women – and specifically, what I looked for in a girlfriend – were fairly representative of my friends and acquaintances at that time:

  1. Looks.  No shock here – my No. 1 criterion was she had to be good-looking.  I mean seriously, what would come before that?
  1. Fun.  Next, it was definitely the “fun factor.”  Guys like to date cool girls as much as they like to hang out with cool guys, so why not match up with a girl who’s social, friendly, and fun to be around?  The kind of girl who’s “one of the guys,” or at least who won’t get on your case when you’re being one of those guys.
  1. Shared interests.  Finally, I wanted someone with the same interests as me.  Do we read the same books?  Watch the same movies?  Talk about the same things?  Would she be happy going hiking during the day then bar-hopping by night?

Other bloggers might take this opportunity to point a finger at their former selves, and say, ‘What a superficial jerk I was; oh, how I’ve mended my ways.’  And I will say that — but only up to a point.  Viewed retrospectively, my outlook was superficial and probably a tad immature, too.  But my journey to a healthier view of women and relationships took years of experience, biology, and God’s grace to achieve.

When I was in my late 20s, I had the opportunity to spend more time with my sister and her children.  I found myself not only loving my nieces and nephew, but feeling the strange stirrings of a paternal instinct in myself, as well.  I began wondering if relationships were more about giving something rather than getting something, an idea that hadn’t really occurred to me before then.  I also grew tired of my carousing ways, almost as if it seemed out of place as I grew older.

Later, after my wife and I were married and we had our first child, I really started to “get it.”  And it wasn’t due to the many joys of being Sad facemarried, but rather because of the many sacrifices.  Getting up at 3 a.m. to rock your infant daughter back to sleep for an hour — all the while counting every minute you’re losing sleep before work – is not a joyful experience.  But in those moments, and in countless others like them, I gradually realized the beauty that lies behind a man and a woman joined together in marriage.  It isn’t about spending time or partying together, or even finding your “soul mate.”  It isn’t even fundamentally about making each other happy.  It is about making each other better people.  Every sacrifice is an opportunity to give up a little more of yourself; an opportunity to live a little less for yourself, and a little more for your wife and your children.  In short, it is an opportunity to live a life of love, in service to others (c.f. Mt. 20:26-8).

Knowing all that, what a man needs in a wife is very different from what he may have once looked for in a girlfriend.  I won’t lie, my wife is a beautiful woman, and I definitely appreciate that fact.  But here’s what my checklist might look like today:

  1. Kindness.  The world is an uncertain, stressful, and sometimes painful place to live. A pretty face is not going to ease your mind at the end of the day. But a kind word and a gentle touch can help fix even the worst of days.
  1. Generosity.  Once you have kids – but even before then – the zillion chores, errands, and obligations of married life can be overwhelming.  A generous spouse who will pick up the slack when she sees you’re overwhelmed can be a lifesaver.
  1. Holiness.  Last but not least, someone who is seeking holiness is a great blessing, because let’s face it, none of us is perfect.  As a husband, I need forgiveness on a regular basis (as in: every single day). But my wife’s own spirit of humility and penance fills our home, too, inspiring me and our children to live holier lives.  And that is what the vocation of marriage is all about – helping each other grow closer to God, who is our ultimate joy.

Three years and two children later, it’s these qualities I’ve come to most appreciate in my wife, and to understand their importance in life.  I would venture to say that these are the real qualities women might seek in a husband, as well.  These are the qualities that will enable married couples  to navigate this uncertain life together, and to enter eternal life with the Lord.

Anchors Away

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Okay, I’m still thinking about the beach. Maybe it’s because in two weeks I’ll be there myself. Perhaps we may consider a few more images that many of us see at the shore.

beach galileeTake the anchor for instance. Anchors are one of the most ancient symbols found in the Roman catacombs. The anchor brings together the cross and the various nautical Christian symbols (fish, boat, dolphin), and signifies our hope in Christ. It is also the symbol of St. Clement of Rome, who tradition holds to have been tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. It is the symbol of promise:


Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous…he will never leave nor forsake you.”

Philippians 1:6 – “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion …”

Proverbs 1:33 – “but he who listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of evil.”

Of course, anchors make me think of boats and ships (I can never remember the difference between the two). Ships should remind us of the Ark which signifies the church, conveying all its members to safe harbor. And how do we remain in that safe harbor? Anchors, of course. Just a few nautical thoughts to remind us of His presence on our shores.


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