By: Thomas O’Neill

  • If women are just as capable as men, why won’t the Church allow women to be priests? 
  • Aren’t biblical stories like Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark obviously myths?
  • And if divorce allows couples to escape toxic, unhappy marriages, how can the Church forbid it?

Why is it important for us to play the Devil’s advocate, particularly in sensitive areas like morality and Church teaching? Because our interlocutors have some good points to make, especially if you look at things from a secular perspective. And every day that goes by, it seems like the world is looking at things more and more from that perspective. Thus, if we hope to proclaim the New Evangelization in earnest, we need to understand the arena we’re competing in.

Devil's Advocate Banner 4

I graduated from two secular universities, have attended hundreds of talks on the Church’s teachings, and had innumerable discussions with family and friends about God, morality, and the Church. Combining those experiences together, I became convinced of two things: (1) the Church has much stronger arguments for Her teachings than most people know; and (2) doing apologetics well – i.e. explaining those arguments effectively – is not an easy task.

One reason for this is that humans rise to the level of the challenge in front of us. Ask me to climb a flight of stairs, and I’m probably not going to lose much sleep over it. Ask me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro though, and I might spend a night or two at the gym beforehand.

Apologetics functions in much the same way. So long as we talk to people who already agree with us, who accept our arguments implicitly, our arguments never get any stronger. We get used to having an easy audience, and we fall back on arguments that only convince believers. However, when we engage with people who disagree with us – especially intelligent, learned people – we force ourselves to reassess our arguments, see the holes in our reasoning, and plumb the depths of the Church’s teaching for better answers.

This is the basic idea behind The Devil’s Advocate debate series. This series is designed as a dialogue between an antagonist and a proponent of the Church’s teachings. By having the Devil’s advocate ask the tough questions, the apologist is forced to offer solid answers or be held accountable. The upshot of this is that the Church’s teachings are actually illustrated better when the questions get tougher (c.f. Prv. 27:17).

If you’ve ever struggled to answer questions about your faith, or if you have some of these questions yourself, come to Bishop O’Connell High School this September to get answers. Last year was a great success, and saw hundreds of people come together to discuss these controversial topics.

See the event flyers for more information – “The Bible: Fact or Fiction?” “Adapting to the Modern Family” and “When Will the Church Get with the Times” – or visit the event website.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

One of my favorite movies is Despicable Me. It could be that Agnes, one of the three orphan girls in the movie, is the spitting image of my niece Emma. agnesThere is this great scene in the movie when Gru wins Agnes a stuffed unicorn and she makes this hilarious face and exclaims, “It’s so flufffffyyyy!” Agnes loves unicorns and so does the Church…just for different reasons.

The unicorn is actually an ancient Christian symbol. Better yet, did you know that the unicorn is mentioned in the Douay-Rheims and even King James versions of Sacred Scripture?:

 “Save me from the lion’ s mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns” (Psalms 22:22).

“And shall reduce them to pieces, as a calf of Libanus, and as the beloved son of unicorns” (Psalms 28:6).

“And the unicorns shall go down with them, and the bulls with the mighty: their land shall be soaked with blood, and their ground with the fat of fat ones” (Isaiah 34:7).

This mythical animal is an ancient symbol of chastity and Christ Himself. There is a medieval legend that says that the only way to capture a unicorn is to have a virgin sit in the forest. Only then would the unicorn come and lay at her feet with its head on her lap. This allowed the hunter to take the horn which was said to possess miraculous curative powers.

The early 1500s gives us a number of noteworthy art pieces that offer the virgin with the unicorn on her lap as a common subject. Many times these pieces depicted the Blessed Virgin Mary who brought forth Christ, the Horn of Salvation (Psalm 18:2; Luke 1:69). Among the pieces of art are Giorgione’s Lady with a Unicorn, c. 1500; Raphael’s Young Woman with Unicorn, c. 1506; and even a collection of six tapestries woven by Flanders: The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne), c. 1500.

Secular society has made the unicorn a symbol of ancient magic and naïve virginity that is meant to be conquered rather than preserved. This beautiful and majestic symbol has become ‘my little pony.” Among tattoo art it is more of a symbol of lost immature innocence which has been triumphed by mature unchastity and intemperance. Society and culture is starving for mystery and symbols but cannot seem to tolerate virtue as something realistic. It tolerates even less those symbols that refers to Christ and Our Lady.

