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By: Rev. Robert J. Wagner, Staff Spotlight

On some level, each of us wants to believe that the closer we come to Jesus, the less we will have to suffer. This might cause us to believe that we can reach a level of holiness where the Lord rewards us by removing the suffering we endure and replacing it with peace. Of course, such thinking can lead to spiritual frustration, especially when we realize that no matter how much we pray and fast and serve in the name of the Lord, the trials do not end. In those times, it is helpful to remember that if we want to be His disciple, Jesus asks us to pick up our cross daily (cf. Lk 9:23).

That being said, there is a spiritual correlation between sanctity and peace, for the closer we are to God, the more we experience His peace. However, it is not peace as the world understands peace — a peace that exists because the trials are gone. Instead, the Lord’s peace exists amidst the trials of the world. It is the peace of the disciple who understands that these trials, these crosses, are part of the plan God has for our salvation.

Christ at the Sea of Galilee - TintorettoIn the Gospel this Sunday, several miraculous events occur that lead the apostles to confess to Jesus, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” They had left the previous evening to travel across the Sea of Galilee, but a powerful and terrifying storm arose that kept them from progressing to the other side. By the fourth watch of the night (between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.), they found themselves several miles off shore, struggling in the darkness but getting nowhere, scared and tired as the winds and the waves continued to rage all around them and their boat.

In the midst of that storm, Jesus appeared to them, miraculously walking across the water and emboldening them with the words, “Take courage; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Further, Jesus silenced the storm and calmed the sea, which led to the apostles professing His divinity in faith (“You are the Son of God”).

He also strengthened St. Peter, who showed great faith, not only by stepping out of the boat to walk on the water when Jesus commanded him to, but also by asking Jesus to command him to walk on the water in the first place. However, Jesus strengthened Peter’s faith even more when He reprimanded Peter for being distracted by the winds and the storm around him and for losing faith that he was safely in the power of Our Lord.

Through this Gospel encounter, we marvel at the wonders the apostles saw that night and recognize how all the events they witnessed led to their growth in faith. Without the great storm, it would not have been possible. Their trust in Jesus and their ability to place their faith in Him was stronger because of their struggle on the boat in that dark and stormy night.

A surprising detail in this Gospel account is that the apostles did not enter the boat without Jesus that night by their own choice. No, “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat” while He stayed on shore to minister to the people and pray. In His divine knowledge, Jesus knew of the storm and the struggle that lay before them, but He also knew the growth in faith it would offer them all. Likewise, He knows the storms we will encounter and how they can be a means of our sanctity as well. Yes, in our weakness we would prefer the holiness without the struggle, but Jesus knows the way to our salvation. Let us pray that when the path He guides us along is wrought with trials and storms, we may faithfully keep our eyes on Him, trust in His love for us, and know the peace His presence in our midst brings to our lives.

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

Fr. Robert Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s secretary.

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: Natalie Plumb

One weekday night, at a bar and out with friends, I was in the ladies room washing my hands. The woman at the sink adjacent to me let out a heaving sigh, looking downcast. I asked her what was wrong. She said “boys,” and left it at that.

She seemed like she needed someone to talk to her, and so I asked: “What do you mean?”

She relented: “Well, there’s this guy out there right now; we used to date; it’s really awkward right now.”

Knowing that it was likely awkward to her because she had experienced a long, drawn-out emotional and physical connection with him only meant for her future husband (later, she implied exactly that), I was about to cheerily encourage her and even offer advice. But before I could open my mouth, another woman (call her hand-washer for distinction) stepped up to the sink next to me and piped in, saying: “Yeah, they’re all jerks.”

smiling_coupleI uncomfortably crinkled my brow, thinking that they all certainly are not “jerks.” I know plenty of good men. So do lots of women. I quickly estimated that she was exaggerating, and decided that maybe she was looking in the wrong places, and at the wrong guys altogether.

“Just don’t give those types of guys the time of day,” I said. “You can’t do that to yourself; you’re worth more.”

The hand-washer girl waited no more than half a beat before saying something that I never expected to hear in response.

“I wish I were mature enough for that.”

The girl who had been downcast began frantically bobbing her head up and down in agreement. And with that, both of them had left.

The door slowly came to a close. I probably looked exasperated and confused. Did I hear correctly?

Gazing at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I thought… “What has become of us, ladies?”

I mean to insult no one. But to say what she had said, effectively dismissing the idea that any woman should try to uphold any form of “mature” standard when it comes to going out with a man, and to just take him as he comes, is appalling.

Men will want to live up to the standards of women who have them if they are good men, and not “boys” looking for something “cheaper.” As women, we can ask for what we deserve. In turn, you end up encouraging yet another man to be a man, one who deserves you. And the rest of the “boys” in the field are not your problem.

