Feminist Rage and the Power of Meekness.

Meek (miːk/) – adjective: quiet, gentle, submissive.

This morning I was sitting staring out of the window with a worried look on my face, biting my nails. “What on earth is wrong?” my husband asked me.

“I have to write a post on meekness.” I said.

“Bwwaaaaaaahhhh!!!” He guffawed. “But honey – you’re all brash and rumbustious! How are you gonna do that?!”

Yes, well… He’s got a point. Meekness does not come naturally to me. I’m more of a bull-in-a-china-shop sort of girl (and obviously a nightmare to live with! My husband is a SAINT!)

I seriously had no idea where to start. I Googled “meek” and it took me straight to the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Mathew 5:5

Part of my commitment to becoming a secular Carmelite is to live the Beatitudes. And to be honest – I’ve always generally just skipped over that one because I didn’t really know what it meant and I knew I probably wasn’t ‘it’. Meekness has always struck me as being a bit boring, a bit girly. And it seems I’m not the only one. For many, it is simply assumed that meekness is weakness, and surely not a virtue. The irony is that meekness, indeed a virtue, is the one virtue above all that allows us to remain ourselves in the midst of adversity. It allows us to maintain self-possession when adversity strikes, rather than becoming possessed by the adversity itself. A priest friend of mine described meekness to me as ‘quiet strength’.

Meekness seems to be more synonymous with empowerment than it is with weakness because, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, meekness makes a man self-possessed. According to St. Hilary, Christ dwells in us by our meekness of soul. When we are overcome by anger, we lose that sense of ourselves that allows God to dwell within us. Anger excludes God; meekness invites His presence.

Meekness is not cowardliness, timidity, or servility; it’s the power that restrains the onslaught of anger and subjects it to the order of reason. While it may be more natural to express anger when one is assaulted, meekness is the higher path. The world witnessed a perfect example of this in April 2014 by Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard.

leonard2

Archbishop Léonard was participating in a debate on blasphemy at the Free University of Brussels on April 23rd 2014 when he became the target of the anti-Catholic feminist group Femen. Four topless women emerged from the attendees and mobbed the prelate, dousing him with water from bottles shaped like the Virgin Mary and screaming accusations of homophobia against him. Their bodies were smeared with slogans such as “my body my rules” and “anus dei is coming.” Throughout this barrage Archbishop Léonard remained calm, his eyes closed, his hands folded. A silent pillar of strength. After the bare-breasted protesters were evicted by security, Archbishop Léonard picked up one of the Marian bottles they had used to insult him with and kissed it.

archbishop-10

And while Femen do not represent all feminists, I think it is safe to say that the women who attacked him were not displaying a whole lot of meekness as far as I can see. Instead they were displaying rage and vengeance. They presumably justified their rage on the basis of the acceptability of revenge for perceived injustices. But in this way Femen are casting themselves into the role of victim (which never ceases to fascinate me about angry feminists. I have noticed this trait of victimology A LOT within the feminist argument, which ironically is often in complete juxtaposition to their outward aggressive persona. And even though I am in no way-shape-or-form an angry feminist myself, I’m shamefully realising that my own brash and rumbustious behaviour is just another example of this.)

In their eyes they had won a victory that day. They had asserted themselves angrily, aggressively, forcefully and pride-fully. They had displayed their ‘strength’ as independent women and as a group. But was it real strength they were displaying?

Archbishop Léonard could have justifiably retaliated and had those women arrested and charged with assault if he had wanted to. But he chose not to humiliate them any further than they had already humiliated themselves. He rose above the situation and refused to cast himself into the role of a poor victim. He did not react with anger or seek vengeance. In an age when victimology is temptingly trendy, Archbishop Léonard stood quiet and still, quietly proving that meekness is a truly anti-modern virtue that can help us address many of the behavioural problems of our post-modern age.

It seems that meekness is actually the complete opposite of weakness. It seems to be great strength imbued with utter magnanimity. It is a paradox, but nonetheless true, that meekness demands largeness of heart and a generosity of spirit towards ones oppressors. The post-modern world thinks of strength in terms of individual power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But as Archbishop Léonard demonstrated, real strength – quiet strength – comes from God, and is truly manifested when we submit our will entirely to His.

