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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?”

God begins His plan for our salvation with a question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Then, upon entering the world to fulfill this plan, He asks another. At the Jordan, at the beginning of His public life, Jesus turns to the disciples following Him and asks, What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). Thus, one part of salvation is God’s search for us; the second part is our search for Him.

The proclamation of the Gospel begins, not with a doctrinal statement or a moral command, but with a question: What do you seek? It is a question that goes directly to the heart, because the human heart seeks by its very nature. Saint Augustine summarized this most beautifully and famously: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. We were created to seek Him Who seeks us.

rembrandt-christ-mary-magdalene-tombBut sin has damaged our search for Him. We are created for happiness, and we instinctively seek it. But sin has blinded us to the true happiness for which we are created — the happiness of God Himself. The wounds of sin do not halt our search. They simply derail it, driving it in directions other than His. We seek rest in false gods.

We err in our search for Him, either by excess or by defect. By excess, when we try to satisfy the heart’s longing with the world’s offerings — in effect, attempt to quench a spiritual desire with a physical solution. So we chase after the world’s wealth, power and pleasure, hoping that it will satisfy our inner longing. We think that more will satisfy — more things, more control, more entertainment, etc. This misguided search leads to grave depravities — to abuse of drugs and alcohol, to addictions, to deceit and theft, and so on.

We err by defect when we settle, when we numb ourselves to the heart’s cries for fulfillment. We make ourselves comfortably numb to that longing. We make peace with the world and prefer its mediocre comforts to the agony of a heart that desires more. Rather than suffering the pains of a heart’s longing, we anesthetize ourselves.

What do you seek? Jesus’ question serves as a corrective to the heart wounded by sin. It reminds the tepid and mediocre that we have this longing within us, and we should heed it. The question prompts the misguided to turn aside from false gods and consider what truly satisfies the human heart. Just as hunger and thirst signal that we need food, so the longing of the heart reminds us that we are created for higher things. We have to stir ourselves to pursue them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they have not silenced the heart’s longing. And just as our physical hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by cotton candy and soda, so also the heart’s hunger and thirst cannot be satiated by the world’s offerings. We have to seek true nourishment.

And He leads us still further, revealing that we ultimately seek not a what but a whom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He confronts his persecutors with another question: “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 18:4-5). With this, Jesus reveals that He Himself is the goal of our search — even of those most opposed to Him. And in God’s Providence, His foes proclaim this truth despite themselves. Even as they trample the desires of the human heart, they mysteriously confess that they seek Jesus of Nazareth. The heart longs not for something, but for Someone, for Him. God alone satisfies.

Likewise on Easter morning, in yet another garden, our Lord puts the same fundamental question to Mary Magdalene: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? (Jn 20:15). Mary represents our human nature wounded by sin and longing for healing. Jesus asks her these questions to stir up the awareness that she, who had sought happiness and peace in so many wrong places, ultimately seeks Him as her Savior.

What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We are the disciples at the Jordan, seeking something more but not knowing what. We are the soldiers in the garden, hostile to our Lord because He has become inconvenient. We are the Magdalene at the tomb, weeping for our sins and seeking a Savior. In each case we need to hear His voice, allow the questions to penetrate, and reply with appropriate zeal, repentance, and hope. Thy face, Lord, do I seek (Ps 27:8).

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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

I was nervous when the SUV pulled over to the side of the road while I was praying outside of an abortion facility in Falls Church with a group of students from Bishop O’Connell High School. The man driving it lowered the passenger side window. I could see his two young children in the back seat as he leaned across the seat and pointed to the building. With great emotion he yelled: “Shut that place down! My wife killed two of my children in there!” We were stunned, nodding our heads as he drove off, silenced by his emotion, pain and the reality of what abortion does to men, women and families. I will never forget that experience and it is one of the reasons I continue to go to pray outside of the abortion facilities.

40DaysforLifePraying outside of an abortion facility is never comfortable. Wearing a habit and veil all the time, I am used to the staring, but it is always heightened while praying outside of an abortion facility, especially when the occasional angry, derogatory shouts come from passing cars. One of the worst was at the end of reciting the rosary with Bishop Loverde and the group that had gathered after a monthly Respect Life Mass: A very angry, young woman walked by and asked if we were protesting. Bishop Loverde answered that we were praying to end abortion, at which point she started to swear and use derogatory terms. We all prayed for her. Usually we are encouraged by “we are with you” car horns, waves and thumbs up; but sometimes, not. It is always sobering to be praying, knowing that behind one of those windows a life is being taken and parents are going against their nature by ending life, rather than protecting it.

