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By: Natalie Plumb

As a cradle Catholic, I did everything right. In grade school, I aced my classes, did extracurricular activities and was often called “Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”

I was an average child. Other than my family’s love for me, nothing about me seemed to be extraordinary, unique or even abnormal.

In fact, I searched for my identity in my friends. I was easily bossed around and did everything my best friend at the time told me to do. I would never speak up for myself. One year it got so bad that my teacher purposefully separated me from that friend so that I could find my own voice.

It didn’t work. We were back in the same class together the followingEUCHARIST SUSTAINS BELIEVERS, SAYS POPE JOHN PAUL II year. She convinced me of one thing after the other: There are ghosts on the metro if you look out of the glass when you’re in the tunnels; we won’t get in trouble if we sneak into the bamboo forest; curfew only applies to kids younger than us. On and on.

I even ate sand once because she told me to! Yes! This was a terrible idea because the gritty taste in my mouth would neither wash in or out. It kind of just stayed on my tongue. Sorry, off topic…

I think after the grasping-for-identity experiences like this that filled my life, God started shouting at me to pay attention.

At age 14, God the Father desired for me to be a true Child of God. And that meant change. That meant He wanted me to fill my identity with Him.

Children of God are unique. Children of God are odd. They fulfill the purpose God paved for them. Stretching the boundaries, defying the odds…Children of God are the difference that is good. Fulfilling a unique purpose is our calling. None of us is the same.

Thus, when Christ began entering my heart, when I truly began embracing His presence inside of me, I’ll admit it: The Eucharist rocked my world.

The Eucharist rocked my world.

I was finally different. I finally had a light literally shining in me that gave me meaning and purpose – meaning and purpose that came from my Father, through the Son.

jesus_communionFor an entire summer, I spent every day going to Mass (with the exception of Saturdays). At first, I was only going because my Sunday school teacher was nice and encouraged me to go. I went, but only to please her. But day after day of attending Mass and, after that, praying the rosary with lovely lay men and women (who seemed to me, as a young girl, to never, ever miss a day of Mass or the rosary, the holy witnesses that they are), God inched His way into my heart. And He stayed there.

Unless I go to Daily Mass and receive Him, the hole in my heart that the world digs out every once in a while begins to open again. Because the days I miss Daily Mass are usually the weeks when my attention span dwindles during Sunday’s Mass.

Today, Holy Thursday, fill your heart with Him. Try to do it with presence. He will fill you to the brim.

One summer, I made a sign that I later hung on my wall to remind me of the Truth that I was experiencing physically, emotionally and spiritually. It read:

In the world: Unfulfilled. In Christ: Overflowing.

That said, Holy Thursday is the most complex and profound of all religious observances, saving only the Easter Vigil. It celebrates the institution — by Christ himself — of the Eucharist and of the priesthood.

Today, then, it is only appropriate that we go forth to receive this most profound of Sacraments: the Eucharist. The Host. The Body of Christ. His Flesh and Blood.

May today we pray:

Make my heart like unto thine.

Christ offers Himself to be a wafer, a piece of bread, a simple host…all so that we might receive Him.

In fact, Christ offers Himself to us so that we might receive each other. Each of us, uniquely and specifically, fulfills a divine role in this (potential) road to Heaven called life. Likewise, each of us plays that part as a part of the Body of Christ. His fingers, His hands, His heart, His eyelashes…You name it.

Some parts – some people in your life – feel unnecessary. But they are. In fact, each and every second, your interaction with them, and their interaction with you, is moving each of you either closer to, or farther from, the gates of Heaven.

Next week, I’ll expand on this idea of the Body of Christ, and how each and every part is integral in making us, as C.S. Lewis so delicately puts it in his The Weight of Glory: “…a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

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: Sr. Clare Hunter

Have you ever wondered why the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week don’t get a special name? I have. We have quite the entrance on Passion (Palm) Sunday by publicly processing, singing and carrying palms. We read the very long Gospel and wince as we shout out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” After the celebration of an intense liturgy, it feels like we are just getting started, and then we have to stop for three days, only to rev up again for the big line up of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and finally Easter Sunday.

Holy_Week

For many years, my Community, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, have put a special spiritual focus on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. By looking at the readings and the Gospels and meditating on the life of Christ as He anticipates His passion, we take each day and focus on a particular mystery to help us prepare for the Triduum.