I mean, think about natural selection – May only the good men win! I’m jesting, but it’s basically true. By marrying a good man, you’re not stealing someone else’s good man; you’re actually creating more good men in the children you choose to have or adopt. Those good sons of yours will (likely) respect the women they eventually marry. It’s cyclical.

I’m here to shout what Wendy Shalit says in “Return to Modesty.” I’d love to echo the voices of Stasi and John Eldredge in their book, “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul,” when they call for us to “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

That is what you are made to be, Daughter of God. Beautiful, irreplaceable, inspiring, romanced… All of these things are written on our hearts.

What has become of us that we cannot stand up for the dignity we deserve by holding the men in our lives accountable, and refusing to make excuses? What has become of us when we decide to wear skimpy clothing and encourage our sisters to do the same?

Who are we becoming when we call our girlfriends expletives? Who are we becoming if we if we compete for another woman’s husband, rather than respecting the dignity of what is truly ours, not someone else’s, and then still expect the husband we stole to be faithful to us? (Fool me once….)

Why will we not stand up for what matters? Why do we not call every single man to action, to confront the problem of pornography, and defeat it?

I’m here to speak to you, ladies. Ladies, I want you to know that you are not alone. A man of God is out there for you, God willing. Do not settle. Advice, support, teaching and encouragement are here. That’s what this intermittent series “Dating 101” aims to do, through both lighthearted and heavy topics – abuse, dating advice and experiences, etiquette, divorce, transgender issues, marriage, egg freezing, Natural Family Planning, seduction – all and more are relevant.

Comments are wholly encouraged! Let the discussion begin.

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: Thérèse Bermpohl

Bring up immigration in a room full of people and it’s like tossing a match onto a stack of dry hay. Emotions flare and opinions collide. As I write this, I know that there are many sides to each story, huge obstacles to bring about solutions and many political and economic realities at stake. But I cannot see past the immediate need of innocent children whose very lives are threatened as they fall victim to the harrowing experience of being brought into our country.

The situation in the United States is dire and there is certainly enough blame to go around, from the president to Congress. Yet while the powers that be haggle over ways to tackle this enormous problem, the reality looms. There are some 10 to 13 million undocumented immigrants already living among us. According to the Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB, in 2014 the U.S. will experience up to 90,000 unaccompanied children fleeing to her from all parts of Central America.1

lampedusa-pope_2611669kI cannot help but ask what hellish scenario would have to exist for someone to send his or her child, alone, on a dangerous journey to a foreign country? War? Famine? Fear of torture? Most of the children at the border are coming from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  Those countries have the first, fourth and fifth highest murder rates (respectively) in the world. Coupled with poverty, corrupt governments and drug cartels, we are no longer talking about a better quality of life. We are talking about survival.

Every day, I pass by a day-laborer site in Arlington. I can feel the discomfort in the pit of my stomach as I stare at the hundreds of Hispanic men begging for work. Not a handout, but work! In his encyclical “On Human Work” Pope John Paul II wrote: “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family” (Laborem Exercens, 16).  I try to imagine a situation where sin, division, and hatred would have forced my own father to stand on a street corner imploring foreigners to hire him so that he could put food on the table for his family.

There is no escaping the fact that we have an immigration system in urgent need of an overhaul. We also have urgent and very legitimate border security needs. But in the meantime, what are we to do with the millions of human beings in our midst?

Arguably, the best response can be found in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,  a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me…”


[1] USCCB, Unaccompanied Migrant Children Resource Kithttp://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/unaccompanied-migrant-children-resource-kit.cfm.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

There is something profound about the sound of the breaking waves of an ocean upon the seashore. I really cannot explain why it is except to say that I sense that if I had “ears to hear,” I would be able to perceive the voice of our Lord.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Silmarillion seemed to infer the same when he wrote:

“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

Sacred Scripture provides a number of references relating to either the voice of the Lord or His coming:

“When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Jer 10:13).

“And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings” (Ez 1:24).

“And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory” (Ez 43:2).

“And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps” (Rev 14:2).

When on vacation in the Outer Banks, my family has a tradition of every beach (2)evening walking up to the pier and listening to the breaking of the waves. We just stand there for about an hour just watching and listening. It is peaceful. It is calming. It is awe-filled. There is power and gentility. There is the swell of a wave that bellows with a mighty roar as it begins to break and then ends in a gentle trickle of the sea foam upon the sand.