This needs to stop. We need to recapture our symbols and use them to teach our children the virtues and good art. Some profess realism and a need to keep a child’s mind grounded in fact. And yet, I have never met a child whose mind doesn’t wander off to imagine the fantastic and the mythical. That is how they learn and dream – and it is an important skill. Why bother with mythical creatures and fairy tales? Neil Gaiman said it best when he wrote an epigraph credited to Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

From the Office of Vocations

Ever experience the feeling of uncertainty or a lack of clarity; or worse, have you found yourself feeling one day one way and another day the opposite? One of the most difficult parts of discerning your vocation is knowing when to accept a motivation as being from God or contrary to God’s plan. The path ahead is sometimes unclear, especially when your emotions are divided.

In these difficult moments, a bit of advice from St. Ignatius comes to our aid. In his Discernment of Spirits, St. Ignatius provides a clear way to determine the path forward in these seemingly complicated situations. Be aware that, as with any good action, it requires work and reflection.

St_Ignatius_of_Loyola_(1491-1556)_Founder_of_the_JesuitsThe first thing to do, says St. Ignatius, is to be sure that you are working to avoid sin and live virtue. The enemy will have an easier time luring the man who persists in sin into further sinfulness, whereas a man striving for virtue will be aided by the good spirit to see and desire that which helps him to love God.

The rest of his advice lies in understanding Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation.

Spiritual consolation is a spiritual gift which can help the soul to become more in tune with God’s plan. It is an interior movement of the soul to love God first, and all other things in Him. It is a growth in virtue or joy which lead a man to strive for love of God. Spiritual desolation, on the other hand, is the de-motivation of the soul which makes one apathetic, feeling separated from God, darkness of soul. St. Ignatius also describes it as the restlessness that comes from temptation, especially temptation against faith, hope and charity.

When you experience consolation, it is not difficult to continue doing what you know to be good and right, because the good spirit provides strength and courage. However, it is important to remain humble, knowing that any good you do ultimately depends on grace. During consolation, St. Ignatius counsels that you should prepare for the time of desolation, since it will eventually come. Consider what will be most difficult for you to continue doing when your emotions are telling you to give in or turn away, and be ready.

There are three reasons for spiritual desolation, says St. Ignatius. First, you may have become lazy in your spiritual exercises; you aren’t keeping up with your commitment to prayer, the sacraments, moral living, etc. Second, God may be providing a time or an opportunity to test your resolve and progress in the spiritual life. And, finally, it may provide an opportunity for the soul to understand how completely it relies on God, since lasting consolation only comes from Him.

During a period of desolation, the enemy will assault you with temptations, doubts, and apathy. He will work to discover and exploit your weaknesses, so it is crucial to remain firm in your purpose. St. Ignatius says that this is not the time to make a decision to change your course. On the other hand, he advises that you should be even more fervent in your spiritual exercises. Also, since the enemy works in deceit and secrecy, it is imperative to be completely open with your spiritual director.

When you remain firm against desolation, clinging to your devotion to God rather than abandoning it, the enemy will become scared. He may lash out with renewed fury. But fear not. St. Ignatius tells us that, to a man who remains firm in desolation, God will bring consolation soon!

If you are having doubts about your discernment, be careful that you are receiving good direction, that you are not making choices during a time of spiritual darkness or desolation, and that you remain firm of purpose until God gives you a clear indication that He wants you to change course. In this way, you will be sure to remain open to God’s plan, and certainty of your vocation will be given to you in His time.

Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God, and He will bless you greatly!

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give me a call or send me an email.

This was originally featured in May of 2014 in the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Vocations’s E-Newsletter Discernment, a monthly subscription-based email of vocations insights. These posts will be a monthly feature on Encourage & Teach to help those interested in learning more about vocations, to shed light on what it’s like living a vocation in everyday life, and as reminder to pray: for our priests and religious and that all people may discern and live their vocations with joy.

By: Trish Diewald, Staff Spotlight

In light of the feast of St. Clare this past Monday, we remember that, among other things, she is known for having turned away the Saracens (the medieval term for Muslims), who had invaded Assisi and even her monastery’s cloister, through prayer and the Blessed Sacrament. Through miraculous intervention, both Assisi and the nuns were saved from death.

I’m sure by now you’ve all seen reports of the atrocities committed by ISIL and ISIS against Christians and other non-Muslims. If you’re like me, it breaks your heart and makes you want to do something, but you don’t really know what to do. Well, inspired by St. Clare’s example of prayer, I had an idea and wanted to invite you to join me in doing it.

First, a little explanation: The people I’m praying for the most are the radicals/killers themselves because, in the grand scheme of eternity, they’ll be the greatest losers if they don’t have a conversion of heart. Despite the evils they’re committing, we should still be hoping they can find mercy and forgiveness. Those they kill for being Christian will earn the crown of martyrdom, and I’m sure many people are praying for all of the victims. But how many of us are actually praying for the souls of the radicals? When I first saw their faces on the news, my first reaction was anger, but then I thought: “That’s some woman’s son. And that woman either is heartbroken at her son’s actions and powerless to do anything, or she actually thinks what he’s doing is right.”