Monday is a day of extravagance. “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn 12:3). Mary Magdalene gives all to Jesus, not merely the expensive oil, but her very self. She uses her hands and hair to anoint Him, affecting each person present. This extravagant gesture of her love for Jesus is merely an imitation of His extravagant offering of Himself.  We too are called to imitate Christ in offering our lives to the Father. We are challenged on the Monday of Holy Week to look at our own acts of generosity and pouring out of self. Are we giving our best to serve God and others? Are we grateful and receptive to the extravagant love of God and others?

“So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’” (Jn 13:27). On Tuesday, we ponder the reality of what must be completed in order for the chain of events to transpire for our redemption. Jesus Christ knows what must be done in order to declare: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn 13:31). This day may offer us an opportunity to put into order those obstacles which might be hindering our openness to the graces of Holy Week, or to tasks that need to be completed to free us to pray and be present to the liturgies of the Triduum. This might be the day we stop procrastinating and decide to go to confession, forgive others or make a discernment that we have been avoiding.

Mary-Washes-Jesus-s-Feet-jesus-11078625-635-450Wednesday’s reading from Isaiah speaks of the Man who has been anointed to be a voice for God, will be abused, yet with the Father’s help, will complete the mission of redemption. Jesus tells the disciples: “My appointed time draws near,” as He orders the Passover meal. As Jesus instructs his disciples, and confronts Judas, there is a sense that Christ has embraced His mission. He knows that He alone can redeem man in accordance with the Father’s Will. Wednesday of Holy Week is a perfect day to spend time reflecting on our own God-given mission. We share solidarity with Jesus in the joys, fears and determination that accompany embracing our personal cross. This is a day of “aloneness” before the Father. We are preparing to say: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

I am so grateful that my Community has looked to these “unnamed” days as a way to enter into a deeper understanding and celebration of Holy Week. The sequence of the week is a natural progression in preparing our minds and hearts for the sacred Triduum. On Passion Sunday, we publically show that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the King and Son of God, who exemplifies the Father’s extravagant love. How fitting to have the next day to ponder this mystery. We instinctually would want to respond to that love and know the compulsion to complete the tasks and events which will set in motion an adequate response. Quickly, we become aware that we alone, with the help of the Father, must complete this act of love. It is with this in mind that we enter into the Triduum, reflecting on the cost of our redemption and the profundity of Christ’s body and blood freely given to us in the Eucharist. Blessings on this sacred week.

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By: Natalie Plumb

For once, a Hollywood star finally got it all right. With lyrics that claim:

I get to be the other half of you

…This is certainly nothing like a Rihanna or Miley Cyrus love song.

It’s pretty much a wedding vow.

When I first heard it pop on the radio while driving, I had to do a double-take. I recognized Sara Bareilles’ voice, but it seemed odd that a song so profound, and with lyrics so true to the definition of authentic love, would be playing on just any ol’ station (that doesn’t cater its broadcasts to family-friendly values, or things of the sort).

In marriage, a couple becomes one flesh. …Emotionally, financially, spiritually, intellectually, and a whole bunch of more -ally words. The couple becomes one. Hence, I get to be the other half of you. I get to be part of you. We get to become one flesh. All of this…in a pop song?

But there it was on 94.7 FM (which is all about “Today’s best hits, without the rap”). And blasting because I turned the volume way up.

This truly is a lifelong love letter that bears an uncanny resemblance to faithful prose a young groom might write to his sweetheart bride (or vice versa).

People are already claiming “I Choose You” for their walk-down-the-aisle. They are already ecstatic about what the lyrics in this song mean.

If love is like this, then who can stop it? If love truly means I will become yours and you will become mine, as Chris Tomlin proclaims, too, in his Our Godthen who could ever stop us?

If love really means…

Let the bough break, let it come down crashing
Let the sun fade out to a dark sky
I can’t say I’d even notice it was absent

…because the person you love is overwhelming any cares you might have in this world, then perhaps there is some greater love out there for each of us. Maybe what pop culture calls love’s illusion isn’t an illusion at all.

Maybe the longing in our hearts for this kind of love — maybe every female’s, and even male’s, attraction to — this kind of song is because there is something written on our hearts that calls us to something more. …To a Greater Love. …To a love that only a lifelong love song – an eternity, in fact, with Him – could fulfill.

