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By: Therese Bermpohl

Got family vacation plans for 2015? How about attending the World Meeting of Families (MWOF) from September 22-25, 2015? If you hang around until the last day, you may get a chance to meet Pope Francis.

The WMOF will take place at the Philly Convention Center and is expected to attract 10 to 15 thousand Catholics from around the world. There are 6,000 rooms on hold for the conference, and another 4,000, (10,000 total) on hold for the papal visit, which has not yet been made official. If you cannot afford a hotel room there is ample opportunity to stay with host families.

The event/festivities surrounding the WMF will include:

  • Daily Mass
  • Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament available all day, all week
  • Two to three keynotes each day, including a youth track, and a young adult track
  • Family Fest, sponsored by Philadelphia’s leading cultural institutions (for example, among others, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute are each planning family-themed exhibits and extended hours during the week. Every evening there will be film festivals, concerts, etc)
  • A Market Place for an exchange of goods and ideas
  • Daycare
The Holy Family Iconic Painting for the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, can help us think about, and feel emotions around, God and family. Neilson Carlin of Kennett Square, PA has been asked to create the Icon of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.

The Holy Family Iconic Painting for the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, can help us think about, and feel emotions around, God and family. Neilson Carlin of Kennett Square, PA has been asked to create the Icon of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive on September 25, 2015, and to be greeted by thousands at Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia. The following morning, more than 40,000 young people will gather for a rally with the Pope on the grounds of Citizens Bank Park. Later that evening, more than one million people are expected for the festival of families and another million for the Papal Mass on Sunday morning, all held along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philly.

Also available for families are catechetical materials in both English and Spanish that highlight what Catholics believe about the dignity of marriage and family.

Registration is opening soon, so if you would like to attend, now is a good time to start considering your options!

If you cannot attend, please pray for the success of the event and for the strengthening of families throughout the world.

For the most updated information on the World Meeting of Families click here.

**Editor’s Note: Too often we hear upsetting or shocking news that reminds us just how desperately our country needs to address mental health issues, especially when we see and hear of beloved family members or beloved icons, like Robin Williams, succumb to their illnesses alone and oftentimes without support. This will be the first of a series of blog posts addressing mental health issues by Dr. Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington. We hope that this can help educate you on the circumstances behind mental illness and suicide and begin that dialogue within the context of the Catholic community.**

 

By: Dr. Frank Moncher

It is sadly ironic that the man who uttered the famous call of optimism amid tragic circumstances, providing encouragement and a challenge to consider each new day a gift to those depleted, took his own life in August. Robin Williams’ death by suicide has brought attention to the problem of suicide in our culture. Although rates of suicide are relatively stable across the decades overall, it now ranks in the top 10 causes of death, and there is a disturbing trend of rising suicide rates especially among middle-aged men. Bottom line is that there are too many people seeing death as a solution to their pain, suffering, or seemingly unsolvable life circumstances. Each situation is unique and deserving of its own story, yet there are some important commonalities which can provide increased understanding and hopefully prevent future tragedies.

Robin_Williams_2011a_(2)Historically, suicide, depression, and mental illness have been characterized or understood as a personal weakness, a lack of virtue, or lack of self-control. However, suicide is a complicated outcome that is often driven by complex circumstances. As in Williams’ case, depression and substance addiction are often part of the mix. Psychotic disorders and impulse control disorders share their part of the “blame,” as well. Clinically speaking, depression and its features of loneliness, burdensomeness, low mood, helplessness and hopelessness affect problem-solving abilities and distort perception of self-worth. Suicide becomes idealized as an immediate escape (as many as 50 percent of those with depression report having suicidal thoughts during their illness); adding in diminished self-control via substance abuse or loss of touch with reality heightens the risk enormously. It is important to note that while the taking of life is considered a sinful act, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) notes clearly that when the person involved is suffering from mental illness, the culpability for the act may be significantly mitigated (CCC 2282). The Catechism reassures us: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (CCC 2283).

Yet, rather than focus on the multitude of risk factors well documented elsewhere, it seems worth exploring what might be salutary for the 80 to 90 percent of persons suffering from depression, addiction, or other mental and emotional problems who never take their lives.