Mother maryThe radical Islamic culture (ISIL, Hamas, Boko Haram, etc.) appears to squelch true motherhood and femininity so much with abuse against women and girls, keeping women basically silenced and practically under house arrest, and so on, that their mothers can’t really be mothers. As we know, motherhood plays a major role in the health of a culture, so the fact that things are so bad within this radical Islamic culture suggests that the women’s hands are tied. No, I don’t mean to suggest that these women are bad moms; I’m only saying it seems they aren’t really free to exercise the kind of real motherhood that can change a society for the better.

So, the solution? Whether or not we have kids, we women can all be spiritual mothers, and I think we can help them the most via spiritual motherhood, to make up for the motherhood that’s missing in their culture.  War may end up being necessary, but in the long run, it will really only be treating the symptoms and not the underlying illness. The underlying illness is what I’m hoping we can address through our spiritual motherhood (or fatherhood, as the case may be). We might be horrified by what these radical Islamists are doing, but mothers, in concern for their children, can get beyond anger over the sins and evils their children commit in order to pray for them, à la St. Monica. So here’s what I’ve decided to do, rather than just a generic “Pray for them!” I invite you to join me:

  1. Adopt one of these radical terrorists as a spiritual son and his wife/mother/daughter/sister/etc. as a spiritual daughter. Of course, we can’t know the names of who these people are, but God is smart enough to make sure the effects of your prayers get to the right people, and He knows who’s most in need.
  2. Offer Mass in particular for that spiritual son and daughter today, the Assumption of Our Lady, or another day.
  3. Pray for them daily, that they may in some way be able to come to know Christ, or at least be able to have a change of heart and to begin to change their culture from within.
  4. Pray the rosary for them at least once per week. (Battle of Lepanto, anyone?)
  5. Offer other sacrifices for the sake of their souls in whatever way works best for you – you could fast once per week, offer up something you like, offer up your sufferings, whatever you want.

That’s it. Just two people for each of us. If enough of us do this, though, we could affect a lot of people. Let’s be mothers to them and fight for their souls!

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.

Trish Diewald has a B.A. in theology from Catholic Distance University. She is the Chancery receptionist and also assistant to the Special Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelization and Media.



By: Natalie Plumb

Mary in her earthly life attained holiness that I can only wish to begin to comprehend. God’s works are mysteries to our human understanding. One particularly astounding work we are commemorating in Masses throughout the world tomorrow: Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, before being crowned Queen of Heaven and of Earth.

Fresco_of_the_Assumption_of_Mary_-_Basílica_de_La_Macarena_-_Seville_(2)I can’t help but wonder, considering our human condition, the simple temptations she had to overcome in her earthly life. What would I have thought of first in the trials she faced? As a sinner, and as a human, it’s interesting what I believe I’d have thought of first, before my “yes” to all that he asked of me (we’re talking Nativity, Passion, the whole nine yards), if I would have even given a yes…

1. What about my reputation? Mary was young. A virgin birth? Impossible. What if she were killed, or scandalized? Mary was never concerned about how imperfect God’s plan seemed to human ears.

2. What if I lose my fiancé? After finding out, Joseph thought about leaving Mary. He was reassured later. But did Mary ever even ask if he would stay with her? No. She simply said yes.

3. What will it cost me? Agreeing to give birth to the Savior of the world isn’t exactly an everyday contract. But Mary never asked what she would have to give up in order to do it.

4. Can you wait a few more years? Maybe until after I’m married? Mary could have worried about public perception of the baby in her womb. Would they think her disgraceful? Was her conception reprehensible? But instead she simply said yes.

5. What if I can’t do it? We often ask God this, tuning in to our feelings of unworthiness. What we don’t realize, in our limited human understanding of God’s grace, is that God never looks at us as damaged goods. He takes the broken pieces of our lives, puts them together again, and creates good, with every crack and curve.

6. Will you protect my family? Mary could have easily been killed for perceived adultery. What if Joseph were killed, as was Bathsheba’s husband, after she had had an affair? Mary never asked. She simply said yes.

7. Will you provide food, shelter and warmth for my family? Mary was poor. Remember, Jesus was born in a stable. A stable. Not a palace, with glamorous displays of adornment. Mary simply trusted that God would provide.

8. Will you protect my son? Just like in her example during the Presentation of the Christ, just as she held “these things in her heart” after the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Mary allowed God to take her son. She surrendered Jesus to God’s plan. This could have utterly destroyed any mother. At the foot of her son’s cross, Mary could have easily screamed at God to save humanity in another way. She could have asked so many “what-ifs.” But instead, she surrendered. Mary trusted and had peace. 