A dear friend of mine illustrated this description and explanation of meekness beautifully:

“Talking of ‘meek’. I came across an interesting thing recently. Apparently the ancient Greeks used the word ‘meek’ to describe a warhorse, bridled and compliant, ready for battle. If you look at some wonderful dressage clip, you’ll see the horse, bridled and compliant, fully accepting the bit, listening and in tune with his rider, and the result? Beauty, balance, freedom of movement, perfect synergy between horse and rider….. This is ‘meek’. Jesus, ‘meek and humble of heart’ is like this; compliant to the Father’s Will, he is strong, courageous and invincible in battle. We are called to be the same.”

Perhaps it’s time I let God tame me?

Sources:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/feminists-attack-but-the-meek-will-conquer

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-virtue-of-meekness.html

I will NOT throw eggs at Tina Beattie. REPEAT: I will NOT throw eggs at Tina Beattie.

Professor Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie

“Those of us who tried to answer the questionnaire honestly and in a way that might be helpful to the synod on the family are misrepresented by Edmund Adamus’s ‘reflection’.

Like most other Catholics I know, I respect the Church’s teaching on marriage and parenthood. I also know from experience that marriage and family life can induce agonies of guilt over our inevitable failures and shortcomings. However, I do not experience guilt over deciding in good conscience to use contraception to limit the number of children we had. I do not feel ashamed of my adult children for cohabiting with partners who have enriched our lives by their friendship. I do not feel compelled to pass negative judgement on the loving relationships of my gay friends. I am glad that some of my divorced Catholic friends have found joy in second marriages, and I want to share the sacraments with them. In other words, I’m like the vast majority of Catholics whose answers to the questionnaire have been made public.

I seek from the Church the formation I know I need most – formation that has to do with love and generosity of spirit, with faithfulness and integrity, with wisdom and discretion, with prayer and discernment. The list is long, but it does not include learning to regard contraception, premarital sex and homosexuality as intrinsically evil, nor does it include regarding divorced and remarried Catholics as people uniquely barred from the forgiveness offered by Christ in the sacraments.” – Tina Beattie

Her lunatic theology also includes:

  • In an examination of the morality of abortion Prof. Beattie justifies  the argument that the embryo is not a person by using the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • Prof Beattie uses the doctrine of the marriage between Christ and His Church to support gay marriage.
  • Prof Beattie condemns as ‘perverted’ a CTS booklet defending the Church’s doctrine on divorce and contraception.
  • Prof. Beattie describes the Mass as an ‘an act of (homo) sexual intercourse…’. ‘God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate’, p.80.
  • Prof. Beattie supports same-sex marriage.
  • Prof. Tina Beattie imagines the apostles and women disciples having sex in her meditation The Last Supper According to Martha and Mary(2001) which the publishers describe as ‘part fiction, part Biblical reflection’.

She has been banned previously banned by Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh from addressing the Edinburgh Circle of the Newman Association. In a letter quoted by ‘The Tablet’ the Archbishop criticised both Beattie and Joe Fitzpatrick, a theologian the Newman Association previously hosted, saying:

“Professor Beattie is known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching. I would therefore ask you to cancel this event, as it may not proceed or be publicised on any Church property in this archdiocese.“

The Archbishop’s intervention has been attributed to the Vatican’s official position on banning Beattie from Church events, as ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican’s watchdog on orthodoxy. She has also been banned from speaking in Clifton diocese for the same reason by Bishop Declan Lang.

The CDF ordered her banned from Church properties after she signed a letter, in 2012, to the Times, in favour of same-sex marriage, along with a number of other Christian theologians who wrote “it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

So you can imagine my surprise to hear that the Wimbledon branch of the Newman circle had invited her to come and give a talk at Sacred Heart Parish next week entitled ‘From Synod to Synod: Families in focus in the church of Pope Francis.’

egg

My initial reaction to hearing the news that Tina Beattie was coming to speak at my beloved childhood parish was to lie in wait, and then at the appointed time ambush her with a meteor shower of raw eggs. “Well! That sort of raucous behaviour is not very becoming of a good catholic!” I would ask you to remember that St Nicholas delt with Arius by punching him the right in the face at the Council of Nicea (Arius, of course was using his intellect and position of authority to destroy the true Faith from within the church and implement his own lunatic theology.) And of course there was last Sunday’s Gospel where we are reminded that as Catholics, flipping tables and whipping people is not entirely out of the question!