The waiting sacrifice it talks about (And as long as it takes…I will prove my love to you) is unmistakably similar to the tone Christ takes with us as He approaches us daily, knocking at each of our doors.

I’ll unfold before you

In fact, He would rather die on a cross than spend eternity without you.

I could live by the light in your eyes

We all have doubt at one time or another in our hearts that love — that God — can change anything for us.

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me you could not come true
Just love’s illusion

But the transition that takes place after this love is found is — just like that of two lovers joined in the Sacrament of Matrimony, or in the taking of Holy Vows with the Spouse of Christ — is life-altering.

But then you found me and everything changed
And I believe in something again

Not only that, but following this transition, the spouse desires solely to shout their union to the nations.

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
I choose you

Let your spouse, and allow Christ, to be the other half of you.

Lyrics to “I Choose You” in full:

Let the bough break, let it come down crashing
Let the sun fade out to a dark sky
I can’t say I’d even notice it was absent
Cause I could live by the light in your eyes

I’ll unfold before you
What I’ve strung together
The very first words
Of a lifelong love letter

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
(Yeah)

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me you could not come true
Just love’s illusion
But then you found me and everything changed
And I believe in something again

My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you

We are not perfect
We’ll learn from our mistakes
And as long as it takes
I will prove my love to you

I am not scared of the elements
I am under-prepared, but I am willing
And even better
I get to be the other half of you

Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you
I choose you

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

You know the old adage, “You can’t trust everything you see on TV”? Well, let me be the first to say, this also applies to Google Image.

erin and joe 3

Between meetings with our priest and photographer and three hours spent registering for gifts at Bed, Bath & Beyond (I love to shop, but even that was too intense for me); something was bound to fall through the cracks.

Unfortunately, that something was rather crucial to our wedding reception: the venue. I found a good deal online (first mistake), mulled it over for about five hours with Joe and put down a deposit the following day. We used Google Image, viewed the three decipherable photos (should’ve been our second clue) and booked it. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Fast forward to last Sunday, about four weeks later: Our plan was to visit the venue, take photos, pat ourselves on the back and say: “Another thing off our list. Man, we’re good.” We were wrong.

When we strolled into the main ballroom, Joe’s eyes met mine and for a brief moment, I knew exactly what he was thinking. (Note: If your carefree, laid-back fiancé looks panicked; you know it’s not good.) Somewhere in my heart, I could overlook the dirty floors and cobwebs, but I could not imagine asking our guests to drive (what would be) an hour in Friday rush hour traffic only to be packed in like sardines.

After breaking (down) like Humpty Dumpty and putting myself back together again, I sat down at the living room table sending emails to venues (think that scene from Bride Wars where Emma furiously types her save the dates) while Joe sat next to me, trying his best to make me laugh, despite the circumstances.

After phone calls, emails, prayers and some serious doses of humility, we managed to not only secure a hotel ballroom just a few miles from our church, but to do so within our budget (proof that all things can be negotiated).

Originally, I got some flak for prioritizing our date at the church before finding out the availability of venues. (What are your priorities–the 15-foot ceilings or the Sacrament?) I can still say, even after the events of last week, that when you put the things of God first (not securing the most grandeur venue known to man), everything else–the gravy–has a way of working itself out.

This is the fourth 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: Natalie Plumb

This week marks the week when we celebrate our sisters in Christ: National Catholic Sisters Week.

And boy are they a dynamic group to celebrate.

God uses His children particularly in their uniqueness…

From the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who taught us how beautiful simplicity can be…

To the big ideas of Mother Angelica, who penetrated a media otherwise dominated by secular broadcasts…

To the contented hearts of the nuns we haven’t even heard about yet.

This column originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

By: Christina Capecchi, Catholic Herald Columnist

When Mary Margaret Gefre’s boyfriend drove her to the train station in their small North Dakota town, the 19-year-old farm girl didn’t tell him where she was headed on that brisk December day, clutching a small bag containing a rosary, her childhood prayer book, a few dresses and a pair of shoes.

Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of JesusShe was bound for a cloistered convent in St. Paul, Minn. She was going to become a nun.

Today, at age 84, she marks the passage of that heart-wrenching winter by three feast days.

It was Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, that her boyfriend, Baltzer, took her to the train station, giving her a peck on the cheek before driving away. The dark-haired young man had won her over with his deep faith and gentle ways. “I was sure he was going to be my husband,” she told me. “I could envision a happy life with him, babies.”