9. Can’t somebody else do this? I’m sure giving birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, wasn’t entirely a responsibility Mary thought she was ready for. But she said yes anyway.

10. Would you make it easy on me? Last but not least, she never asked God to take away her cross. She always persevered, allowing God’s will to simply happen to her.

I don’t think I would be brave enough to disregard every one of these questions, as Mary effectively did through her fiat, with consistency and constancy throughout her life.

And so we pray, in her honor, and in light of the Assumption of Mary that we celebrate tomorrow, steadily meditating on all that her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) proclaims:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

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

Today as I leave work and venture home to cook dinner, many Iraqi Christians will lie in fear, starved of food and water. Tonight, as I brush my teeth, wash my face, and snuggle under my covers, Iraqi Muslim minorities and non-Muslims will awake from another uneasy night, wondering, I’m sure, if it might have been their last.

Iraqi Christian WomenGenocide is taking place 6,200 miles away and many (myself included) are left feeling helpless. We can temporarily change our Facebook profile picture, repost the horrific media reports, and support our government’s decision to deploy airstrikes and aid. But at the end of the day, this tragedy does not have an immediate human solution. In these moments, as we should with all things, we must turn to the Divine.

As we pray and fast for the safety of our Christian brothers and sisters, and all those suffering persecution in Iraq, we must also remember to ask that God’s mercy be shown to their aggressors and all those who seek to destroy human life. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded of the words of Our Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

St. Therese of Lisieux, a great saint and Doctor of the Church, modeled this commandment at a young age. Upon hearing of the infamous French serial killer, Henri Pranzini, who was to be guillotined, she began to courageously pray for his conversion. The morning following his death, the paper reported that just moments before his execution, Pranzini grasped the crucifix held before him and kissed the wounds of Christ three times.

Following the words of Our Lord, let us not lose heart in tragedy, but take our prayers and sacrifices to Him, confident in His faithfulness and infinite mercy.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

This Friday, August 15, marks the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It marks when the Blessed Virgin was taken up by the Holy Trinity, body and soul into glory. The significance of this mystery should not be understated. As the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (Directory) states it, “This is an ancient memorial of the Mother of God, which signifies and synthesizes many of the truths of the faith” (Directory, 180).

Popular piety surrounds this Solemnity with great fervor and devotion all over the world. “In many places the feast is synonymous with the person of Our Lady, and is simply referred to as “Our Lady’s Day” or as the “Immacolada” in Spain and Latin America” (Directory, 181).

Titian - AssuntaAmong the towns and villages of Italy, processions take place throughout the streets. Of course, no procession is complete without music, and so, in Portugal, the Romeria is celebrated. Its signature is a brass band  accompanied by drums and bagpipes. In Portugal, though, an interesting twist is that the image of Our Lady of the Angels is crowned – I can see that.

In Poland and Germanic countries, it was customary for the peasantry to bring their herbs to Church for a blessing. The Directory shares an interesting reason for this tradition in paragraph 181:

In the Germanic countries, the custom of blessing herbs is associated with August 15. This custom, received into the Rituale Romanum 200, represents a clear example of the genuine evangelization of pre-Christian rites and beliefs: One must turn to God — through whose word “the earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds” (Gen 1:12) — in order to obtain what was formerly obtained by magic rites, to stem the damages deriving from poisonous herbs, and to benefit from the efficacy of curative herbs.

This ancient use came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in part because of the biblical images applied to her such as vine, lavender, cypress, and lily; and in part from seeing her in terms of a sweet-smelling flower because of her virtue; but most of all, because of Isaiah 11:1 and his reference to the “shoot springing from the side of Jesse,” which would bear the blessed fruit of Jesus.

And one last interesting tradition may be found at Quimper in Brittany during what they call the “Feast of the Soul, dedicated to Mary as the great consoler.”

It is here considered a day for betrothals, when young men and women come to ask her blessing on their future. The image of the Virgin is placed at the church door during the day, and at night carried into the village square, later to be returned in procession to her shrine. Then, to the light of bonfires and the music of bagpipes, young people dance and make merry.[1]

Popular piety is manifested through traditions which are practical ways to introduce to culture the importance of this Solemnity as well as emphasize its theological significance. The Assumption is for all humanity the greatest witness to the efficacy of Christ’s salvation, a pledge to the future glory promised to us by the Father, a guarantee of the Lord’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises for the humble and lowly, and a consolation and signpost of hope that one of us, in the flesh, has already been brought into heaven and we, too, are called to such a dignity.

Queen Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

[1] Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, Catholic Activity Assumption Day Traditions: August 15, CatholicCulture.org, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1142.


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