Anyway, knowing it was most probably sinful to blissfully enjoy the thought of egging a heretic, and to laugh hysterically at the fact that my spell-checker auto corrects the words ‘Tina Beattie’ to ‘Tuna buttie’ I decided to take it all to confession.

Tuna-Bread-Pack

A Tuna buttie.

Holy Mackerel! My poor priest. He took a quite a while to consider exactly what he should say to me.

“You should aim for meekness.” He said.

MEEKNESS!!! ME???!!!

It was lucky he couldn’t see my face at the time. I’m not exactly sure how to describe the expression on my face at that precise moment, but my mouth was wide open and there were no words coming out – which is, unusual.

He went on to draw possible parallels between Tina Beattie and St Paul:

“St. Paul was so sure of his own political convictions in regards to the Christians. He would kill them quickly from the outside, with the sword. Tina Beattie is similar in this regard, although she kills people slowly from the inside with her ideas and theories. But there is one important thing to remember – before his conversion, St Paul had Christians praying for him – praying for his heart to change.”

Then he said to me:

“Anything you say or do should lead to her conversion of heart.”

Wow. Now there’s a challenge. It is all too easy for me to look at Tina Beattie and hate her. But to hate her would be to de-humaniser her, to objectify her to something less than she is.

My Lord Jesus still looks on Tina Beattie as His beautiful little child, just as he looks at me, and Kim jong un and Lady Gaga and all the members of ISIS, the paedophile priest, the gay prostitute, the Queen of England and the Pope. We are all just human beings. Sinful, broken human beings who need to turn away from sin and back to God.

St. John Paul II teaches us about this topic of de-humanisation and objectification in his masterpiece ‘Theology of the Body’. Funnily enough, Tina Beattie despises Theology of the Body:

“Having spent years researching and writing about ‘theology of the body’, I think it functions more as a vehicle of resistance to feminism and homosexuality than as a genuinely viable account of human sexuality…” – Tina Beattie

How ironic that Theology of the Body is helping me to see her not as a de-humanised object of hate that I would like to throw eggs at, but as a child made in the image and likeness of God.

beattie_285

I am doing the 33 day consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the moment and yesterday we learned through the writings of Mother Teresa that our Lord Jesus doesn’t just love souls, He thirsts for them:

“Just put yourself in front of the tabernacle. Don’t let anything disturb you. Hear your own name and “I Thirst.” I thirst for purity, I thirst for poverty, I thirst for obedience, I thirst for that wholehearted love, I thirst for that total surrender. Are we living a deeply contemplative life? He thirsts for that total surrender.”

So if my lord Jesus thirsts for Tina Beattie, then it is my job to quench His thirst by bringing her back to Him – to bring her to total surrender. How am I going to do this? I have no idea, but I’m guessing meekness is going to play a pretty pivotal role here. After all – isn’t meekness the thing that feminists misunderstand the most?

I guess it’s a bit like David and Goliath. She is a professor. I got chucked out of school age 17. I am no challenge to her intellectually, but that doesn’t really matter. I am not fighting an intellectual battle I am fighting a spiritual battle. And I am not even fighting her as such, but the powers and principalities that are whispering in her ears day and night, seducing her with her own pride and hardening her heart.

From her writings and theories it is plain to see that Mrs Beattie (bless her heart) is spiritually weak and sickly. She is utterly consumed with the idea of a comfortable ‘man centred’ faith (or should I say ‘person centred’?!). But as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “…you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!” All her theories revolve around the idea that we can side-step the cross. And she has warped the faith and moulded it into a pale comparison of itself: she has divorced love from suffering.

Where does this idea come from? Does suffering frighten her? It frightens me. Perhaps there is something in her life, something in her past that is just too painful to face? I don’t know. It all sounds a bit fishy to me. All I do know is that Jesus tell us that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” You can’t have Jesus without the cross. Love demands sacrifice. It’s not easy.

I will begin by offering my prayers and fasting for her. As part of my 33 day consecration I am letting go of everything I am to Mother Mary so I can become an instrument in her immaculate hands. I am allowing her to use me in any way she sees fit to ‘crush the serpents head’. And even though it would give me indescribable pleasure and satisfaction to throw eggs at Mrs Beattie (or custard pies, or fish sandwiches) I will not be doing so because after all – what I want is not really that important is it? It’s what God wants that is important. THY will be done, not My will be done. Says it all really.