Virtues

Williams’ call of greeting in the 1980s classic “Good Morning Vietnam” is just one of many preventive attitudes of life that inoculates one against the despair most suicidal persons reach. Others have commented in the wake of the tragedy how gratitude, hope, and finding meaning in suffering can have a life-saving impact on someone experiencing such intense pain. (Add to that the great anger antidote of forgiveness, and much relief is found.) The sad reality of those left behind when anger plays a part in motivating a suicide is daunting, and a number of self-help groups have emerged to answer the call of those who are struggling with the grief from a family member or friend taking their own life (e.g. Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide-LOSS). I am not suggesting that all who are suffering can get beyond it by merely “pulling up one’s bootstraps.” However, there is power and peace to be found in exercising whatever remains in one’s control toward positive relationships, giving to others, and noticing anew what it is that makes life worth living. Although most of us will never experience what it is like to contemplate suicide, the importance of discovering meaning in our lives and growing to act more in accord with this is life-giving to each of us, as well as to our family and friends. It is through coming to know ourselves and connecting with others that we build a strong foundation for living a mentally healthy life.

 

In his next blog of this Mental Health series, Dr. Moncher will discuss the biochemistry behind depression and how important prayer can be for those who are suffering.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

By: Kathleen Yacharn

I went to Risk Jesus this past weekend with about 1,200 others, give or take a few. It was an awesome, vibrant event and inspirational to see so many young men and women, mothers, fathers, religious and families unite to celebrate the joy of our faith. After the sessions, there was a Q&A session with Bishop Loverde, Jennifer Fulwiler, and Rev. Longenecker answering questions of faith submitted through our Twitter handle @arlingtonchurch.

The questions ranged from how to deepen your prayer life, to how we can be witnesses in our daily lives, to how we can learn to be open and communicate Our faith better. One question that really touched my heart and made me reflect was one I’ve had over the years. For those of us blessed to be “cradle Catholics,” who have not had a dramatic or difficult or miraculous journey: How can we evangelize without an exciting story to tell?

The answer comes straight from the Gospel, when St. Thomas put his hand into Christ’s wounds and says, “My Lord and My God.” Jesus turned to him, and said:

“‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed’” (John 20:29).

This is not the only time that Jesus reminds us that there is no greatness or smallness in faith. Rather, for those of us who haven’t heard God’s voice or had an obvious miracle happen in our lives, Jesus even tells us that our faith matters all the more because God calls us to simple obedience and child-like trust in Him:

“‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14).

st therese workingDon’t be discouraged if you don’t have a conversion story like St. Paul. Remember, even the littlest and simplest of people change the world. Although she did experience a beautiful apparition, lived a simple and humble life, St. Therese was convinced that those ordinary people with no special story to tell mattered just as much as the mystics and great martyrs. Her conviction that you could make a difference even in doing the smallest acts done with great love led her to be named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.

“‘God’s love is revealed just as much in the most simple soul who does not resist His graces as in the most sublime.’” – St. Therese of Lisieux

There are non-canonized saints who died without a record of their heroic virtue. We honor these saints for their unrecognized faithfulness on All Saints’ Day. We should never let the idea of greatness make us feel small. Another Teresa, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” There is nothing too ordinary, simple, or little for God to make great or work wonders in.

Be sure to keep an eye on the Diocesan website and our Facebook and Twitter. We will be uploading the videos from our Risk Jesus sessions featuring Jennifer Fulwiler, Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Bishop Loverde, and Fr. Juan Puigbó in coming days.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:13)

Elijah must have been tempted to frustration, perhaps even anger, with the Lord. Here he was — devout, faithful, zealous. He had witnessed to the Lord against the false prophets and journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb. He stood waiting on the Lord. And yet, he gets no greeting from the Lord.  No kudos, thanks, or congratulations. Only a question: What are you doing here, Elijah?

But…it was a fair question. Mount Horeb was, if not exactly God-forsaken, not quite a destination spot either. The prophet had to pause and think. What was his purpose? What had driven him out to a cave on a remote mountain? What was he doing there?