Is it worth the discomfort and very public witness of standing outside of a building to pray, and, God willing, help a woman in need to choose life? Absolutely! So many organizations and prayer efforts have moving stories of lives saved and parents helped. That day with the Bishop O’Connell students happened to be during a 40 Days for Life campaign. Founded as a grassroots effort by a handful of people in College Station, Texas, the program has grown in seven years, and with God’s grace have included: 625,000 individual participants, 17,000 churches, 3,039 total campaigns, 539 cities, 24 countries; 101 abortion workers have quit, 54 abortion facilities have closed, and 8,973 children have been saved from abortion!

40 Days for Life is a worldwide pro-life effort which includes prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil outside of abortion facilities and community outreach. For years the parishioners and parishes in the Arlington Diocese have participated in this campaign, and participants have shared wonderful stories of men and women changing their minds. The diocesan pregnancy assistance program Gabriel Project has helped countless women find medical, financial and emotional support. There have also been cases of post-abortive men and women contacting the Project Rachel hotline to begin to heal from the wounds that their abortion has brought into their lives.

This year, there are three locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign in the Arlington Diocese taking place September 24 through November 2. What do you say to joining this year? Do not be afraid! I encourage and invite you to give an hour, even with the potential shouts and stares, to save a life!

1. Amethyst Health Center for Women
9380-B Forestwood Lane
Manassas, Virginia

Contact: Jeanne Ostrich
703-598-7644
40dfl.manassas.scheduler@gmail.com

2. Falls Church Healthcare Center
900 South Washington Street
Falls Church, Virginia

Contact: Ruby Nicdao
703-795-2216
ruby40daysforlife@gmail.com

3. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic

Landmark Towers Apartment Building
101 South Whiting Street, 2nd floor
Alexandria, Virginia

Contact: Sara Dina
571-218-6224
sara.40days@cox.net

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By: Natalie Plumb

In my last post, I discussed decision-making, and the tendency of some Christians to “wait on God’s will” as a safety net — rather than making the hard decision between two positive choices, we fall back on waiting for some explicit sign from God.

falsehopeThis week, I wanted to discuss how, even when we do follow God’s will (I won’t go into details here and risk repeating last week’s post), we tend to start thinking in bargain form. We begin to treat God as if He were a human, expecting Him to “pay us back” with what we want in return. We might be tempted to think: “God, I did this for you. When are you going to pull through for me?”

Rather than writing a whole new piece on this subject, I figured I would just point you readers to “False hopes,” a stunning piece written by Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Mary Beth Bonacci. I was left meditating on my own life, and how I subconsciously face this challenge. Bonacci integrates everything — from C.S. Lewis’ wisdom, to her personal experience and that of others, all while answering the painful question: “But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?”

Read on…

“Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.” — C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

For years, I have been thinking of writing a book for single Catholic adults. I’m thinking of calling it “Lies People Tell.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was, of course, sad and struggling. But she said that her friends were trying to cheer her up by telling her, “I just know that God has really great things in store for you.”

I thought of the line above, from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters. The book, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is a fictional collection of instructional letters from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining to him the art of temptation. (Hence the somewhat diabolical-sounding advice.) In this passage, Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew that false hopes are deadly to the spiritual life.

People feed single Catholics this kind of spiritual junk food all the time. “God hasn’t forgotten you.” “God has somebody picked out for you, and He will reveal that person to you when the time is right.” And, my personal favorite, “If you date chastely, God will reward you with a spouse.”

It isn’t just singles. Everybody who has suffered in any way has heard some variation of this. “God will solve this.” “God will give you what you want.” “God will make it right.”

I was once doing a call-in radio show and got a call from “Roy from Boston.” Roy’s question was “So, what do you do when you’re getting into your late 30s, you’re losing your looks, you’ve been living by the rules, but God isn’t holding up His end of the bargain?”

I told Roy to speak for himself on the whole “losing your looks” thing.

I then told him that there is no “bargain” — that there is no Beatitude promising “blessed are the chaste, for they shall have a spouse by their 35th birthday.” God doesn’t work that way.

I think there is a real danger here — for singles, and for anybody else who believes that God is a God who somehow offers us guarantees in this life. We want to believe that’s who God is — the One who smooths the path for us, who grants us our hearts’ desires, who gives us whatever we want or expect or feel that we are owed.

But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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: Rev. Edward Horkan, Diocese of Arlington priest

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us…run the race that is before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1).

I recalled that line often when I prepared for and ran my first marathon two years ago as part of the Race for Seminarians for the Arlington Diocese. I had been running for 20 years, having initially taken up the sport mostly to keep company with a friend of mine and with the lawyers in the firm that I worked for. Over time, I have found that running, in addition to being good exercise that keeps us more fit, is very relaxing to the mind and even leads to more positive and creative thinking.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 MCM 10K.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon 10K.