It was Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation, that Mary Margaret officially entered the Sisters of St. Joseph’s community, a bundle of hopes and fears. In the open fields back home, she could see for miles: Every sunrise engulfed her, every cloud floated overhead, every star pierced the midnight sky. But in the city, trees crowded in on her. “I felt imprisoned,” she said. “It was sort of like the end of world.”

It was Feb. 14, the feast of St. Valentine, that Mary Margaret received a love letter from Baltzer. Her superior, Sister Sara Claire, already had read it and handed it to Mary Margaret soberly. The sight of his neat cursive and urgent plea to come home opened a floodgate of emotion. “It all came back to me. I had to do lots of thinking. It was very hard to give him up, but I just knew my call by then. In my heart I felt that this was my home.”

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

In a world where parents can choose to abort their child, yet:

  • Killing a pregnant woman is a double homicide;
  • There is no such thing as gender, but we fight for a woman’s rights;
  • It’s a baby if you want it, but a product if you don’t;
  • Marriage is no longer marriage and sexual intercourse has nothing to do with producing a new human life;

…It is refreshing to have a logical conclusion emerge.

newborn-babyThis 2012 Slate article describes how two philosophers in the Journal Of Medical Ethics gave a pro-choice argument for infanticide — or delicately termed “after-birth abortion” (the words don’t even make sense). The piece is terrific and argues that the philosphers’ arguments are not a threat to those who call themselves pro-life, but only a threat to those who go by pro-choice.

It brilliantly illustrates this quote by Flannery O’Connor: “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror.”

O’Connor then shares the famous conclusion with Walker Percy that “tenderness leads to the gas chamber.” In the name of tenderness, killing children pre- and post-birth is the most loving thing to do. It is the only choice in some nations.

Once we reject God and His natural law, then creation becomes obsolete. The Enlightenment rejected mystery. Modernity rejects God. Now in Post-Modernity we finally come to what is left to deny: the mystery of God’s love and most precious image — man.

There should be no shock that infanticide has become an option. When human life is based on opinion, and the value of a person is dependent on convenience, productivity and cost, then it follows that there is no way of defining and protecting human life.

Once you believe you can kill a child before it is born because it is handicapped, then it is logical to be able to do so after it is born. …Or a bit later, when the child might become terminally ill, as is the case in Belgium, where a child can commit suicide. …Or in the Netherlands, the state can kill a child regardless of parental consent. This is what must follow once you believe that killing a life can be justified.

Has this “freedom” from the “Source of tenderness” brought us greater happiness? Has the rejection of moral absolutes, of natural law and basic biology brought about a more loving and peaceful world? Not by a long shot.

We have ample proof that exterminating the unwanted, sick, weak, handicapped and irritating races did not improve Nazi Germany, Russia, China, Syria or the United States of America. But it has brought about the killing of untold numbers of innocent victims — all in the name of compassion, choice and progression. The logic that eliminating human life is the solution is not logical.

Why is it that in our amazingly advanced technological world, our only solution to problems continues to be killing human beings? Call me crazy, but I would think it would be logical for a human person — who started out being a human person when sperm from a human male and an egg from a  human female united — would get that all human beings come about that way, too. I would think it would be rather logical for human beings to help other human beings not to kill human beings.

Can we call the experiment over yet? Killing human beings is not making sense.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Sin divides.  The first sin divided us from God, from one another, and from our very selves.  In a world wounded by sin we encounter division at every turn.  The harmony intended  by our Creator is lost in this fallen world.  But most painful is the contradiction and division of sin we experience within ourselves.

reni

Perhaps Saint Paul put it best: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). We live at cross purposes with ourselves.  Our bodies and souls — intended for harmony — war against each other for supremacy.  Our passions rise up and overrun the intellect and will, dragging the rational soul along in their petulant pursuits.  Left unchecked, the wound of sin leads us to ever greater dissolution.  We become increasingly at war with ourselves, prey to whatever passion rules us.  We have no center, no unifying principle, no unity.

