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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.

Amen

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.

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By: Mark Herrmann, Staff Spotlight

Practicing law in Virginia, in the course of mundane legal research, one occasionally runs across a historical gem. Reprinted below, from the 1855 case of Commonwealth v. Cronin (2 Va. Cir. 488), is the statement read into the court record by a Richmond priest, Fr. John Theeling, explaining his refusal to testify about matters disclosed to him in the confession of a dying woman:

Confessional“It is due to this honorable Court to state briefly my reasons for not answering the question proposed by the Counsel for the defense and to hesitate to do so, would argue a contempt for the majesty of the law and the dignity of this Court, the dispenser of the law.  Were I asked any question which I could answer from knowledge obtained in my civil capacity or as a private individual and citizen, I should not for a moment hesitate, nay more, I would consider it my duty, to lay before this honorable Court all the evidence I was in possession of, being mindful of the precept of the apostle, ‘Let every soul be subject to higher powers, for there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God; therefore he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation,’ Rom. 13, chap. 1 and 2, v.  But if required to answer any question in the quality of a Catholic Minister of the sacrament of penance, when I believe God himself has imposed an inviolable and eternal secrecy, I am bound to be silent, although instant death were to be the penalty of my refusal.  The question proposed by the counsel for the defense affects me in the latter capacity and hence I must decline to answer it.  Whilst in so doing, I must respectfully disclaim any intention of contempt or disrespect directly or indirectly to this honorable Court.  Is a Catholic priest ever justified under any circumstances in revealing the secrets of the sacramental confession?  I answer, No. That no power on earth civil or ecclesiastical, spiritual or temporal can ever, under any circumstances, dispense with this perpetual obligation of secrecy, so that were pope Pius the IX in this Court, and if I can suppose for a moment, he should so far abuse his sacred authority and in the plenitude of that authority, as my first spiritual superior on earth, should request, admonish and command me to answer the question proposed, my answer would be to him what it was to the prisoner’s counsel.

“I can say nothing about the matter.  The law which prohibits me from revealing what I learn in the sacramental confession, Catholics believe to be divine and emanates from our Lord himself.  It is a tenet of the Catholic Church, that Christ instituted seven sacraments, neither more nor less. Con. Florent. in Decret’s ad Armenos. Con. Trident., Sess. 7, Can 1.

“It is also an article of Catholic faith that penance is one of those sacraments instituted by Christ for the remission of sins committed after baptism. Con. Trident., Sess. 14, Can. 1.

“And that sacramental confession forms an essential and component part of this sacrament.  Further, that the obligation of secrecy is especially connected with the divine institution of confession.  For if it would be lawful to a catholic priest in any case to reveal what was certified to him in confession, the divine precept of confession would become merely nugatory, and there is no person who would be willing to disclose to a priest an occult sin, which could be made public and blacken his fair name.  Such a revelation, if permitted, would be destructive of the divine precept of confession.

“But as we cannot suppose that Christ, the eternal Wisdom of the eternal Father, would pull down with one hand what he had erected with the other, and as we Catholics believe he instituted sacramental confession; and for the practice of confession, secrecy is absolutely necessary, we conclude that inviolable secrecy is commanded by our Lord in the obligation of confessing our sins.  If then, I were so forgetful of the solemn obligations not arising simply from ecclesiastical but from the divine law, not from man but directly from God – as to answer the question proposed, I should be forever degraded, rendered infamous in the eye of the Catholic church, shunned by every Catholic, and I believe by every honorable man; no matter how far his religious opinions and mine might differ.  Shunned and rendered infamous as a sacrilegious wretch, who had trampled on his most holy and solemn obligations and violated the sacred laws of nature, of his God and of man.  I would be forever deposed from the sacred ministry and where the Canon law forms part of the civil law, be condemned to perpetual imprisonment in a monastery, there to repent during my life the horrid crime I would have committed. 4 Con. Lateran., Can. 21.  But what is still more than all, I would violate the dictates of my conscience, that stubborn monitor whose voice would forever whisper to my soul black and dire sacrilege.  I might endeavor to smother its cry, but all my attempts would only add strength to its terrible reproaches and warnings.  You have committed sacrilege of the deepest dye – sacrilege to be punished forever, by the eternal vengeance of a just and offended Deity.  I have endeavored thus to state my reasons as clearly as I could for not answering the question proposed.  I thank this honorable Court for the kind and patient hearing which it has extended to me.  Whatever may be its decision, I shall receive it with respect.”

The judge in the case, the Hon. John A. Meredith, ruled that Father Theeling did not have to answer the question.

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.

Mark Herrmann is the Chancellor and General Counsel of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.

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By: Natalie Plumb

I hesitate to call anything “normal.” But some things simply are. We are all different, but we are all sinners. We are all unique Children of God, but we all fall. The same is true with prayer.