The entire scene provides a good way to approach prayer. When (if?) we pray, we typically just start saying our prayers, without much reflection as to the purpose. They are pre-programmed and we just hit the play button. But if we hear in our minds the Lord’s question to Elijah — What are you doing here? — then our time of prayer is opened up tremendously. Elijah renewed his purpose as he reflected upon the question. So also for us: What is the purpose of prayer? What am I doing here? Thus, by reflecting on Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb, we can better understand our prayer, our own encounters with God.

elijah_and_the_angel__image_5_sjpg2146

First, Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, to find refuge in the Lord. He had confronted Israel’s false prophets and punished them severely (cf. 1 Kgs 18). In response Queen Jezebel, their patroness, had promised to murder Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 19:1-2). So he fled, seeking protection, security, divine assistance. He was there because he needed God.

So also we pray because we need to. Because we are in need of similar refuge and assistance. The most basic meaning of the word “pray” is “plead” or “beg.” We do not come into the Lord’s presence as equals to Him. We do not negotiate with Him from a position of power. Rather, we appeal to Him from a position of weakness. We flee to Him because we are in need. Blessed are the poor in spirit — those who have no delusions about their own strength, those who, like Elijah, fly to the Lord in their weakness and need.

But Elijah was not only fleeing from something. He was also going to something. If he only intended to avoid Jezebel and her minions, he could have gone to many different places. But he intended more than flight. He went to Mount Horeb for a reason — because it is Mount Sinai, the place where Israel first encountered the Lord, the place of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. He, who had witnessed to the Lord’s fidelity to His covenant, went to the place where that covenant was born. He went there for renewal.

Although prayer might begin with begging, it should also seek more. Every time we pray, we should, in effect, go back to the beginning of the covenant, to that first encounter and experience with the Lord, to those original gifts He bestowed on us. For ancient Israel, that meant the covenant on Mount Sinai/Horeb. For us, it means our Baptism. We pray in order to renew our childhood, to rekindle in our minds and hearts the awareness of being children of God. One of our greatest weaknesses is forgetfulness of God — of His love, His mighty deeds, His promises. Prayer is the time to recover our memory, to recall again with grateful hearts all that He has already accomplished for us.

Finally, Elijah went to Mount Horeb for strength. His mission was not over. In the conversation that follows the Lord’s question, it is clear that Elijah is to return to Israel, that land of apostasy and persecution, to continue his witness. Indeed, the Lord instructs him to return and promises him assistance (1 Kgs 19:15-17). His encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb provided him the strength necessary to live his vocation.

Although a refuge, prayer is not an escape. Certainly, prayer involves a certain detachment from the world. We are of no use to the world if we are no different from it, if we have lost our saltiness (cf. Mt 5:13). But that does not mean a rejection of the world. Yes, we ought to run to prayer for protection and renewal. But we cannot use it to avoid the world and its difficulties. Prayer looks also to the witness we have to give before others. We pray, therefore, to be strengthened, to be rendered more effective witnesses in word and deed. Our time of prayer should always conclude with a request for the strength to be witnesses to the truth of the Faith.

What are you doing here? Imagine our Lord asking you that question the next time you pray. A more deliberate reflection on our reasons for being there helps to deepen our ability to pray. It expresses our weakness and need for Him, it reminds us of our status as His children, and it obtains the strength needed to be His witnesses.

By: Natalie Plumb

Don’t miss Risk Jesus ’14! With hard-hitting talks from speakers, opportunities for confession, a Holy Hour led by Bishop Loverde, and a chance to network with ministry leaders—Risk Jesus will be a leaping first step for those who’ve never heard “Come and see.” Visit: arlingtondiocese.org/riskjesus. Click on the photo below to view my Storify collage of “What people are saying about #RiskJesus!” All for the #NewEvangelization — #RiskShare it!

Larger - What people are saying about #RiskJesus

Click to see me on Storify!

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: Josephine Balsamo, Staff Spotlight

Everywhere I look these days there is talk about euthanasia. You can’t pick up a paper or look online at the news without hearing about assisted suicide and “mercy” killing – ending a person’s life because we think it’s more humane than letting them suffer. Four states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana) have legalized killing persons who are ill in one form or another. Other states, like Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are attempting to overturn current prohibitions. This question becomes even more difficult to answer when someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

IMG_1189When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, we all were holding out for a miraculous cure through treatment with the latest drugs developed to treat her cancer. After four long weeks of yet another type of chemotherapy, we were told by the doctors that she was not responding to the treatment. We were heartbroken. The doctors came in and offered additional treatments. But in the end, despite our best efforts to talk her into it, my mom refused additional treatment. She said that she was “putting it in God’s hands” and that she “trusted in his will for her.”