What is it about the sound of the ocean that refreshes us and seems to fill us with joy? Why do we quiet down to listen so intently? I think we are built to recognize the voice of the Lord or even its echoes; sometimes in the roar of the mighty waters (Ps 93:4) and at other times in a gentle whisper (1 Kgs 19:12). Maybe it is another way in which the Lord draws us to Himself though creation (CCC 32) in order to open us to the possibility of hearing His voice in the depths of our souls.

We are now in August and fall is quickly approaching. The summer has been busy, and not necessarily with work but play. Are we taking regular time to listen for the voice of He “who has measured the waters in the hallow of his hand…” (Is 40:12)? He desires so much to speak us. Do we have ears to hear? May we answer like Samuel when we perceive His voice in the depths of our hearts: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sm 3:9).

By: Rebecca Ruiz, Staff Spotlight

The other day, I was driving to work when I came upon an accident. One car had rear-ended another car. It’s a common occurrence in our region – too many cars, too little space, too many distractions. What was unique about this accident though, was the response of the police officer at the scene. He gently touched the arm of the woman who had run into the other car and asked, “Are you okay?” His eyes were full of compassion for this woman. It was an unusually gentle and caring response.

Pope Francis Embraces ManIt reminded me of the parable of the rich young man in the Gospel. The young man told Jesus that he has followed all of God’s commandments and wants to know what else he has to do to get into heaven. Jesus, able to see into his heart, knows the man’s fatal flaw was his attachment to money. So what did Our Lord do? Before instructing him about the action he needed to take (to go and sell everything you own and give his money to the poor), Jesus “looked steadily at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21, Jerusalem Bible). Or, in another translation, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (New American Bible).

There is so much to be learned from this one line.

Instead of looking at him and judging him or berating him, Jesus looked at the man and loved him. He didn’t glance down at him with a disapproving look.  He didn’t wag his finger at him.  He just “looked steadily at him and loved him.”

How beautiful is this? God knows everything about us – whether we tell Him or not. He knows the secrets we hold in the depths of our hearts and He loves us steadily – despite all of our flaws.

Every person has flaws, imperfections. Jesus knew it, we know it. But Jesus shows us how to react to the flaws of our brothers and sisters. Love them. Be compassionate with them. Let go of snap judgments. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii GaudiumThe Joy of the Gospel, says, “When we stand before Christ crucified, we see the depth of His love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all people. We realize once more that He wants to make use of us to draw closer to His beloved people. He takes us from the midst of His people and sends us out to His people… How good it is for us to contemplate the closeness He shows to everyone! If He speaks to someone He looks into their eyes with deep love and concern…” (Evangelii Gaudium, 268-269).

I was in a meeting recently where the topic of conversation turned to “evangelization.” There were many heady and academic responses to the question of how one can introduce others to Jesus. The most profound response, however, came from an Afghan refugee who had converted to Christianity from Islam – the price for this conversion being a sentence of death. He rose from his seat and said, “The answer is simple. They will know you by your love.”

Yes, the answer is simple.  Let them know us by our love. 

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.

Rebecca Ruiz holds a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.A. from Tufts University. She serves as Development and Communications Manager at Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services.

By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Given by Bishop Loverde for the Quo Vadis Days Opening Mass at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

Dear brothers and sisters all in Christ Jesus, but in a very special way, the participants in this year’s Quo Vadis Days. My words are particularly addressed to you, dear young brothers.

Imagine this! God is standing before you and saying to you, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” What would you say? What would you do? It is mind-boggling almost! Now you would probably answer me: that could not happen. But it did, to Solomon, a mere youth, a young person like you, and we heard this in today’s first reading. The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night, and God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” And this happened not only once to Solomon, but it has been happening over and over again. And it is happening now — here! God is saying to each of you who are taking part in these Quo Vadis Days, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you!” So what will you answer?

Quo Vadis BishopI hope that you will echo Solomon: “Lord, give me an understanding heart, a heart that is able to distinguish right from wrong.” And why do I hope that you will ask for an understanding heart? Because an understanding heart is open to God’s plan. Yes, God has a plan for each one of us. Inner peace and true fulfillment can only be found when each one of us is in tune with God’s plan, whatever it may be.

“But,” you ask, “what is God’s plan for me? After all, if inner peace and true fulfillment can only be found when each one of us is in tune with God’s plan, whatever that may be, then it is essential that we discover what is His plan, His will for my life.”

In today’s gospel account, Jesus is teaching us through story — telling, that is, He is using situations familiar to his audience in order to teach a lesson; this type of story — telling is called a parable. Every parable which Jesus uses has a very important point or lesson for us to learn.

As we just heard, Jesus uses two parables. The first is about a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again. Out of joy, he sells all that he has so that he can buy that field and possess the buried treasure. The second parable is about a merchant who is searching for fine pearls and when he finds one pearl of great price, sells all that he has to purchase that pearl.