Bulleted lists and “three simple steps” are corny, but I think this most important of building blocks to our faith merits a “formula of difficulties” if what you need is a jump start, a pick-me-up from the rut of dryness, doubt or discernment.

360_mother_teresa_0820Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a fantastic set of prayer talks led by seminarian Matthew Fish at Epiphany Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Washington. From those talks, I took a lot. From it, in coming weeks, what I hope to share with you most is a particular set of periods we all go through in prayer. I’ll seek to break them down, and apply them to my life (which shouldn’t prove too difficult). This will be as much a relieving exercise for me as it is vulnerable. Hopefully through that, it will be revealing to you in your prayer life, giving you relief if you are struggling, and hope if you are on the brink of despair.

So here goes…

I quite possibly never recovered fully from my “honeymoon with God.” I used to kneel every day in front of my bedroom window, and just talk to my Savior. I had a true relationship with Him. I never missed a night in front of that window, looking up at the sky, and for the star that I just knew was winking at me.

Distractions of the world consumed me starting sometime in high school, and they became stronger in college. My prayer life began to dwindle because I “wasn’t feeling anything.” I started to crave the consolation of prayer desperately. And in a lot of ways I still do.

Prayer can make us feel good. Prayer can give us sensations of euphoria. It can give us satisfaction. Essentially what we begin to fall in love with after a while, until God inserts change, is “what we want” out of prayer (read: prayer is not a substitute for happy gas), even without giving us “what we need.” So that’s when God begins to pull away. He says, Come closer, my Child.

In reality, dryness in prayer is a call for you to deeper holiness, and deeper sacrifice of time, thought, body, and mind.

If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation…basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch.

When life has you on your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, and the feedback you think you “need,” remember that God knows exactly what and how much you actually need, and abandon yourself to His Divine Providence. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation in the fact that you’ve hit a bump in the road – basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch. So don’t give up. Pray through the storm.

Here’s a short and sweet example of a prayer I might say (often enough), in times when I’m dry, and I feel as if I’m receiving little consolation and feedback from my Father:

Dearest Jesus,

You hold my heart. You have it close to You. I want to proclaim Your name to all the earth. But my lips are dry. My heart feels stale. My body aches for some sort of sign that I am still being held by You.

I will pray through this. I cannot fail. You are Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

When I am down, I am in no better position than to pray. I need periods of dryness so that I can see that consolations are only Yours to give.

Help me to face this period of dryness with the humility and the fierce strength of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Amen.

In coming weeks, I’ll discuss doubt in prayer and discernment. Mother Teresa, pray for us!

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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By: Natalie Plumb

We celebrated a tremendous victory on Monday when the Supreme Court decided in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects closely held, private for-profit corporations from being forced to comply with the HHS mandate under Obamacare. The mandate would force these corporations to provide insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs and devices, regardless of the owners’ religious conscience, and despite their faith that forbids complicity in abortion. For cogent Catholic responses to this, read this articlethis article, this article and this article.

HobbyLobby

I must not be the first to notice that, in the midst of this grand decision, we are also in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, “a time when our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power — St. Thomas More, the Patron of the Diocese of Arlington, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.”

Today, on July 4, we celebrate our Independence Day. That means freedom. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of religion. As the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thank you, Supreme Court, for upholding those roots and those rights. But, as Bishop Loverde stressed in his column, never stop praying; never quit fighting! The battle has only just begun.

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By: Natalie Plumb

On Hallmark Cards, Inc., in this day and age, as a recent Washington Post piece puts it, “Dad will be portrayed as a farting, beer-obsessed, tool-challenged buffoon who would rather hog the TV remote, go fishing or play golf than be with the kids.”

Dad can’t have sunk that low, but that is certainly the stereotype. Such stereotypes seem to have become the reason for a lot of new media actually promoting fatherhood.

I was listening to NPR the other night, and Paul Raeburn came on to talk about his new book, “Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked.” My first thoughts were that maybe, just maybe the media would allow someone to admit that a father, complementary to a mother, plays a vital role when it comes to raising a child.

At first, I was highly pleased. Raeburn claimed that “fathers and mothers do different things…I don’t think there’s any question about that.” Raeburn mentioned examples — a father’s involvement with his daughter can lead to a reduced risk of early puberty: “The problem with early puberty is that’s also linked to higher risk of risky sexual behavior, higher likelihood…of teenage pregnancy; it just can put daughters on a bad road.”

Raeburn also went on to say that the father is so important that a single mother should find a father figure for her child, whether that be a cousin, a brother, a neighbor or a close friend.

But then, inevitably, the conversation shifted.

After a handful of people had called in to give stories about how their fathers had positively impacted their lives, Raeburn tangentially remarked that gay couples can adapt to the roles of father and mother, and that, therefore, “Those kids do just fine.”

