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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

By: Natalie Plumb

Are you unsure about your circumstances? Do you crave change? Do you have a decision to make? Are you afraid of the consequences of that decision? Are you relaying in your head constantly what to say or do?

I could be highly unhelpful and list off the key ideas we often throw around as Christians: discernment, God’s​​ will, my will, fate, free will, coincidence, on and on…

Slomo skating San DiegoI think the mistake we often make as Christians is assuming that God’s will is going to be so obvious to us at one point that we won’t have to make a decision. That’s what we want to believe, right? We don’t want to have to do the dirty work of unbalancing two equally favorable opportunities. We don’t want to have regrets or ask ourselves “what if” three months later. Most of all, we don’t want to be “wrong.”

That last part is so interesting to me. “Wrong” — Can you be wrong? If both opportunities you are choosing from are equally just and good, how could either of them be wrong?

We suffer, by our human nature, from this fear of being incorrect. We want to be perfect. We desire happiness so much that we are willing to sacrifice it now, via worry, stress, emotional congestion and fear, in order to make sure that we are guaranteed happiness later.

When we talk about discernment, and waiting for God to show us His will, I think we often use the period of waiting as a safety net.

“So is this it? Are you staying? Is this ministry your calling?”

“I don’t know. I’m waiting for God to tell me.”

Let me tell you: You could be waiting forever. Sometimes God just wants us to jump and take a leap of faith on the decisions we make even though we have no idea what the future holds. And if you trust in an omnipotent and omniscient God of justice, who speaks of peace, joy and hope, why be afraid? Why do we not trust in Him? Security is not necessary. Having all the answers is highly unnecessary. That’s true in marriage, right? Why wouldn’t it be true in other life-changing decisions?

After you’ve ascertained that you are striving for holiness in your heart, and either action you take would reflect that, there are other important questions to ask yourself. While waiting inertly for God to reveal His will to you, opportunities may pass you by. God doesn’t always explicitly tell us what to do. He often speaks in subtler ways, more often than not through his disciples. God prefers you to freely follow His will, not be told to do so “because He said so.” In those times, ask yourself:

Am I happy? Moreover: Am I joyful?

Am I genuine and honest about my situation, and looking for ways to further good?

Am I full of hope or despair?

Do I love my life, or strive to live someone else’s?

The questions could go on. Ask yourself…Do you love what you do? If not, go do what you love.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xn87-mcnoVc

I’m not saying follow Slomo’s example in every way. But isn’t what he did courageous? Doesn’t God want us to take leaps of faith in similar ways, and just trust Him?

Love what you do. If you don’t, go do what you love.

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: 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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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:

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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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By: Kathleen Yacharn

The past few weeks have been tragic for the whole world, with three terrible plane crashes in the Ukraine, Mali, and Taiwan, deadly clashes in Gaza, and terrorist threats targeting Norway. What can we, as human beings, say or do in the face of this evil? Many who see these events point to them as a sign that there can be no loving God since He could never allow these things to take place.

As believers, we know that God can and will make all things for the Good, because His plan is the ultimate good. We know that despite tragedy, pain, and suffering, there is the promise of His Presence, love, and Heaven to lift us out of the darkness in this world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us:

“God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it…” (CCC, 311)

and again:

“In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures…” (CCC, 312)

and again, in Scripture:

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God’” (Rm 8:28).

When times like these come, it is hard to know what to say or do, especially when so many are affected. Dr. Peter Kreeft and others have explained the problem of evil much better than I could hope to. But I know what it’s like to doubt. In the past, I’ve questioned God’s plan for me, and the world. Evil and pain and sin exist, and as long as they do, it will be hard to see the hand of God guiding all things with His love.

pope francis meriamBut we can’t allow our faith to get sidetracked by doubt. In the end, faith is a choice we make in our hearts to simply believe without proof, without signs, without anything except trust in the Lord, in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. It’s difficult, it’s miraculous, it’s a gift, and it is our faith.

Those who have faith will see tragedy and suffering differently. They will see a miracle in the woman who crawled from the wreckage of a plane. They will see God’s hand in saving a woman sentenced to death for professing her faith Him. They will see a priest who died trying to fend off a burglar and believe that he is now in the company of Saints in Heaven.

During these times of doubt, tragedy, and pain, we have to trust even more in the Lord’s goodness and remember that He is our creator, He knows all, sees all, and can make good out of all things.

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