Blessed Mother Teresa pray for us.

Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us.

Mother Mary, Queen of heaven, pray for us.

Sources:

http://tina-beattie.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-family-reflecting-on-view-from.html

http://www.cuf.org/2014/01/thirst-mother-teresas-devotion-thirst-jesus/

http://protectthepope.com/?p=10153

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2012/09/11/bishop-cancels-lecture-by-liberal-theologian-who-argued-for-same-sex-marriage/

How Tinnitus Prepared me for Carmel.

Tinnitus

I was recently sent a rather snooty message by a diocesan priest who used to be a Trappist monk. He was telling me that it was basically impossible for me to live a contemplative life in the context of a family home. He told me my children would not find my ‘requirement’ for silence much fun. He also told me it was impossible to be a contemplative without silence. I decided not to reply. But I do hope he reads this blog post.

The Lord began preparing me for contemplative life at home 5 and a half years ago – two weeks before Annabel was born – by giving me Tinnitus.

It was nothing other than torture. It was 9 months before I began to have even brief periods of not noticing the noises. At its worst it was louder than the phone ringing. In my left ear I had (and sometimes still have) a Morse-code style beeping. In my right ear there was a high pitched whistle. In my head there was a low pitched rumbling, and every so often I would get a really loud pure-tone that would drown out ALL other outside noise. So I would go completely deaf for a few seconds which was absolutely terrifying.

The worst part was that my brain was registering the noise as an outside threat, which meant that I would experience high levels of anxiety during the day and insomnia at night. I would lie awake at night listening to the noise. I had a new baby which meant that when I did manage to fall asleep, I would soon get woken up again by the noise of a crying baby. Then I would feed her, in the silence of the night, all alone in my prison of noise. Then I would take sleeping pills to knock me out. In the morning I would wake up, and the noise was still there. It never went away.

My husband couldn’t hear the noises going on inside my ears. No-one could hear it except me. It was so loud. I was so alone. I am not over dramatising this – tragically, earlier this year a 47 year old woman chose Euthanasia because she was unable to cope with her Tinnitus.

It was too much. I knew I couldn’t die because I had kids to raise, so just accepted that the rest of my life would be filled with a cacophony of beeping and whistling and rumbling.

As I began to accept and improve, my tinnitus therapist kept asking me if my tinnitus was holding me back in any way in my life. After careful consideration I told her “No, I can still still do everything, but… I would like to be able to pray.” She suggested mindfullness. Initially I found this to be life-changingly helpful. It did help me accept the intense suffering I was experiencing in a calm way, but it soon became apparent that there was a fair bit of *wacky* stuff that accompanied it. So I dropped it. But it did lead me into how my own faith viewed suffering. I kept remembering a line I must have read years before, something about “Joy in suffering”. It took me back to the saint who had claimed me for her own 11 years previously – St Teresa of Avila. I didn’t know why she was making an appearance in my life once more, but all I can tell you is that I felt her with me very strongly throughout that time of noise.

As time passed and my life continued in a strange sort of way. I accepted the noise. I cried because of the noise. I masked the noise with the TV and radio and found relief from the noise in my crying baby and my raucous 3 year old son. I couldn’t pray – or so I thought. I cursed myself for wasting all those quiet moments I had previously. I cursed God for giving me tinnitus. I cried and screamed at Him because I was at my wits end and I couldn’t think because of the noise. I told Him I didn’t understand – that there was no point to this. It wasn’t achieving anything. I begged Him to take it away. But He didn’t.

Usually I feel God very close to me, but at that time it was like He was withdrawn to a distance. I felt as if God had abandoned me, like He was enjoying torturing me. I wanted to hate Him, but I loved Him too much to hate Him. I thought about all this a lot.

The removal of silence from my life changed me. I had to concentrate on not becoming overwhelmed by the noise. I got very good at this. It’s amazing what you can do when you are pushed to the brink. As my anxiety began to decrease I used to experiment by sitting down and facing my noise – instead of trying to run away from it. I would actually sit and listen to it – develop a relationship with it almost. But in hindsight what I was actually doing was finding the deeper silence within myself, the silence of my soul. Teresa was guiding me, I could feel that, but I didn’t quite know how.