Huh? Isn’t that completely contradictory? What was the whole point of anything else you said in the podcast, Raeburn?: Oh, sure, men and women play vastly different roles that are vital to raising healthy and happy children, but – because I’m too afraid to admit otherwise for fear of not being P.C. – yes, sure, gay couples can do the same thing (sort of).

Let’s say — disregarding any evidence to the contrary — that those children do do “just fine.” Is “okay” truly the model we want to promote? Now, I know the answer to that. So do the many protesters who marched on the National Mall today to stand for traditional marriage. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington had a pretty good showing of Chancery staff and even a few of our seminarians! Click on the photo below to see the full album.

Photo Jun 19, 12 21 48 PM

Click to see a full photo album!

Do fathers matter? The question sounds absurd. Of course they do. Just as family is the building block of society, so are man and woman – together – the building blocks of family. We have flourished this way for centuries. We have filled the earth. Let’s not regress by denying that men and women are biologically set apart to be with one another, and that no other combination is possible. To claim that any distortion of the union of a man and a woman is just, right or even equal is not borne out by common sense, logic or reality.

Fathers are imperative. My father taught me to dress like it’s always winter (insert guffaw). He taught me to go on dates in public places. My father showed me how to use my computer. He taught me how to say no and how to stand up for myself. My father, too, was the tall guy in the back at every one of my ballet recitals.

10447101_10106629738737314_2887896166518955492_nThe role my father played in my life is priceless. He cannot be summed up in those few sentences. What he did is unique. He did things for me that my mom was not equipped to do. He is, just as is my mom, irreplaceable. (Dad, consider this a second “Happy Father’s Day!”)

Tell your positive story. No set of parents is perfect, but each parent gives very unique – female and male – contributions to the raising of their children. Please comment below with your stories. How did your dad change your life? How did your mom influence the way you live? How did having both present in your life make you a better person? Silence on this topic changes nothing. Simply by telling your story to the world, you can change it, too.

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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By: Erin Kisley

When I got to work on Monday morning, like many of you, I flipped the page of my calendar from May to June. Pausing, I realized: It’s June. That means that by the end of this month (God willing), I will have not only a new last name, but a new vocation and path to Heaven! Talk about a kick-start to your week!

That said, instead of filling you in on my to-do list (RSVP’s and centerpieces do not erin and joe 6make for good blogging material), I encourage you to check out Janet Sahm’s recent article for Verily Magazine.

Married? Engaged? Single? All will benefit from Janet’s honest take on engagement rings, expectations and checking our priorities.

By: Janet Sahm, for Verily Magazine

Engagement rings. I thought of myself as beyond the whole hoopla of unreal expectations of sparkly diamonds—I know the whole story of the 1938 DeBeers marketing campaign. I am above this!

I was wrong.

I got engaged a month ago, on a perfect Sunday afternoon, at 3:33 p.m. to be exact. I remember waking up that morning without an alarm clock, maybe feminine intuition and adrenaline was coursing through my veins; I just felt he was going to ask me that day.

As we contentedly meandered throughout a lazy afternoon, he led me to one of our favorite spots; a chapel. As we got up to leave, he nervously took my hand, knelt down, and asked me to marry him, all in one quick and joyful movement. I was a bundle of emotions and nervously rolled my eyes as if to say “Of course!” I laughed and said yes.

Still holding my hand he bounded up and wrapped me in a big hug. It was at that moment I was confused. . . . Aren’t we missing something—a ring, perhaps?

After some time, he then pulled a wool string from his pocket (the string had significant meaning in his life) and tied it around my ring finger saying, somewhat apologetically, “Well, sweetheart, this is the first of a series of rings.”

What? My mind raced. Did something happen to the real one? Did it not come in on time? What’s wrong? Why is this happening? I love this man, but I didn’t want a “series”—I just wanted the one.

My curiosity soon became an obsession. I wanted to know what was going on and where the real ring was. Then came an ocean of guilt. How could I let myself feel even the slightest bit down when the man of my dreams proclaimed his love and desire to spend the rest of his life with me?

All this time I had thought I was above it, even having a romantic sense about engagements free of the material trappings of today. I grew up hearing the love story of my parents—my dad didn’t even have a ring for my mother—and how they just stayed up late one night, talking on a picnic bench until the wee hours of the morning and decided to get married.

And  yet, it’s hard to escape the swarm of projected engagement bliss and expectation with Facebook feeds flooded with selfless and Instagram shots of—forgive me for using the phrase—“the rock” and Pinterest boards populated with two-plus carat designs as “wish list” baubles. More and more I hear of men taking out loans, setting up two-year payment plans to pay off the object of their beloved’s desires.

Not to mention what seems like every movie or darn Bachelor series ever produced sets the canon that every time a man bends down on one knee, the setting sun should softly glow with a trio of strings playing nearby.