It’s a constant temptation to dwell excessively upon the past, worry too much about the future, or be distracted by the superficial images of popular culture from the reality that God gives us — the real life through which we travel to the greater kingdom. Running requires a concentrated and sustained effort to focus on the present and real challenges on the path before us. This willingness to take on a demanding task, this disciplining of the body and concentration of the mind, makes us more open to the true joy that God offers. While certainly on a lesser plane than prayerful contemplation, this sacrifice and consistent application leads to a peace and exhilaration that reflects the uplifting of one’s heart and mind to the higher kingdom.

In 2011, I joined the Race for Seminarians by running the 10K that is connected to the Marine Corps Marathon to help our generous and enthusiastic seminarians, who sometimes come from modest circumstances, to avoid financial anxieties. After running this 10K, I resolved, with some encouragement from friends, to take on a greater challenge and run the full marathon, asking kind donors to sponsor me in this effort for the diocese and our seminarians. And once again this year, I am running the marathon for our current seminarians, and also to encourage young men to consider joining the noble brotherhood of priests. As with past years, I look forward to the common sacrifice and struggle of fellow runners in this cause, an effort that builds a sense of companionship, sharing with each other and the world the joy and adventure of our faith.

Find out more at the RFS Kickoff on Sept. 4 from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington. The evening will include a taco bar, tips from a trainer, and information on the Race for Seminarians. The deadline to RSVP to the Office of Vocations on Facebook or at vocations@arlingtondiocese.org is Sept. 1. You can sign up for the actual Race for Seminarians here.

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Rev. Edward Horkan is a parochial vicar at St. James Church in Falls Church. An avid runner, he has been participating in the Race for Seminarians since 2011, its inaugural year.

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By: Josephine Balsamo, Staff Spotlight

When I read DARKNESS: Abortion Seduces with Promised Sexual Freedom, published in July on Clash Daily, which is a self-described “mosh pit of breaking news, edgy opinion, lots of attitude, and a call to action for God- and country-loving patriots,” I was shocked at the author’s gross mischaracterization of women seeking abortion:

postabortion“One may argue that the sympathy for women who seek abortion is needed for one to reach out to these women. How misguided! The one who seeks an abortion feels that she is entitled to sympathy from others, because she is evil, wicked and perverse…Anyone who denies this is either deluded or depraved of all integrity…”

“It is the very sympathy that people show to women who abort their babies that not only weakens [the] pro-life stance, thus defeating its real purposing, but ridicules and blinds the people of the pro-life movement.”

Having worked one-on-one with hundreds of women who have had abortions over the last 10 years, I can tell you that post-abortive women are intensely aware that a child has been lost. It is this very realization that brings them to our doors, seeking reconciliation and healing from what many of them truly believe is an “unforgivable sin” – taking the life of their unborn child.

Perhaps the author of the blog should have consulted the Elliot Institute — a non-profit group that has conducted over 30 in-depth studies on the detrimental effects of abortion on individuals — to see some facts about abortion in America today:

  • 64% of women felt pressured or coerced by others. Coercion can escalate to violence. The No. 1 cause of death for pregnant women in this country is homicide.
  • Up to 83% of all abortions are unwanted.
  • Most felt rushed and uncertain, yet 67% had no counseling before abortion.
  • 79% were not informed about available alternatives.
  • 84% said they were not given enough information to make an informed choice.
  • 60% said: “Part of me died.”
  • 65% suffer multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder directly attributed to their abortion.
  • Women are more likely to suffer from clinical depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and suicidal behavior after abortion.

To add insult to injury, the abortion coalition in this country spends a great deal of money to carefully market abortion as a good. They call it healthcare, a woman’s right, choice and freedom. It is marketed so well, in fact, that most women could not know the horror of what occurs in the clinic until after it’s over. Only then is the reality of abortion revealed…in its aftermath.

The truth is that many women who find themselves in an abortion clinic don’t want to be there. Backed into a corner with nowhere to turn and no viable options, these women succumb to abortion. It is not because they are inherently evil, but because they feel they have no other choice.

56885d76-53d1-46e2-87eb-a3ac0047121aAs a pro-life community, we need to reach out to these walking wounded, and help them find reconciliation and healing through Jesus Christ, who came to save all sinners, including those who have participated in abortion.

If our response in the pro-life movement to those who have been coerced into abortion is judgment alone, we might as well give up now and declare defeat. We need to remember that there are always at least two victims in every abortion – the mother and the child — and we need to love them both to truly create a culture of life.

To learn more about abortion’s injustice to women, please visit the Elliot Institute’s Unfair Choice Campaign.

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.

Josephine Balsamo has been the Program Coordinator for Project Rachel in the Diocese of Arlington’s Family Life Office since 2004. The ministry offers post-abortion healing retreats, monthly holy hours, professional counseling, a confidential phone line, referral to priests for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and multiple other resources.

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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 with myself about my situation?

Am I looking for ways to further good in the world and in my life?

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.

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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