Then came the day when the hospital staff entered her room to come up with a discharge plan which included sending her home with Hospice Care. As hard as it was to accept that thought, what happened next was even harder.

We were told that in order to bring her home with Hospice, we would have to bring her home without TPN (the liquid nutrition we had been giving her via IV — the only nutrition she had been given for the last 12 weeks because, due to her cancer, she had been unable to eat or drink, and without it she would have surely starved to death).

I tried to reason with the hospital staff that she was not like most patients with her disease and because of her surgeries she had been unable to eat for quite some time. I literally begged them to reconsider the decision. It hardly seemed right to take her out of the hospital and starve her to death before the cancer actually took her life. I was told this was impossible and if we wanted to continue giving her nutrition, we would have to pay $450 a day for the TPN, and we would not have the help of Hospice to assist with her care.

At this point, I asked to speak with the director of the program, and although he tried to say “No,” I wouldn’t give up.  He finally agreed that she could go home with food, but when she reached the point that a patient would naturally stop eating, the TPN would be stopped and we would let nature take its course. She lived another four months after they discharged her from the hospital and never reached the stage that would have meant taking away hydration and nutrition.

Those four months turned out to be some of the most precious times our family had together, and even though it was hard, God had something to give each of us in the end. For my mother, the gift was time to say goodbye to us and to prepare to go home to heaven. For my father, it was time to say goodbye to the love of his life and the mother of his eight children. For my brothers and sisters, it was time to learn what unconditional love looks like. And for me, it was time to find my faith again after 25 years, through the help of a young priest who brought her Communion.

In our darkest trials, God brings beautiful blessings. Had we listened to the doctors, my mom would have died of dehydration and starvation, which would have been both physically and emotionally painful. Thank goodness we listened to what was in our hearts and gave her a chance to die at home with dignity and at peace surrounded by the family she loved so well.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Josephine Balsamo has been the Program Coordinator for Project Rachel in the Diocese of Arlington’s Family Life Office since 2004. The ministry offers post-abortion healing retreats, monthly holy hours, professional counseling, a confidential phone line, referral to priests for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and multiple other resources.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Last night at 10:29 p.m., the Autumnal Equinox occurred. This means fall has begun (except for the meteorologists that set it on September 1). Mother Nature even assisted last night with some brisk air to remind us that fall has indeed arrived. Nature itself is preparing for its Advent retreat and so are many of Our Lord’s creatures.

Take, for instance, the spider. It is at this time that a number of spider younglings hatch from their eggs. After their exoskeleton hardens, the spiders find the highest point, release a strand of their silken web and let the wind carry it wherever the autumnal wind wills (You remember, like in Charlotte’s Web). This silken thread of web is known colloquially as gossamer. We even have a Catholic legend to explain this:

This delicate filmy cobweb, prevalent in the air and on the grass and bushes, especially in autumn, is explained in a fine legend. It is the delicate thread unraveling from the Blessed Virgin’s winding sheet, falling to earth in her Assumption. The word itself, however, comes from “goose summer” which was a name for St. Martin’s summer because of the goose legend, which is another story![1]

1280px-Spider_web_Luc_Viatour - WikimediaSometimes explanations for natural occurrences are written by the poets. While their explanations are often implausible – if not impossible — still, the exquisite piety of their poetry seems to overcome the obvious logic with beauty. For the scientist or realist, this type of explanation may seem childish or annoying. That being said, there is so much to gain in simple child-like piety.

If we are honest, the faith of a child seems to be more vibrant than many adults. We all would be quick to admit that this is due to their naiveté and/or experience of life. And yet, many saints have embraced the simplicity of childlike faith. Jesus said it, so it must be true, after all.

Regardless, I like the gossamer legend, not because it adequately explains what a spider web is or why, as I walked out my door this morning, my face embraced that sticky silk. It reminds me that even after the Assumption, Our Lady desires to leave her fingerprints on our lives through her motherly intercession.

Maybe today, or this weekend, as you steal away to enjoy your autumn day, you can take a moment to lie on the ground and stare up and name the shapes of the clouds. Take some time to remember that childlike faith and joy. If you have forgotten how, just ask a toddler and I’m positive that they are fully capable of re-teaching you.

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. (Luke 18:17)


[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 352.

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