This dark picture of sinfulness helps us appreciate a second dimension of holiness: wholeness.  Grace, the means of all holiness, brings unity.  By His grace we are reconciled — re-united — yes, with God and others, but also with ourselves.  Our divided selves become whole again.  God is simple. Holiness brings us a share in His simplicity.  Simplex fac cor meum, prays the psalmist (cf. Ps 86:11).  Unite my heart, as one translation has it.  Literally, make my heart simple.  A divided, conflicted heart is the legacy of sin.  A heart whole and entire is the patrimony of the saints.

We grasp and desire this aspect of holiness more than otherness.  We may not want to be other, but we do instinctively (and at times painfully) desire to be whole.  This is the lesson of our Lord’s miracles, and why so many went out to Him.  The physical healings of some — of the blind, the deaf, the lame, etc. — manifest the spiritual wholeness He has come to bring all.  More astounding than a paralytic  walking is a sinner being sanctified.  As much as we might long for physical health, we desire spiritual wholeness much more profoundly.

Our divided selves become whole again.

The life of grace — the life lived according to God’s will and Sacraments — accomplishes this wholeness within us. “The Christian soul who is seriously following the grace of his prayer should find himself increasingly at one within himself” (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, OSB).  This requires our cooperation with grace.  And more than cooperation, because the human will and God’s grace are not equal partners.  Grace is paramount.  To receive this new integrity of soul, this re-integration, we must yield to God’s grace, truth, and way of life. 

altsfNow this is where it becomes difficult and we draw back.  We would perhaps tolerate some division in our souls rather than respond to the demands of wholeness.  To be whole we must surrender all.  We must bring all aspects of our lives — prayer, work, play, family, friends, and even our failings — to the Lord.  To the degree that we bring only parts, bits and pieces to Him, we will be divided.  He alone brings about the unity we desire, but only when we make Him the center of everything.  If we place Him off-center, then our lives will proceed oddly, like a bike with a wobbly tire or a car with bad alignment.

Unity in Christ brings peace. Saint Augustine famously spoke of peace as tranquillitas ordinisthe tranquillity of order.  So also the soul, when well ordered towards Christ in every regard, has tranquillity, peace.  The saint is a peacemaker because he is whole and entire, at peace with himself.  Indeed, such interior peace is one of the most attractive things about the saint.  We desire and long to have that for ourselves, so we are drawn to one who already possesses it.

Any eccentricities we may encounter in the saints come not from not from a lack of interior unity but from their contrast to the world.  Saint Francis’s poverty strikes us as extreme not because he was out of whack, but because of the world’s wacky addiction to possessions.  Saint Philip Neri’s antics appear absurd not because we was out of line but because our vanity is.  So even the saints, the peacemakers, those men and women whole and entire, encounter some opposition.   Because as peaceful and whole as we may become, the world is still fallen and divided.

To the degree that we bring only parts, bits and pieces to Him, we will be divided.

We lack peace because we fragment our loyalties and thus divide ourselves.  “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Mt 12:25).  We pledge loyalty to Jesus Christ, but then chase after a million and one offerings from the world.  We desire peace, but then shunt to the side the only One Who can establish it. 

We find holy wholeness only when we sacrifice all other loyalties and make Him the center of all.  This summarizes both the gift and the task of holiness.  The gift is that tranquillity of order, that interior peace we desire.  The task is to yield to grace — taking every aspect of our lives and submitting them to Christ, where alone they find unity and we find peace.

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By: Erin Kisley

Last week we crossed another item off the list: the disc jockey!  It seemed rather innocuous (so I thought).  Along with the contract, the DJ included a sample reception itinerary and a questionnaire for us to fill out regarding songs for our entrance, our first dance and other special wedding traditions.

As we began to fill out the questionnaire, I saw the words “father-daughter dance.”  All at once, my heart began to beat at twice its normal rate, my body temperature began to rise, and my breathing became heavy and labored.

On the line where I’m supposed to write his first and last name, I scribbled the word: “deceased.”

erin and joe 6

It’s been almost five years since I lost my dad following his 4-year battle with cancer. Anyone facing a similar loss knows that even though people stop asking, it doesn’t quit hurting.  This will be the first time, besides a graduation or holiday, that he is noticeably gone.  I’m particularly private when it comes to this area of my life, but on my wedding day, it will be on display for all to see.

My first thought was to scrap the idea of special dances altogether, only including the couple’s first dance.  But, after drying my tears, I thought to myself: “Denying Joe a dance isn’t going to heal the pain of not having one.”