No-one on the outside could hear my noise. In fact here were only 2 people who could hear my noise – me and God. And when I would sit and listen to my noise, God would be there too. I began to realise that there must be purpose in all of this, but I didn’t know what that was. I allowed Him to sit with me while I explored my noise, and the place inside it was directing me to. He was in that place. My noise had driven me into the desert. Only me and Him were in that place. I was at the core of who I was in Him, and I found peace there. Not audible peace, but spiritual peace.

I began experimenting with this ‘place’, this desert. I began going there more often. I was not afraid there because He was there. Pretty soon I was finding myself in this place all the time throughout the day. It became totally natural to be in this place of extreme calm and inner silence, while I carried on with looking after the children – with the noise was still ringing in my ears.

As I began to recover from the tinnitus I did begin to experience times of real silence once more – something I thought would never happen again. During these times of real silence I would sit and just listen to the silence. Beautiful silence. I would let the silence surround me and go in me and through me and touch my heart in a way I didn’t really understand. It was if the peaceful desert my tinnitus had lead me to was now on the outside too. I felt the silence, and God was there.

It was another 5 years before I had any indication whatsoever of why God put me through that period of suffering. But in hindsight it is now obvious to me that there was no better preparation for the life of a secular Carmelite than this. To be a ‘contemplative in the world’ meant I would most likely be surrounded by noise all the time – which I am. I have the noise of the hoover, the children, my husband, the car etc. Are these bad noises? No! They are beautiful noises – they are the sounds of my primary vocation. “Doesn’t it distract you?” No! How can they distract me – they are the point of my focus! “But when do you get time to pray?” I am praying all the time. I can be here in my kitchen making the dinner, and at the same time I am in my desert with my Lord and Creator. And when I do get quiet periods during the day I sit and enjoy the silence – perhaps in a way you cannot understand if you have not had tinnitus. You could be a Trappist monk for 50 years, but I don’t think you really understand or appreciate silence until it has been force-ably taken away from you. Teresa will tell you that.

Last month during our Carmelite studies, I laughed out loud when I discovered that during her life Teresa had tinnitus too!

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

St Paul, pray for us.

St Louis de Montfort, pray for us.

From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

$_35

An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

Missa_tridentina_002

The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

baptism

For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

Lent1

My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

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My 3 beautiful kids often draw me pictures.

Alex 8, does some pretty good stuff now. He is Mr Logic, and doesn’t care much for creativity (bless him!) but he is pretty good at technical drawing and copying cartoon characters.

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Annabel 5, is the complete opposite and loves to draw emotional things like friendships and love and butterflies and princesses.

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Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

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Now the thing is that when they come to show me their drawings their little faces all beam in exactly the same way! They draw stuff with great effort. And then they give it to me because they love me! My little darlings! I’m not sure what moves my heart more – seeing how hard they have tried, or their beautiful beaming faces as they give me all their hard work.

Now here’s a question:  Which picture do I value the most? I suppose that is as silly as asking which child do I love the most? I love them all the same, and all 3 pictures will be going up on the wall because each one of them is my favourite! Even though Angelica’s lovely scribble is just a mess on a page – I can see that she has put everything into that scribble, and at this point in her development I would not expect any more of her. She has given her all, and it is perfect.

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Isn’t this the exact same way our Mother Mary looks at us with our fasting and prayer?

Some of us are like Alex and can give a pretty good, neat, logical effort. Some of us are like Annabel and pray and fast emotionally and randomly. And some of us – most of us, are like little Angelica: doing our very best with the little skill we have. We are just babies in our spiritual development and we can’t manage too much just yet! But our Mother knows this and she delights in our messy, scribbley, prayerful fasting efforts! Whether we are fasting on bread and water for 40 days, or only giving up 1 cup of tea each day, she loves all our efforts the same, and is incredibly proud of each one of us.

I’m not sure what moves her heart more:  seeing how hard we have tried, or our beautiful beaming faces as we give her all our hard work. But I know this… A mother who loves her children, will cherish all these little things in her heart forever.

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Today I was received into Carmelite formation – and no, I did NOT just become a nun!

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Today I was received into Carmelite formation. Really – I couldn’t be happier! 🙂 It seems as if my whole life has lead me up to this point. Now I am part of a family where I will have the space and the resources to discover and develop a part of myself that has been screaming to get out for a very, very long time.