In the first parable, the person is going about his daily business. He is working, and in this situation, he is digging the earth. As he digs, he suddenly discovers a buried treasure. So, he goes off to sell all he has so he can buy that field and possess that treasure himself. In the second parable, the merchant is actively searching for pearls of the highest quality. When he finds one pearl that is exceedingly beautiful, he too sells all he has so he can purchase that one precious pearl.

Notice that while treasure was discovered unexpectedly as the person was doing the work assigned to him, the merchant was actively searching for the pearls of great price. Notice that in each situation, when the treasure was discovered and the pearl was found, the person sold all he had to possess his discovery.

Now we need to apply to ourselves the lessons which Jesus is teaching us through these two parables. After all, Jesus is speaking in a special way to each of you as you begin these Quo Vadis Days.

The buried treasure or the pearl of great price — choose either one — is the symbol of the plan God has for each one of us — for each one of you! But God’s plan will not just suddenly appear, like the result of pressing an app on your cell phone. As you do the ordinary things in life each day, you must be open to discovering God’s plan when at some specific moment, His plan will begin to become clearer to you; you will begin to discern more His will for you. In other words, each day, you will need to be open to God’s will as it becomes known to you. You must become like Solomon, asking only for an understanding heart, a heart open to discover that buried treasure, a heart open to purchase the pearl of great price, because, remember: the treasure, the pearl, is really God’s plan for your life.

So, discovering God’s plan for you, His will, is not something passive, like lying around waiting for it to somehow almost magically appear. No, discovering God’s plan for you, His will, is something very active. You must be actively engaged. How? By learning how to be in personal contact with Jesus, Who so loves you, by developing and deepening a really personal relationship with Him within the Community of His Disciples, the Church. You must also be actively engaged by listening to your heart, not your feelings, to begin to discern what really attracts you in terms of your future adult life. You must also be actively engaged by coming to understand the basic ways in which you — and I — live out our Baptismal consecration. At Baptism, each one of us was set apart — consecrated — for God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that we can share in their union of love, in their life by imitating and following Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came to be our Lord and Savior. In a word, God’s plan for each one of us is fundamentally to be like Jesus.

Saint Paul reminds us of this in the second reading today. “We know that all things work for good, for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Yes, God has chosen each one of us in advance, predestined us, to be conformed to the image of His Son, that is, to be like Jesus. So, first of all, each one of us is called to learn Jesus Christ, that is, to know Him as a person, as our Friend, our Companion, our Savior, our Lord. And this is what we mean when we say God calls us to live out our Baptismal consecration. But God’s plan for each of us becomes more specific and concrete as we grow from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. He wants us to be like Jesus in a specific or particular way: by living out the particular or individual vocation He wills for us.

So then, He wants us to be like Jesus in being a priest, or to be like Jesus in being a consecrated person as a religious brother or religious sister, or to be like Jesus in being married as a husband and father. There are wives and mothers among us, so He wants them to be like Jesus in being a wife and mother. He wants us to be like Jesus in being a single person pledged to chaste living for the sake of God’s Kingdom, or to be like Jesus in being a permanent deacon while also being married or unmarried. So then, we each have a fundamental or primary vocation to be like Jesus, as the faithful follower, disciple and friend. And we also each have a specific or individual calling or vocation to be like Jesus as a priest or a religious brother or religious sister, or a husband and father, or a wife and mother for those among us this afternoon, or a single person living chastely for the sake of God’s kingdom, or a permanent deacon.

Dear participants, in these Quo Vadis Days, learn more how to be with Jesus through daily prayer, and the reception of the sacraments, especially Penance and the Holy Eucharist. Learn more how to listen to your heart and how to seek the good advice of others as you discern what your heart is saying. Learn more how to never cease seeking God’s plan for you specifically, in your adult life. But above all, learn more how to discover the greatest treasure, the best pearl, that is, learn how to love Jesus Christ, to be with Him, to imitate and to follow Him all life long! “Quo Vadis,” I ask. I hear your answer: “To find and to be with Jesus my Lord!”

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

Sometimes saying that everything happens for a reason, that prayer solves it all and that dryness, discernmentdoubt and despair are normal prayer periods to experience sounds a bit jaded. We often have situations that don’t merit what we may interpret as masking or an explain-away. In those situations in particular, we all need to have faith in the cross and Resurrection. Consider the thoughts of “Footprints in the Sand” in these toughest of times:

image

Carry me, my Lord, my God.

Carry me in times of trouble.

Carry me in times of pain.

Carry me so that I know that nothing that I do is in vain.

Amen.

This is an addendum to Natalie’s mini-series on prayer in drynessdoubt 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.

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