How in the world has this become the norm? If anything, I have grown in sympathy for the men who feel the pressure to live up to arbitrary standards set by a moneymaking industry.

It seems I’m not alone in the struggle against engagement expectations. Even being madly in love and willing the good of my fiancé, I wasn’t exempt from the effect of being constantly bombarded by subliminal messages of perfection. In the days following my engagement, everyone asked to see the ring (which, I found, tends to be the first or second question following the announcement) and I’d flash the brown string tied around my finger, later a plain silver band, and it was a sight to see their faces slightly fall in confusion.

I think part of my struggle was that, months prior, my now fiancé suggested to “look around for settings you like.” That’s dangerous for any woman to hear. Knowing THE question will be popped in the near future makes it seem like eternity until it happens; it would take a stronger woman than I to avoid incessantly thinking, “Maybe it’s this weekend, maybe it’s tomorrow,” and so on.

The engagement phenomenon is a funny balancing act; wanting the spontaneous, romantic element of a surprise proposal, while simultaneously hoping the ring you’re going to wear everyday for the rest of your life reflects your personality and taste, hence the shopping around for what you like. There’s nothing wrong with wanting something beautiful (and sparkly!) but this idea of having a “right” to our dream ring, especially if it’s a financial strain for your love, has gotten out of hand.

Whether you go shopping for rings together, share what styles you like, or simply hope he’s telepathic, there’s always some expectation that comes along with the proposal. A good rule of thumb is to openly communicate—really just plan ol’ relationship 101.

But, regarding the unrealistic and overwhelming expectations of an engagement ring, it’s a good opportunity to check your priorities. Take a step back and honestly look at yourself; what’s really important to you in a committed, lifelong relationship. Sure, you’re going to wear this symbol of committed love the rest of your life. But, you’re not marrying the ring. You’re marrying him.

(Reprinted with permission from Verily.)

This column first appeared in Verily Magazine. View it here.

This is the sixteenth installment of Erin’s weekly Wednesday series on marriage preparation and its inherent struggles. An engaged woman at the humble age of 26, Erin hopes her experience will encourage and teach. Her final posts will culminate in the event that marks the purpose of it all—taking her wedding vows and tying the knot on June 27, 2014.

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By: Erin Kisley

I won’t lie; I am a sucker for sentiment. I’m not quite ready for my debut on “Hoarders,” but I have saved and pressed a flower from every bouquet Joe has ever given to me along with every card — even the generic Christmas card from my car mechanic — for several years. So, last night as I packed the contents of my room in preparation for my move into our new apartment, I made an impulsive — albeit painful — decision to dispose of the majority of my cards, but not before rereading every last one.

techcouplesGazing through the cards and keepsakes, I was reminded of the inside jokes, nicknames and friendships I amassed over the years. The messages that filled these cards ranged from humor to encouragement to comfort. But all had one characteristic in common: They were from one person to another. They weren’t written on my Facebook wall or tagged in a post; they were delicate and intimate and meant only for my eyes.

That said, as I peruse my Facebook newsfeed, I can’t help put cringe and recoil at posts — especially those of married couples. Marriage is sacramental self-gift; a guarded relationship, not a competition or tell-all bestseller.

So, how can we reclaim marital intimacy? Where do we start?

#1 Re-posting your wedding photos every anniversary
I’m sure it’s a good feeling to have 42 likes and 12 comments wishing you a happy two year anniversary and telling you how beautiful you looked. I’m not married (yet!), but shouldn’t this be a celebration between two people… not 783?

#2 Posting too many photos of your spouse
Weekend trips and Saturday morning breakfasts should be quiet, relaxing moments. Why would you interrupt them to snap a selfie and post it? We might joke that, “If it isn’t on Facebook, it didn’t happen.” But, it’s a slippery slide, my friends!

#3 Deciding on date night and weekend plans via wall post
Not only is this a security concern (i.e. you’re just asking to get robbed), but if you’re going to use Facebook to communicate (not advised), please — for your own sake — take advantage of the message function.

#4 Gushing about your spouse in a post
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re proud of your spouse, and that they are a great cook and do so many sweet things for you, but maybe this is something you should tell them in person — rather than make a group announcement. We know you love each other. You should. You’re married.

I’m not claiming expert status, but I am (praise God) well-formed enough to recognize these subtle (but toxic) attacks on the intimacy of marriage and family.

As Catholics we are called to use social media to catechize and evangelize. Our thoughts, words and actions (posts included) should point others to Christ and invite them into an intimate life with Him… not our spouses, anniversaries and breakfast casseroles.

This is the fourteenth installment of Erin’s weekly Wednesday series on marriage preparation and its inherent struggles. An engaged woman at the humble age of 26, Erin hopes her experience will encourage and teach. Her final posts will culminate in the event that marks the purpose of it all—taking her wedding vows and tying the knot on June 27, 2014.

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