I have been asking people to pray for me on Facebook regarding this over the last few weeks and to my great amusement, there were quite  a large number of people who congratulated me on becoming a nun! This got even funnier when they realised I was married with 3 kids!

Let me explain…

In the Carmelite (ocds) order there are the First Order – the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order – the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order (or ‘Seculars’) – laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married or single, and diocesan priests. I am becoming a Third Order (secular) Carmelite.  The seculars are fully part of the Order, taking similar promises to friars and nuns but related to their lives as lay people.

The first part of my formation lasts 1-2 years. At the end of this time I will make my First Promise. Then there is a second period of formation lasting 4-5 years. At the end of this time I will make my Final (life long) Promise. After this I will become a fully fledged Carmelite.

The charism (or spiritual focus) of the Carmelite Order is contemplation. But a very important point is to understand that Carmelites understand contemplation and action to be complementary, not contradictory. This is a particularly important point to grasp because I am living the Carmelite charism within my vocation as a wife and a mother. The two actually fit together hand in hand beautifully, and is perfectly described in the famous quote for Teresa of Avila “God is found among the pots and pans.”

The Carmelite Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has a strong Marian devotion. ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order.

We wear the Brown Scapular (which is basically a tiny habit!)

We say the Divine Office morning, evening and night prayer.

We follow the rule of St Albert.

Some famous Carmelite saints you may have heard of are Teresa of ÁvilaSaint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Saint John of the Cross, St. Simon Stock and many more…

It is a way of life. A spirituality focused on the interior life – prayer from the heart, relationship with God.

I am really just scratching the surface here! And lets not forget I’m just a beginner! But I hope this goes some way to explaining what I am doing in my life now and the fact that even though I have just been received into formation, I have not just become a nun!

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The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.

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Another boring Valentines day, Another boring Mass.

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Last week I was visiting a church near to us. I went into the sacristy before Mass to speak to a friend of mine. She was busy getting things ready for Mass and was showing me where all the vestments and altar linens were kept. She asked me if I would like to serve Mass that day. With a heavy heart I said “No, thanks. I’m a girl!”

That threw me a little bit and it wasn’t until i got home later that day that I realised that something very, very disturbing indeed was going on in that sacristy. The used altar cloths – the corporals, and the purificators used by the priests and the ministers of Holy Communion were not being properly rinsed after Mass. Instead they were being tossed straight into an old cardboard box where they would wait to be picked up by the cleaners and put through the washing machine. This meant that small parts of our Lord’s body and precious blood were getting washed down the drain. With our Lord’s body and blood on this linen, this old cardboard box shoved under the sink was in-fact acting as a tabernacle.

I spoke to a priest friend about this and he told me that there is no way in the world this should be happening. I was horrified. I felt sick to my stomach. I was so distressed by this that I didn’t sleep that night. How could this possibly be happening? Did no-one realise what was happening? Did no-one care?

In the morning I cancelled all my plans for that day and set about buying the things that were needed to set this situation right. I bought a glass bowl that the linens could be soaked in, a clothes dryer they could be hung out on, I replaced the old cardboard box with a plastic crate and put instructions for the priests and ministers of Holy Communion explaining how the linens needed to be rinsed by the priest before going into the laundry. I spoke to the sacristan that morning who had never really considered what was happening but agreed with me that it could not continue. I spoke to some of the priests who agreed with me that it could not continue.  I set up all the stuff in the sacristy and said the chaplet of Divine Mercy, begging forgiveness for the way His body and precious blood had been treated. I went home feeling uneasy – but better.

That night I sent an email to the priests of that parish explaining what I had done and also saying “… although there are many clubs, groups and initiatives within the parish, the central focus should always be Jesus in the Eucharist. And if we cannot get respect for Jesus in the Eucharist right, then any other work we do is quite frankly useless…”

I spoke to another priest friend that night and told him about the situation. He was embarrassed to say that he had also been failing to rinse the altar cloths properly after Mass, but that he would not be making that mistake again. It started to dawn on me that this was probably not a one off situation. My heart sank. No, it broke.