So, as I walk down the aisle (in four months!) arm and arm with my mother, my emotions will be mixed with sadness, joy and gratitude.  I will mourn the loss of my father in an acute way, but I will also be aware of the gift of faith that he and my mother passed on to me.  A gift that guided me in choosing this amazing man waiting for me before the altar of God.

My father’s death is a reminder as we begin our marriage, that we are a gift to each other and that our time here on earth is measured.  We are meant for a far greater destiny.  So as I ponder my future with Joe, I think: “I can’t wait to one day introduce Joe to my dad in Heaven (God Willing).”  But then again….I’m sure that my father already knows him and I believe that he had a hand in guiding me to him.  I think they would’ve been good friends.  Well, as friendly as a dad can be to his new son-in-law…

This is the second 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: Rev. Paul Scalia

One fundamental dimension of holiness is otherness.  We find it perfectly in the transcendent God, Who does not lose His otherness even in drawing close. We who are called to be holy because He is holy (cf. 1 Pt 1:15-16) must approximate this otherness in our lives. Which is precisely where we draw back and hesitate about holiness. No, we do not want to be at odds with God…but neither do we want to be other. We do not want to be odd or weird or apart from the crowd.  We desire togetherness, not otherness.

00-james-jacques-joseph-tissot-the-pharisee-and-the-publican-1894But all this is to misunderstand otherness, as so many have done throughout history. The Pharisees — whose very name means “the separated ones” — founded their holiness on not being like other men (cf. Lk 18:12). As we heard last Sunday, our holiness must surpass theirs (cf. Mt 5:20) — that is, be of a different, nobler kind. If we take seriously the Gospel imperative to holiness (admittedly, a big “if”), we must understand this dimension of otherness.

To be other means to be rooted in and to draw life from the One Who is Other. God alone is the Holy One. We, in drawing every bit of our life from Him (or, rather, being aware that we already do), attach ourselves to His holiness. We become other because who we are and what we do does not come from this world. It comes from the Other and is going to Him. Thus Saint Paul exhorts the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). This is not a hatred of the world so much as a recognition that the Christian draws his life breath from beyond this world — that he allows all his thoughts, desires, words, and actions to be determined not by any worldly standard but by Him Who is Other.

Only with this in mind can we then grasp the negative component: that we must separate ourselves from what keeps us from God.  And that means, first and foremost, ourselves.

Only with this in mind can we then grasp the negative component: that we must separate ourselves from what keeps us from God. And that means, first and foremost, ourselves. We must sever ourselves from the worldly, rebellious part of us — the “old man” (cf. Rm 6:6). “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). What keeps us from God most of all is our own self-centeredness. To be other we need to reject our own way of thinking, speaking, and acting — and adopt His. 

Only after self-denial do we look to separating ourselves from the world.  To be other means that we do not shape our lives according to the world’s lust, vanity and pride (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). We will not be holy if we allow the world to shape how we think, speak and act. Nor will we be any good for the world. Which brings us to another point… 

398px-Transfiguration_Raphael“Other” does not mean aloof. One of the greatest mistakes is to think that the more we are distant and disconnected from things, the holier we are.  …As if sanctity can be defined simply by what it is not. Certainly the world proffers many evil things that infect our souls. Too many Catholics have neglected that truth. Thus Mother Church speaks of a “withdrawal” from the world. But the Catholic instinct has never been to barricade ourselves from the world. Our Lord is clear that we are to engage and evangelize the world, which we cannot do from a bunker. Even the most remote hermit withdraws from the world not to escape but to be with Being Himself and from that vantage point to pray for the world. As Jesus prayed for all His followers at the Last Supper: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:14-15). Or, in a rephrasing of the old saw, We are not to be of the world, but in it.

We are not to be of the world, but in it.

Indeed, the otherness of a Christian — because it roots him more deeply in God Himself — enables him to draw close to each person. Because who is closer to all than God Himself? Mother Teresa’s mysticism did not make her less concerned for others. Padre Pio, while occupying the heights of holiness, was amazingly attentive to those he encountered. More to the point, it was because of their otherness, not despite it, that such saints loved their neighbors so concretely. It is a mark of the saints that in becoming other they were able to be more attentive to others.

It is a mark of the saints that in becoming other they were able to be more attentive to others.