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The next morning I got a call from the parish manager. She had removed all the stuff I had put into the sacristy and proceeded to call me a “very naughty girl” for acting without getting specific permission from the parish priest (who’s day off it was yesterday). I apologised and said that in any other circumstance I would agree with her, but on the issue of the blessed sacrament being disrespected then I’m afraid I had no other choice than to act that day. She asked me who was in charge of the parish. I said Christ. She disagreed with me! It seems that by not following strict parish protocol I had somehow offended her to the point of undoing time and space. She was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t got an email reply from the parish priest, than she was about our Lord’s body and precious blood getting washed down the drain. I told a priest friend about this and he told me not to worry too much. He said “Clare, if she had been around on the morning of the resurrection she would have complained to Jesus that He had left cloths in the tomb!”

So now what was I to do? I sent a letter of apology to the priests:

“…I’m very sorry if I have caused any offence by trying to sort out the used linen situation in the sacristy.
The parish manager called me today and explained that under no circumstances must I act without the approval of the Parish Priest.
I understand and agree with this, but in this circumstance my responsibility was to my Lord. I’m afraid once I found out what was happening, I knew the situation needed rectifying that day. I simply could not be responsible for His Body or Precious Blood being disrespected in that way for a second longer.
I was also aware that if anyone else was to find out what was happening it would cause great embarrassment to the parish.
I’m sorry if I have caused distress, and of course it is up to the parish priest if he wants the linen situation to continue in the way it was? But I assumed that he would have been as horrified as me…”

I just couldn’t understand how the parish priest was letting this happen? Either he didn’t know he was supposed to be doing this – which is a FAIL. Or he did know he was supposed to be doing this but wasn’t bothering – FAIL. Or even worse, he didn’t believe those altar cloths were carrying our Lord’s body or precious blood – MAJOR FAIL.

How was it possible, I thought, that the relationship this priest has with Jesus (assuming he has one) has got so dry, so mundane. How is it possible that his heart has become so cold that he is not moved to tears by this situation like I am?

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And then my husband asked me a question: “Sooooo honey! What shall we do for valentines day this year? Hot crazy sex under the stars? A mad shopping weekend in Paris? A hot air balloon ride over the Pyramids? Or shall we just do what we’ve done every year for the last decade and get a take-away and watch Arnold Schwarzenegga movies?”

“Meh.” I replied. It kinda struck me at that point that I had probably been judging that poor priest unfairly.

Let me be the first to admit that I take my spouse for granted – everyday. We have been married for 15 years. And anyone who has been married for more than about 5 minuets will agree with me that the mind blowing-ness of well, everything tends to wear off pretty soon – well day-to-day at least. Eating dinner together every night, having sex, watching films, conversation, all gets a bit, blah. And of course the relationship will go through good patches and bad patches. And in the bad patches we would rather just not be around each other at all to be honest, but we have made a life long commitment so we just get on with it.

Now who am I to say that this priest is not going through a bad patch in his relationship with Jesus? And who am I to say whether the relationship has just got a bit, blah? This good and faithful priest has said mass pretty much at least once EVERYDAY for the last 40 years or so. And that is besides all his other duties. I can’t even say whether I have the backbone to survive marriage for 40 years?! Who knows? The thought sends shivers down my spine to be honest (and my poor husbands too he!he!).

But, I am also a mother. And if it was my son’s blood on that cloth, and I was standing I the sacristy after Mass, you can bet your bottom dollar the priest would not be throwing that altar linen into a beat up old cardboard box. And for us as laity, do we prepare properly every time we receive Jesus? Or has that become routine too? Forgive us Mother Mary, for routinely disrespecting your Son in this way.

In hindsight I would have approached this whole situation differently by going straight to the parish priest and bringing up the subject with gentleness and compassion. But instead I just reacted, all be it justifiably, but it has still resulted in a massive evangelisation FAIL on my part in regards to the needs of the priest. Now, somehow, I have got to find a way to sort it all out “…That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Finally, may I ask all the priests who read this blog to have a think about if this is a situation that is going on in your sacristy? If it is, please, please take steps to ensure the Blessed Sacrament is not washed down the drain. And know that I am praying for you. I love you, and I understand that a lifelong vocation is not easy, but it is worth it.

Too ashamed to pray.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

I don’t know why I have put a picture of Elsa at the top of this post. I think it is because one of the things I most enjoyed about Frozen is the fact that Elsa has to carry the heavy burden of hiding the deepest darkest parts of herself.

I was talking to a priest friend recently about this very subject. There is a wall that effects pretty much everyone in regards to prayer – and that wall is shame.

I think shame effects us the most when we don’t quite measure up to our own false expectations of ourselves. Perhaps we are not quite as good as we thought were eh? Or as good as we thought we should be?

Now, everyday the enemy encourages us to think or do something sinful. We quite often oblige him – especially if we are tired, or upset or under pressure. Then it comes time to pray. “Oh I can’t…” we tell ourselves “I’ve just been watching porn! I’ll pray later when the memory of naked ladies is not so fresh in my mind.”

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the stupidest thing we could do. Why did Jesus die again? Oh yes – it was to TAKE AWAY MY SINS!

Another stupid trap I have fallen into in the past was to only show the good parts of myself to God during prayer – a bit like being on my best behaviour. I would try to please and impress God with all the ways I had been good today, and ask for help with the things I had found difficult. But I sure as hell was not going to tell Him about the deepest darkest parts of my heart because otherwise He might be cross with me or not like me any more.

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the enemy talking. Do you really think you can hide stuff from God?! He made you for goodness sake – ‘even the hairs on your head have all been counted!’ (Luke 12:7) You might as well come clean and tell Him – He knows it all anyway! The only person you are fooling here is yourself.

But sometimes we do something that makes us too ashamed to even look ourselves in the mirror. An abortion, an affair, an addiction. This is exactly where the enemy wants you to be: feeling worthless, isolated, ashamed, beyond hope. He will lie to you and tell you that God does not love you any more. He will tell you that God is angry and hates you for what you have done. He will confuse you with notions of justifying your actions to regain your lost pride in yourself.

Pride. Hmmm. Pride is the enemy’s favourite sin. It takes true humility to admit we have done something wrong. True humility is not easy.

If I’m totally honest with you here I have to admit that I’m not too badly effected with shame. Is that because I never think or do anything wrong? No! Of course not – I sin everyday, we all do. I think I am not bound by shame because I am a brutally honest with myself, I am totally in love with confession, AND because I am so solidly anchored in my identity in the eyes of God:

I know how small and wretched I am compared to Him – and I’m totally OK with that.

What I find more difficult is that fact that the creator of the universe would consider me so lovable, so marvellous and interesting and funny and delightful, that He would rather die for me than risk spending eternity without me. But He did – ‘while we were still sinners…’ (Romans 5:8) I know who I am in Christ. I know I will be in need of His forgiveness at the end of every day, for the rest of my life. I am a sorry, forgiven sinner, and I am not ashamed to say it.

So please, do not let shame get in the way of proper true prayer. Tonight, tell Jesus that thing that you keep hidden in the darkest depths of your heart. He wants to take it from you – you don’t need to carry it any more. Tomorrow, do yourself a favour: go to confession. He has the power to take that sin away.

I kinda wanna break into song here and start singing “Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more…” But I’ll spare you all 😉

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2 Priests denied joint gym membership, because they are not “In a relationship”!

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I was talking to one of my online priest friends today. He is so funny – he is always cracking me up and I love him TO DEATH! (Of course I would never tell him that as he already suffers from chronic ego-itis 😉 )

He was telling me the story of how he went to sign up for the Gym in full cassock and dog collar but was denied joint membership with his parish priest because they were not “in a relationship”…

“How do you know we are not in a relationship?” he said. “We live together, we work together, we eat dinner together, heck – sometimes we even just chat, for fun.”

The poor receptionist was a little bemused: “But you’re a… a… a priest??!” 

“Yes, and what’s that got to do with it? How does one define what a ‘relationship’ is? Do you have the authority to tell me I am not in a relationship with my parish priest?”

“Are you a couple?”

“Errr… no. But we live together!”

“I’m sorry, the joint membership is only for couples.”

“What if we were gay? Would that be enough to get a joint gym membership?”

“Errr…. Yes! Are you gay?”

“No. But we do live together.”

“I’m sorry I don’t understand what you….”

“You know I could sue you for this under the discrimination act don’t you? What would Peter Tatchel say hey? Not much equality in this place is there? 😉 “

“To be eligible for the joint membership you have to be in a relationship sir.”

“What if I said we were a couple living together in a non-sexual relataionship? Would you give us joint membership then? We could get ‘married’ if that would help?”

“Errr… Yes? I mean no. I don’t know. All I know is that you have to be a couple sir.”

He left it at that, stopped teasing the poor receptionist and begrudgingly signed up for a significantly more expensive single persons membership!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was satire – but its not! It’s a true story! Ha!