“Other” does not mean odd. Certainly, the Communion of Saints has some eccentric members. But whatever quirkiness some may have possessed was not essential to their holiness.  We worry perhaps that the more we give to the Lord, the odder we will become. Of course, the world may indeed consider us “odd.” But that should disturb us only if the world as it is constitutes what is normal. Nevertheless, otherness does not require oddness. From the first Christians sought to live holiness — as our Lord did — in the midst of the world, as men and women who live, work, play, laugh and cry in the midst of everyone else…but with hearts set on heaven.

Ultimately, it is the otherness of Jesus Christ Who, in becoming one of us, did not lose what makes Him distinct from us. Indeed, He became one with us precisely so that He could communicate and bestow upon us what makes Him other. If He were not one of us, He could not enrich us. If He were not other, He would have nothing with which to enrich us.  So we Christians ought to enrich others with our presence…but always bringing that Otherness that truly enriches.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

We do not become weird in becoming holy.  We become ourselves.

Chesterton observes that no one ever slaps a crocodile on the back and says, “Be a crocodile!” His observation is not about safety but about the simple truth that no creature in the world needs to be exhorted that way…except man.  No one says, “Be a crocodile!” But we do say, “Be a man!”  Nobody commands his misbehaving pet, “Act like a dog!” But we might tell a wimp, “Act like a man!”  Which is all to say that man, the oddest creature in the world, is a paradox: He must become what he already is.

humanity-dieselscWhat is true for man in general holds all the more for Christians in particular. We Christians have to become what we are.  This provides a way to understand what the Church terms the “universal call to holiness.”  We have already been sanctified, made holy.  But, as Saint Paul finds necessary to remind us, we are “called to be holy” — or, as another translation puts it, “called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2). We are to become what we are.

The call to holiness comes, therefore, from who we are.

The call to holiness comes, therefore, from who we are.  Which means that it is not something foreign to us.  Much of the fear about holiness comes from the suspicion that it does some kind of violence to who we are.  Sanctity, however, has already been placed in us by God’s grace.  When Saint Peter exhorts us to “be holy in every aspect of your conduct” (1 Pt 1:15), he is not forcing something alien upon us.  He is simply exhorting us to be what God has already made us.  Being holy — thinking, speaking, and acting in a holy manner — is merely to live in accord with what is most true about ourselves as Christians.  We do not become weird in becoming holy.  We become ourselves.

How could it be that we would have less if we give ourselves to Him Who is all?

The call to holiness comes also from the fact that God gave us sanctity, not so much as a finished product, but as a life project.  Our Lord uses many parables of seeds and growth (the sower, the mustard seed, the leaven) because the kingdom of God within us is meant to mature and flourish.  The parable of the talents is apt as well (cf. Mt 25:14-30). He has entrusted holiness to us as something to invest and so bear much fruit.

HumanityBracelet“To be holy” — easier said than done.  Most of us shy away from this call…if it even occurs to us.  We think it impossible, too much.  And, yes, it does demands everything of us.  But much of our wariness comes also from a misunderstanding.  We confuse the means for the end,  thinking that because the saint must decrease (cf. Jn 3:30), he will end up as nothing.  We have a wooden, one-dimensional understanding of sanctity, as if to be holy we must be flattened out to fit on a holy card…as if in giving everything we will then have nothing.  And the hagiographers do not help, with their often saccharine and curiously soulless presentations of men and women who lived intimately with Life Himself.

At one point in the Gospels Peter says to our Lord, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” (Mt 19:27) It strikes us as an impertinent, even selfish, question.  But is it not lingering in the back of our minds also, and for good reason? If we give everything, as holiness requires… What will there be for us? Will anything of us remain? Do we not hold back out of fear? Do we not fear that there will be nothing left for us…and of us?

If we give everything, as holiness requires… What will there be for us? Will anything of us remain? Do we not hold back out of fear? Do we not fear that there will be nothing left for us…and of us?

In response, our Lord says, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29).  In effect, He promises everything.  We need therefore to shed the two-dimensional understanding of sanctity.  How could it be that we would have less if we give ourselves to Him Who is all? “He Who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” (Rom 8:32)

To set out on the adventure and undertake the project of holiness, we need to have in mind something of what it is.  To obtain that proper understanding, we return to what Saint Thomas Aquinas gives as two dimensions of holiness — otherness and wholeness — and apply them to ourselves.

Next week: What does it mean to be for us to be other?

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